As you may be aware, I just finished with school for the quarter.
As you may not be aware, one of my classes was feature writing.
And for this class. I had to write a memoir.
I thought I would share it with you.
So here it is…
I was 20 years old when I thought I couldn’t breathe. I was supposed to be going to a charity event that my old high school was hosting and a few of my old friends were in. My mom and I had just finished dinner and were driving downtown to the Capital Theatre, then I couldn’t breathe. Like the good nurse my mom is, she took me to the hospital. I quickly learned when you are gasping for air you are not left in the waiting room. You are told to sit down in the wheelchair and get taken to triage right away. As it turns out, I could breathe, in fact my oxygen levels were great. I had just had an anxiety attack. One Xanax later I was sent on my way.
This seemingly unexpected anxiety attack was exactly that, unexpected by everyone other than myself. It has been said that I grew up straight into the awkward phase and haven’t left since. I was raised in your average, middle-class, white, Christian home and I thought that meant I was the type of girl who could never have those sorts of problems.
I was an accident, albeit a happy accident according to my mom, born a mere 11 months after my brother Jeff who had Cerebral Palsy and just about three years after my oldest brother, Travis. And when I was 9 years old my life changed.
I was at family camp, five days of sun, swimming in a lake and getting to be with my family and friends from our church. One day my mom and Travis went home because my grandpa was having open heart surgery. I spent the day with my dad and Jeff and went to bed excited for the rest of camp. When I woke up there was chaos.
People crammed into our little space, someone was hovering over my brother’s bed. In what seemed like moments they were all gone, I was left in the care of family friends. A few hours later my dad came back.
“Tracy, Jeff is with Jesus now.”
As I sat on my dad’s lap in the family camping trailer with the July heat surrounding us, I heard those words that forever changed my family.
One would think that this would be the beginning of my anxiety but that doesn’t come until a few years later. It is possible the unexpected death of my brother set something off inside of me. The older I become the more often people ask me if experiencing death at such a young age had some horrible effect upon my childhood. The truth is, I don’t know. I don’t know how different my childhood and life would have been if my brother had lived. Even through the death of my parents’ middle child, our family didn’t fall apart. My parent’s marriage didn’t crumble, and neither Travis nor I became drugs addicts, dropped out of school or began a life or crime because of some unresolved issues related to the death of our brother. Many siblings of special needs kids feel that during the life of their siblings they were ignored because of all the extra attention their brother or sister needs and at the death of their sibling the feelings can continue. However, this was never the case in my family. Jeff was a loved part of our family, he went camping with us and was at the same school as us, but there were times he was left with a caretaker while the rest of the family went on a vacation. He was important to my parents, but no more important than me or Travis and they made sure that we knew this.
I always was an awkward kid but in the sixth grade I got boobs and braces. One year I was the goalie of my soccer team and the next I was the girl who was terrified of balls flying towards her. Sixth grade cemented my identity, or at least what I thought what my identity was. I was that awkward, weird girl. The too loud at all the wrong times, too shy at all the others, uncomfortable in my own skin, misfit of a sixth grader. Time was pushing me to grow up and my fear kept clinging to the comfort of what I knew. I spent many recesses in the library shelving books or reading because the idea of recess with my peers filled my stomach with dread. I never had many friends, but the friends I did have were always good ones, but at times the knowledge of that wasn’t enough. There were times I was convinced those that knew me didn’t really like me and those that didn’t know me wouldn’t like me as soon as they got to know me. At times, I even convinced myself that my friends weren’t, like somehow everyone was conspiring against me, playing some sort of cruel joke on me or was only acting like my friend because they felt sorry for me.
Somehow over the next few years, I harnessed my fear and coped with my insecurities through a hard exterior. I hid behind a shell of sarcasm and self-deprecating humor. I convinced myself if I made fun of what and who I was first, if anyone else dared to make fun of me it wouldn’t hurt so badly. I built up this wall of false ideas to protect myself from an enemy of my own making. This was how I spent the majority of middle school and high school. I was constantly between who I was and thought I was supposed to be. The “calm and gentle spirit” and the idea to “never cause your brothers in Christ to stumble” that were touted at purity conferences and by pastors as the ideals for girls raised in the midst of the purity culture of my Christian upbringing were always out of reach for me. My shirts were always too low, my pants too tight, my voice too loud, my tears came far too quickly and the rest of me just too awkward. I was supposed to be full of grace and always be able to lean upon the everlasting arms of Jesus when I had problems. In short, I thought I needed to be a Good Little Christian Girl. And Good Little Christian Girls weren’t supposed to have anxiety and we weren’t supposed to feel like throwing up at the idea of social events. But I did, and I felt like a fraud and a failure.
My senior year of high school I had plans to leave after graduation. I was going to go somewhere new, somewhere I would be unknown. While I felt my constant awkwardness and stress was getting worse, I was no longer the same person I had been, and I felt trapped by other people’s perceptions of who I was. But my plans changed. I wasn’t going to leave. My dreams of going off to study English or history were replaced with the plans of a technical school. Even though I didn’t like it I quickly fell into the safety that was routine. The type of safely I both loved and so desperately wanted to escape from.
By the end of school my constant uneasiness and fear was at its prime. Daily I was combating what I would only describe as “just a little nervous stomach ache.” I couldn’t let go of the lies that I began to believe in middle school. I thought my problems were non-problems. Just the wannabe tragedies of a middle-class white girl, nothing of any real consequence.
And then I couldn’t breathe.
The part of myself that I tried for so long to hide was now out in plain view. I was embarrassed and I was ashamed.
After my evening excursion the emergency room I went to my doctor was told that sometimes when you are having an anxiety attack “you just need to take a nap” and was given a prescription that would do just that, and was sent to a counselor. But after one pill that knocked me out and four sessions with the counselor, I was done.
It was almost one and half years later before I took myself back to the doctor, finding one that I liked and admitting the extent of my anxiety. At 21 I finally was tired of the constant stomach aches and the near panic that came before most social events. When I got a job as an office assistant every time the phone rang I shakily answered the phone, dread filling my stomach with the fear that I would do an unknown something wrong. I was tired of it. I was tired of fighting a losing battle. My new doctor told me that I had social and anticipatory anxiety and gave me a prescription actually designated for anxiety. The first evening I swallowed one of those little white pills I felt like a failure, like somehow I wasn’t trusting Jesus enough or would never be normal. And normal is what I so desperately wanted to be. Then after about one month of those little white pills, crazy things started to happen, those “little nervous stomach aches” became that and always I knew that I could breathe.
I wish I could give you some miraculous ending, how that at 23 I am now cool again and no longer awkward, I never doubt myself or I never believe the lies of my youth. The truth is, doubt will wait for a low moment to come and lies will creep in when least expected and most likely that I will always be awkward.