May is Mental Health Awareness Month. This is my story:
THE EARLY YEARS
I have struggled with anxiety my whole life. When I was in kindergarten my godmother would say, “Victoria is 5 going on 40”. In middle school I probably skipped a day every two weeks. High school was filled with panic attacks, migraines, and compulsions. Items had to be placed in certain places. I had the same spot every time I sat on the couch. The volume for anything had to be a multiple of 5, even if that made it too quiet or too loud. I could only turn to the left when I parked my car.
Oh, I was also scratching. My mom would catch me and tell me to stop. I would just nod; I COULDN’T STOP. I spent high school with scratches on my arms, hands, legs, and feet. People would ask what happened and I would honestly tell them “I don’t know.”
GOING TO COLLEGE
High school graduation came and I thought I could just leave everything that happened in high school behind; the behaviors, the panic attacks, the scratching. However, my freshman year of college was rough. I chalked it up to being homesick and adjusting to a new place but that’s probably not what it was.
When my grandpa passed away with six weeks left of the school year, any semblance of control I had over my life disappeared. My first year advisor scheduled an appointment for me with the campus counselor.
We talked about everything that had happened over the last five years – from behaviors to anxiety to panic attacks, we covered it all. By the end of the school year, 6 weeks later, I thought I was in a good place. I still had behaviors and migraines, but otherwise I was good.
Right before returning to school I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. At first I didn’t think this would have anything to do with my mental health but after eating gluten free for a while I felt great. Little to no behaviors. No panic attacks. No migraines. It was like I found a miracle cure.
But we all know miracle cures aren’t real. By the time I actually was wrapped up in classes and a social life, the panic attacks and behaviors returned. I tried to ignore them for a long time (7 months, to be exact). However, one morning I woke up hyperventilating and sobbing. I reached for my phone and emailed my professors to let them know I would not be in class that day.
I looked at my legs and saw what looked like claw marks running from my ankles to my thighs. I knew then that I was approaching rock bottom. While I stayed in bed all day I also called my doctor back home. I was supposed to go home in just a couple weeks and we set up an appointment.
I had fought any sort of diagnosis, and therefore treatment, for years. I was convinced that everything would just go away if I did the right things. If I ate right, and exercised, and did fun things with friends, and saw a therapist I could be “cured”. For some people, those are viable treatment options. However, I recognized that I needed something more. This was serious.
My doctor and I talked about all the symptoms I had exhibited over the years. She finally decided that it was most important to treat the compulsions. We discussed various medications and finally settled on one that was meant for OCD but would also help with my anxiety and depression.
WHERE AM I NOW?
It’s been almost three years since that eventful morning when I reached rock bottom and I’ve come a long way. I can’t say that it’s been an easy journey, because it definitely hasn’t been. I’ve been on and off the medicine more times than I can count over the years, never at the discretion of a doctor but always because I hated being sick. I’m currently not on medicine and I feel great. I’ve learned my triggers. I’ve built a support system.
It took me a long time to realize that I needed help, and even though I had people who tried to get me help along the way. I wasn’t able to take that final step until I recognized it myself. If you are ever feeling overwhelmed or like you are reaching rock bottom, I urge you to reach out and let at least one person know what you are going through. You are not alone.
Authored by: Victoria Cartland
Edited by: Kaity Klotzbach