I grew up in a family where there was a lot of substance misuse. My dad was very abusive with drugs, alcohol and people. I grew up watching him become violent toward my mom. After he left, my mom also went downhill. I pretty much had to raise myself and my younger siblings. It was really hard. Because of what I was dealing with at home, I developed anxiety and depression really, really bad. I eventually began having severe panic attacks. I struggled day in and day out; I struggled all the time from when I woke up to the time I went to bed. There was this voice that was telling me all of these bad things. I would cry all day long. I stopped eating because I just felt so bad. I never turned to substance use to cope, but sadly, I can’t say that for my brother. He learned to cope from how he saw others coping around home.
Panic attacks are horrible. You have them and it can be really scary. My panic attacks, I learned, had a lot to do with what was going on at home and was part of the past trauma I was dealing with. When you go through a panic attack, your body and your mind are telling you things that aren’t really true. It can be terrible and make your depression unbearable. You may even begin to feel like you don’t want to live. It is a hard thing to deal with and a lot of people feel they aren’t able to make it through.
Today, after finding help, I feel free from my anxiety and panic attacks because I know how to manage them. It wasn’t until I became an adult and got into this type of work that I realized there were resources available to me that no one was talking about. I want to be that voice for others to let them know where they can go for help and who is available for them. I want others to know they are not alone and that there are so many of us that can relate to what you are going through. I know this because I have lived it.
There are several coping skills I have learned through therapy that have been effective. One that has been really helpful to me during a panic attack is called the Grounding Effect (or the 5,4,3,2,1). You start by naming, out loud, five things you see, 4 things you hear, 3 things you physically feel (like a chair, the breeze, etc.), 2 things you can smell, and finally 1 positive thing. This technique helps you focus on your immediate surroundings. When you are having a panic attack you are focused on the inside, in your mind, and this focus makes you want to get away from something that may or may not be actually happening. The Grounding Effect takes you outside your mind to focus on your surroundings and help you gain back control.
When someone comes to me and tells me they are going through something like I did, the first thing I say is, “Hey, right now, I’m here and you are okay.” I let them know I’m here and we are going to get through this. I also let them know I can relate and can share my story if they do not want to talk. I find that people get a lot of inspiration from hearing someone’s story. I let people know that I understand how difficult and hard it is to persevere. And they believe me because they know I have been through it. We have to stay focused and let nothing stop us. It’s not easy. It can feel like a war. But I’m here to say that once we find the tools that work for us, we can rise and become unstoppable.
We need good people in our corner. I think of the coach in the boxing ring. They do that for the boxer; they stay strong in their corner. We all need to be in each other’s corner. Because of the opioid and drug epidemic here, it can be extra hard to deal because there are so many unhealthy ways to cope with what is going on. The youth here need to know they are not alone, and I am in their corner. I feel like my experience has called me to make a change and be a change for others.
Holly, 21, Meigs County Ohio.
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