This project is intended to give a voice to those with experiences with mental illness as this is something that is very close to our hearts. We hope that those who view our work and read the experiences of others will be able to better understand or empathize with people who are affected by mental illness. Now, we hear Anna's story.
My name is Anna Hiatt and I am a small town girl from North Carolina. I grew up in a tiny little town called Mount Airy. If you’re familiar with The Andy Griffith Show, my hometown is the town that Mayberry is based on. I grew up in the East, but now I am living in Provo. I recently graduated from BYU after majoring in Family Studies. The things I have learned in my studies have really helped me in a lot of different ways. I am also the youngest of four kids and an aunt to four darling kiddos. Sometimes it seems like my family just keeps getting bigger, but it definitely keeps things fun.
In terms of mental illness or challenges of the mind, I feel like I have struggled with something that is in the nature of anxiety and panic attacks. I have never been officially diagnosed with a mental illness and I haven’t ever been to the doctor for it, but there are still those days where I feel like, “Holy cow, this is making it really hard to function” or “Oh my goodness, this is throwing off the way that I am able to think or interact with people.” I feel like I’ve noticed people tend to have some strong opinions or perspectives when it comes to those moments of “self diagnosis.” One that I especially notice is that if there’s a challenge or something you identify in yourself, people tell you you’re just making it up for attention. Another perspective that I’ve even noticed in myself is that you begin to doubt that you could even have a struggle with mental illness or something of that nature because it you were never told by a professional that you had one. And I think that’s a very hard thought to work through. Even though my problems and struggles are not diagnosed problems, it doesn’t make my anxious spells and moments of panic any less valid. For me, what I experience can be just as crippling regardless of how I decide to define or label or acknowledge it.
It can be hard to put what I experience into words. Sometimes it’s not just this sense of worry or feelings of uneasiness, or even flat out fear, but it is this overwhelming pressure of everything all at once. That might not be easy to understand, but there is just this weight all over that I feel. I have found that these spells or incidents often occur when two things take place. It usually happens when I am particularly lonely, even more so if there is no one physically near me. The second thing is a nearing deadline or moments of pressure when seem to be twenty different things I need to get done all at once. It is highly possible that there are other contributing factors, but those are the things that I most remember from my little spells. It seems that when those two things line up just so, that is when my little spells hit me the hardest. Then, I just this moment right before when I can think, “Really?!? I already had so much on my plate right now. I really don’t want to deal with this.” But then I am overcome to the point where I can hardly function like a normal human being, even though I know I am fully capable of doing so. My spells can make it really hard to process this idea. I can mentally recognize that the challenges that triggered my little spells are something I can get through and that what is happening isn’t necessarily normal, but in that moment it is my current normal. Like I said, it’s kind of hard to explain since a lot of it is happening primarily in my head. And you sort of watch it all unfold. You can see what is happening, but not really be able to control what is taking place. That is the best way I can try to explain it.
It didn’t really happen a lot when I was growing up, but since I’m from a small town, I feel like maybe I built a bubble where my routines were the same. Nothing was really pushing me beyond that, nothing pushed me completely over the edge or anything. But then I moved to Provo, and it was both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it has opened up so many opportunities in my life, but at the same time, I was suddenly across the country. I was away from my family and I didn’t have any friends that I felt I could really rely on. I felt like a transplant, really alone, and I think that is where my anxiety issues stem from. It comes from those feeling of loneliness. I had my brothers here, but they had grown up seeing me as their kid sister, so it wasn’t exactly the type of relationship that I really needed. Things have since progressed to where I can rely on them a lot more, but when I first moved I was very isolated.
In a lot of ways, sometimes, I have put myself in romantic relationships that weren’t the most ideal situation for me, just simply because I did not want to be alone. It’s not that they were abusive or absolutely horrible or anything, I just feel like they didn’t provide the support I was so desperately looking for. There was still a lot of me pretending that I was fine and dandy. It is really frustrating to realize that now, because looking back I realize that they weren’t the best relationships, but I clung to them anyway. I just wanted, at times needed, to feel loved and appreciated. In some ways, it felt like because I didn’t always have the highest opinion of myself that gravitated to where there was the tiniest ounce of interest. I’ve learned a lot since then and thankfully I have since learned how to better appreciate myself.
The first time I remember having a panic attack was at a time when I was in my apartment alone. My roommates were all gone, and I had a lot of assignments and things to get done. My life felt like it was falling apart. I didn’t know what I was doing with my studies or my major, I had a lot of paper deadlines that I had fallen behind on, and all of a sudden, I froze. I was sitting on the couch, and my entire body just tensed up. The tears starting coming, and I was overcome with these continuous feelings of, “Oh my gosh, I feel like I am going to die.” It was really hard because in that moment, I realized there is nothing physically wrong with me, but I still felt extremely light-headed like I was going to pass out. I was in my living room and I ended up crawling onto my couch and curling up into a ball. I had felt like I was going to fall apart and I was trying anything I could to hold myself together. I am shaking, I am sobbing, my nose is running, and it feels like everything — emotions, tears, snot, frustration, worry, basically EVERYTHING — is coming out of me. My brain was all fuzzy. You know the static on an old TV? That is what it felt like in my brain, and I was having a hard time working through whatever was going on. I was trying to figure out what was happening, but it all hit just right at once. The more I trying to think about it, the worse I felt. I didn’t know what else to do, so I just held onto a pillow and just prayed and hoped that it would go away because it really felt like I was going to die right there on my own couch, in a pool of my own tears. It was a numbness, a static, but also this coldness that crept in and felt like it was smothering me. So yeah, it’s rough. It’s debilitating. It’s crushing. And it doesn’t have to be diagnosed to do those things.
I didn’t really talk about it much with my family. I texted my brothers about it a little while after, but I didn’t want to be a bother so I told them not to come over and be with me. I have talked with my sister about it, and she tells me that it is okay to let yourself feel. Sometimes, there are days or even weeks where you are feeling anxious, and it is okay. I shouldn’t be hard on myself, but rather be patient with myself because that is the only way I am really going to deal with it. It doesn’t matter who you are or what your deal is, but it is okay to feel. You NEVER want to live constantly in those feelings (reach out, get help, get support if you do) but they are still there. I had to acknowledge what was happening before I was able to find any sort of comfort or peace. I had to realize, that this is something that I’ll have to work through, for however long. It might not be debilitating, but I know that I’ll still have those scary spells to work through. But I know that I’m not alone and that sometimes it’s okay to not be okay. There are countless others out there like me. And even though I’m nowhere near figuring my crap out, I know that I can keep going, that I can deal with the all the spells that comes my way.