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  • Rachel Jones

Paper Bag Anxiety

I was that girl in the marching band. I fully own it. I played the flute, I marched around a football field for four years, and I totally loved how much I got to talk with friends and build great memories. Marching band was my extra-curricular activity in high school and it filled so much of my time as a high school student.


It also was the activity where I discovered I suffer from anxiety. Most people hear marching band and think, geek, not a sport, goofy outfits. If you’ve actually been apart of a marching band, you actually know it requires a lot of physical activity with training for six months, constricting outfits to make you look like the person standing next to you, and band geeks are actually very sociable and outgoing.


The first two years of marching band were great. I made so many friends and had an active social calendar. I have fond memories of my freshman and sophomore year of high school. Junior year of high school was a whole different story. Junior year is filled with dread, stress, relational difficulties, and panic attacks.


At the end of a marching competition, I was on the side line breathing into a paper bag trying not to pass out and trying to calm my mind. Inside my mind was racing thoughts of all the things I did wrong. I somehow came to believe that our score results of whether we would be in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place all relied on whether I performed perfectly. I would end a show and instantly fill myself with a review of all the moves I did wrong, all the notes I played wrong, and all the ways I screwed up once again.


Marching band shows were just a cover for all the other things that year that I felt like I had done wrong. I had a friend who blamed me for her boyfriend breaking up with her and through that process had multiple girls who thought I was a terrible person and treated me as an outcast for something I literally had no control over.


I should have said “No big deal, that’s their opinion. I know it was not my fault.” to the views these girls had at my Junior year. Instead, I internalized their behavior towards me and was constantly thinking “What can I do to make them like me? Maybe if I can get her boyfriend to ask her out again everything will be fine. How can I be more perfect. Everyone likes the perfect person. What if I wore this and changed my hair this way?”


Thought after thought would fly through my head each day and instead of naming how I was feeling to someone else I would end up breathing these thoughts and feelings into a paper bag just so I could breathe and stand on my feet.


I am so thankful that I finally realized who I am is not defined by someone else. I define who I am and my belief of who I am is what matters. However, it took me a long time to find that truth and fully believe it. I still have my days where I feel like I’m having a mini panic attack. I realize I’m not breathing, I start to feel light headed and I often have a self-doubt thought racing through my head.


In these moments today, I remind myself to stop, breathe, be aware of where I am at and repeat one of the phrases of truth about who I am.


“I am loved. I am important. I deserve to be known. I make mistakes and that is normal. I cannot and will not be perfect. I am uniquely and wholly me. I have anxiety and I know how to breathe and deal with it.”


If you have panic attacks, anxiety, stress, or self-doubt, you are not alone. You can learn how to rely on more than just the paper bag to survive.


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