My college life was enriched with family, friends, sorority sisters, successful academic achievement, and a loving boyfriend. But one night, a terrifying new element was suddenly added. Lying in bed, I began to sweat profusely. My heart was racing and I could not stay still. I had an overwhelming foreboding that something terrible was about to happen to me, and I wouldn’t be able to escape. When I called my dad to explain my symptoms, he suggested that I go to the hospital.
I went there alone because I couldn’t bear the thought of anyone seeing me in a helpless, hopeless state. The doctor thought I might be dehydrated, so he gave me fluids and medication to help me sleep. But I lay awake confused and crying. I went through my days smiling on the outside and broken on the inside. People surrounded me, yet I felt completely isolated. I slept and ate very little and thought very little about anything other than how pathetic I was. Although a small part of me understood the anxiety I was feeling, the other part of me thought I was crazy. I was sure of only one thing: I was alone in my condition. It wasn’t long before I discovered how wrong I was.
With support and love from my family, I sought help, opened up, and learned that what I was experiencing—panic disorder—was a common secret struggle among many college students, as well as some of my family members. My grandmother had experienced the same symptoms at my age 50 years earlier. Unfortunately for her, mental health resources were very limited then. I discovered I was genetically predisposed to this condition, but like my grandmother, I could overcome it.
Four years have passed since my first panic attack. I am earning a master's degree in public health, and my plan is to promote mental health resources. I will also work to eliminate stigma surrounding mental health problems, and as my family showed me, I will show others suffering from an anxiety disorder that they are not alone.