This week, we hear from Mariela Montanez, a 35-year-old woman who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Chicago.
My history with anxiety
My anxiety began when I was young. I would say when I was 12 years old, which was when I moved from one neighborhood to another after my parents separated. There, I encountered a new school and people I didn’t know. It was hard to wake up and go to school. I didn’t know I had anxiety until I was 30 years old and suffered a panic attack. I knew nothing about what I was going through.
How anxiety presents itself physically
My anxiety starts the moment I wake up. My heart beats fast and I can hear it as it feels like its coming out of my chest. I have this feeling as if I am on a roller coaster. My stomach drops and my anxiety has made its presence. My hands tremble at times. I clench my jaw. I’m not sure why but I catch myself doing it. I get headaches that can feel like my head is about to pop like a balloon. I’m so tired by the middle of the day and feel exhausted, as if I have been running all day.
How anxiety presents itself mentally
I think about everything. I keep thinking that things will not get better and then my thoughts amplify. The brain can be your enemy when you have anxiety. I run moments in my life over and over again like a movie and try to find where I could have done better. It’s like a light bulb that turns on but doesn’t turn off. You can’t find the switch.
What a day when my anxiety is at my worst looks like
When my anxiety is at its worst I tend to stay home. I stay in my room and can’t seem to get out of bed. I feel like I can’t catch my breath and constantly take deep breaths. My heart beats fast, my hands shake and I’m very sensitive to others. I cry for no reason, my head hurts and I can’t even eat. If I get a trigger strong enough, I start to hyperventilate. My body goes numb, my face has no feeling and it’s hard to talk. My whole nervous system is on steroids. It’s like I am always scared and have nowhere to go. My chest hurts and my stomach has a large knot.
My go-to coping mechanism
I drive a lot. It helps me process the feelings. Driving allows the air to hit my face while I am listening to music that makes me happy and I am in control of where I am going at that moment. The one thing that brings me back before I feel anxiety is cartoons. Not the new shows, but the old ones. I love comedy that makes me laugh. If I do have the feeling of a panic attack coming, I sit and look around. I focus on the here and now and sing the ABCs, which for some reason calms me and helps ground me.
What I wish people knew about anxiety
Anxiety can be so debilitating and exhausting. It’s not easy living like you are scared all the time. I am not the only person who suffers through the feelings. My family does too because they don’t know how to help me. Just being able to explain this now is hard. Sometimes you can’t put feelings into words. The only thing you can do is support and go through the feelings with your loved one. Educating yourself for you or a loved one is very important. Life is what you make it and how you decide to live it.