As the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, anxiety is in my blood. I was 6 years old the first time I remember having an anxiety attack. I was in singing class and my parents dropped me off like usual, but this time, a tremendous amount of fear came over me out of nowhere and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was scared. This was the start of separation anxiety from my parents and from that class forward, I had to see one of my parent’s faces through the window for the entire class.
Separation anxiety turned into burglar anxiety (fear of someone breaking into my house) and burglar anxiety turned into disease anxiety (fear that I, or a loved one would get ill). No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t stop the thoughts from coming and it felt so real. No matter what anyone said I really thought these nightmares would come true.
I spent countless nights sleeping on a futon on my parent’s bedroom floor. When there was a SARS outbreak when I was in 6th grade I begged my mom to let me wear a mask to school. The fear was debilitating and took a tremendous toll on my life, happiness, and well-being.
As a happy-go-lucky young girl, all I wanted was to be “normal.” I so desperately wanted my recurring daily mantra of, “am I okay?” to be a distant memory of the past. And so, my parents and I decided that it was time for me to seek professional help.
I spent years seeing different therapists off and on. Like anything in life, learning how to cope with anxiety required work and practice. But, I was determined to no longer let my anxiety define me and run my life any more. I learned to face my fears head on and implement proven techniques in the midst of an attack, which was scary. My anxiety was driven by worry about things that may or may not ever happen. Once I learned mindfulness techniques and how to be present in the moment, the pervasive fear lessened. The more I sat with my fear, the more it slowly began to have less of a hold on me and I, for once, felt in control of my fear.
Fast forward to today. While I sometimes still fuel the irrational stories, I have come to learn that you are not your mind. You are not your story. Whatever you are experiencing, you have the power to get through it. You are not alone. Let others help you. Overcoming anxiety has been one of the greatest feats I've ever achieved, and it has made me stronger in all aspects of my life. The tools that I’ve garnered in managing my anxiety are the tools that I use in any challenging situation.
And for that, I am eternally grateful.