Over the weekend, I saw #My1stExperienceWithAnxiety trending on Twitter and I was intrigued to see the responses. What I saw was a wide array of ages and experiences that were different from my experience, yet somehow made me feel less alone. Everyone’s story with anxiety is unique. Everyone has different triggers. Everyone experiences different symptoms. And yet, as I was reading people’s stories, I felt connected to these strangers. I knew what they were talking about. I realized there was a large community of people who understood what I felt like. The link to the hashtag is below in case you want to see what I’m referring to.
So what was my first experience with anxiety? Like some people said, it is hard to pinpoint. First instinct tells me seventh grade after our car accident. That was the first time that my anxiety was overwhelming, but I don’t think that was the first time I experienced it. I started moving around every two or three years when I was seven after my dad joined the army. I was already a kid who worried. But worry is different than having anxiety. I think the first time I actually experienced anxiety was the year my dad deployed. I was in third grade. It was the first time I really thought about what war meant. My dad is a chaplain, so he isn’t allowed to carry a gun and he wasn’t in the midst of fighting every day, but I still knew he was in more danger than he would be in at home. The worry that I felt had a new weight to it. It felt bigger. The period between my third-grade year and my seventh-grade year was sprinkled with moments that were greater than worry. But the first time I felt like I was truly not in control was after that car accident. That’s when the feeling in my chest started to become too much. That’s when tears happened before every school day. That’s when my social anxiety started to take shape. That’s the year that holds the most significance in my anxiety journey. The ebb and flow of it all, and the little moments before big moments were highlighted in a lot of the stories in that hashtag. Anxiety is something that forms in the back of your mind and often grows bigger until you finally notice it for what it is. Knowing that others felt the same was encouraging. Of course, I don’t like that there are so many people having to deal with anxiety, but it is nice to know that I’m not alone.
A big thing I took from the hashtag is that there is no one way that anxiety comes about. Some people were eight years old, while some people were in their mid-thirties. Some people had panic attacks, while some only struggled mentally. Some people went to therapy, while some tried to work it out on their own. Some people can pinpoint an exact day, while some people feel like they have had it forever. No one story was exactly the same. There were elements that were similar, but no one had an identical experience. I think it is important to listen to other people’s stories. Not only to help you feel less alone, but also to get a better idea of what anxiety can look like as a whole. I think learning more about the community can only make it stronger. Supporting others who also struggle with anxiety is so important. Listening to people when they open up will go a long way. I haven’t met the people who tweeted under that hashtag, but I feel connected to them now that I’ve read their stories. Making those connections in person is just as important and something that I want to work on cultivating in the future.
I wish that there were no tweets under that hashtag. I wish no one had a story to share. I wish no one had to experience anxiety. But since there are enough of us to make that hashtag trend, I think it is also important to think about what we’ve learned from our experiences. In therapy, we talk a lot about how I’ve learned resiliency. I’ve learned how to be more emotionally aware. I’ve become a better listener, and therefore a better friend. I’ve started a blog where I actually share my own feelings and experiences which is a huge step for me. Without my experience with anxiety, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Of course, I still have a long way to go and I still struggle but I think it is important to look at your anxiety from all angles. You may learn something about yourself that you wouldn’t have found out otherwise.