Kelsey. Sunrise, FL

“I’m very lucky. I just want to start off my saying that. I’ve always been surrounded by wonderful, beautiful, supportive people who have loved me for who I am and sometimes in spite of myself. So if you’re reading this and you’re one of those many people in my life who has been good to me, thank you. I credit my life and my somewhat sanity to you. Consider this an official shout out to the lovely ladies of Alpha Epsilon Phi and to my BBCrew and to my beautiful sister and mother. I love you all with every ounce of my being and without your undying support, I would not have been able to muster up the nerve to write this.

For those of you less psychologically inclined, panic disorder is basically a form of anxiety where you lose the ability to calm down from stressors. The worst part is it could be anything. I might have a panic attack at certain trigger words or from turning in my homework an hour late or from dropping a pencil or from missing a phone call or from being on the phone with those automated systems that plague our modern society. It’s unexpected and utterly awful.When I was first diagnosed with panic disorder, a lot of people were shocked. I’m relentlessly optimistic and extroverted by nature, so I never really fit the label of “crazy” or “mentally ill.” I’ve suffered from panic attacks since I was young, but I didn’t know what they were. I have countless memories of being put in time out in kindergarten or being triggered in class and having to go home from school because I couldn’t stop crying. I always just credited it to being sensitive. And, honestly, there were many times I hated myself for my sensitivity. I wanted with every ounce of my being to be the girl who was never bothered, but it was never who I was. It took me years, many years longer than a psychology major would like to admit, to realize that I had a real problem.

I started talking to a counselor my first year in college. It was always very fleeting and I could never find time in my schedule (or chose not to find time in my schedule) to commit to seeing a counselor. I was the strong girl. I wasn’t supposed to need help.

Last year, I hit my breaking point. I was seeing this boy, and he had just as much mental baggage as I did. In the beginning, it was beautiful, because we could help each other carry our respective loads. But eventually it took a turn for the worst. I started having panic attacks daily and eventually had a full-scale mental breakdown. I’ll never forget that night. I was laying on the floor of my kitchen sobbing uncontrollably at 3am. I had lost the ability to move, to think, to make decisions. I had lost myself. In the months after we ended our relationship in November, I found myself unable to trust anyone. I would randomly text the people closest to me asking if they were angry with me or if I was a horrible person. Luckily, these girls were understanding and supportive. I owe them my life. In these months, I became suicidal. I would walk campus late at night, planning how I would end my life and when I would end my life. The only thing that stopped me was knowing the havoc this would cause in my family and in my sorority. I loved them too much to put them through that. I was having panic attacks several times a day, basically anytime I was alone. For those of you reading who have never had a panic attack, just know that it is one of the scariest things your mind can put you through. Usually, I convince myself that my lungs will not fill with air and that I am dying or that whatever situation I am in will never end. At this point, I knew I had a choice. I could either end my life, continue to suffer, or swallow my pride and seek help.

I started seeing a psychiatrist in January, where I was officially diagnosed with panic disorder. I walked into the office, which was decorated with self-affirmation posters and relaxing color schemes, and sat down in front of the psychiatrist. He asked me why I was here today and I just started bawling. I spilled everything to him in an hour, my entire life story, my entirety, my pain and my suffering, my longing to feel “okay,” whatever that meant. He prescribed me medication and this was the start of my healing process.Another beautiful part of my healing process has been relentless honesty. I refuse to keep my anxiety a secret. I own it by sharing my story with others and by making it something that is just another part of my life. I am a sorority girl. I like hummus. I am obsessed with bonobos. I have panic disorder. None of these things are who I am, but they are a part of me. And in order to love myself the way I deserve, I have to love every part of myself. Hummus included.I’m not going to sit here and lie to you and say “It gets better,” or “Chin up, kid!” It doesn’t get better. You get healthier. You learn how to cope. You get stronger. Life doesn’t get easier because you will it to. You get stronger and more able to deal with the situations you are given with trial and error. I won’t lie to you and say I’m totally better and neurotypical now. My panic disorder isn’t something that be cured and it isn’t a magic switch that I can choose to be on or off. It’s something I will always live with. It’s a part of me. I have my days when I don’t feel right. But I want to live now. I want to experience life in it’s beauty and it’s terrors. I want to live. And that is the best we can do sometimes.

#IAmNotMyLabel : I am Kelsey and I am strong and I am outgoing and I am f*****g wild. But I don’t want to be anything less. I have panic disorder, but dammit, it does not have me.”