I had my first panic attack when I was in third grade. I don’t really know what caused it. I remember it, which is weird, because I don’t really remember many things, but it’s extremely clear in my head.
We were sitting on the floor in the classroom. My teacher was reading a book to us, and I was towards the back of the “circle” (because kids thought I was weird. duh).
One minute, I was fine and happy. Then I blinked. And things started to look unreal. The windows began to slant, the dark blue carpet became ridiculously scratchy under my palms. I started to sweat, even though I was freezing. Then I felt sick.
Something you should know: When I was a kid, I didn’t sneeze without permission. I didn’t get up from the table unless everyone else did first, I didn’t like people staring at me, and I did everything in my power NOT to get into trouble.
So when I suddenly got up and ran to the door, I guess it alarmed my teacher.
“Nicolette,” I remember her nearly yelling. “Where are you going?”
By that time, I couldn’t really talk anymore, but I remember trying to tell her, “I have to get out.”
What does this have to do with anything?
I’m getting to it.
Over the years, my anxiety and depression have been intense to the point where I can’t even leave the house, to so mild that when I look back on the intense times, I convince myself that it probably didn’t even happen the way I remember it. That I couldn’t have ever been that bad.
I remember in high school, it was so bad that I missed weeks of school because I was “sick”. Once, when my aunt came to visit from California, we went to a restaurant and she had to drag me outside because I had an attack at lunch and I kept worrying about everyone watching me.
Last year, I woke up completely paralyzed, believing I was in my father’s house, That I could hear him coughing, and smell his cigarette smoke.
I like to say that my anxiety comes in waves and lulls. I can go months or years without feeling anything extreme, despite the stress of school and work, or I can be completely calm and have no stress when it hits me and I can’t even get out of bed.
I don’t try to make it a secret that my sisterly and I grew up kind of in a messed up way. That’s not what this post is for. You can read through my other posts to see some of that.
But it’s important to know because I’ve always believed that if we grew up differently, stable, we wouldn’t be who we are now. Kelly wouldn’t be an artist. I wouldn’t be a writer. And Dana wouldn’t have the undying compassion for people that she has in her either.
AFI came into my life when I was both in a wave period and going through a really, really hard time. I was losing my step dad, I was hurting myself so I didn’t have to cry or have an anxiety attack, and I was really, utterly alone and closed off to anything.
They reached me. I heard one song from Sing The Sorrow and there was someone else there with me, not only inside the wave, but reaching out to me, saying it was going to be alright. That I wasn’t alone. That I didn’t have to be.
This was the band that brought me back from the dead. This was the band who taught me about words. How they can be used to heal someone, help someone. I found every album and devoured them whole. They made me hungry, but it would be a few years before I knew what that hunger was for.
I’ve been trying to delay writing about this, but I feel like the only reason I have is because I didn’t want to admit it: I’m in a wave again.
Call it what you want: sadness, anxiety, depression…it’s the same entity to me. It has claws, and once it has you, it’s hard to keep walking around like you’re not in pain. It’s hard to keep upright. It’s unbelievably hard to be normal.
For the most part, I’m a happy person. I like my job, I like learning, and I’m writing as a career, getting paid for it, being asked to talk about myself and my books at colleges and things like that. I’m so grateful and happy about all of it. But the claws are still in me, digging in. I can’t help it. It’s not something I can control like what class I take or what story to write.
A month ago, I saw AFI in concert. When I was 15, this was all I wanted to do. I’ve wanted to see them live for so long. But the morning of, I wasn’t excited. Not even a little.
I went to see my boyfriend that afternoon, and I was angry. I couldn’t figure out why. I wanted to cry, or scream, or jump out of my skin. He took me on a walk in the woods, which usually helps when I’m anxious. But all I did was break down over and over again.
By the end of our two hour walk, I did feel a little better. Drained, not okay, but not bad either.
Then the AFI show happened.
There they were: Davey, Jade, Hunter, and Adam. And they were so close. And the first song they sang was the first song I ever heard of theirs, back when I was 15 and under another wave. This time, the song seemed to be saying the same things: This is what music can do. You are not alone.
But now there were new things too: Look at how far you’ve come. Look at what you can do.
Singing along with other fans, holding my sister, Kelly and crying with her during these songs, raising my hands along with the hundreds of other people who all have their own shit and problems and anxieties…It was something I’m still having trouble describing.
If you’re a lucky person whose life has never needed saving, or an unlucky person who has needed saving and had no music to save you, I doubt, that even if I could put it into words, you’d be able to understand.
When the show was over and I went home that night, I felt less heavy. Instead of drained, I felt like I should be writing, or painting, or creating something. I’m not saying that I’m out of the wave, not just yet. But I’m hoping this is the start. I’m hoping that this is the beginning of me reaching out and being able to stand without being in pain or thinking about the claws of anxiety.
I want to believe that. For me. And for them. Because without AFI, I wouldn’t be who I am. I can’t say that I would know who I would be, but I don’t think I’d be this person. The one who is under a wave and pretending to not be under a wave.
Maybe one day, I won’t have to pretend. Maybe I will just be and that will be enough, but for now, I still have a life raft. It’s something I almost forgot I had until I saw them in October.
So I guess what I’m trying to say is: if you’re struggling with a mental disorder, I know how you feel. You are not alone. If you can find something else that tells you that in this world, while you’re under your own waves, you’re extremely lucky. Hold onto it and don’t forget that it’s there. But if you don’t have that, or can’t find it just yet, I’m here. My words are here (and I hope they help). It’s hard to believe when you’re under water, trying to convince people that you aren’t drowning, but you will be okay. Waves recede. Sadness lessens. The world will not always be a scary place. Not forever.
(You can go HERE to listen to their new album, Burials. It's what's been keeping my head above water lately)