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Niamh's Story

Let me tell you how it feels. To worry all the time. To feel as if you’re trapped. A constant wall. It stops you in your tracks. And then the panic sets in. Heart beats fast, cold chills, you begin to sweat, feet and hands go numb. Taste of metal. Ringing ears. Everything’s too loud. You feel like everyone’s watching. Witnessing your weakness. Everyday it’s the same. You wish you didn’t care, that it didn’t feel like this. But it does. This is anxiety.

I was always an anxious kid. I feared the doctors, dentist, fire trucks, police, the dark, someone breaking in, the list goes on. Anxiety has always been a part of my life; however, it was only a very small part of me until I started high school.

But my brain had other plans. I developed a paralyzing fear of contamination, germs, and crowds.

My transition to high school was as easy as one could hope for, I went to high school with my best friends and was a good student. I had absolutely nothing to worry about. But my brain had other plans. I developed a paralyzing fear of contamination, germs, and crowds. I spent every spare moment I had lathering on hand sanitizer or washing my hands, I made my friends eat with me in classrooms or on benches so I didn’t have to sit at the disgusting cafeteria tables. I rarely ventured to the mall, movies or anywhere really as I was petrified of feeling claustrophobic. I even remember crying over mosquito bites in the summer because I believed they were tumours. Still, I believed that this was completely normal and nothing to be concerned about. After experiencing several severe panic attacks, my mother whisked me off to the doctors. I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder with agoraphobia and was instantly sent to private therapy.

I did private cognitive behavioural therapy for a year, before I realized that breathing exercises and talking through my problems were not going to eliminate the amount of anxiety I felt. I was prescribed Ativan for my panic attacks and was sent to a psychiatrist. During this time, I only got more anxious and my fear of germs grew out of control. I spent hours in the bathroom, repeatedly brushing my teeth and washing my hands more times in a day than I can count, I didn’t sleep through the night for months, and I didn’t experience a single day without a panic attack. I was officially diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder at the end of 2017.

I spent hours in the bathroom, repeatedly brushing my teeth and washing my hands, I didn’t sleep through the night for months, and I didn’t experience a single day without a panic attack.

Immediately, I began Exposure Response therapy to try and rid myself of the compulsions. The beginning of 2018 was one of the worst times of my life. I was spiraling out of control, I had multiple panic attacks per day, usually happening after I’d spent half an hour washing my hands. I was prescribed medication after medication hoping something would help. For a long time, nothing worked, I would brush my teeth until my gums bled and then would have a panic attack over the bleeding. After what felt like an eternity, my doctors discovered that I was metabolizing the medication too quickly, which was the reason why nothing worked. Eventually, I found the medications that were right for me, and combined with my work in therapy, I was spending less time on compulsions and starting to enjoy my life more.

With my new-found strength I lived out my final months in high school, as a ‘normal’ teenager. I attended prom with my best friends, got into my dream university, and walked across the graduation stage with full honours.

Now, don’t get me wrong, my life is significantly better than it was even last year, however I’m still plagued with intrusive thoughts and experience panic attacks. However, I do not let my anxiety define me. Anxiety is something I have, but it is not who I am.

Anxiety is something I have, but it is not who I am.

In order to truly end the stigma surrounding mental illness and generate more conversations, I decided to share my story.