Amanda s Story

Philadelphia, PA USA

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“I was 15 years old and sitting in my boyfriend’s car, crying my eyes out. All my friends were inside, wondering what was wrong – after all, nothing had happened. Completely unprovoked, I had felt an overwhelming wave of anxiety rush over me - my breathing got heavy and I felt like I was losing control and drowning.

 

Embarrassed and angry with myself, I left the house and waited in the car until my boyfriend came out at the end of the night and drove me home. He didn’t know what to say or do to cheer me up, and to be honest, I didn’t know either. All I could do was lay down and try my best to wait for that overwhelming feeling to fade. Eventually, it would fade, but, like the tide, it would always return.

 

I confided in a few of my friends and told them about this overwhelming feeling. While most couldn’t relate, my one friend’s response struck me – she had experienced similar feelings. She told me that she had started going to therapy, had been given medication, and learned techniques to cope with it. Her story gave me hope that I, too, could be ‘fixed,’ just as she had been.

 

Unfortunately, when I asked my parents about attending therapy sessions, they were not supportive. They told me I was just being a hormonal teenager and that I would get over it. I went away to college at 18, and it got worse. I shut myself in my room almost every night and indulged in my studies.

 

While my grades were at an all-time high and I was an extremely productive lab assistant, my social life suffered. I had completely isolated myself, and the waves of panic attacks kept battering me and holding me down.

 

Towards the end of freshman year, I finally decided to visit one of the university therapists. After several sessions, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, along with insomnia and premenstrual dysphoric disorder. And, I was prescribed the appropriate medications.

 

While the medicine helped to stabilize my mood swings, I cannot overstate how helpful my therapist was in teaching me coping techniques to patch up the ‘floodgate’ of emotions, as I call my panic attacks, that would routinely take control of me.

 

Through years of therapy sessions and practice, I learned to reframe my thoughts through a technique called mindfulness, and, eventually, I could stop the floodgate from opening. As a result, I gained a massive amount of self-confidence and began to go out more and make friends. I’ve now accomplished things I never dreamed of doing – like living and traveling abroad on my own.

 

That being said, I’d be lying if I said that I was ‘cured’ and never have any panic attacks. Each day, I still challenge myself to push back against my anxieties, while still accepting my own personal limits.

 

The road to recovery is difficult. There will be many people who don’t understand mental illnesses and try to tell you that your problems aren’t real. Even a previous boyfriend told me that my anxiety wasn’t a problem, and that ‘everyone gets stressed.’

 

Even if your friends understand, you will worry that your illness will burden them. Trust me, it doesn’t. Your true friends, as well as others with mental illnesses, will want to do anything to help you feel better. Even though there’s rising awareness and understanding of mental illnesses, it’s still important to make sure you’re surrounding yourself with a positive and supportive environment.

 

Also, always remember, you’re stronger than you think, and, little by little, I believe that you are able to overcome your mental illnesses and unlock your potential.”

 

- Story and Photo by: Paige Tomasello, Drexel University Campus Representative

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