Project J-Curve – My First Anxiety Attack

I’m writing a thesis, and it’s the scariest thing I have ever done. 

Mind you, I’ve thrown myself off of buildings and cliffs before. But no. Sitting in front of a laptop, just as I’m doing right now, typing out some words that will (hopefully) arrange themselves in an order that ends up with me walking across a stage and being handed a piece of paper telling me that I mastered something is the most daunting thing in the world. 

The day after I got back to the real world after the holidays and a really enjoyable vacation with one of my best friends, I woke up with a horrible pain in my chest. It was sharp and felt like someone was twisting a knife between my collarbone and my ribcage. My solution? WebMD. 


I was convinced that I had pericarditis, then, when things weren’t getting better even after taking some OTC pain medicine, I psyched myself out into thinking I was having a heart attack. I called my mom, my go-to “HELP, I’M DYING” counselor. When even she thought it might be a heart problem, I knew I was in trouble. 

Is it bad that my first thought was “I don’t have time for this?” And my cure was to shrug it off, clutch my chest (as though that would help. What, was I stopping my heart from falling out of my body?! C’mon now). It was only after meeting up with another best friend and her boyfriend, who both were rather unsettlingly familiar with the matter, reassured me that I wasn’t about to perish, but instead was having was my first anxiety attack. 

“So…it’s normal to feel like you’re dying?”
“But like…it REALLY hurts.”
“Oh and it will.”
“For how long?”
“Depends. Sometimes a day, sometimes a week.”
“But here’s the thing…I didn’t even particularly feel stressed out this morning.”
“It strikes when you least expect it. It once hit me while reading the instructions to make a seven layer dip.” 

Sure enough, with a bit of deep breathing and a lot of water, the pains were all but gone the following afternoon. Though the attack has ceased, the physical and mental effects of anxiety persist. It has been a week since the attack hit, and every day since has included headaches, an upset stomach, a twitching right eye, and one afternoon where I thought I was going into anaphylactic shock. And of course, mentally, I’ve been a mess as well. I get maybe one thing done a day on the road to my thesis. Which is great! Hey, at least it’s progress right? But at the rate I’m moving, I should have started last January. I can’t focus, and whenever I open my document, I find my mind blank. This is by far the worst writer’s block I have ever experienced. 

I think the most frustrating thing about this is that I’ve done this before. Over a year ago, I completed my senior thesis for my theater undergraduate degree. That paper ended up being 46 pages long, which is about 10-15 pages longer than this paper will be. I will say, the stakes were far lower than this paper. 

I think what my biggest hangup is is an overwhelming fear of failure. I’ve got a supportive team around me, and I know this fear is completely irrational, but just the notion of letting the people down who have supported me, stood by me, and believed in me is so severe that I feel utterly paralyzed. 

I’ve got a draft due in 18 days. I have barely started. And here’s the only solution:


And that’s both the best and the worst thing. No matter what anyone tells me, no matter what I tell myself even, some part of my lizard brain will react with fear. And that fear will cause physical reactions that will manifest in the form of nausea, aches, and attacks. Sadly, there’s no magic pill that shuts up the lizard brain. I think truly, what it’s going to take is to shout affirmations louder than that voice. 

This is just a draft.
I won’t fail.
I know what I’m doing.
I belong in this program.
Everyone behind me will support me no matter what.
Do. The. Damn. Thing. 

So. 18 days and counting. I’m really really praying that this is the negative, curvy part of the “J-curve” of this year. God forbid it’s actually the high part! I’ll have to rename this thing “Project 7-curve.” Yikes. 

Let’s not go there.

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