Let me start from the beginning. I’ll try not to bore you with all of the details, but in order to understand where I am now, I think you need to know where it all started. My sophomore year of high school, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder, though I’ve been experiencing them in some capacity since I was a child. Basically, I worry all the time (like way more than the average person) and I have terrible panic attacks, sometimes for no reason at all.
What It Feels Like to Have A Panic Attack
Just to give those of you who don’t know a sense of what it’s like to have a panic attack, I wanted to describe it in a way that most people would understand. Think of something horrible happening. Like you’re on a plane that’s about to crash, or you’re stranded on a desert island completely alone, or your mom dies suddenly. The complete and utter fear and loss of control you would experience if any of these things were to happen is basically what it feels like when you’re having a panic attack. Yeah, it’s not fun. Sometimes, these can last a few minutes, but sometimes they can last for hours. It is truly the worst thing that I have ever experienced. I’m not saying this so you feel bad for me or anyone else who has panic disorder. But I do think it’s constructive to share what it’s like so that others can be more understanding when it’s happening to someone around them. And also so others can understand how much a panic attack can blur a person’s sense of reality and rationality.
At My Worst…
Around the time that I was diagnosed, because I didn’t know how to handle my condition, it was really interfering with my day-to-day life. I was suffering from severe OCD, and though I wouldn’t say that I had a full blown eating disorder, I was definitely experiencing some form of disordered eating. For 6 months, I only ate about 5 different foods, including bread, yogurt, a few other things that my OCD considered to be “safe.” My severe restricting was all because of my irrational belief that certain foods would make me sick, even the thought of which would send me into a spiral of panic. Fortunately, with therapy and the support of my family and friends, I was able to climb out of that horrible hole and start living a normal life again.
One thing I want to mention is that, during those 6 months of severe anxiety and OCD, I put my life on hold at a time that I really needed to be moving forward. Others were thinking about what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives, while I was just there trying to survive another day. I started making decisions about college and my future career that I wasn’t ready to be making due to my condition. I was seriously considering staying in Rhode Island for college and going to baking school. It seemed safe enough, right? At least my OCD seemed to think so. So during that 6 month period, I signed up for what I thought was baking camp at Johnson and Wales University. (More on that later.)
Between Then & Now
Obviously it’s been a few years since I was a sophomore in high school (I’m now a senior in college). So let me fill you in on what’s happened since then and the things that would eventually lead to my career in nutrition.
My last two years of high school were much better than my sophomore year, anxiety-wise. I finally let go of a lot of my irrational fears and was able to enjoy life a lot more. Though I still had anxiety from time to time, it had become much more manageable and was no longer debilitating. But there was still one major challenge that I had to overcome during this time: learning to love food again. For so long, I had seen food as somewhat of a threat (which sounds ridiculous, I know). It’s hard to just wake up one day and shake that feeling off. Therapy had helped me a little, but mainly, I just needed to be “re-exposed” to all these foods. I needed to start eating again.
During the summer before my junior year of high school, I was doing much better and was eating a lot of normal foods again. But I was still working on mending my relationship with food. In a stroke of luck, it turned out that I had signed up for the culinary arts section of JWU camp, rather than baking and pastry. (So we made a bunch of exotic main and side dishes rather than breads and desserts.) This turned out to be a major blessing in disguise, because I was able to work with the foods that I had feared for so long, rather than staying in my comfort zone of “safe” foods like bread. That experience of making beautiful, delicious, flavorful foods left a lasting impression on me. I saw what a wonderful thing food could be. It wasn’t something to be demonized or feared. It was something to be celebrated.
After going to camp, I knew I did not want to be a chef or do anything that required that much standing and running around all day (though it is fun occasionally). However, I knew that I belonged in a profession that involved food, one that emphasized and celebrated the importance of it and the impact it can have on each and every person. I remember the day my mom picked me up from camp and I said, “Mom, I now know that I’m not going to be a chef or a baker. I think I’m going to be a dietitian.”
Where I Am Now
I spent my last few years of high school pursuing my dream of studying nutrition (at least as much as I could while still being in high school). I ended up getting into one of the best undergraduate nutrition programs in the country at a school that I was (and still am) absolutely crazy about. College has been the best experience of my life. I have been challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone more times that I can count. And I’ve grown so much because of it. For now, new irrational fears will continue to come and go. I will never “get over” my anxiety. It will always be a big part of my life. But in a way, I’m grateful for my situation. If it weren’t for my anxiety, I may never have stumbled upon my love for nutrition, and I may very well not be the person that I am today!
If you ever find yourself going through something similar, or have in the past, please feel free to reach out! I’m always willing to discuss my experiences if it will help others! And I’ve found that it can be really comforting to talk to someone who’s struggling in the same way that you are.
Ok, I know this was a lot, so thanks to those of you who’ve stuck with me this long. I hope this post gave you a bit more of an understanding of how I got to where I am. After becoming friends with so many other nutrition students, I’ve found that pretty much every one of us has a unique, but similar story to tell that led to our passion for nutrition. So there’s mine. Thanks so much for reading!