I’m so excited to welcome the first of two posts by people I admire named “Olivia” with a fantastic guest post about panic attacks, anxiety, OCD and ADHD from Olivia Hinebaugh. Olivia is the debut author of a fantastic sex-positive contemporary romance, The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it. You can order it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository and Indiebound. Olivia is a fantastic writer and I’m so thrilled to welcome her words here for Shattering Stigmas. You can visit her on her website and Twitter.
A few years ago, I got up on stage and told a theater full of people of how I was obsessed with going to the bathroom. I was reliving the worst time in my life, when I was suffering from full-fledged panic disorder with agoraphobia. And sharing the good, bad, and embarrassing from that time was really empowering. I was reading an essay I wrote as part of the show This Is My Brave, whose slogan is “storytelling saves lives.” I completely agree with that sentiment. One of the worst parts of having a mental illness take over your life, is feeling completely, and utterly alone. The more I’ve shared my story and struggles, the most support and camaraderie I’ve received.
I didn’t know exactly what a panic attack was when I first had one. I knew something really bad had happened to me. I knew I had been traumatized because I had been on a trolley and felt truly unsafe. And that was just the first of many. Because my panic attacks manifested as lightheadedness, nausea, and general digestive discomfort and urgency, I thought that maybe I had some sort of passing out disorder. Or I thought I was always coming down with something. It took months before I made the connection that maybe the problem was in my brain.
When I share my story, my biggest hope is that someone who is suffering and doesn’t know why sees a way through it. Or that they’ll feel less alone. Or they’ll see that help is out there and it’s possible to live with it. Maybe not perfectly recovered, but managing and accepting and thriving.
I have also viewed my anxiety in a positive light, especially when it comes to writing. Not to be dramatic, but having panic disorder, agoraphobia, and OCD was pretty much the worst thing that ever happened to me. I think it was really my first time experiencing suffering. I had an illness that was invisible to others. My compassion deepened immensely. And I do think that compassion is a necessary trait in writer.
When I was 17, I was diagnosed with ADHD. And while I understand pretty well, at this point, how that makes certain aspects of my life more difficult, I have a lot of practice folding neurodiversity into my identity and embracing the positives. With ADHD, I treated it with medication at the end of high school and was able to get straight A’s for the first time in my life. But I also wasn’t daydreaming. I wasn’t writing. So when I got to college, and life became less stressful (my high school was really demanding), I stopped taking medication and realized that my creative life had suffered. I’m a classic inattentive. I often forget what I should be doing. I have a tough time transitioning activities. I find it really difficult to organize my space and stay on task. I’m messy and forgetful. But I am always thinking. I can tune things out when I’m focused on work. On medication, I heard every word everyone said to me, I was so tuned in. And for me to write, I needed to tune out.
So I was determined to view my anxiety in a similar light. It’s increased my compassion. It keeps me safe. It gives me challenges to overcome and there’s some joy and pride in conquering phobias. I am less judgmental. Because until someone tells you they are suffering with an invisible illness, you just don’t know. I almost always disclose my anxiety when it crops up. For me, I’d rather people know I’m having an anxious day than think I’m blowing them off or that I don’t care.
Disclosing offers more than just being understood. It opens the door for other people to share what’s going on with them. I’ve learned so much from other people. I’ve learned there are billions of ways to be a human and that everyone is dealing with something. I’ve also learned that I am very much not alone.
When Olivia Hinebaugh isn’t writing fiction, she can be found writing freelance, making art, discovering new songs on Spotify, texting her writing buddies, or folding laundry. She lives near Washington, D.C. with her spouse, three kids, a dog that looks like a coyote, and a one-eyed cat. The Birds, the Bees, and You and Me is her debut novel.