A Dancer with Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Nathalia B. started her journey with anxiety at a young age. From struggling with concentration to being in a state of restlessness, Nathalia fights a daily battle to get through stressful situations. Her anxiety disorder can hinder her dance performances and hurt her relationships with others. She continuously makes adjustments and works to ease the stress it puts on her. Anxiety does play a role in Nathalia’s life, but it does not control her.
At what age or event did you realize you might think differently? Describe your first experience with anxiety?
I didn't grow up in an environment or household that was like, you know, talked about anxiety. I didn't know what anxiety was until like the last few years ago on social media, and there’s been a lot of advocacy for mental illness or anxiety. And, um, it wasn't until I personally met my boyfriend's mom who struggled with that herself. She told me, you know, what anxiety was, and that that’s what I had. I wasn’t someone that was just, you know, I was always labelled an “overthinker” or just a “really emotional person.” So, I didn’t personally know what anxiety was and what the definition of it was. I didn’t diagnose myself (chuckles) until like the last few years. But, I think one of the first few like, um, memories of me having anxiety when I was little, it was like when I was put into really stressful situations. And I, you know, wasn’t able to react or respond to those situations in a way someone normal, you know, “normal” would be able to respond to them. I was like seven, eight years old, these are memories that I can think of now like “Oh my gosh. I, you know, had anxiety back then. I didn’t develop this, you know, in the last few years.” I didn’t say “Oh, I have anxiety.” You know? Mhm. Um, I was like seven or eight years old. It was, I am not going to go into detail, well kind of, but it was, um, my dad was in a really bad place, you know. Um, he, um, he was a drug addict at this point, and I, he came home from a really long, he was a truck driver. And he came home really late, and I was sleeping with my mom. And, um, he came in screaming, and obviously when someone is on drugs they’re not themselves, and, you know, thinking clearly is not, you know, they can’t think clearly. So, he’s very paranoid and was saying that he, um, she (Nathalia’s mother) was cheating on him, and it was just a very bad situation. We were obviously in danger, and I-I-I physically felt like I couldn’t move. I-I-I remember thinking “Oh my God, we’re gonna die,” like at seven years old, so. Like I wasn’t able to respond in a way that I could help my mom, or respond in a way that was helpful to the situation. And I just remember, well I mean, any seven year old girl wouldn’t know what to do in that situation. But I feel like someone with different thinking capabilities would’ve been able to, you know, say something or do something to help the situation. I wasn’t, I was numb and I was frozen and I couldn’t, you know, help.
What steps did you and/or your family take to help you?
It wasn’t until the last few years that, you know, I came to my parents. I said, “I have anxiety,” and I had to, you know, talk to them about it. And, you know, explain to them ‘cause they’re not the type, we’re a traditional Hispanic family. And, um, asking for help is very hard for most of us. So, for them to say “Oh, you have anxiety,” it was a big deal. Um, but my mom put me in therapy, and it’s helped significantly in the last few years. Like a lot. I’ve seen four different therapists, and each of them has taught me something different on how to deal with it. But I feel like, um, my boyfriend’s mom who herself is like a, she has a very severe anxiety disorder. She’s helped me with like habits and tactics to talk myself through those moments where my anxiety is really high. And it’s just- it’s a matter of how you approach your anxiety like I know the days where I’m like super, I’m having a super bad day and having bad anxiety, if I let myself like sink into it and like “Okay. Today is not a good day.” And I just allow myself to feel that way, it just gets worse. So I feel like battling anxiety, the steps you take to overcome that, it’s like a matter of self. Like how- how are you gonna battle anxiety today, tomorrow, or the next day. Like an approach. Yeah. Your perspective on it.
In what ways does it affect your everyday life?
