As said to Nicole Audrey Spector
I woke up crying at 3am and felt like the ceiling was lowering and the walls were closing in on me. My neck and chest were tight. There was no exit, no escape. My mind was racing so fast I expected my head to explode.
I had always lived with a base fear that I had no name for. But that nightmarish feeling of being trapped, of being suffocated, was really unbearable. And they also struck when I was at work.
I was a middle school teacher juggling more than a full load of classes to earn rent in Los Angeles. It was mostly during my lunch break when I finally got some time to catch my breath that I gasped for it.
I felt an extreme urge to flee and often literally rushed across campus. Anything to distract from the tidal wave of out-of-control thoughts.
I didn’t know what was happening to me, but it seemed to be affecting both my body and my mind. I struggled with digestive issues including severe constipation.
I visited my health care provider (HCP) for help with the digestive issues. He thought they were linked to stress overload and burnout and encouraged me to relax and possibly talk to a therapist. But I just couldn’t stop for a second to do anything other than work, work, work. Alongside my demanding job, I also took classes to pursue my passion for film and television and did my best to socialize, socialize and date.
I was in my mid-30s and the pressure to do everything right—right away—was great.
It wasn’t until the world came to a standstill in response to Covid that I was forced to slow down. I’ve returned home to Houston, TX to weather the pandemic with my parents and just take a break from the madness of my go-go-go life in LA.
Back home, in the delightfully boring suburbs, I could really rest and take time to reflect on how I’d lived the past two years since I moved to LA. I found myself walking on emptiness and those scary moments where I felt like I couldn’t breathe were panic attacks and living with fear. I finally had a name for it.
And I realized that with my workaholic lifestyle and insatiable drive to succeed, I had managed to become my own worst enemy. I ran in rags. My body and mind were screaming for help. And this call for help sometimes manifested itself in anxiety and panic attacks.
As soon as the switch to my hectic life was flicked, my indigestion went away and the panic attacks stopped. All anxious thoughts vanished as if thrown away by fairy dust.
The shape of my life changed. Instead of working non-stop and then desperately trying to cobble together social, romantic, and creative extensions of myself, I took to a slower pace. I was visiting old friends in the park, masked and two meters apart. I took long walks with my parents’ dog. I ate full meals and slept through the night. I woke up refreshed instead of tearful and scared.
The irony that I became my healthiest self when the world was brought to its knees by a deadly virus that has killed well over 1 million Americans to date hasn’t escaped me, but I also have to make it clear that I haven’t was blind to what was going on around me. I was generally scared and sad about Covid but not in a way that overwhelmed me personally.
Also, I felt a kind of solace in the concept of the whole world finding refuge together in one place. And I found an inspiring sense of connectedness on social media, where people took part in viral trends while self-isolating, whether it was learning a new dance or baking a new kind of bread.
Only when the world began to open up again did I receive a return visit from the fear I thought I had shaken off forever. Questions raced through my head: Should I go back to LA? What would I do with my life? am i doing enough
As soon as I felt the anxious questions grow louder, I knew I could easily slip back down that dark, restless path that had been my life for two trying years. I seriously had to step back and make a decision: do I want to fight every second of the day for the dream of “making it” in a city that hasn’t shown me much love? Or do I actually want to enjoy my life with my sanity intact?
I decided to take the last option.
I decided to stay in Houston and get more serious about content creation, specifically my YouTube channel, which I created during the pandemic and where I share pretty much everything — be it my thoughts on dating, anxiety, or Beyonce. It’s not traditional therapy – but it’s definitely therapeutic for me. And it has united me with an army of people who value me and I value right back.
I’ve always been a very goal oriented person and I think my fear was fed by my ambitious part. I’m still goal oriented and ambitious, but by taking the time to rebuild my life and reclaim my time, I focus less on this extreme version of my own success and more on what I can do to serve a community and have a positive impact on other people’s lives.
I still have my low times – but they’re not what they used to be. When I sense a wave of fear coming, I have the space and self-love to avoid it. I can pick up the phone and talk to a nearby friend who can meet me for lunch. Or I can process my feelings in my journal or work on a new video for my channel.
While I cringe at the memory of how intense my anxiety was back in LA, I’m grateful that I experienced it. Without them I wouldn’t be where I am today – living a life that is healthy and right for me.
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