Some of my earliest memories feature my therapist. I was diagnosed with anxiety as a young child. While other children were struck by fears on a fleeting basis, I could not stop thinking and obsessing over them, using my vast imagination to create new “what if” scenarios in which they would play out.
When a tiger escaped from a zoo in a nearby city, I was petrified the tiger would enter my second floor bedroom. Together with my therapist, I built a tiger trap fit for my bedroom window to finally move past that.
Despite being a high-achieving honors student and successful athlete on two of my high school’s sports teams, I was constantly pondering “what ifs.” What if I am only smart enough to succeed in 9th grade, but 10th grade will really show my true colors and I won’t make it through? What if I can only shine in the context of my parochial high school but not in college?
With my heart beating at an exponentially high rate and my stomach in knots, these were the thoughts I was entertaining while other students were thinking about where the next party was or which sports team won last night.
My anxiety reached its zenith when I started “hanging out” with John during my freshman year of college. In my eyes, John was perfect—he was a brilliant honors student who spoke multiple languages and studied abroad across Europe. He was extremely kind, handsome and witty. As we started getting to know each other and began dating, my “what ifs” went on steroids. What if I am not good enough for him? What if I gain weight and he thinks I am fat? What if I don’t crack the right joke or sound intelligent enough? What if his friends think I am a loser?
When he broke up with me, I was devastated. I feared seeing him on campus, especially with a different girl. I was so anxious about this that I would skip events I thought he might attend. I’d trip on the sidewalk because I was looking in various directions to see if he was in my vicinity.
With prodding from my concerned roommate, I scheduled my first appointment with a psychiatrist at the university health center. She prescribed antidepressants that really helped me get out of that dark place I was in. The medication was far from perfect and had tangible side effects, but for me at that time the benefits outweighed the costs. The medication also helped me relax about my academic performance and potential, allowing me to truly enjoy college.
Most of the academic worries I encountered proved futile. I worked hard throughout high school and college and reaped the rewards of my success recently when I received a full scholarship to a great law school.
My anxiety inhibited the natural growth of confidence I should have enjoyed after proving myself over and over again. I have “impostor syndrome”—feeling that I’m a fraud and don’t deserve my success. It’s a complex that unfortunately plagues so many high-achieving women and girls.
Those teenage years were tough, but in retrospect they pushed me to work hard and not take success for granted—giving me life skills that are important foundations for continued achievement as an adult.