Reprinted from "First Responders for Young People" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 3(2), pp. 19-20
First I feel nauseous; then I think I’m going to throw up. That’s usually what triggers my anxiety attack. I get so worried that I will throw up. Then I feel hot and dizzy and get a really bad stomach ache. I feel like I need to escape; like I’m trapped in this closed room.
I began to leave school between classes so often that my friends started wondering what was going on. They thought I was a faker, and that I was missing way too much school. They would confront me the next day and ask, “Why did you leave?” or, “Why did you go home?” I’d tell them it was because I wasn’t feeling well. I could tell by their expressions they thought I was lying. And then I would worry about how much work I missed or if the teachers were not going to be nice to me anymore.
I can usually only control my anxiety attacks at home or when I’m with my parents. They happen almost anywhere, except at home.
I always think there is something wrong with me. I have gone to doctors about my stomach and they basically throw pills at me for my stomach, which don’t help at all.
One of my biggest fears is public speaking. Any class I go, to I’m scared that they will ask me to read something aloud—or to do those group projects where you have to present in front of the class. I have a huge social anxiety, too. I get so nervous thinking my face will go red when I’m talking to someone that it usually does. This is affecting my life, and I can’t stand it. It’s making me depressed and unhappy all the time.
Because I have felt this way for a long time—and sometimes it’s really bad—my mom had a therapist do the FRIENDS for Life program with me in 2000, when I was in grade four.1 This was so I could learn how to control the thoughts that were making me feel anxious about things.
What I remember most about the FRIENDS program is the “I” in FRIENDS: Inner thoughts.1 It’s the strategy that I use the most. I make my mind think about putting all my worries in boxes—the more layers of boxes, the better—so the worries won’t escape. Then I put all those boxes in one very strong metal box and put tons of locks on this box. I see it flying way across to the other side of the world and landing at the bottom of the ocean, where the worries can’t escape or come back to me. By the time I finish imagining all of that, my worries are gone. I think the best way of taking worries away is to think about something else for a long period of time—chances are your worries will go away.
Another strategy is the breathing methods that are explained in the “R” of FRIENDS: Relax and feel good.1 I try to control my breathing by breathing slowly and taking deep breaths. At the same time, I start to think something different, like, “What am I really worrying about? Is it really worth it to get all nervous? I always survive these anxiety attacks, don’t I? So is it really worth worrying about?” And then I tell myself that the stomach aches always go away and that I’ll be okay in a few minutes.
If I hadn’t learned these strategies, I would never have been able to get through my anxiety attacks. And sometimes, my anxiety gets too big to be able to use the strategies that I learned in the FRIENDS program. But for most of my worries, FRIENDS has really helped me know what I can do, so I don’t feel so awful.
About the author
Michelle is 15 years old and started feeling worried when she was 10. At 10, she took the FRIENDS for Life program in Maple Ridge. She currently lives in North Vancouver and enjoys cooking and swimming.
- The acrostic expansion of “FRIENDS” as used for children of Michelle’s age (10 at the time) was changed in 2004. Currently, “I” stands for: I can do it! I can try my best! And “R” stands for: Remember to relax. Have quiet time.