Just Breathe: A Story of Anxiety and Getting Help

“One, two, three, and breathe out.”

Sitting in one of the offices in the Sciences Laboratory Building at UC Davis, with the lights dimmed and the sound of rain playing from the white noise machine by the door, I slowly let go of my breath. My shoulders lowered as the tension dissipated and my fingers loosened their grip around each other. That is, until another sob escaped.

“Let’s try one more time,” Anne Han, a clinical counselor at UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services, said. Her hands rested on her clipboard as I took in another deep breath. They had stopped writing, but her fingers remained on the pen, ready. “One, two, three, and breathe out.”

This occurred two more times before I regained some semblance of composure. When I did, I did not feel the relief or the weight lifted off my chest as some people may after crying, at least not at first. At that moment, I simply felt exhausted. My heart was racing, my breaths were shaky, and my head was beginning to ache. Having spoken for approximately an hour, our session was over. After drying my eyes, trying to wipe away any evidence of the fact that I had been crying on and off for the past half hour, I thanked her, scheduled another appointment, and then left.

That was the conclusion of my first counseling session. It had been the middle of Fall 2016. I was in my third year of college and the session had taken place after a referral from my major advisor in front of whom I had broken down just two weeks prior. We had been talking about future plans and gap years—it was a fairly amiable and light conversation—but it seemed all the tension and anxiety that had been piling up had finally decided to spill over. It was the push I needed to finally seek help.

I have anxiety. Even after all this time, it remains a difficult thing to admit both to myself and others.

It is not that I am ashamed of it or that I do not think it is real. Although mild, it is certainly real. It is just that I had always regarded the constant worry and restlessness, the irrational fear, and questioning as a part of my personality, a character flaw. After all, I thought, what right do I have to call it anxiety?

Despite the excessive worry and stress and the occasional interference in my work and study, it had never gotten to the point where I could not function. There were nights when I would stay awake, kept up by fears and thoughts that seemed to be set on replay, but by morning I was fine. If you had walked past me between passing periods or even stopped to speak to me, you never would have guessed the thoughts that occupied my mind or the reason my shoulders were always tense.

My own family and friends never knew, and many still do not know, about the panic that sometimes sets, settling in the pit of my stomach until all I can focus on is my breaths as I count them one at a time. I had created this picture-perfect persona that even I believed.

I was fine, for the most part, and if I am fine, can I really say that I have anxiety? The answer seemed to elude me.

When I had gone to see Anne for the first time, I did not know what to expect. That in and of itself was nerve-wracking. Sitting in the waiting room of the Biological Academic Success Center, I waited for fifteen minutes. She was late. On my phone, I searched for what to expect. After all, if I over-prepared and knew what was coming, everything would be alright, right? With that logic, I Google everything.

When she finally arrived from her meeting, she led me to a sparse room filled only with the bare necessities. Reaching down by the door, she turned on a machine, filling the hallway with the sound of rain. I recognized it immediately. It was a sound I had often heard when our Health Professions Advising offices had been located just a few doors down. I had always wondered to whom it belonged. And now I knew.

Once we got settled, she explained to me how the session would work, giving me papers about their policies and asking me a set of standard question before dimming the lights. It was strange yet comforting. When she asked me what I wanted to talk about, my mind became blank. All the scenarios I had come up with regarding how the session could play out disappeared.

Stumbling upon my words, I explained what had happened and why I was there in the first place. We spoke about my family, my time at UC Davis, the pressures I felt, and the loneliness of commuting every day. I had never even thought to consider it as a source of loneliness until then, but that is another story. She asked me a lot of questions I did not know the answers to, ones I had never thought about.

I found myself saying, “I don’t know,” a phrase my mother loathes, over and over again. And the entire time she simply listened, asking only a couple of questions every so often. For the first time in that small room in front of a person I had just met minutes before, I felt like I could say anything. It did not matter that I probably looked like a mess. My mouth kept on moving, and words that used to occupy only pages within my stories and writing, spilled out loud.

In the end, she confirmed what I had always known: I have anxiety. But in that moment, there were no questions. There were no more “Is it real?” or “Can I really say I have anxiety?” or “Am I just overthinking everything?” Everything I was feeling officially had a name. Perhaps for some that is a terrifying thought, knowing it is real, but for me, it was a source of relief. Finally getting help allowed me to see things in a different light.

My anxiety was no longer some character flaw so ingrained that it could not be changed, nor was it something so apart from myself that I had no control over it.

That was what frightened me the most: that lack of control. Without it, I felt helpless, unable to change what I wanted to change so badly. Speaking to Anne gave me back that sense of control. It gave me the tools to make the changes I needed to see within myself, changes I now see.

I cannot say that that one session solved everything. It is not that easy. However, it was the beginning to admitting I needed help and the beginning to figuring out how to change and work past my anxiety.

My anxiety. It is still such a strange thing to say.



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As a senior at UC Davis pursuing a B.S. in Neurobiology, Physiology, & Behavior and a Professional Writing minor, I am also a peer advisor and a program coordinator for our Health Professions Advising Center. Through my roles, I meet and work with many students and organizations through advising, putting on workshops and special events, such as the UCD Pre-Health Conference, and creating material for students to use. I love working with people, along with reading, writing, and trying new things.

