What I Wish People Knew About Life With Anxiety

Photo: Courtesy of Eliza Florendo
On the very first day of my very first internship, I was 20 minutes late. I stood a few blocks away from the downtown New York City office, breathing heavily, tears streaming down my face. Riding the 6 train from 77th Street to Canal Street, I had been completely fine. But now, I was having a panic attack.
I’ve prepared myself for this. It’s just an internship. It will be fine, I kept telling myself.

But as soon as I stepped on the platform and started walking, my heart began to feel as though it was beating out of my chest, and breathing became difficult. I was trying to take big breaths, but it felt like I was breathing through a straw. Dizziness overcame me. My mouth began to salivate, and I felt like I was going to be sick. Nothing around me had even changed — there was no trigger. I wasn’t in danger. Everything was fine around me. And everyone seemed to be, too. I should have felt fine. But that’s not the way anxiety works.

I had been in this situation before. I had experienced dozens of panic attacks throughout my life — that’s just what living with anxiety (or more specifically, generalized anxiety disorder) is like. It didn’t matter where I was, who I was with, or what I was doing. Once I felt it creeping up, there was no way back. But how do you possibly explain that to your new boss on your first day at a fashion magazine? You can’t. What I had been afraid of for weeks was actually happening. And it felt like I had only myself to blame.

What kind of 22-year-old adult cries outside of her office and physically can’t walk in? What kind of 22-year-old adult has to call her mom to calm her down? I worked hard for this internship, and now I’m just going to fuck it all up because I can’t make myself go inside, I thought. Why can’t I grow up and just get it over with?

That’s the kind of dialogue that happens in my head daily — and I know I’m not alone. Anxiety disorders — such as generalized anxiety, panic disorder, and phobias — are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., and they affect twice as many women as men. They also tend to be more common among people under the age of 35.

I can remember when I started having these feelings of overwhelming dread. I was 10 years old, and every time I had to spend long periods of time without my mom, the anxiety would start. I didn’t know what it was, and I couldn’t explain it. My sister would have to hold my hand in bed in order for me to fall asleep.

I spent days at the school nurse’s office, telling them I felt “sick,” when really, the thought of staying in my classroom made me want to burst into tears. But why? Other kids in my class seemed to love it. What was wrong with me?

Photo: Courtesy of Eliza Florendo
Me, at age 3, and my sisters — who have been a support system since day one. I'm the one hardcore cheesing.
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