“I would constantly think, ‘This is the worst thing that could happen to me. Nothing will get better.’ I still feel that same pressure… constantly… claustrophobic… or suffocated. You cannot move… like you’re in a casket. You cannot breathe. Oh… It’s always that same feeling.”
[Content Warning: Depictions of Panic Attacks, Medicinal Misuse]
Reading Time – 8 minutes
The Circle of Anxiety
For a few years now, what’s troubling me is that feeling of anxiety, because I don’t know what I’m gonna do with my life. It started when… well, I was always like that. I always say I love choices, but I’m actually really bad at making them. In order to ease my anxiety about making choices, I’ll sometimes make really rash decisions. I always think, “What if I had done that? What would happen then? Did I make a good choice?” So… it’s not only that I have trouble making a decision, but then I also have trouble living with that decision. It’s always like that. A circle of anxiety…
My anxiety attacks… I don’t feel like I can prevent them, but now I’m better at controlling them. Before, I would constantly think, “This is the worst thing that could happen to me. Nothing will get better.” I still feel that same pressure… constantly… claustrophobic… or suffocated. You cannot move… like you’re in a casket. You cannot breathe. Oh… It’s always that same feeling. I’ve been able to control my depressing thoughts, but the physical symptoms still happen.
Before, my panic attacks would manifest in the way that I would start hiccuping uncontrollably when I tried to sleep. It would last for like… an hour. It would always happen when I had that feeling, like, “I don’t know what to do.” It’s such a silly manifestation. You have to laugh at that. Sometimes I feel like I’m bipolar, because I can go from feeling like I can climb the mountain… to feeling like I can barely walk. In different moments, I feel like I can do everything, or nothing at all. Yes, no, yes, no!
Leaving the United States
It was especially hard after coming back from the US… I think that was my lowest point of being depressed. After losing the lottery for the H1B, I decided to put all of my effort, time, and money into one goal… applying for a graduate degree… at only one school. Then, when it didn’t work out with the graduate degree, I had to leave. I went back home to Romania. I never wanted to go back home, and I was in the same situation as when I left for the US. It was like those four years in the US didn’t happen… and I had to find a job.
The only option I had was the same job I was offered before I left for the US… to be a sales representative… and this wasn’t something that I ever wanted. It’s like, “What have I done? What should I do now? Should I start to look for a job in Eastern Europe? Should I try again to get into the US? What have I done with my life? After four years, I’m back?!”
The worst thing was people… “I can’t believe you’re back! You’re so smart and hardworking. Why didn’t you stay?” Everyone has different suggestions and opinions on how the US immigration system works. Really, I’m just repeating over and over to them my learned responses… because what am I going to say? Now, I work and work, so that I only come home to sleep… because once I start thinking about it… I didn’t want this.
Constantly Wanting More
Thinking about it all… it’s like this really huge pressure around my chest. It’s silly, because there are worse things in life that can happen to you. [starts crying] I’m just going to start crying now, because I don’t know… I feel like it’s such a stupid thing to cry about. Everyone tells me I have a really good job compared to other people, and they are right. It is a really good job. Other people would be happy. But for me, I get this sense that it’s not enough. I’m crying because it’s not something that I ever wanted… I wish I didn’t have this feeling… of constantly wanting more.
When I look at other things in my life that aren’t perfect… I’m sorry… I’m all over the place… One of my friends just had a baby. Everyone is starting to have their families… getting married… moving on with their lives… and I don’t have any of that. It didn’t used to bother me, because I would focus on my professional life. But now I’m thinking, “What was it all for?” Everything is the same. I’m 35 now, and I’m thinking, “Oh my God! When will that happen for me?” You can imagine how it is in Romania… “Come on! You have a degree. You have a good job. Now it’s time for a husband!”
Sometimes I think that those four years were my highest achievement, and everything else is just going to be down from there. Nothing new or exciting will happen. No one here understands that feeling… they haven’t left the country. Staying in the US was so important for me, and now that I’m back working at job I don’t like, I feel like I’m even further from my goal.
The Fear of Fully Committing
I say that I focus on one thing in my life, but I’m not even doing that right… because I’m not fully committed. I lived in this tiny apartment for my last year in the US. It was… really bad. I was actually making enough money to find a better place… a really, really nice apartment… but no, I was saving money for my graduate degree. And then it didn’t happen.
