I’m stressed because I can’t stop the thoughts: Can he see my stretch marks? Does this person actually care about me? What am I doing here?

I wash my hands. Lay in bed. I need to go to school. Will my professor know that I forgot to do my homework? I haven’t studied. I don’t think I can. Can I even graduate? I fucked that one up. I am late. I can’t get up. I am going back to sleep.

Ignore that phone call. Ignore that text. I am okay, I promise. I am okay, right? Breathe. Oh my god, I can’t stop thinking. Why am I thinking so much? It is 2 a.m. I should be asleep. Wait! I didn’t try hard enough. What is going to happen if I don’t show up? What is going to happen if I don’t tell him what is wrong? What will my parents think?

It is 4 a.m. I need to get up soon, but I don’t know what to do. I don’t think I can do this today. I can’t stop. I can’t breathe; am I having a heat attack? My chest hurts. I need to get out of my head. Please someone help. I am alone. I don’t want to be in my head. Stop. Stop. Stop.

This was my fourth panic attack in two days. At this point, I wasn’t even able to go to class without breaking down next to my classmate. I was convinced that people could tell what was going on and all I could think about was how scared I was.

Even if it was irrational, I couldn’t help but wonder: What will everyone think if I appear unable to breathe, if I seem despondent or unresponsive? What would everyone think if I was sweating uncontrollably or panicking? Could they see me mentally freaking out?

All I wanted to do was to free my mind from its skull and deflate every possible thought. I wanted to feel numb. I was afraid of people thinking that I was weird or socially inept.

I was in anthropology class when the guy next to me noticed my breathing was shallow and heavy. He noticed that I looked pale, no blood to light up my face. Immediately, my heart pace quickened and I was gripping my desk chair so tight, that I thought I might rip off the seat and explode from the insides.

Looking back, I remember the first time my psychiatrist told me that I had an anxiety disorder. I was back home in Portland, recuperating from a mental breakdown. I looked down at my fingers and noticed my hands clamming up.

“So, I am crazy?”

I was in disbelief as the psychiatrist handed me a pamphlet and told me there was “support for people like me.” People like me? What the hell did that mean? I felt like I was being pointed out, stamped on by a DSM book that explained how incapable I was of handling stress.

I felt mentally inebriated. I was isolated from the world because no one would be able to understand the feeling of losing control to the point where you think you’re going to die. I felt like an insane person because someone else had to help me to “cope” with my problems.

At first, I swallowed my anger and frustration. How was I ever going to be normal? I was prescribed medication to help me relax my muscles and balance my nervous thoughts: I had thoughts of suicide, thoughts of indefinite isolation, and the fear of losing everyone around me.

A few months after I started seeing my psychiatrist, I slowly began holing myself up in my room. I couldn’t stop crying. My body was constantly aching because I was overly stressed. I couldn’t even eat or talk to anyone.

Even when I thought I had a firm grasp on reality, it would just slip right through my fingers and into the depths of a deep, scathing depression. A place where I hated myself because I couldn’t control my anxiety. It was controlling me.

How was I going to live like this? What did this mean for my school, my job, my life?

My therapist prescribed me medication after a couple of months of no progress. Slowly, I emptied my medicine bottle. I didn’t know how to deal with pain.

Eventually, I started to walk outside and contact my friends again. I didn’t panic as frequently. The years passed and I started to have a better idea what would stress me out and send me into a panic attack. Other days were better. Some days were miserable. But I was living with constant pressure. Pressure on myself.

Each day was hard, but it also made me stronger. I had to learn how not to blame myself. Years of therapy, finding hobbies and self-help would benefit me, even if the thoughts bombarded my every routine. I had to accept that it was always going to be a part of me, but it wasn’t what was going to define me.

I would look in the mirror and talk to myself. I wrote notes to myself to read later. I had to remind myself that I was human and that this wasn’t going to break me. That this was just another hurdle I had to leap over. And I didn’t give up. I had to believe that there would be a better day. I needed to give myself love, patience and acceptance. I told myself that I would be okay.

This is what it’s like to live with an anxiety disorder: You live life in constant, uncontrollable, unfathomable, irrational fear that you cannot and will not be able to ever, ever have control.