When I was braving a crippling, seemingly never-ending tsunami of anxiety, I could not believe I would ever get better.
It was my junior year of high school — a period of my life that feels like an eternity away and yet was very recent — when students were gearing up for university and scholarship applications. I was a conscientious student with promising plans on the horizon: to attend my dream school and become a teacher. I maintained a 4.0 GPA through hours of studying and writing assignments, surrounding myself with a wonderful group of friends who encouraged both my personal and academic pursuits.
Then anxiety struck.
It came out of nowhere, like an out-of-control train charging through the darkness of night. Yes, it had happened before, but this time it threw me off course — threatening to wreck my plans.
I was writing a math test one day, my school uniform pressed, and memorized trigonometry formulas sprinting through my sleep-deprived mind. My head spun, and my heart rate increased to a speed I didn’t know was possible, robbing me of my ability to think straight.
The same thing kept on happening. Whenever I would sit down to write a test, my entire body would tense up, and my head would pound. The feeling was so horrible I can hardly put it into words.
One day, as I was having one of these panic attacks, I raised a trembling hand to excuse myself. From the tears streaming down my face, my teacher figured out what was happening. Her face creased with concern, and she quietly sent me down to the counselor’s office so as not to alert my classmates of my precarious situation.
Once slumped against a stiff leather chair in the counselor’s office — the harsh scent of furniture polish and cheap scented candles from the dollar store burning in my lungs, the school psychologist inspected me through her cat-eye glasses. I stared at the bamboo planter and inspirational posters dangling behind her as my tear-soaked eyes adjusted to the glare of the fluorescent lights. In between sobs, I told her what had happened, expecting her perfectly made-up face to crack in horror as she witnessed my impending demise.
Instead, she leaned forward in her seat, her expression one of perfect composure. In fact, it was almost jarring how unbothered she seemed. “How do you feel about that?”
It was the first time I had heard the question beyond the stilted conversations between therapists and distraught women in the Hallmark movies I seldom watched with my mother. I didn’t actually realize therapists asked this question in real life.
I was stunned for a moment. I had just told her how if this test anxiety didn’t subside soon, I would fail to make it into university — or any school at all. My entire life was falling apart before her eyes, and she was asking me how I felt?
“I… I’m scared I’m going to feel like this forever.” I admitted as I used tissue from the Kleenex box on her desk to wipe my face.
For the first time during our conversation, a trickle of emotion swept across her face. She nodded. “Trust me. You won’t feel this forever. The anxiety will pass, I promise.”
Although the counselor’s promise was at first impossible to believe, I eventually emerged from the immense darkness of my anxiety. I realized the panic attacks never lasted — even though they felt like they stretched into eternity at the moment — and sought help for what I discovered is an increasingly common mental illness among teens and adults.
When I began learning more about anxiety disorders, I unlearned the lie my anxiety had been teaching me from the beginning: the lie that anxiety lasts forever.
Especially amid an anxiety attack, it can seem like the associated feelings of utter dread and panic will never go away. It is like walking through a dark tunnel without being able to see the light at the end. But the feeling of permanence is just an illusion.
I’ve had seasons of my life where anxiety lasts for long periods of time, making my life feel like an uphill battle I’m never going to win. But each time I’ve encountered intense anxiety, I have recovered.
When we believe anxiety will last forever, we succumb to feelings of helplessness, erroneously thinking we can do nothing to treat the disorder. However, research proves anxiety disorders are highly treatable. With treatment from mental health professionals, coping strategies, strong support systems, and healthy lifestyle changes — anxiety is manageable.
When we unlearn the lie that anxiety is eternal, we remember life is a colourful array of both beauty and pain, as well as hard times that do not last forever. So the next time you struggle against waves of seemingly never-ending anxiety, know those feelings will not last forever.