An Intro to Ali's Anxiety
I’ve mentioned a few times on the blog and on Instagram that I have anxiety. Bare with me on this post - I’m the type that wants to fit everything in at one time so it might be a little all over the place. I promise I’ll keep posting about it though. I think it’s an important topic to discuss.
I can’t remember when I started having anxiety. My first experience that I can recall is first grade. I had Mr. B for a teacher. He is the teacher I desperately wanted - all the students loved him. I went to a small, private, catholic grade school growing up. My class started out with about 30-35 students in Kindergarten but dwindled down to 20 upon 8th grade. I think most people, at least at that time, learned to read in Kindergarten. I could read, I just didn’t enjoy it. In first grade we all had class “jobs” each week. There was one job I didn’t have the whole first semester (so I never learned it). When second semester came around, I prayed I wouldn’t get that job. I didn’t want to ask how to do it because I felt like I should know. I feared Mr. B would ask “were you not paying attention?!”. The thing is, I learn best by doing. So, since I hadn’t done it, I hadn’t learned what to do. The job entailed counting the number of books the class had read and marking that number on the reading chart in the hall. If the class read a certain total number of books in the year, we would get a pizza party. Each time a student finished a book, they filled out a piece of paper and stuck it in the jar to be counted. The chart in the hall had a bunch of lines, leading up to the final amount, and you colored the lines in green to indicate number of books read. Of course, some time early in second semester, I was selected for that job. I asked a friend how to do it and she explained (well, most of it). I noticed kids had typically gotten up during class to count and go out and color in. So, when it was my turn, that’s what I did. I counted a whole bunch of books - at this point I can’t remember. Maybe 10-20. I took my green marker, made my way out to the hall, and began coloring. It was taking a lot of time as I was coloring in 10-20 lines. I’m also a perfectionist so it had to look pretty. Older students passed in the hall and made comments like “wow, that was a lot of books” and “that’s crazy!”. Soon, Mr. B and the class came out to take a bathroom break or go to recess or something. I was still coloring when I hear “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” loud and clear and for the whole floor to hear. Everyone started laughing. My face turned bright red. Mr. B proceeded to speak very loudly, telling me I was doing it wrong and asking why I hadn’t asked for help if I didn’t know what I was doing. I was humiliated. You were only supposed to color in one line for 10 books. I didn’t realize this and thought each line stood for a single book - no wonder all the kids were so surprised when walking by. The next few days I didn’t want to go to school. I didn’t want my mom to leave me. I didn’t want to go in and face my class and my teacher. Later that week I was reassured that we’d pass that goal and no one would be able to see the mistake. The thing is, we didn’t pass that goal. So, for the rest of the year, my mistake was out there, in the hall, for everyone to see.
Here’s the thing - it was a mistake. First of all, I was like 7 years old. Second of all, you would think “get over it” right? But no. Here I am, 20 years later, telling you all this story. Because it still haunts me. I still get worked up about it. I get worked up that I did something wrong. I get worked up because I was yelled at and laughed at. I get worked up because my mistake was in the hall for all the students and teachers to see every day that semester. Why am I worked up? I don’t know. But I do know that’s the first experience with anxiety that I can remember - and it still haunts me to this day.
In college, I began getting sick to my stomach multiple times a week. I want to quantify it but sometimes it was 1 or 2 days and other times it was every day. I couldn’t figure out what was making me sick. I started trying to cut out foods (I still don’t drink pop - carbonation does hurt my stomach) but that didn’t seem to work. I finally went to a Gastrointestinal Doctor. They asked me to tell them what foods I knew hurt my stomach or might make me sick. I started to name off a whole list - but none of these foods added up to having one certain thing in common. They ultimately decided to send me in for both a colonoscopy and an endoscopy. If you’ve been through this or have heard about it, you know the preparation is awful. I went through with it and guess what...they couldn’t find anything wrong. I was left to figure it out on my own.
I still got sick a lot. There was one time, however, that I could guarantee I would be sick: Tuesday and Thursday before my Sales class. I dreaded this class. The professor had a policy that your grade was partially based on participation. Sales isn’t my strong suit and so participation was hard for me. I don’t like not being good at things. When I know I’m not good, I’m not going to do it. So, I didn’t want to get up in front of the class and act out sales calls and cold calls - I wasn’t good and didn’t want to be judged for it. Part of the course meant attending evening presentations by local companies on sales and I believe they were trying to recruit students. Early in the semester, I went to one of these sales presentations. The next time I was in class, the professor asked us to tell him if there was anything we learned or thought was interesting. I wanted him to know I had attended and felt this was a good opportunity to participate in class. I raised my hand and told him something I found interesting from the presentation. His response (in an asshole-ish tone) was “okay, but didn’t you already know that?”. I was, once again, humiliated. My stomach dropped, my face turned bright red, and I held back as my eyes started watering from my face getting so hot. When my stomach drops like that, I typically have to run to the bathroom to get sick. Here I was, trying to participate, making an effort, and I was humiliated instead. That’s when I started getting sick before every class. I dreaded going to this class. I didn’t want to participate, I didn’t want to be called on, I didn’t want to do it (but it was required). One day, I can’t remember why, but our professor was sitting in the back of the room talking with a bunch of us. In that moment, I had the opportunity to say “I get physically sick every day before this class, in the bathroom right outside that door...it makes me that anxious”. From then on, he didn’t call on me. I participated when I had to and I ended up with an A. I was thankful I had the ability to say that to him. I was appreciative that he listened and understood that maybe I didn’t need to be put on the spot but that I was trying my best.
At that time, I should have known that my anxiety was the reason I got sick so often. It wasn’t until several years later that I realized this was the case. I began to see a correlation between being anxious (that I did something wrong, that I said the wrong thing, because I was humiliated or made fun of or called out) and getting sick. I’m not sure why these things make me so anxious, I know plenty of people who can just let these things roll off them (or they can handle it better at least) but I just can’t.
About a year and a half ago, I went on anxiety medication. It was a bumpy ride, trying to figure out what medication was best for me. There were a lot of tears, a lot of getting sick, but ultimately, I found the right medication for me. I began taking Zoloft and had to up the dose a few times before I began to notice a difference. It was a big difference. I loved being able to handle things that would normally make me immediately anxious and sick. I could take constructive criticism from my boss without losing it. I could make a mistake and figure out a solution rather than losing it and/or shutting down. It was such a great feeling and I am so thankful to my doctor for helping me find this solution. It only took 20 years but at least I found something!
Information about anxiety is so much more prevalent than it was even 6 years ago when I was in college. However, if you get sick often and can’t figure out why - take notice of how you’re feeling that day or in your every day life at that time. Are you stressed? Are you feeling upset? Are you anxious? There’s a chance your stomach issues could be directly related to this, rather than foods or liquids. Now, I’m not saying there aren’t some foods or drinks that make me sick or make my stomach hurt (cause that still happens a lot) but it’s also important to take your mental health into account here.
Do you struggle with anxiety? Have you found something that helps you cope? Is there any information you want to learn from me about my anxiety and how I cope? Please share!