Anxiety is one of those things that almost everyone has dealt with at some point in their life. Some of us just deal with anxiety on a much greater scale than others. I have personally dealt with anxiety on a pretty bad level, so when I sat down with an old friend to chat about her struggles it was something I could definitely empathize with.
Felisa reached out to me on Facebook and told me she wanted to be featured on the #FROREALlifeStories series.
She let me know that she felt she needed to share her anxiety story as a way to help her overcome it. It is something that she has recently started to acknowledge instead of sweeping it under the rug and trying to pretend it does not exist.
So, that is exactly what she did as we sat in a crowded Starbucks one afternoon. Felisa took me to the places in her life that she feels her anxiety was born.
When did you first start experiencing really bad anxiety?
– It really started getting bad around 14 or 15 years old. That’s when I had my first panic attack in school. When it happened someone mentioned that they thought I was having an, “anxiety attack.” It kind of happened out the blue.
Felisa explained that around that time in her life she was in a downward spiral. She felt that things started getting more negative and she was always crying a lot. Her friends thought she was doing it for attention, but she says that she doesn’t even like attention. She knew that was not was happening. Her anxiety attacks would continue to happen at school and she could not control it.
Do you know if there was root issue that could have been causing your anxiety?
– Yes, I think it is because from age 6-11 years old I was molested by my cousin when I would visit my Grandma’s house. I stopped going for a while, for a few years. When I was 15 I had gone to visit my Grandma again, and the cousin that molested me lives with my Grandma. My Grandma asked me while I was there, “Remember when you and Carlos were together, you asked for it didn’t you?” She was talking about the time that she walked in on my cousin molesting me. I did not say anything back to her because I was raised to respect.
Felisa could not believe that her Grandma would imply that she wanted those awful things to happen to her. She was completely insulted and disgusted, and she never went back to see her Grandma for years after that. It would be about 6 years later before she saw that side of her family again. She just could not go back there after all that had happened, especially with her cousin still being there.
That definitely is enough to cause anyone some post traumatic stress. What started to happen to you mentally after that visit with your Grandma?
– My self esteem was so slow. I had a lot of self doubt. People would think that my self esteem is low because weight issues, when really it is due to anxiety and all of the memories from my past. I just ignored it for so long, but it started to come out in other ways.
Did you ever tell anyone about you being molested?
– Yes, my mom asked why I did not want to go visit my Grandma anymore. I ended up telling her that I was molested by my cousin. She was so upset. I told her what my Grandma said, and she told me that I never had to go again after that.
How did you deal with your anxiety throughout high school?
– I started to experiment with drugs and things like that as a way to get around what was going on. But, that did not help completely. So, I started to work ALOT. I had 3 jobs for almost 4 years, so it helped with anxiety – I just kept busy. Being busy kept my mind occupied.
Felisa explained that her anxiety spiked out of control after a more recent break up earlier this year. She explained how she devoted so much time to a person that was no good for her and that put her down as a person. After that break up, it made her interactions with others in the dating world very difficult. She realized that her relationships would continue to suffer unless she acknowledged her issues.
– I Never actually dealt with it. Instead of sadness, I felt angry. I let him make me feel like garbage. We were together for 7 months and then he went to prison. I worked hard and would put money on his books and when he got out, I found out that he was on a dating site and he tried to hit on one of my friends through the dating site. I just decided to end it. I knew that I did not deserve that.
After that breakup Felisa started drinking again, to ignore it all. She says that she would cry herself to sleep. She explained that it felt as if her mind was starting to fight her. The anxiety caused her to make up stories, fear things that were not real, she could not get passed it.
– I would have panic attacks about everything. I would have panic attacks even when driving. I realized that I was fighting myself. Realized that it was bad and I needed to learn to deal.
A lot of life changing events were happening to Felisa all at once. She found out some pretty scary things about her health, she was struggling within her friendships (because they could not understand her anxiety and how disabling it was), she just felt depleted.
– I started feeling like everyone was against me and nobody was for me. I started questioning everything even God.
Felisa explained that she believes God has a plan for her life, but sometimes the anxiety creates so much doubt that she questions it. She tries to channel her negative thoughts through prayer and being honest with herself. She realizes that it is okay to need help and that she must not ignore issues or they will become bigger and more difficult to manage.
She says that she started to pray more and that even though it doesn’t take it all away, it helps.
Where do you feel like you are with your anxiety now?
– I feel like I am doing okay. I have been working really hard at not fighting myself so much, but acknowledging things as they come, instead of ignoring it.
What do you want people to understand about living with anxiety?
– I want people to understand that sometimes people living with anxiety do not always know why they have it. (Things could have happened to them in the pass that they’ve suppressed for so long.) We do not know how to turn it off. WE are not being negative. Sometimes the answer is in your face but when you have anxiety you do not always see it. WE think way too much. I would tell people to just be sensitive about it, even if you do not understand, just listen. Do not just cut us off because you think that we are being negative. We are trying. Just be a friend.
What advice would you give to someone else dealing with living with anxiety?
– I would just encourage them to work for today and not worry about tomorrow. Think about what you are doing right now. Try to take it easy. Try to put emotions in a file in a cabinet, they are all separate issues. Deal with them as different issues. Sometimes, worrying about everything all at once is what makes us have panic attacks. Focus on them individually. Some things are not your issue and you have to learn when to let it go.
Felisa and I also discussed how it is okay to need professional help when dealing with anxiety. As taboo as that may be, sometimes professional help via counseling and/or medication may be necessary for some people. Felisa explained that she has not taken any anxiety medication, but she is proud of the steps that she has taken so far in overcoming.
I really enjoyed talking with Felisa. I appreciated her honesty and transparency. I also appreciated the fact that she was not meeting with me to tell me about how she no longer deals with anxiety anymore. She wanted to meet with me to speak it out loud and admit that it is something that she lives with. She is hoping that by sharing her story she can help others in some way.
I guaranteed her that she already has, she has helped me