I had my first panic attack at the age of 16, I had always been an anxious child but it tended to come in “waves” and it just seemed to be extreme nervousness. I was driving to a friend’s house when it hit me. One of the worst things about panic attacks is that you remember each and every one, where you were, you were with and what time of day it was. I was alone at an intersection I had passed every day on my way to school and it was at night. My hands started shaking on the wheel and my stomach dropped like I was on a roller coaster. I was sweating and felt like I couldn’t breathe or see straight. I quickly turned the car around and zoomed home, scared for my life and unsure of what had just happened to me.
After this episode I stopped going out with my friends and struggled in many different situations, having panic attacks on a daily basis. I was finally diagnosed with panic disorder with agoraphobia a few months later. This affected me to the point where I couldn’t even get into a car and drive to the end of my street without having a full on panic attack. I used to swim competitively and the fear and anxiety took over my life so much so that I had to stop racing. I was letting the anxiety control my life as it quickly passed me by. I could not understand how my friends were able to so easily drive miles from their homes with no fears or anxiety.
I continued receiving help and meeting with different doctors, but every day was a struggle or an argument. I would fight with my parents because I could not go to school without having multiple panic attacks in class and I would beg them to let me stay home. These panic attacks continued throughout the day and I was too embarrassed to tell my friends or teachers what was going on so I struggled in silence.
Eventually it came time to leave for college and with the help and support of my parents and doctors I left for the University of Illinois to study Speech and Hearing Science. It was there that I became much more comfortable with myself and with discussing mental health and illness. I learned that the minute you become afraid of the panic is when it truly controls you.
I am now 22, I just graduated from the University of Illinois with honors and I am going on to graduate school to study speech-language pathology. I still struggle with my anxiety but it gets so much better, I wish someone had told me that. I wish mental illness was not stigmatized to the point where I felt uncomfortable talking about it with some of my closest friends. Whenever I had a cold or the flu I told them I was sick without a second thought but for some reason I was so embarrassed about this part of my life that I couldn’t bring myself to share it with them. I want those still struggling to know that it may be hard to see when you’re in such a dark and hopeless place, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Samantha is a 22 year-old graduate student studying speech-language pathology. She has struggled with anxiety and panic disorder for six years and continues to overcome obstacles daily while supporting and advocating for others. You can follow her story through her Instagram @samanthajamie28 or Twitter @samanthajamie28.
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