By Gisel Garcia, a student in AP English Language
Sweaty Palms. Heart beating like a track star’s. Dizzy. Black Spots. Nausea. These are some of the symptoms someone with anxiety experiences. Some have a lower level of anxiety while others have worse cases. I have been feeling these since I started high school, and I thought they were nervous feelings that would go away eventually.
My friend, who deals with an extreme case of anxiety, was hearing me talk about how I normally feel and she brought to my attention that it might not be normal. I disregarded this and continued feeling the same throughout my freshman year. I thought it would go away by the summer since maybe school would be the main cause of why I felt like this. It did not go away and my friends were telling me to just go and talk to my doctor.
As a teenager, going to your doctor for clarification can be very hard and scary, but after getting fed up from always feeling like this, I went. She said that it was normal, and it would go away. A slap in the face is what it felt like. I felt dumb and foolish for ever thinking there was something wrong with me. I talked with my sister, which calmed me down and made me feel more calm and serene about my feelings. I decided it was time to address this with my very close-minded Mexican mother who did not really believe in mental health being a serious issue.
Driving to work with my mom was the perfect opportunity to bring up this topic that I had been putting off for a while. I was uncertain about how I would bring it up, but I decided to ask some questions to her and slightly increase until I could explain my emotions to her. My hands were sweating profusely, my heart was racing, and I felt my face getting red, just like the bright color of a beautifully ripe tomato.
I first asked her if she ever felt nervous to do something normal like call an adult; as a result; I decided to up the complexity of the question to "Do those emotions prevent you from doing something easy to the point you feel sick?" The look on her face was concerning to the point of me thinking that she had an idea where I was going. Almost arriving at work, I got to explain to her that I always feel like that, even while just lying in bed. I explained that I get a random feeling of extreme nervousness to the point that my breathing turns irregular; doing any little thing can result in these feelings.
I looked at her and she kept looking forward quietly until I had my very last word in. We parked in the parking lot of my workplace, and she looked at me with a blank expression which I did not expect. She told me that it was all in my mind and as fast as those feelings came, I could make them go away by myself at the same speed.
I felt devastated, but not surprised at all. She brought up the situation with my pediatrician that occurred a few months before; my pediatrician said that those feelings were nothing unusual and that I should not be worried about them. I was extremely frustrated and angry because I started to believe it was all in my head, and began to doubt myself. I decided to just go into work and ultimately try to forget the conversation with my mother.
During my shift, I kept reflecting back to the encounter which brought me into a deep hole of self doubt and overthinking. I decided to go and calm myself down in the restroom and started to feel as if I could not breathe, which only caused my panic to worsen. Suddenly the moisture that had been building up in my eyes, the wet tears that appeared whenever I felt extremely upset, started coming down my face. This lasted forever in my mind and I got even more worried when I realized I had been gone for a long time. My first ever panic attack. This hit me hard because I had just been doubting myself because of my mom’s opinion. I decided that I would talk to my older sister and see who could help me figure out what to do next.
The realization hit me that in Mexico, many families decide not to openly discuss problems about mental health. My mom's intention was not to hurt me or neglect my feelings, but simply react to a situation she had never talked or dealt with before. However, I still felt upset because she had absolutely no idea how to help me or get me help.
What I did to cope was writing whatever I felt in my notes on my phone and drawing some doodles. It really helped me control my anxiety and feel more calm. Whenever I was at home and experienced anxiety, I would open my journal and focus on perfecting my doodles. Another option for teenagers who struggle is to reach out to someone and explain what they feel, and while I understand it is easier said than done, it will help tremendously. I got very close to my sister after being distant for those times I was struggling. If I had no siblings, I would have reached out to a favorite teacher. There will always be a teacher who is willing to help and be there to talk to a student who needs someone.
Not every parent in the world will be able to understand their child and their problems, but there is always someone who is willing to help, and there will always be things to look forward to in life. According to Dr. D’Arcy Lyness, some ways teenagers can cope with anxiety is meditating, breathing exercises, starting to exercise, having a healthy sleeping schedule, going outside and exploring the beauty of nature, and focusings on the positives of life.
The best way that has been proven over time that is actually effective is therapy. Therapists can help teens learn more breathing techniques to calm panic attacks and they are there to help you figure out the cause of their anxiety.
Some ways parents can have these very important mental health conversations with their kids is to give them space and enough time for them to willingly open up. Another way parents can have the conversation is accepting that their child has anxiety and for them to inform themselves about it which can help the child feel more comfortable as well.
The hardships that I went through have not only made me stronger but made me realize that I am not alone in the way that I feel.
Thank you to Gisel Garcia and her mother for their permission to print this essay.