My experience with stress and anxiety
This article is not about baseball.
It was supposed to be about baseball.
As a Palette staff writer and editor, I was given an assignment to write about this year’s baseball season at AJA. Just a simple article ‒ two or three interviews with team members, a couple of funny anecdotes, maybe an uplifting message or an overarching narrative. Just an ordinary, inoffensive, unremarkable article.
I came across several problems. I kept putting the interviews off. I kept putting the article off. When asked, I explained this with a simple, “I don’t know anything about baseball,” or “I don’t know where to start,” or “I’m working on my other article right now.” And sure, this is all true. I haven’t played baseball since first or second grade, and I haven’t been to a baseball game in almost a decade. I didn’t know who was on the AJA baseball team, or what questions to ask the players. And I was, indeed, working on my other article.
But these weren’t the underlying issue. These could be easily rectified. I didn’t need to know much about baseball to write a decent article, and even if I did, I could just look up the rules. I could have asked the people around me whether they knew anybody on the baseball team, or I could have asked them to help me think of interview questions. I could have started my other article sooner, or taken some time out of my weekends to work on the baseball article. But I didn’t do any of these things. I procrastinated. I made excuses. I justified this to myself with falsehoods. And most of all, I let this all stew inside of me for weeks, never saying a word to anyone. It combined with all the other things I had pushed off and all the other things that I was anxious about. Slowly but surely, this ball of dread and tension grew larger, until it was both impossible to ignore and impossible to do anything about alone.
Several people noticed that I seemed more stressed than usual. They asked if I was fine. I said I was fine. Not because I thought it was good to ignore it, and not because I didn’t want to burden them, and certainly not because I was fine. I told them I was fine because, in my mind, there was nothing they could do to help me.
This culminated with a full-blown panic attack. If you are the same way I was up until this month, then you don’t know what a panic attack feels like. Allow me to describe the experience while it is still fresh in my memory.
I was sitting in the breakout room after lunch, watching a movie. Out of nowhere, the left side of my chest and my left shoulder started to feel tight. Within a minute, this tightness became painful. I started sweating. Breathing in deeply made the pain worse. I felt lightheaded. At this point, I told the others in the room that I was not feeling well, and that I feared I might be having a heart attack. That fear took over everything. When I stood up to go to the nurse, my vision grayed out. As I began to walk, my ears started ringing. I thought I might faint.
The pain peaked ten or fifteen minutes after it started. By that time, I was already in the main office, surrounded by people who could help me. The rational part of my brain, which I usually trust to handle all of my decisions, told me that everything was going to work out, but the rest of my brain was nothing but blaring klaxons, flooding my mind with the screeches of dread and terror. I had no chance of picking the one sensible voice of rationality out of such a disorienting cacophony.
Some people will tell you that all of it ‒ the pain, the fear, the doubts ‒ is in your head. If it’s all in your head, they say, then why burden others with it? They’re wrong. As soon as you share it with the people around you, it becomes substantive. If it is substantive, then it can be interacted with. If you let other people know what’s going on inside your head ‒ if you let it affect them ‒ it means that they can help you.
So find people who can help you. Find a group of people you feel safe with. Maybe it’s the baseball team. Based on my interview process, they seem like a supportive group ‒ they have worked hard together over the past year, and they have gained a shared sense of camaraderie. They stuck together through the ups and downs. Maybe your group is a club. Or your family. Or your teachers. Or even just one single person whom you confide in. It doesn’t matter, as long as you know you can count on them.
I will forever be thankful for the people who were there for me in my time of need ‒ the friends, teachers, staff, and family members who made sure I was never in any danger.
I’m alright now.
You will be, too.
I know this article is not about baseball. I’m well aware that it was supposed to be about baseball. But I am even more certain that this is more important to me right now. It’s important to me that others don’t make my mistakes. Whatever is going on in your head, whatever struggles or doubts you have, know that you can share them with those you trust. They are on your team.