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Mandy’s story

“People with social anxiety need people to understand that it is not the person they fear necessarily, but what that person represents.”

What kind of stigma did you experience/observe?

Anxiety is something that all people can relate to and have experienced at some point in their lives, but having an anxiety disorder is something different. I have a social anxiety disorder in which people, for no “logical” reason, terrify me. It caused me to isolate myself from others.

Stigma story

I remember being in fourth grade and having my first panic attack at school. We were all in the front of the class presenting a project when I froze and panicked. The next thing I remember, I was running down the hallway to my backpack. That’s when I broke down. I was confused, embarrassed, and scared. My teacher came out, found me and told me that my behavior was unacceptable and that she would be talking to my parents about it. I never talked openly about what I felt inside. I always feared that people would react the way that that teacher did.

This lead me to keep it all in. All the anger, fear, pain, and anxiety that I felt. I would only let it out if I was alone. I mean truly alone. The only place that I felt I could be myself was when I went to visit my grandma. She lived in the country on a farm. I would spend as many of my weekends and summer break there as possible. I went there to cry. It was a place of peace and tears. I would walk in the fields or sit with animals in the barn and bawl until I couldn’t cry anymore. It was the only place where I felt safe. It was my home, my safe home. One without embarrassment or judgement. The animals were a great help for my anxiety. Many of the cats and cows there had little trust in people. You needed to be calm in order to work with them. I taught myself how to calm down and talk things though to myself. This is the reason that I was able to go for many years without anyone knowing about how I truly felt. But you can’t hide forever.

My sophomore year of high school, we had to move my grandma into a nursing home. That is when I started to go downhill. I no longer could go to farm and let out my stress. This meant that it started to come out during school. I had to give “believable” reasons for my panic attacks because saying that your teachers scare you isn’t a good enough excuse. Going to class and watching a horror film made me feel about the same. The thought of having to ask a question would send my heart racing and make me sweat tons. Butterflies would stay in my stomach for hours, preventing me from eating anything for fear I would vomit later. I felt that I couldn’t tell people what was really going on. They would ask, “What’s wrong? What can I do to help?” I would tell them to go away. In truth, I wanted to say YOU. You stress me out and frighten me! But how do you say that to someone who wants to help? That they frighten you for no “logical” reason. I was suicidal and would wrap myself in a blanket sometimes to keep myself from getting out of bed and taking my life. I didn’t want to die. I wanted to feel accepted and fearless, but it was hard to find hope.

One day I had a severe panic attack because of a test that day. After shaking and crying in my dean’s office at school for 45 minutes, my dean suggested that we go and talk to this teacher and maybe move the test back a day or two for me. I didn’t want to move the test. I didn’t want them to see my red eyes and tear shrieked face. I wanted them to think I was normal and didn’t need special treatment. So my dean had me go get lunch while she talked to the teacher in the hallway. I had to walk past them to get back to the office, which also meant talking to my teacher. First I waited around the corner hoping that the teacher would go back in the classroom, but they just waited with my dean for me to return. Slowly I made my way over to them. My teacher looked me straight in the eye and said, ” It’s going to be okay, your going to be okay.” And I believed it for the first time in a very long time.

It is an everyday battle but accepting people makes each day a little easier to open up.

What could someone have said/done to make it ok?

What I think people don’t realize is the depth that comes with anxiety disorders. Some people can feel like they are dying when having a panic attack. People with social anxiety need people to understand that it is not the person they fear necessarily, but what that person represents. Triggers can seem irrelevant to a situation, but can cause someone to start to panic severely.

We also need safely. I felt cornered in classrooms because I would have to ask the teacher if I could leave if I had a panic attack. That alone was enough to make me nervous. Now I have a pass to the nurse that allows me to leave anytime I need to without questions from the teacher or other students. It has reduced my attacks and made them much less severe. It’s similar to a pass that students would have if they were diabetic. Having a safe zone were students can calm down in a school can help students feel comfortable being at school.

The last and most important is a calm and honest environment for student. People with anxiety are highly sensitive to the emotional status of the people around them. Staff need to feel comfortable when dealing with panic students. Getting what the student needs to calm down it the first priority. The reason that I believed my teacher’s words was because they were honest. They didn’t say them nervously but as if they truly believed what they had said. Accept what a person wants and how they feel. Just being there for someone is more important then trying to get the whole back story of their disorder. Treat us like you would anyone else but understand that we need help sometimes.

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