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Dealing with a diagnosis: Rae Crabtree

Junior shares discovery of anxiety disorder

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Pins and needles filled her body feet first as Junior Rae Crabtree stood on the wings of the auditorium stage. But, this wasn’t stage fright. She was accustomed to the risk and thrill of performing. This was something that put fear in the pit of her stomach and ice in her brain. It made her breathing hitch and her weight shift to each hip uncontrollably, making her wobble on her feet.

This was an anxiety attack, one that had been building and building before she took her first step on stage, losing her composure and fleeing the scene. “Anxiety makes me obsessive,” Crabtree said. “It makes me feel like I have to be perfect.”

Crabtree first noticed she was experiencing something different towards the beginning of her sophomore year. For her, anxiety makes her panic, and makes things seem as if they’re flying past her with no control.

“It’s physically hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that I can calm down,” Crabtree said. “Or that it’s not that big of a deal.”

Her anxiety first showed itself when she developed a crush on a classmate after they were assigned to perform a scene together. Nervousness around a crush is normal, but Crabtree’s affections began to make her so nervous, she could barely stand to be in the same room as her classmate. She began losing sleep, not eating and her grades suffered as she lost focus at school.

“When my first anxiety attack happened I was really freaked out,” Crabtree said. “I could not calm down, I started choking and coughing.”

Crabtree and her crush began rehearsing their final exam scene. Reciting half memorized lines and walking through predetermined motions, Crabtree did all she could to avoid eye contact. Her heart was racing, her breathing began to run short and adrenaline crawled through her veins.

Finally, the bubble seemed to burst, and Crabtree found herself rushing out of the room at full speed. Hot tears smeared makeup down her face, and with the tightness in her throat, she began to cough and hiccup. Squeezing her eyes shut in an attempt to regulate her breathing and barricade tears, she gradually felt the panic come to a stop.

A few sniffles and stray tears escaped as her teacher followed her from the classroom, and kneeled beside her, asking what was wrong. At the time, she wasn’t sure what had just happened. But after research, and talking with her mother and friends, she learned what anxiety was and why she’d started experiencing it.

“I would get little anxiety attacks whenever I saw him,” Crabtree said. “I ended up failing the final because I physically could not calm down around him.”

Although feelings for her crush faded away after the performance, her anxiety stuck around. She still found herself anxious and panicked whenever normal stressors in life began to consume her thoughts entirely.

“I just have this constant fear that no one wants me around,” Crabtree said.

Crabtree described it as feeling like everyone around her is judging her and hating her. Simple things like walking down the hallways became a terrifying walk off a plank, with staring eyes burning into her skin.

She feared her classmates were thinking awful things about pieces of her personality, causing those details to slowly rot in her brain. Her bold voice now seemed shrill and too loud to handle. Her charisma now came across as over dramatic and annoying to everyone around her. Thoughts like these swam in Crabtree’s mind rapidly, until coughs bubbled in her throat and tears threatened their way down her face.

Although her anxiety consumes much of Crabtree’s life, the majority of her days are still good ones. She surrounds herself with supportive and helpful friends to combat her anxiety.

“I have friends who are experienced with anxiety attacks and some who aren’t,” Crabtree said. “But I’m still able to find that good balance of people who know what to do and people who are just willing to learn more about [anxiety], and help.”

In Crabtree’s experience, it can be hard to focus on better times when anxiety affects every step she takes. But she is working to keep her anxiety from standing in the way from enjoying her passions, and living her life how she wants.

“My anxiety really…puts a damper on my life at times,” Crabtree said. “But just because I have it doesn’t mean I’m damaged or broken. I’m still me.”

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Dealing with a diagnosis: Rae Crabtree