I was 22 when anxiety slowly crept into my life. For many, there is a specific moment of panic which leaves them with long lasting effects.
I did not experience such a moment – my journey began in the most surreptitious way.
It began with stomach issues – overwhelming stomach issues. Being one who always kept her health in check (I was an avid gym goer and health nut), I felt completely out of control of my body.
Almost to the date, the new year of 2016 began with daily nausea, coupled with a constant bloating stomach.
Soon, I experienced joint pain in the knees and ankles and rapid weight loss, though I was too bloated to tell I was losing any weight at all.
This made it difficult to walk long periods at a time or climb stairs, I was easily out of breath. What’s worse, I was so malnourished I experienced episodes of fainting.
But what really instilled fear in me was the constant feeling of sickness from indigestion. I was experiencing minor cases of vomiting daily.
I cannot place into words the fear that overcame me from this sickness. I was defeated, my body was no longer my own.
Anyone who knows me would attest that I am almost stubbornly independent, yet I now needed help climbing the stairs.
I had to drop from attending classes at my university and transfer to an online environment due to this mystery illness, yet the illness itself was only half my battle.
I had no idea at the time, but my anxiety would play a fundamental role in all this. The lasting effects of constant sickness had left me in a heightened state of fear all the time.
I could no longer go out to eat, as I would worry about getting publicly sick. I stopped driving after an episode of heaving while on the road left me stricken with apprehension.
I had withdrawn from classes; the public nature of a classroom was something I felt I couldn’t handle.
I required a safe person with me – usually my very patient boyfriend – in the case I may be sick or faint in public.
You cannot imagine the toll this took on me, as I withdrew from my entire life. I spent more time inside these next few months than I care to be honest about.
At 22, I was considering an entire career change which would allow me to live as comfortably as possible.
Prior to this I was studying politics, which isn’t exactly the most convenient or forgiving lifestyle.
Now, I yearned for comfortableness and predictability. I had given in.
At the recommendation of my doctor, (I stumbled upon a naturopathic doctor who successfully diagnosed and treated my stomach disorder, after four previous doctor’s failed to figure out what was wrong).
I began seeking care for my anxiety through CBT, or cognitive behavioral therapy.
It is a structured therapy plan that utilizes coping mechanisms to deal with common mental ailments such as depression or anxiety.
I knew after my first visit it was not going to help me. I needed something more hands on, a plan of action which would allow me not just to cope, but to break through.
I discontinued my therapy after three months with no progression, just in time to discover DARE.
A quick google search of ‘best anxiety book’ led me to DARE, and I knew it was the right program for me immediately.
It was a both feet in approach to defeating anxiety. What attracted me to the book especially was that it put the power in your hands to defeat your anxiety.
No therapist to rely on, or medication to take – only you and sheer will power to do what it takes to find recovery. The only tool I needed was me.
The only person capable of breaking through anxiety was me. And Barry helped me learn how to do just that.
I read the book in two days. I then read it again, keeping a running notebook jotting down lines or phrases which stuck out to me the most.
I wrote down the DARE steps on a post it and stuck it in my purse. I then got to work utilizing Barry’s method.
My first time behind the wheel was in October, maybe 5 months after my terrifying episode. I needed to get myself to my brother’s final band performance during the halftime show of his high school football game.
He was the center snare drummer, a title he worked years for. My boyfriend was once again my most patient safe person.
I repeated the steps, and drove. It wasn’t easy, and in fact there were many points I could have broken down crying.
But I kept the image of my brother in my mind, I thought about how I would feel years down the road if I missed such a significant moment from anxiety.
No way. “I accept and allow these anxious feelings, I accept and allow these anxious thoughts,” would be my mantra for months.
I got myself to that show, sat through the entire thing, feeling for the first time what it was like to sit with anxiety and not run from it.
Driving would prove to be my biggest obstacle, but it gradually became easier every time. Exposing myself to it as often as possible was key, yet that is much easier said than done.
I kept in mind Barry’s frank honesty: of course, I’m going to be anxious doing this, but I’m going to get myself through it.
I would imagine for many the process of truly accepting your anxiety is the most difficult part. It is only through exposing yourself to as many anxiety provoking situations as possible you can learn to accept it.
Otherwise, all you do is band aid a wound that is still there, and will always be until you learn how to heal it. This is what you are doing, every time you step outside your comfort zone.
You may think initially its crazy, after all – why would you want to purposely make yourself anxious?
“You have to get in to get out” (a lyric from an amazing Genesis song) and I learned that the more I exposed myself, the more equipped I became at handling anxious moments.
The more I realized anxiety is an illusion. The more I felt empowered to take myself further and further outside my artificial safe barriers, and the more I began living again.
A trip to the store led to a trip to the mall, which lead to a small lunch date which led to a beautiful dinner out in the city.
It is a progression. And it is achievable, only if you commit yourself to achieving it. A year and a half has passed from my first few episodes of anxiety, and I can now say I am recovered.
Maybe not necessarily because I never have any moments of anxiety, but because I can have these moments and accept them.
I kept my intended major, became an honors student, drive myself daily to an internship with my local Congressman, and volunteer often.
I go out with my boyfriend and friends all the time, staying out late and enjoying every moment. I have flown home by myself to watch my brother graduate high school and am planning a trip to Texas to visit my best friend.
I have been to two theme parks and enjoyed the crowds and the rides. What you may not realize now about DARE, is that it doesn’t just help you through your anxiety, but it reshapes your entire life.
The affects will touch every facet of your life through the empowering realization that you did it. I feel as if I am a girl almighty most days now, because what on earth can I not overcome?!
I have become so much more confident in myself, that I have set my goals even higher. I look at the world with much less apprehension or fear, instead looking at all the possibilities I might uncover because I know I can.
If anxiety is your biggest challenge, as it was mine, can you only imagine how you might feel once on the other side of it?
You are capable of more than you know, and this journey with DARE will show you just how powerful you really are.
I thank Barry for the life changing book, that not only gave me my life back but gave me back to so many people anxiety had taken me away from.
From my family, my friends, my wonderful boyfriend, I was a shell of myself they hardly recognized.
DARE has given me back to them, and them back to me. It has taught me so much more than how to break through anxiety, but how to realize the incredible strength I have always had within me.
My time spent with anxiety is now time I am so thankful to have had, because it ended up shaping me in the most defining way!