Jessica Tate (or you might know her as Jessica Sankiewicz or even Lilly Avalon) has been a Shattering Stigmas mainstay since the event started. I’m so excited to welcome her back to Shattering Stigmas 2020 today for an introspective post on anxiety and realizing when you might have an issue (which is half the battle). You can find Jessica on Twitter and her romance-writing alias Lilly Avalon on Twitter and her website.
One of the hardest things I’ve done is acknowledge that I have anxiety. I actually discovered it from one of those viral Tumblr screenshots that explained what it is. It’s not all panic attacks causing you to rock back and forth in the corner. There are nuances and unique symptoms that you wouldn’t even think were a thing.
Of course, I didn’t just take this screenshot as facts. I did my research, read articles, learned the truth about anxiety. Once I realized that there was a strong possibility that I more than likely had it, I felt… relieved? My bouts of irritability and anger, the nervousness from being around people, the avoidance of social situations, etc. Everything finally made sense. And when I say everything, I mean everything. Not just the last few years, but my entire life.
I was always considered shy as a kid by everyone because I hardly ever spoke. When people would ask me something or try to get me involved in a conversation, my nerves made it difficult to reply. I would reply eventually, but it wasn’t easy. I was “shy” after all, right?
In my teens, I got better at talking to people I knew. I had good friends, best friends, and conversations in general weren’t as difficult. Not to say that I didn’t still have trouble in social situations because there were numerous times that I wanted to escape and actually did escape some situations. It was just slightly better than when I was younger.
Then came the time for me to get a job after I graduated high school. The interview was nerve-wracking, but I made it through and got hired. On my first day at the cash register, my hands shook something fierce when I handed change back to my first customer. When I went home, I wasn’t even sure I would be able to handle working in a store, but I pushed through. Did it get easier? Yeah, a little bit, but the beginning of every day still made me nervous.
Throughout my childhood, adolescence, and my twenties, there were numerous instances where my anxiety was obvious… to present me and not past me.
At a graduation party, there was supposed to be a square dance part and somebody tried to pair me up with a guy I didn’t want to dance with. Not that he was a bad guy, he was a really nice and sweet guy. What was actually happening was me having a panic attack in general over square dancing with someone I didn’t know very well and I ran away from everyone to escape it. It felt ridiculous and rude back then, but it makes total sense now.
When I got my driver’s license, I was able to handle simple driving–to work and back, to a friend’s house and back. The idea of driving on busy roads or highways scared the living daylights out of me. One summer day in my car that had no AC, I was driving to a celebratory dinner for a friend. It was in an area I was not familiar with, but I thought I could handle the drive there because I had the directions. Unfortunately, I missed my last turn. I freaked out but tried to tell myself that I could turn around ahead and go back. In the end, I had a panic attack and ended up driving home. I felt so guilty about not going when I promised I would be there. The friend didn’t understand and sadly I lost my closeness with her because I didn’t show up like I promised I would.
Looking back on all of this, it’s blatantly obvious I had social anxiety. I think the reason why it never clicked for me until I was much older was because I was able to talk to people and most of the incidents were isolated. But having anxiety doesn’t mean being anxious all the time and in every situation. That’s not how the brain works. Some days I would be fine, conversational, and happy without any regrets. Other days I wouldn’t be fine, hardly speaking and questioning whether I said the right thing or not for the rest of the night.
Growing up I was aware of mental illnesses, their symptoms, and their treatments. However, I didn’t one hundred percent comprehend the subtleties of them and that it was possible I could have one. This is why it’s so important for me to speak about my experience with anxiety, because I know there’s somebody out there who is having those same feelings as I did. They deserve to know they are not alone, that they are not broken, and that having a mental illness isn’t the end of the world.
It’s time for change, to remove the stigma, and to acknowledge that mental illness is real.