In mid-August of 2014 with a new semester just around the corner, everything was going according to plan.
During a beautiful afternoon on Aug. 14, my father, brother and I were all waiting for mom to come home to make plans and have dinner. Mom walked in at around 20 minutes after 6 p.m., said hello and closed the window next to the sofa where I sat texting.
I was unaware of what was coming my way. Within a matter of seconds I was in a state where time froze still. It seemed like an eternity; my mother was having a seizure.
I tried to stand up and help dad, but my legs were wobbly and my chest felt like someone was pressing down on it, I don’t know how but I managed to walk toward my dad. He was sobbing, saying “no mija, tu no,” (no honey, not you in English) as he looked at his wife broken inside as he held her. I realized my brother was at he other end of the hallway; a look of fear in his eyes, he held his phone unsure what to do.
My body and mind were not in sync – nerves, shivers and dizziness had taken control. There was a moment when my brother and I found ourselves talking to the emergency operator trying to follow instructions and facilitate access for the paramedics.
My mother’s seizure brought consequences to my health and my state of mind. I would drive to campus with no strength and I felt ill all the time. I would eat because I had to, but I had no appetite.
In class and while walking the hallways I was always zoned out. It was as if my body was there but my mind was in another dimension. Somehow, I still managed to pass my classes. I also stopped going out with my friends and enjoying myself because I didn’t feel comfortable and those days that I managed to go out, I was not present.
Confused and unsure of what I was feeling, I decided to pay a visit to the campus counseling center, hoping they could shine some light and help me move forward. Talking to the psychologist was in one way a relief as It helped cope but I still couldn’t sleep, I felt stiff and out of tune. I learned that what I felt was my body’s way of reacting to what had happened. Things didn’t change much throughout that year.
A few months into 2015 while walking with a friend on campus I began to feel dizzy, my legs became wobbly and my chest was hurting – that would be my first of many panic attacks. The panic attacks occurred more frequently and time after time I would say to myself, “It’s nothing, it’ll go away” until one day I was driving and I feared for my life. That drive home was the worst night of my existence and my wake-up call to seek help.
Managing my anxiety was not an easy process but with a positive mindset and the help of a professional, support from friends and family, I was able to get through. Day-by-day I worked on myself and confronted my anxiety, closely following Dr. Edna Reyes Wilson’s advice, which is why I share with you how I did it.
Being told to walk every day for at least 30 minutes seemed impossible. It seemed impossible because I couldn’t so much as walk outside of my house without feeling frightened and my body was always shaking. Take baby steps, walk short distances and increase as you go. This will help you build up your confidence and when you least expect it you’ll be walking a whole mile or 2. If you’re very afraid you don’t have to do it alone; take your dog with you or tell a friend to accompany you.
2. Keep a journal
Keeping a journal was not hard for me as I have always kept one. Writing what you feel situates you in the present and it may be hard to believe but it helps a great deal. Not only do you liberate yourself and rid the weight off your shoulders but it also serves to monitor your progress. It can be a great reference when looking back on what you’ve accomplished and how much you have endured. You will be victorious.
3. Envision yourself succeeding
You may say, “that is the last thing I can do” because you feel so overwhelmed by all the different emotions but trust me, our brain is very powerful and we can flip a switch to a positive one. For me, thinking positive comes a little less harder, but I sticked to it even when I doubted myself. After enduring my first panic attack while driving I was terrified of getting on I-10 and would take the long way everywhere I went. My counselor then said to me “envision yourself succeeding,” “get on the freeway and stay on the lane in which you entered, if you feel scared or anxious pull over or get off. Try driving further each time and see how that works for you.” That was hard but I managed to do it. Now every time I get on the freeway, I envision myself succeeding.
4. Be social, go and do the things you love
Being social is in my genetics. I can strike a conversation with just about anyone but while dealing with anxiety this can be complicated. I became isolated from others, letting fear take the best of me was hindering the relationships I had with my closest friends and family, because although I explained to them what was going on many of them saw it as an excuse and others told me: “You don’t want to hang out with us.” I kept them close and I asked them for help. I told them to push me to go out and to be there for me. Yes, there were times where I had panic attacks while I was them and I wouldn’t say anything simply because I needed to prove to myself that I had the strength within me to overcome it, and I did.
5. Take deep breaths and meditate
Taking a couple or even one breath helps a great amount. Being aware of your surroundings and situating yourself in a place where you feel at peace is the best way to meditate. My counselor advised me to close my eyes and think of a place that gave me tranquility. If you are unfamiliar with meditation you can always search for helpful videos on YouTube or seek a class in your community. Practicing this once or twice a day gains positive results, it revitalizes your lungs and gives you a boost of energy.
6. SING, Dance, Let the music shake you
Music is the everyday dose of medicine for me. I sleep, eat, and breathe music. Find a place with no distractions and pump up your radio and just sing your lungs out. Take a moment to take in how the different music styles change your mood and appreciate it. They say singing is only for the shower, forget that. Sing as you bathe, walk or even while cooking or doing homework.
7. Don’t give up on yourself
You are your best company and no one will care more for you than your own self. Search within you and find what makes you the person you are. Set goals for yourself and allow those goals to raise you higher than you were the day before. Pamper yourself often, whether that means buying yourself a new book or having your favorite dish. Reward yourself for your continuous efforts.