I feel everyone’s eyes on me as I walk through the store. I try to sink into myself, make myself disappear, but it doesn’t work. I can feel a tic coming and I try to hold it back, but it bursts out of me and I hit my chest. Pain blooms through my collarbone. I’m on the edge of panicking, my breath coming faster and faster. My throat closes around the ball of masking tape lodged in it and I can’t breathe. Their faces dance like shadows at the edge of my vision, jeering as I feel myself get lightheaded. I know they’re judging me. All the while my tics are getting worse and worse. My throat is raw from the yells forcing their way out of me. The muscles in my neck cramp from constantly throwing my head back, twinging every few seconds even as I try to stop myself from doing so. I feel out of control of my own body. My eyes burn with unfallen tears, and I just want everything to stop. I want the earth to open up and swallow me so that I never have to see their judgment again. It’s always like this.
I’ve always hated going outside; feared people judging me. But ever since I developed tics, I was terrified to do anything. All the progress I’d made in the previous years through therapy went out the window as all my fears were realized and suddenly everyone’s eyes were on me. Or, that’s how it felt, anyway. I almost completely regressed in school, not raising my hand or talking in class anymore. It took me the entirety of my junior year of high school to be able to participate more and start to engage in my community. I started with a new therapist who focused on working through my anxiety with exposure therapy, since my tics are largely dependent on my anxiety, and, generally, if I’m calmer my tics are less active. We created a list of all my fears from the least anxiety producing to the greatest and slowly worked through them. We started out with a fear lower on the list and I put myself into situations where I had to face it in order to push my boundaries and prove that, even though it’s nerve-racking, I am able to do it. I kept working with one fear until it no longer caused as much anxiety, and then we moved on to the next one on the list and started the process all over again. I remember, one of the first exposures that I worked on was maintaining eye contact for three seconds. That seems like such a small thing, but at the beginning it was terrifying, and I nearly had panic attacks trying to do it. It was exhausting and terrifying working through my anxieties, but I didn’t want to be afraid to do anything social for my entire life, so through consistent exposure therapy and counseling I’ve been able to not only get back to where I was before my tics, but go beyond. I’m more involved now than I ever have been, finally working up the courage to join clubs for the first time in my high school career and to volunteer outside of school. It’s hard, but I’m going to continue to work and push myself past my boundaries because I don’t want to be bound by my tics and anxiety forever. I’m going to prove to myself that I can do everything that I’m afraid to. These are just the first steps.
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