(chuckles) Well, every situation is different. Where like- or everyday is different, obviously. But, um, I’ve always been an overthinker and all. In dance, you’ve experienced that. You’ve seen me be very overwhelmed and sometimes it can bring me to tears. Sometimes it can make me very, you know, upset on the inside or, um, just completely shut down. Um, it’s affected on how I approach things everyday. Like if I know I’m having a really bad day with anxiety then I probably won’t go anywhere. Unless I have to like dance. Or, um, if I’m in a crowded room and my anxiety starts to,um, give me panic attacks and it just- it just- it depends on each day. Like why I won’t go somewhere or I’ll remove myself from the environment that is giving me anxiety or I’ll just have to ask whoever I’m with to take me home. E- e- each day is different. You know, some days it can be me just crying in my room, other days it can be me crying at dance, other days it could be me, I don’t know, out in public and just having a panic attack and not knowing what to do with myself. Um, but it all just comes down to like being overwhelmed and not knowing like, I feel like anxiety can be defined by like a few different words for different people. But for me, me personally, my anxiety is literally being overwhelmed. That’s literally what it is for me.
Okay, what twitches or habits have you developed because of your anxiety?
Um, because of my anxiety I’ve developed, you know, I’m very hard on myself like, I don’t know why. It just- be-, um, in the first few years that I started researching what anxiety was, or just starting to figure it out, a lot of people were saying “Anxiety isn’t real. People just diagnose themselves, they just want attention, they just want sympathy.” And, you know, at first I kind of started believing that. And so I became like very hard on myself when I would feel anxiety coming on. I’d be like “You can’t do this. You can’t feel this way.” And I would bring myself down even more. So like- I feel like in some ways I still have those habits where like once I start feeling anxiety coming on, I like (am) trying to tell myself to snap out of it in like- in a bad way. Some days I’m good at telling myself to just calm down and, you know, think clearly, but other days that’s not possible. And I feel like that little part of me that started saying, “Oh, this isn’t real. You can’t feel this way. It’s not okay to feel this way,” is still kind of there. Because I tried so hard back then to not be someone with anxiety. You know, that was like the label I put on myself.
Um, what situations do you avoid because of your anxiety or fear of it erupting? Like parties or...
Yeah. I don’t go to parties, and that would be really bad (laughs). Um, I try to avoid situations where there is a lot of yelling. I mean, obviously Raven (dance teacher) yells at us, A lot. everyday at dance. But she’s- I know in my heart that it’s like, she’s doing it with good intention and she’s like, I mean like, in situations where there’s like aggressiveness. Like if I hear someone yelling on the side of the street I’ll- I’ll immediately know I need to get out of here because if not, if I stay and continue to hear him yelling I’ll probably like shut down. And I feel like this all stems down from that situation when I was seven years old with my parents. Um, that’s what my therapist says that, um, it all comes back to, you know, how I started feeling. And, um, I don’t like yelling, I don’t like, um, I don’t like a lot of, um. How do I explain it? I don’t like being in rooms where there’s a lot of people yelling. So like football season when my uncles come over, I can’t be home when they’re watching football. You know all the screaming, all the clapping, and just that kind of environment is not for me because my anxiety sets in. And there’s no way of telling how it’ll affect me. Well, I have seen it. I just- I don’t like feeling that way, you know, really trapped and claustrophobic almost. Yeah. Yeah. So I avoid situations like that. Smart.
Explain a time your anxiety stopped you from doing something that you now regret.
Um. Oh! Um, I’ve had plenty of situations like that, but, um, my freshman year of high school I was new to this, um, I was going to [a high school] in Riverside. And it’s, um, fairly big in terms of, you know, a private school. And I had never experienced anything like that. Um, but I was being, you know, (sighs) I hate saying this word, I was being bullied. I didn’t have any friends and, um, the girls, not just the girls, just like the whole-. It felt like the whole school was against me. And that might be my anxiety, but literally nobody would talk to me. And when they did it was very aggressive and almost like, um, they were personally attacking me and how I approached things at the school. Like homework or what I brought to lunch or, um, what I wore. So my anxiety never allowed me to, you know, say something or to, um, to defend myself, that’s what I mean to say. I was never able to defend myself, and that goes from elementary all the way to now. I- I don’t have the ability to defend myself in most situations because, you know, like right now thinking back “Oh, I would’ve totally have said something. I would have told them, you know, to, um, to go to hell.” Oh, I shouldn’t say that. You can say it. Um, I would’ve, you know, totally told them to go to hell and to- to just- to just leave me alone. Because they have no business talking to me like that. But I know myself and I know that if I were to be put back into that situation I still wouldn’t say anything. Because my body like I- like my brain goes to mush when I’m in situations like that. I- I- I literally feel paralyzed and I do nothing. So, um, that not- that goes for a lot of situations like I said. But, um, now that I think about it more and more if I had been able to defend myself in just one of those situations, I probably would have a better understanding on, you know, standing up to bullies (chuckles). Yeah. Or people that, um, have no business saying anything.
