Living in Fear
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For the last five years I have been living with a severe anxiety disorder. What started as a mild, lingering anxiety eventually turned into almost daily panic attacks and a fear of leaving the house. Anxiety is like a dark cloud that has been hanging over my life for years now making even simple, day-to-day tasks a nightmare. I’d like to say that it gets easier and I’ve found a “cure,” but honestly, that would be a lie. Anxiety is something that, for better or worse, has greatly influenced who I have become and how I interact with the world. First we’ll look at how it started, then how it has affected my life, how I cope with it, and how it fits into my life at present.
I’ve always been a somewhat high-strung person, but about five years ago everything started to spiral out of control; I can still remember how it progressed. I had been in a long term relationship that was going nowhere with a guy that I had never actually loved. I was working 80 to 90 hours a week at a job that I detested. I was starting to experience more and more anxiety; even little things would cause me to have a minor meltdown. Then, my mom was diagnosed with stage IV cancer and this was the catalyst. Stage IV means that the cancer has spread into the blood and lymph system and in most cases means the cancer is terminal. All of these things combined and created what was essentially a perfect storm for my anxiety.
I started to have panic attacks almost every day. I remember one time driving home from another 15 hour day at work, my mom was really sick from chemo, and my boyfriend at the time was being wholly unsupportive, I snapped. I started to hyperventilate so badly that I had to pull over to the side of the road and call for help. I couldn’t drive and couldn’t calm myself down. My social anxiety also became so severe that I would refuse to leave the house, or avoid going to the same places, lest people recognize me. Eventually, my anxiety became so severe that it began to take a real toll on my personal relationships and my self-esteem. That was when I realized that I needed help.
A friend’s wife told me that she also had dealt with moderate anxiety and had a really great therapist who helped her overcome it. I started going to therapy and after about 6 months noticed a huge drop in my anxiety. I even stopped having panic attacks! It took so much work, but I was able to start going out again and being a “normal” person. When I was reading Gary Soto’s story, “Looking for Work,” I was struck by his desire to be “normal.” He saw these families on TV, which to him must have seemed like what people and families should be like. He saw them as the norm and wanted his own family to conform to the image they presented (Soto 22). Soto writes, “for weeks I had drunk Kool-Aid and watched morning reruns of Father Knows Best, whose family was so uncomplicated“ (Soto 22). I am constantly wishing that I could