Kayti wants you to know it does get better

Hey, I’m Kayti.  Something I love about Recovery Rockstars is that it’s all about community and hope.  It’s a collection of stories with the spirit of “me too” and “it gets better.” It's exactly what I needed about 5 years ago.

The summer after my freshman year of college, I had a heart attack and almost died.  The ambulance rushed me to the hospital, where I found out it wasn’t a heart attack at all--it was a panic attack. Much to my frustration, it was the first of many. The doctors told me it was “all in my head.”  The confusing part for me was that it was a very physical experience.

I’d be going about my business, and then out of the blue and with no warning, I’d feel a sharp stab and drag sensation in my chest.  I’d get that stomach in your throat feeling you get in a free fall (think Tower of Terror or Drop Zone), my fingers and toes would go numb, and the world around me would look and sound really far away.  I’d get this choking feeling that made it hard to speak or even breathe.

As you can imagine, I developed an intense dread--my whole consciousness was consumed with worrying and waiting for the next attack.  I became terrified of everything that used to be so normal to me.  I refused to drive--what if this happened while I was on the road?! I was afraid to go to the grocery store, I was afraid to be alone, and I was afraid to be with people.  I quit my job, and I seriously considered dropping out of college entirely.

As a lifelong honors student who was then at a very prestigious University, I was embarrassed to feel as though my mind (which had always been my strongest asset) was now betraying me. There's nothing quite like the feeling that you're losing your mind. It can be terrifying, humiliating, and incredibly lonely. I could not figure out how to explain this to myself, let alone to someone else. When I tried, I often got responses like “snap out of it” or “maybe you should be praying more.” Thankfully, I had someone very close to me who opened up about a very similar experience. She was the first person in my world to say “me too” and “it gets better.”

That emotional support meant so much to me, but I was just as grateful for the practical, tangible “here's what helped me” kind of support.  She met me in my pain, and helped me realize I had more power than I thought. My whole mindset began to shift as I realized I didn't have to sit back and let this thing take over my life. There were actual things I could do to help myself.

I started therapy, and was diagnosed with panic disorder and agoraphobia. I regained some sense of control as I started to recognize patterns in my symptoms, and adjust my lifestyle to minimize avoidable triggers while gaining tools to cope with less-avoidable triggers. I became so hungry for knowledge and understanding about what was going on in my brain. This prompted me to change my major to psychology when I was (thankfully!) able to go back to school.

It was (and is!) still hard, and the panic didn’t go away, but over the next few years it’s become less overpowering.  Instead of several panic attacks a day, my “normal” has become a quiet hum of anxiety.  Chest pain here, numbness there, and weird palpitations a few times a day.  And now, when those full-blown panic attacks come, I have my coping tools, support system, and “bounce back” strategies in place.

The past five years has been a slow process of learning to coexist with my anxiety, and to allow this experience to continually carve a compassion in me. Not only for others who live with anxiety, but for anyone who is feeling lonely or scared or struggling to find a sense of hope.

My heart’s desire is to have a story marked by courage, not by fear. If you share that desire, I’d love to invite you to visit to DesigningCourage.com, where my mission is to inspire a lifestyle of mental wellness in the next generation of strong, fun, mission-driven women. I am passionate about bringing a bright, happy, hopeful message to young women who want to be their happiest, healthiest, most-awesome selves.

We desperately need to hear “me too” and “it gets better.” We need each other’s stories. Thank you for the opportunity to share a little bit of mine.