Describe why it’s necessary to tell people about anxiety.
It’s necessary because like I said I had no idea that I had anxiety until the last few years. Um, there was no advocacy for myself or, you know, had I not known what anxiety was, my mom would’ve not- would’ve never put me in therapy. And I wouldn’t have been able to grow and, you know, pos-p-positively helped myself instead of continuing the negative habits of, you know, “I can’t feel this way. You’re an overthinker. You need to stop being so emotional about everything. You need to stop crying about everything.” And just, you know, beating myself to the ground. Um, for people that don’t have the kind of help that I’ve been given with like therapy or people around me that know I have anxiety. There’s, you know, compassion and understanding in my community. I know for people that- who probably don’t know what anxiety is or don’t care to think, they don’t give other people that same, you know, advocacy and that can lead to so many other issues for that person.
Under what circumstances would you want to get rid of your anxiety?
I would want to get rid of it, you know, in terms like me. Me saying, “Okay. I’m going to get through the day without anxiety. I’m gonna get through the day without feeling so crappy and feeling, um, like I did it. Not because of somebody else.” You know, like I’m going to get rid of my anxiety. Which I don’t think that’s ever, I mean it’s possible, but I feel like everyone with anxiety,it comes in different forms. You know, ever- n- it’s not the same for everyone so I don’t think one can say “Oh, I got rid of my anxiety.” You know? Mhm. It’s something we’re going to have to live with.
Would you choose to like be born without it if you could?
That’s hard because I feel like because of my anxiety I’ve been able to, I don’t know, become a better person. And, you know, have compassion on deeper levels because everyone is born with a different disorder. And had I not, you know, put so much time and energy into understanding mine I probably wouldn- well, I have probably would, I don’t know. But I’m- I know for sure that because of my understanding for my own anxiety and my own issues and, you know, it’s like a mental block, um, I have compassion for so many others. Mm. And I- I- I- I definitely want to say that had I not been born with anxiety, I- I would do the same, but I don’t know so.
What are some stereotypes around anxiety that annoy you?
That it’s not real. And that people that say they have anxiety they do it just for sympathy. I don’t advertise that I have anxiety, I just let them know I’m a little bit more sensitive. And when- you know when- you say that you’re sensitive and you’re a little more emotional than other people, they immediately think that you just want sympathy. And I feel like a lot- everybody with anxiety feels the same way because we don’t want sympathy. We just want advocacy and we want understanding to the situation because there’s no telling how anxiety will affect you in a different situation. Like yesterday could’ve been me breaking down and not, you know, not wanting to eat. And tomorrow it could be a full panic attack and I can pass out. So just having understanding and compassion for anxiety in general, I feel like people would feel safer and feel, you know, more willing to come forward and get help. Like therapy is one of the biggest blessings since me understanding what anxiety was.
Now pretend I’m like the person: what would you say if I didn’t believe in anxiety or called you “overdramatic?”
Um, I’d say that “You have yet to experience what I’ve experienced. And that, um, that you really don’t have a right to tell me whether or not I have anxiety or not because you haven’t- you haven’t, um, you haven’t experienced what I’ve experienced. And you haven’t tried to understand what it is to have anxiety. You’re just- you’re blindly saying that it doesn’t exist. You haven’t tried to understand the other side of it.” I feel like in order to make an opinion about something or like say- give something fact, you have to know both sides. No matter what it is. That can be in an argument of some kind, you have to know both sides. And for someone to say that it doesn’t exist, without even trying to understand what it is, it’s very disrespectful and it’s, um, it’s ignorant.