​​I did not know how bad it could get – until it did.

The year 2020 was really hard for most (if not all) people around the world. No one was ready to go through such an immense tragedy that we did while trying to keep with our daily lives. As if the world we knew wasn’t collapsing. The constant fear of not knowing what was going to happen affected everyone in their core. 

I started to have anxiety when I was around 16-years-old, I am 21 now. I remember the first time (and I believe the only time) I had an anxiety attack. I was in the middle of a chemistry test which was a class I was very good in. I couldn’t read the questions on the page in front of me. The words did not connect – they didn’t make sense. I panicked and got out of the room. I was lucky to have incredibly sensible teachers that helped me through it. 

Since then, I started to pay attention to the symptoms my body gives me. I learned to recognize them. That is my main tip to whoever is reading: get to know your body. I thought I knew my anxiety symptoms and that I had everything under control. 

And then 2020 happened. 

I lived through last year in survivor mode. There is no other term for it. It was around the end of November that, for the first time since the beginning of lockdown in Brazil, in March, I did not feel anxious from the moment I woke up to when I went to sleep. I remember taking a moment to acknowledge how bad I had suffered and not even understand until it was “over”. Don’t get me wrong, I still feel anxious, but it got a lot better this year, and I am very grateful for that. I think knowing that I got through the chaos that was the year 2020 helps me daily. Now I’m able to take in the bad days and appreciate the good ones. 

I think, now looking back almost a year later, I can now pinpoint when things started to get worse. 

Realizing that I would not see my friends in my last year of college was something I struggled with. I couldn’t accept it for a very long time. I came to terms with it, but it is still something that makes me a little sad. The fact that I won’t have the graduation photos I wanted or that I won’t have the memories of the graduation party we were organizing is still a bit raw.

I am a big birthday person — always was, and I think I will always be. For me, my birthday is the most important day of the year. In 2020 I was turning 20’s milestone. I had all these plans with my friends of the things we would do. But I could not leave the house. I have to thank my mom, who noticed how sad I was and planned a few surprises: she bought birthday food, made a surprise zoom call with my friends and gave me some very heartwarming presents.

As the months went by, I understood that the anxiety and sadness got a lot worse. I was irritated with the world. I was mad that there wasn’t anything I could do to improve this situation that was supposed to last two weeks, a few months tops – and it turned out that we are still living it, almost two years later. 

At the same time, I was sad about my birthday and my last year of college, the feeling of guilt was immense. How could I be feeling like this when the world was about to end? How selfless a person has to be to prioritize their birthday while thousands of people are dying every day? 

I am fortunate enough to not have lost anyone close to me to the virus. But, we should acknowledge that losing these moments is also impactful and shouldn’t be diminished. Now I know that this guilt only makes things worse and that I shouldn’t be so hard on myself about feeling them. I was sad, and that does not invalidate the tragedies people went through. But fully understanding and letting go of this feeling was — and it still is — hard. 

Society has normalized anxiety when it should be the opposite of normal. I find that it got a lot worse during quarantine. I can’t begin to express how damaging that is. It is not normal having trouble breathing before speaking at a class or conference, it is not normal to want to cry because you feel so overloaded you can’t think straight. We should acknowledge that many people are feeling anxious and try to help them. ​​Feeling anxious all the time is not normal.

When we turn a behavior that is so destructive as anxiety, which is already something a lot of people overlook due to its ‘invisible’ nature, into something everyone should expect to feel, we turn a blind eye to a very serious problem.

This is common with mental health diseases since you can’t see a physical change in the person with the disease.

Everyone copes with anxiety differently. Even the same person can cope in different ways at different stages of their lives. The way I used to deal with my anxiety couldn’t be more different than how I manage it now. Don’t be afraid to change habits if they are not working for you anymore. And don’t feel bad if you need some time to figure out what works for you. 

My main goal in sharing my story is to try to help others. Please, get informed if you are not feeling well. You shouldn’t have to suffer the way I, and so many people, did. 

Ana Peres<br>
Ana Peres

Ana Peres is 21 years old and lives in Brazil. She finished at the fall semester of 2020 an undergraduate course in Creative Writing at PUCRS with a certificate of studies (equivalent to a minor) in Screenwriting. She is passionate about writing stories that can make a difference.