I remember my first panic attacks.  I was 19 years old and newly married.  I was in a young marriage to run away from my miserable home life since my parents’ divorce.  Gone were my confident days and happy nights. Gone was the security of knowing everyone at home was safe.  Gone were my days in high school with friends and activities.  Gone was my smile.

I was grasping for anything that felt like family.  My husband and his family were chosen to fill my void.  They were intact and had dinner together every night.  They laughed.  I could bring our two kids here and they would be safe and loved.  It was not the same as my home and the feeling of belonging was a tall order.  I was asking too much of anyone to give me what I lost.

Pain of the past — fear of the future.  As I self soothed myself with another marriage, my panic attacks disappeared but anxiety was always at the surface of my day.  I developed a desperation to make sure everyone in my world was thriving.  I learned to smile and serve.  I pleased and never rocked the structure of what a family was supposed to be.  Fear became my friend and I valued being the victim of my story.

As the years went by I developed the inability to smile through my tears. I alone was responsible for my daily life.  If I let others choose my path, they would.  Saying no was excruciating for me and I let the waves keep coming.

The rescue came one day dialing the phone and a counselor said “come over I have a spot open for you.”  For once, I followed through and sat in her chair and worked on myself.  Gone was any hint of pity for my life. It was me in the chair finding my way out of the hole I was in.

I worked hard to climb my way out of victimhood.  I could not fall back on my safe haven of blame.  Choices were mine and I had not prioritized where I wanted my life to be.  I followed and blamed.  I stopped crying and set a goal for myself.

I lacked any experience in my life of being alone.  As we worked on a solution together — I realized that I never gave college a chance.  I began the process of enrolling at the local junior college.  It changed my confidence to be in a class where no one knew me or really cared what I was going through.  This was all me — I could succeed or quit on my own.

The earlier Sherry would have quit college when negative voices played all around me.  People were used to me making their lives my priority.  I had to be at class, I had homework, I was leaving everyone to their own life. I have never felt a greater sense of accomplishment than carrying and framing my diploma.  It was never just a piece of paper to me.

I do not have to have all the answers.  I do not need to solve everyone’s questions. The freedom I feel when I’m alone feeding my soul is joyful. I drive where I want and schedule myself according to morning or afternoon. I do not live on a time constraint. College taught me how to be alone. Writing gave me my voice.

As I age, I find anxiety in my health.  Once again I need to tackle this beast in my head. I know that I have the ability to find a way to work through this alone. My strength and confidence are solid and the foundation was set that day with the counselor.

Peace comes for me in small ways. Simple ideas work best.  Unreachable dreams just get in the way of everyday moments. Nature is a gift. Writing is an escape. Exercise is essential. Food can satisfy the need for nourishment but not be the mindless swallowing of feelings. Music can calm the wild thoughts and constant achieving.  I no longer need to see myself through other’s eyes.