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Just Breathe: A Story of Anxiety and Getting Help

“One, two, three, and breathe out.”

Sitting in one of the offices in the Sciences Laboratory Building at UC Davis, with the lights dimmed and the sound of rain playing from the white noise machine by the door, I slowly let go of my breath. My shoulders lowered as the tension dissipated and my fingers loosened their grip around each other. That is, until another sob escaped.

“Let’s try one more time,” Anne Han, a clinical counselor at UC Davis Student Health and Counseling Services, said. Her hands rested on her clipboard as I took in another deep breath. They had stopped writing, but her fingers remained on the pen, ready. “One, two, three, and breathe out.”

This occurred two more times before I regained some semblance of composure. When I did, I did not feel the relief or the weight lifted off my chest as some people may after crying, at least not at first. At that moment, I simply felt exhausted. My heart was racing, my breaths were shaky, and my head was beginning to ache. Having spoken for approximately an hour, our session was over. After drying my eyes, trying to wipe away any evidence of the fact that I had been crying on and off for the past half hour, I thanked her, scheduled another appointment, and then left.

That was the conclusion of my first counseling session. It had been the middle of Fall 2016. I was in my third year of college and the session had taken place after a referral from my major advisor in front of whom I had broken down just two weeks prior. We had been talking about future plans and gap years—it was a fairly amiable and light conversation—but it seemed all the tension and anxiety that had been piling up had finally decided to spill over. It was the push I needed to finally seek help.

I have anxiety. Even after all this time, it remains a difficult thing to admit both to myself and others.

It is not that I am ashamed of it or that I do not think it is real. Although mild, it is certainly real. It is just that I had always regarded the constant worry and restlessness, the irrational fear, and questioning as a part of my personality, a character flaw. After all, I thought, what right do I have to call it anxiety?

Despite the excessive worry and stress and the occasional interference in my work and study, it had never gotten to the point where I could not function. There were nights when I would stay awake, kept up by fears and thoughts that seemed to be set on replay, but by morning I was fine. If you had walked past me between passing periods or even stopped to speak to me, you never would have guessed the thoughts that occupied my mind or the reason my shoulders were always tense.

My own family and friends never knew, and many still do not know, about the panic that sometimes sets, settling in the pit of my stomach until all I can focus on is my breaths as I count them one at a time. I had created this picture-perfect persona that even I believed.

I was fine, for the most part, and if I am fine, can I really say that I have anxiety? The answer seemed to elude me.

When I had gone to see Anne for the first time, I did not know what to expect. That in and of itself was nerve-wracking. Sitting in the waiting room of the Biological Academic Success Center, I waited for fifteen minutes. She was late. On my phone, I searched for what to expect. After all, if I over-prepared and knew what was coming, everything would be alright, right? With that logic, I Google everything.

When she finally arrived from her meeting, she led me to a sparse room filled only with the bare necessities. Reaching down by the door, she turned on a machine, filling the hallway with the sound of rain. I recognized it immediately. It was a sound I had often heard when our Health Professions Advising offices had been located just a few doors down. I had always wondered to whom it belonged. And now I knew.

Once we got settled, she explained to me how the session would work, giving me papers about their policies and asking me a set of standard question before dimming the lights. It was strange yet comforting. When she asked me what I wanted to talk about, my mind became blank. All the scenarios I had come up with regarding how the session could play out disappeared.

Stumbling upon my words, I explained what had happened and why I was there in the first place. We spoke about my family, my time at UC Davis, the pressures I felt, and the loneliness of commuting every day. I had never even thought to consider it as a source of loneliness until then, but that is another story. She asked me a lot of questions I did not know the answers to, ones I had never thought about.

I found myself saying, “I don’t know,” a phrase my mother loathes, over and over again. And the entire time she simply listened, asking only a couple of questions every so often. For the first time in that small room in front of a person I had just met minutes before, I felt like I could say anything. It did not matter that I probably looked like a mess. My mouth kept on moving, and words that used to occupy only pages within my stories and writing, spilled out loud.

In the end, she confirmed what I had always known: I have anxiety. But in that moment, there were no questions. There were no more “Is it real?” or “Can I really say I have anxiety?” or “Am I just overthinking everything?” Everything I was feeling officially had a name. Perhaps for some that is a terrifying thought, knowing it is real, but for me, it was a source of relief. Finally getting help allowed me to see things in a different light.

My anxiety was no longer some character flaw so ingrained that it could not be changed, nor was it something so apart from myself that I had no control over it.

That was what frightened me the most: that lack of control. Without it, I felt helpless, unable to change what I wanted to change so badly. Speaking to Anne gave me back that sense of control. It gave me the tools to make the changes I needed to see within myself, changes I now see.

I cannot say that that one session solved everything. It is not that easy. However, it was the beginning to admitting I needed help and the beginning to figuring out how to change and work past my anxiety.

My anxiety. It is still such a strange thing to say.



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