B E E N  T H E R E:  A N X I E T Y

Nikki Finazzo

"Living in Anxiety"

A Teen Editorial Board member interviews herself!

December 1998 

Nikki was just another teenager dealing with the stress of life. She was doing fine until the day when her stress turned against her. For the past two years, Nikki has been battling anxiety attacks. It has not been easy, but she is finally fighting her way out of the vicious cycle.

The InSite: Anxiety attacks are obviously caused by anxiety. But can you tell us exactly what anxiety is?

Nikki: Anxiety is defined as a worry or uneasiness about what may happen.

TI: Before your attacks started, what kind of stressful things were going on in your life?

Nikki: Well, I didn't really have any worries about anything, but I definitely have had a lot of stress. In November of 1996, my parents got divorced and my dad moved. I split the time with both of my parents. It really didn't bother me that much at the time, but it was very stressful, seeing my parents go through that, and my little brother not knowing what was going on. Then, in June 1997, my mom got remarried and moved to a different house, which was a big change. Other than that, it was just the anxiety of everyday life: friends, after school activities, homework. Just the things that everybody has to put up with.

... I definitely had a lot of stress, my parents got
divorced and my dad moved.

TI: When was your first anxiety attack? What was it like?

Nikki: It all started the night of my mom's wedding. Everything was fine, I was just laying in bed, trying to get to sleep. All of a sudden, a wave of nausea surrounded me. After about 5 minutes, I started shaking. Like the kind of shiver that you get when you're cold, only a little more intense. It lasted only about 20 minutes, but I was really shaken up.

TI: What did you think it was?

Nikki: I just figured that it was stress, or maybe I drank to much pop or something. I really didn't worry about it.

TI: How soon after did you have your 2nd anxiety attack?

Nikki: About a week later. I was at my dad's, laying in bed, when I started feeling nauseous again. Same as the first time, after about 5 minutes, I started shaking. I was really pale, and scared because I didn't know what was happening. Once again, it only lasted about 20 minutes, but it was horrible. 

 It all started the night of my mom's wedding...a wave of nausea surrounded me...I started shaking.

 TI: What did you do after that?

Nikki: My parents and I were really worried because we didn't know what it was, so I went to the doctor. He said that I was physically fine, it was probably anxiety attacks.

TI: How often did your attacks come after that?

Nikki: They built up to at least once a week. They usually happened at night, but they would just hit me whenever, just for no reason. A couple of times I had one at church, one time we went out for breakfast and I had one; they would just pop up. The first couple of months are kind of a blur now, I just remember that they were terrible.

TI: What did your parents think about what was going on with you?

Nikki: They were really worried and wanted it to go away, just as I did. My mom had anxiety attacks when she was younger, so she knew what I was going through. My dad knew how bad they were because he watched me go through them. They were both very supportive.

TI: It's great that your parents were so supportive. How about your friends? Were they there for you?

Nikki: Not really. I told one or two of them, but they just couldn't understand. They didn't know what I was going through, so they didn't know how to help. They just didn't get it. 

I told one or two of them [my friends], but they just couldn't understand.

TI: What did you do to help yourself? How did it help?

Nikki: I started going to a therapist, because my attacks had gotten really bad. She really helped. She really knew what I was talking about, because she used to have anxiety attacks too. She gave me little tips on how to get through my attacks, and showed me different relaxation techniques.

TI: Can you describe any of these techniques?

Nikki: There were a few that helped. I remember one was very basic. You can do it anywhere. Close your eyes and breath in for a count of 7, then breath out for a count of 11. Another technique was a little more complex. You get into a comfortable position and close your eyes. Starting with your toes, tense up the muscles in your feet for a few seconds and then let them go. Do this all the way up the length of your body to your head. Tensing up and then relaxing. Taking deep breaths the whole time. It really relaxes you! Little things like that helped, but I think the therapist being there to listen really made an impact. It was good to know that it was completely confidential. She also told me something that made me feel a little bit better. She said that only really smart people have panic attacks because they worry about everything being perfect. She also said that it might be in my genes, because my mom had anxiety attacks also.

TI: Did all of this help with your attacks?

Nikki: Yes, actually. The attacks just got smaller and smaller till eventually, they disappeared! I stopped going to the therapist, and I stopped worrying about it. That felt really good to just have a normal life again. It only lasted a couple of months, though.

Close your eyes and breathe in for a count of 7, then breathe out for a count of 11.

TI: The anxiety attacks came back?

Nikki: Yeah. They just started to come up again and soon, they were back to being really bad. It was a big deja vue. One I'd rather not have.

TI: How did you deal with them after being free for a couple of months? How did they affect your life?

Nikki: I was really sick of them, and I wanted them to go away. I started going back to a therapist and I just tried to work through them again. It really seemed like all that fighting to get my life back was just all erased, and I had to start all over again. Beyond that, it took a turn for the worse. My attacks created this phobia of throwing up. This obsession, where I would just worry constantly about getting sick. Then whenever I had an anxiety attack, I would become worse, because I would worry, "Is this an anxiety attack, or am I going to get sick?" — I was just terrified of throwing up.

TI: Did this obsession change the way you live?

Nikki: Unfortunately, it did. I was just constantly scared, and I would just worry, all the time. I would start watching what I ate, so that I wouldn't get sick. I was just always worried. Whenever I would hear anybody talk about throwing up, my whole body would go into panic mode. It just felt like I was trapped, because eventually, I will have to throw up, and that just terrifies me. I know that it is so unrealistic, but it is as if one part of my brain just takes over, and there is nothing I can do to stop it.

TI: Are you still struggling with these anxiety attacks and obsessions now?

Nikki: Yeah. I have definitely gotten better, but it is still bad. They are less frequent, but when it hits me, it hits me hard! It seems like there is nothing I can do to make them go away, because nothing really seems to work. I just feel like its taking over my life. Before I had anxiety attacks, I used to think about the future, where I would go to college, what am I going to do for a living; now, I just think about how long these attacks are going to last, and how long is it going to be before I throw up. It's just really hard. It feels like my brain is arguing. The sensible side against the irrational side. It is very exhausting.

TI: What are you doing now to help yourself?

Nikki: I have tried everything from the therapist, to reading books about it, to relaxation techniques, and there is nothing that really helps. I am thinking about some medication. If I do take some, then it would be Zoloft. It is a type of antidepressant. I'm not exactly sure what it does in your body, but it calms you down and subsides your worries. It seems like the best solution since I have been fighting this battles for a year and a half.

TI: What's your advice to other teens who are struggling with anxiety attacks?

Nikki: Most importantly, remember that you are not alone. It seems so horrible, and it is, but they will pass. Eventually you will live a normal life again. I know it's hard. I've been there. But you just have to keep telling yourself that it will be all right. We have to believe that we are bigger than these problems, because we are! One thing that really helped me is to talk to someone. It could be anyone, your parents, a close friend, a counselor. Just getting all your feelings out really can take a lot of weight off your shoulders. Never give up, because you are someone special, and God will never let you be defeated.

We have to believe that we are bigger than these problems, because we are! One thing that really helped me is to talk to someone...Just getting your feelings out really can take a lot of weight off your shoulders. Never give up...
Experiencing anxiety attacks? Know someone who is? Need help?

Check out these web sites! 

Anxiety/Panic Attack Resource Site

The Mayo Clinic page on Panic Attacks

Northern Illinois University page on Panic Disorders



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