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Courage Over Comfort

How My Panic Attacks Led to Being an Environmentalist


    I would say that my first encounter with Anxiety was immediately after High School when I found out that my then-boyfriend was cheating on me. But no, don’t feel sorry for me. Even now, I refuse to let people pity me. But I didn’t know what it was or that it was even a thing. I just knew that I couldn’t sleep at night and that I needed some sense of physical movement. So I would escape from my bedroom window and wander around my city at night for a couple of hours.

    Fast forward to a couple of years ago when I was going through one of my roughest lows. What most people think depression is, is feeling sad. No. The reality of depression is that you feel worthless. Numb. Invisible. You try your best to get on with your day. People know something is wrong with you, and they ask how your day is going or if you’re alright, and your default answers are “I’m fine” or “I’m just tired”.  But nobody really knows that you have to mentally prepare yourself for your day. How many people I’m  going to have to interact with, whether I’m going to be someplace loud. Nobody knows about the shouting match going on in your head, and my panic attacks were constantly being triggered.

    There was the magazine section of Barnes & Noble. The tunnel vision and subsequent black out at work. There was the time I was walking home from work and a car of guys happened to drive by while laughing, that made me run home to avoid panicking out in public. Because when a panic attack happens I just want to be in a quiet corner where nobody can see me. There’s something about hiding in a corner, trying to escape what my mind has perceived as threatening, that’s comforting.

There is no such thing as quiet corners in public spaces.

    You know how in movies and TV scenes where someone gets shot and they’re taking their last breaths, gulping in as much air as possible? That’s what my hyperventilations feel like. Gasping in only so much air before there’s no other option than to exhale, but then I go back to hyperventilating.

So how does this lead to me being an environmentalist?

    Well, it was during that rough low that I decided that I was going to learn how to swim. It was something that I had always wanted to learn to do, but apparently, I was even anxious as a child because I didn’t trust anybody to teach me. Dad, sister, grandparents included.

    But here I was in the pool at LA Trade Tech determined to learn to swim, come hell or high water. I learned that ‘high water’ when it comes to learning how to swim at a school is really only about 3 feet. I didn’t realize that I just had to stand up to keep myself from drowning. My swim coach would do these exercises where he’d flip us around to disorient us, drilling into our heads, “Look for the light” which would soon turn into a metaphor for me.  Soon, I got the hang of it, and there was no stopping me. I loved it. I loved that in this sport I didn’t need to do anything but keep putting one hand in front of the other. That I could check out mentally on everything else and just focus on getting to that wall. Focus on breathing.

“Do I breathe every two strokes, or every three?”

“Two seems too much. Try three.”

“I can get used to three. Yeah, three is comfortable.”

“I wonder if I can go four. I’mma try it.”

“Nope. Not four. Don’t have the lung capacity for four.”

“Three is good. Stick to three.”

“Is my arm going too high? Reach, not windmill.”

“Follow that arm. Is my catch alright?”

“Catch, puuuulll. Catch, puuuulll. Catch, puuuulll.”

    The sound of the water flooding my ears. The distant, garbled yelling in the background. I had to deal with my thoughts in a way that wouldn’t allow the negative ones to come in. This was literally about survival. If I wasn’t paying attention to what I was doing, I would soon be panicking in a 14ft. deep pool. You don’t want to panic in a 14ft deep pool. Believe me, it happened once. Thank God for DeAndre the lifeguard, that’s all I have to say about that.

    I like to consider myself a punctual person and usually aim to get to appointments, meetings, or classes at least 15 minutes early. I would arrive to class, change, then just lay around and float in the pool waiting for the others to come in. Soon a new ritual formed. I’d float around, my swim coach would yell at me, “Crystal, you better not be dead.” I’d reply in some way, usually with an, “I’m not” and then continue on, eyes closed, floating all over the pool.

Okay, Amanda nice story and all, but again, how does this lead to you being an environmentalist?

    You see the water that I was once so afraid of, was the same thing that saved me; Forced me to think about other things than how my brain was telling me that I was a failure. That I wasn’t good enough, pretty enough, that nobody liked me, nobody loved me, nobody would ever love me. What was once one of my biggest anxieties turned into one of my biggest triumphs. It gave me the courage to face some of my other anxieties. And if the water saved me, surely there was a way that I could somehow repay that debt. And there was, by becoming an advocate for the water. By helping other people realize how much we’re destroying the ocean that provides 2 out of every 3 breaths. By teaching people that the amount of plastic and trash that makes its way into the ocean can be prevented by just making a few small lifestyle changes. By changing my own lifestyle, no matter how fast or slow it took me to adapt.

    And that dear readers, is how my panic attacks led me to being an environmentalist. It’s long-winded but comes back around just like everything else.

Amanda ❤
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