Much of my late childhood into my tween years was ruled by phobias. A phobia, for those who don’t know, is an irrational fear of something that is unlikely to cause a person harm. This fear can make daily life-crippling and anxiety-inducing. During my early life, I was extremely shy and fearful of other people’s perceptions of me. With that type of personality, my phobias thrived and intensified.
Needles, heights, swallowing pills and certain foods, and test-taking terrified me. My fears would manifest through panic attacks, hysterical breakdowns, and sheer avoidance of the things that triggered me. It was exhausting and demoralizing. I thought I would never “be normal” as a result. Looking back, I can now see that these irrational fears were the first traces of my severe generalized anxiety presenting itself.
As I grew older, I was able to overcome my phobias. However, new ones also cropped up periodically during different stages of my life. I developed a fear of taking out tampons when I first got my period at age 14. When I was 16 and learning how to drive, I began to develop extreme driving anxiety. All of these phobias weighed on me significantly. I felt embarrassed to tell anyone outside of my immediate family. I hid them from friends, which made me feel alienated from my peers. I thought of myself as lame and even baby-ish for allowing these fears to affect me so much.
I wish I could give a concrete, step-by-step guide on how to overcome phobias, but I have no perfect or universal solutions. A large part of my journey living with these anxieties was trial and error. Through continually pushing myself into uncomfortable situations that forced me to confront the things that I feared, I built up a tolerance. You could call it my own DIY version of exposure therapy.
During my time struggling with driving anxiety, I forced myself to drive as much as possible. I realized that avoiding driving only exacerbated my phobia. The irrational thoughts built up in my head the more I avoided driving. By making myself drive more frequently, I became used to being on the road. It became more muscle memory and less anxiety producing for me over time.
The same principle applied to taking my driver’s test. The test itself terrified me to the point where I had panic attacks while taking it. I had to take the test three times before I passed, but I finally did it! These experiences taught me that phobias subside through exposure and persistence. Calming strategies used in therapy like deep breathing and positive visualization also aided me significantly.
I am far from perfect now. However, I am happy to say that my phobias no longer hold me back from functioning in my daily life. My anxiety remains, but now I am able to see past fear rather than let it hinder me. I never thought I’d say I am grateful for my phobias, but honestly, I can now say that I am. If not for them, I never would have learned about my generalized anxiety or sought therapy.
My phobias taught me the importance of resilience in the face of adversity. Because of the obstacles I faced during childhood, I am a more confident and open person today. I am proud of myself for overcoming these struggles and becoming a better, stronger person as a result.
I can only hope that my story encourages others to normalize talking openly about mental health problems.
You are strong. Your disorders do not define you.
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