Catherine Santino
September 30, 2015 2:09 pm

For someone who struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, like myself, you would think that New York City would be the last place they’d think of going. Nonetheless, it’s where I’ve ended up for a number of reasons, and I’m sure I’m not the first one to be faced with the harsh realities of coping with anxiety in an already quite stressful environment.

These realities were certainly in the back of my mind as I considered New York as my potential home. I worried about the crowds, the noise, fast-paced nature of the city, and how these things would affect my mental health. As a highly claustrophobic person, the thought of frequently being crammed into a crowded train or elevator definitely made me apprehensive. But, my career ambitions and love for the city’s culture outweighed all these things in the end; I packed up my room of my parents’ house in a teensy town in upstate New York, and made the plunge.

It seemed I was lucky. The crowded trains and elevators didn’t bother me so much. My living spaces were much smaller than they were before but I didn’t mind. Rush hour was certainly frustrating, but my anxiety was somehow remaining tepid amongst the thickets of people I encountered daily.

But that’s the thing about anxiety, at least mine; it’s often a matter of chance. A few lucky months can easily be disguised as improvement or healing. It’s deceptive. Anxiety can sneak right back in at any time, regardless of how much luck you’ve experienced over an extended period of time.

This was made apparent to me a few months ago as I was getting ready for work. I woke up feeling a little off balance, uneasy. I could sense the initial tinglings of panic, which from experience I knew wouldn’t just go away with the passing of time, but I headed out the door anyway, figuring I could deal with it. The train was unusually crowded, and I was jammed in the middle of the car, surrounded closely on all sides by fellow passengers. My panic tinglings started forcing their way into the forefront of my consciousness, and I felt myself losing control.

I told myself I could make it, it would be fine, it was just a few more stops. Suddenly every noise seemed amplified by a million notches and my skin was buzzing wildly. My breath was shallow and I felt like I might get sick. I wanted to jump out of my own body, my mind, this train. I eventually couldn’t take it anymore, and got off at the next stop to calm myself down. Seated on a bench on the platform, I tried to even my breath and calm the buzzing until the next train came. I couldn’t. I had to be at work soon but I just couldn’t bear the thought of getting back on a train, suffocating. I went outside and hailed a cab the rest of the way to work.

I felt like crying. I felt stupid. Defeated. And by the time I arrived at my office, I was just plain exhausted. I felt like I had already lived an entire day in the span of my morning commute. I thought back to all the people that were bustling past me as I sat on the train platform; people heading to their jobs, from their jobs, wherever. I felt jealous of the perceived normalcy of it all, suddenly wistful for the monotony of every other panic-free commute I’d ever had. Panic attacks always make me grateful for monotony.

The experience rattled me a bit. Sure, I’d had plenty of panic attacks before, and much worse ones at that. But it was the first time since moving to New York that I had had an attack as a direct result of the city and its environment. It shook me enough to question if I could handle living here.

It might have been my first city-induced panic attack, but it certainly wasn’t my last. And there will be many more. But it’s making me stronger. I’m here, I’m dealing with this thing, and I’m okay. And all those other “normal” people on the platform that day? They’re dealing with something too. Everyone is. Everyone has demons, and this is mine. I refuse to let it beat me. I love New York, and I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.

It’s definitely not always easy. But I manage to cope by reminding myself that it’s okay to have bad days; it’s okay to have to get off the train, or to feel defeated sometimes. What’s important is that I keep going no matter what, and continue to surround myself with people who support me.

I am realistic enough to recognize the possibility that someday, despite my dedication to my life here, the city might become too much for me. And if that time comes, I’ll do what’s best for me and my health at that point. But for now, and for the forseeable future, I’m here to stay. My anxiety has already taken so much away from me, and there’s only so much I can allow it to dictate.

Advertisement