Photo by Chris Barclay | @chris_barclay on Instagram
I was in eighth grade when I had my first panic attack.
I was sitting on a thrift store couch with my best friends, and we were going around in a circle describing what we wanted our future to look like.
When it was my turn, suddenly it felt like every bit of oxygen and life was being sucked out by an invisible vacuum. Dark spots clouded my vision but my eyes were wide open. I had to hug my knees and hold onto myself before the universe swallowed me in my own personal black hole. I didn't understand what was happening.
From that day on, my life evolved into a series of fits of trembling, feeling like you're falling from a sixteen story building when you're laying in bed, into your heart threatening to shatter your rib cage when all you want to do is order some fries at the drive-through.
Loving myself would come in flashes. I had moments of clarity when the panic would hide away and suddenly the air was breathable and I could stand up straight, my arms would rest still at my sides and I could look you in the eye. I would fall in love with the freckles in my left iris for a couple seconds, I found myself admiring the way my hands sat. My pinky is crooked but I thought it was kind of neat. I marveled over the way the most interesting words would settle into my vocabulary, I saw the appeal in treating yourself right.
But then in the back of my body, I felt my chest begin to tense up and the fear would spread to my fingertips, making them numb and tingly at the same time, kind of like when you're in the snow for too long, and I would sit with the anxiousness until it decided to hibernate again. It seemed we only had each other.
Eventually the disorder began to crochet itself into my character until I thought it was too late to heal from it without unraveling myself completely. But I couldn't let it happen. Even through the fog of mental illness, I was too stubborn to let anyone but myself tell me what to do. I started leaping into ponds of unknown and forcing myself to come to terms with my flaws, and I found myself drowning in fear so I threw her a rope and pulled her out of a never-ending well. She was frozen and dripping icicles but after taking good care of her, we both decided it was time to stop living like that, because it wasn't living at all.
I dusted off the blinds in my heart and wiped down the walls, making it presentable. I turned the closed sign over so now "OPEN" is displayed in giant red letters. I laid out a welcome mat for people to wipe their feet on before coming inside. I was ready to be known, by myself and by the rest of the world. I forced anxiety to move out of my soul and into a cardboard box in the back of my mind. He's still there, but now I hold him accountable. If he decides to push me back into the water, I climb out and I dry myself off and I am stronger for it.