Same thing is happening again… because I’m focusing on how I’m going to “run away” from Eastern Europe… but I can see there is no easy way out. I think that I can just save up some money, stay with my parents, stop traveling… but, it’s still impossible. I help out my parents financially, and there are always other things that come up that cost money. I’m not even living fully… I’ve just been surviving for two years now. I don’t want to do this anymore.
It seems like I know what I want, but I don’t put 100% into it. I always have three to four backup plans because, even when I think I put 100% into something, I get negative about it. I can’t even believe in it. I’m afraid to… I’ve learned to keep my expectations low, but also… my dreams are so big. It’s a constant state of confusion and nervousness.
Shared Family Anxiety
I decided to move out from my parents’ house, and I see this as a huge step. I’m finally going to live alone again! I feel like it’s a step in the right direction. Living with my parents is not easy. That constant feeling of wanting more and never feeling happy… I think I got that from my mother. It’s a common way to raise children in Eastern Europe… always pushing for more. And now, even when I’m older, she’s never happy with anything.
Recently, I went on vacation. I love traveling, but before I never had money to travel. I earn good money by Eastern European standards, so I decided to allow myself to travel. I decided to book all the little trips and activities I want. I didn’t worry about money. It was such a special moment… I felt grown-up and free. But, I spent a ton of money… I came home and looked at my bank account, like, “What the fuck?!” I had instant buyer’s remorse. But, it was the end of the month, so I knew I would be fine.
My mom asked how much I spent, and when I told her, she went ballistic! She started yelling at me, saying, “When you live in this family, you have to contribute [financially]!” But, I already contribute so much money to the family! Plus, it’s my money! Before my trip, she said, “Oh, honey! You spend so much money on us! Will you have enough for your trip?” Then, I come back, and I’m suddenly the worst daughter ever who never gives a penny to the house. I am aware my mom was just scared and worried about the money, but her words really hurt. It was always like that (going from really nice moments with her to situations where she is disappointed and angry with me). I am afraid nothing will change even when I move to my new apartment.
Stigma and Medication in Eastern Europe
I took Valium four times in my life in order to help me relax, because work was too stressful. I never used drugs before, because I’m always afraid of getting addicted. Everyone tells you how addictive Valium is… I was thinking, “Will I get addicted to Valium because of how stressful my work is?” I decided to not use it again, but sometimes there are days when I would like to just take one… to relax and to not stress out.
I don’t like to talk to my friends about medications… I even lied about it once. One day at work, one of my coworkers was crying. She was getting really hysterical and started hyperventilating. I told her that I have some Valium in my purse and offered her some, but she said, “No, I’ll just drink some tea and go for a walk.” I was describing the situation to a friend, who then asked me why I have Valium. Her tone was judgmental, and I panicked and said, “Oh, it’s for my dog! You know, because of all fireworks (from New Year’s celebrations). They recommend giving your dog a small dosage of Valium to help them calm down.”
I felt ridiculous and horrible for lying, but at that moment it was easier to lie than to tell the truth. Here in Romania, it is not a good thing when you are using medication to help you with stress and anxiety. Everyone thinks that you need to endure all the bad stuff in your life and that being under stress is not that big of a deal. I didn’t want to hear all the judgments and comments about how I should be grateful for the job I have.
Trying to Live in the Moment
Sometimes I read Inside Our Minds interviews… and I’m like, “My problems are nothing compared to those things… Why do I even stress about this?” But, then I realize that none of it is in my control. I get perspective… how it can really get bad. It reminds me that I’m actually happy with what I have… and that’s what’s most frustrating. I know the solution to the problem, but I can’t just focus on that. My mind is constantly battling with itself.
I just was with one of my friends a few weeks ago, and she was like, “You know, I don’t think it’s going well for either of us. We are constantly complaining about the same things over and over. We know what to do, but it never gets better. I think we should talk to a professional.” She recommended that I read this book… The Art of Happiness by The Dalai Lama. She says it talks a lot about how people want more and more, but never reach happiness from getting more. I see the connections to myself… how I’m not happy, how I’m not living in the moment… I should just try to live as best I can without being frustrated all of the time.
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