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I was born the second oldest of four children...until the oldest passed away. I was suddenly thrust into a position of responsibility and maturity that I wasn't prepared for and expected to execute well. I was 13, maybe 14 years old at the time. The younger ones were now my responsibility; I had to take care of them, feed them, make sure they stayed out of trouble and were always safe while trying to protect them from an abusive, alcoholic father and comfort my sweet mother who took the brunt of it all.
I became a stone: hard, strong, unyielding, supportive.
Whatever my mother needed me to do, I got it done. Whatever my siblings needed me for, I was there. I constructed myself to be the support beam that helped keep my family together. I worked, I went to school, I kept the pain to myself because my mother had enough to deal with and the kids were too young and didn't deserve to have my worries placed on their shoulders. For over a decade, I played this role and played it well, stepping in further as the second bread winner when we finally left my father and had to work twice as hard to sustain ourselves.
We succeeded. We're succeeding. I continue in my role, take jobs that I don't even like, but do it anyway to provide for my family. I continue to hide my pain, my unhappiness, my inner struggles because that's what I've always done. I've never had a problem with burying it deep within me. I've never had an attack or known depression or acknowledged if I was ever in a dark place. I'm too busy for all of that, too young, too strong.
I'm a stone. I'm hard. I'm strong. I'm unyielding. And then I cracked.
The anxiety attack hit me faster than a race car. Right there, broad daylight, just before my shift as a call-center employee. I shifted into the system, saw my first call come in...and then I just couldn't breathe anymore. I was shaking, gasping, my head felt thick and murky, as if I were floating at the bottom of a lake. I missed that call. And the call after that. And the call after that. And the call after that. I felt weak, broken, scared...embarrassed.
I always thought I was stronger than this. I always thought that this could happen to anyone, but not to me. I was right and wrong.
I can happen to anyone. It did happen to me.
When it's too much, it's just too much. You don't get to decide when or how it happens. It could happen right after a tragic event, like the death of a loved one, or years later, when all of your stress and frustration and unhappiness collapses on your shoulders, crushing you with all you've kept locked inside.
You don't always get a warning. Anxiety just shows up and shakes you from the inside out. It reminds you that you can be as hard, strong, and unyielding as a stone, but stones crack and break...and so can you.