Seventeen rows up, the seat on the end. My shoe dangled as I bounced my foot, head bent over the exam. Confident, without hesitation, I filled in the bubbles.

Paralyzed. Can’t breathe. Room getting fuzzy. I looked down and the bubbles swelled and ran together, swimming on the page into one big blur. What was happening? I raised my hand and stood at the same time, mumbling words to the TA about going outside. When the cold air hit my face I inhaled sharply, feeling my heart gradually begin to slow.

What was that?

My first brush with an anxiety attack was painful, scary and out of the blue. And then it happened again. And again. The gasping for breath, heart-pounding feelings could last anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes. Tightness in my chest was always the first sign. Unable to stop them, I would curl into a ball and cry, waiting for it to stop.

I’m still not sure what triggered these attacks. I can speculate– college was demanding, the death of Michael’s father affected me more than I realized, the future beyond school was upon me– but I never had a clear answer. The only thing I knew was that I had to learn to control it, or it would control me.

I took vitamins. I exercised. I practiced the art of deep breathing. And most of all, I forced myself to push through them. No more tears, no more defeat.

It’s been about three years since I’ ve had a full blown anxiety attack. I know the signs now and I cut them off before it gets too bad. I don’t always know what triggers them, but I no longer let them win.

Last night I lay in bed, feeling my heart race at an all too familiar speed. I took deep breaths and willed myself to clear my head, pushing the worries of tomorrow away. Soon the racing stopped, my heart returning to a normal pace.

This morning I took a vitamin. And tonight I will push myself at the gym.

The anxiety may never fully go away, but it no longer has a hold on me.

I think it’s important you know I feel very exposed right now. Like I just stood in front of all of you and dropped my pants. While my anxiety is a very personal thing for me, talking about it– writing about it– helps.

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