Sorry mom but this one is important.
February has been my least favorite month for the past few years, until now. You see, since freshmen year it has been the month when I have felt the least in control of my body and my mind, when on most mornings I dreaded getting out of bed because of what may happen in the hours of daylight ahead, when I feared going to sleep at night even more because darkness and silence made my thoughts race and the walls seem too close for comfort. February was the worst because my panic/anxiety disorder would rise from whatever depth it had settled in and drown me in its dark abyss to the point where the negative thoughts outweighed the positive ones and the idea of straying from whatever routine I had strategically created at the time, even for the things that were meant to be enjoyable and fun, was a cause for panic to encircle my throat in its grasp with no care as to whether I could breathe or not. But this February panic has yet to rear it’s ugly head in hopes of enveloping me in its darkness, and I won’t let it.
I was diagnosed with panic disorder when I was thirteen, but had been dealing with significant anxiety for most of my life. Good old genetics I suppose. Throughout high school and the first half of my college career it came at me in waves of various strengths. Change was hard, transition was hard, the idea of doing anything remotely new was hard, and the fear of fear was the fucked up cycle that controlled my every move.
Over the years I’ve seen various therapists, counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists and often managed to convince myself that anxiety was not in control of my life despite the fact that it was always sitting on my shoulder toying with my emotions, as well as messing with that lovely intrinsic flight or flight response, and telling me that I was not good enough or worthy to be released from its grasp.
February and I started to become frenemies my freshmen year of college, but winter was never the best in my yearly up and downs of panic disorder. Sophomore year was when I hit rock bottom. I was stressed with school, I felt disconnected from friends, someone I looked up to passed away and I didn’t know how to process it, I was dealing with a lot. I went to counseling but it didn’t really help this time, self care and talking just wasn’t enough and I didn’t feel comfortable conversing about the dark clouds that were actually affecting me, so I stuck with the superficial stressors instead. I could feel the panic rising inside of me, it took over more than just my thoughts but settled in my muscles and caused headaches and constant uneasiness as well. After winter break, February 2014 came fast with panic disorder knocking on the front door and by knocking I mean it just came barreling in as a hot mess of destruction without even a hello. Functioning was no longer a thing because the sky was falling and the walls were pushing against me every step I took.
After 2 weeks of war I found myself in my car at 2 am because my room felt more like a prison cell and there was nothing left in my stomach to throw up, as that was panic’s favorite way to take over my being. I called my parents and told them I was coming home for the third time that month. Mind you it was 2 am, I was not in a logical state of mind and I had already taken a tranquilizer in an effort to put a bandaid on the wound anxiety was festering in. My parents somehow persuaded me to not drive the 2 hours home and my dad came and got me instead. I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop crying until sleep took over but then the tears started again later that morning. I was taken to the emergency clinic and was heavily medicated for the next few weeks and functioned in a fog out of necessity and determination to not let panic take me out of school. I continued seeing my counselor and managed to gain back some control and get through the rest of the semester but it was a struggle.
Summer came and I dealt with my panic disorder head on for the first time because I was so incredibly exhausted and frustrated with the way it ran my life. Dealing with it was definitely easier said than done and consisted of looking at the fear of fear and those dark clouds straight in the eye over and over again. I went to cognitive behavioral therapy and hated it because it kicked my ass, but was so thankful for its existence because I was starting to feel like me again. That fall I studied abroad in Florence, Italy and felt that breathe of life again for the first time in a long time.
Now I can finally get to my point: I got a tattoo (yes, another tattoo, SORRY MOM) and it’s related to all of this. I got a bold black semi colon behind my right ear. Why? Well, what is the purpose of a semicolon? It is not to represent the ending of a sentence, but instead another part of a sentence, a new beginning in some ways. This semi colon is in honor of mental health awareness, of those who are forced to deal with panic and anxiety disorders, who have to deal with any and all mental health issues. It is a symbol to remind me that I chose to keep going, that I will keep going, and if you are struggling you can keep going too. You are not alone. I know my anxiety disorder will always be part of my life but I also know that I am in control of it now, it does not control me. I know the worst is behind me, that I came out the other side of the tunnel, and I choose to live in the light. This year February is not my frenemy and I got this tattoo to commemorate our new found friendship.