If you didn’t read part one, you can check it out here.
In my last post, I discussed my birth control induced panic attacks and how I could be going about my business and suddenly feel like I couldn’t breathe. Today, I want to talk about the eight months I spent in a cult and when I first started having panic attacks.
My Journey with Anxiety
I started writing at 11 years old thanks to two influences. The first was a teacher. Her name was Ms. Barnes. When I was in sixth grade, my school started doing split schedules. My main teacher, Mr. Freeman, would teach us in the mornings, Ms. Barnes would teach us English and I think one other subject, then we would go to lunch and Mr. Freeman would take over the rest of the day.
Ms. Barnes wrote a writing prompt on the board everyday and set a timer. We wrote in our journals for fifteen or twenty minutes. Writers, do you remember when you first started writing? Fifteen minutes was never enough time to write everything that I wanted to write. I have the worst memory, but I remember that prompt clearly. “I was walking by the classroom when I heard something in the bushes and…” I found a pony. LOL I was obsessed with horses! I had to take my journal home that night to finish the story. I mean, I didn’t finish, but…
The second catalyst to my writing career is extremely important. Not that Ms. Barnes influence wasn’t just as important, but the second catalyst informs the way I write to this day. The second catalyst was Ryan Gosling. No, I’m not joking. I started writing because boys, okay? Don’t judge me. At the time, he was in a show called Young Hercules and I had a really really big crush on him. Being eleven, I thought, “I’ll just write my own episode.” Because that’s obviously how it works. And I did. I wrote my own episode. And so, when I first started writing, I starting writing screenplays.
I explain my road to published author in this podcast episode if you want to know more.
Fast forward nine years. I’m twenty, I’m writing novels now, but I’m still absolutely obsessed with film. I want to write, I want to act, I want to direct. I want to do it all. So, I decide to go to film school. It was a Christian film school (I am a Christian) because I believed that will make my grandparents more comfortable with the fact that I will be at film school. I’ll spare the details, but this film school ended up being part of a cult, though it would take ten years for me to realize that I had been in a cult.
This cult is where my panic attacks truly began, but before we get started, I’d like to preface by saying, other than the things that I will explain, nothing “bad” happened to me here. It wasn’t a sex cult or anything like that. While I can’t speak to anyone else’s experiences because I just don’t know, nothing like that happened to me. I’m also only going to outline what I feel is important about the anxiety here, as this has already gotten painfully long. Perhaps I’ll write about my experiences here another time.
For the first week we were on a strict schedule. Up every morning at 4:45 to be to the courts at 5 for an hour of corporate exercise (this was the first time in my life that I’d ever lost weight. I remember buying size 13 juniors jeans and feeling really good about myself.) Then breakfast in the cafeteria where people who had never cooked in their lives were allowed to cook our food. I ate a shit-ton of pb&j sandwiches. Then back to the studio where we would work until our shifts ended. Some people worked through the night, but they typically had been there longer than we noobs had. Every evening that first week we went to an assembly. I see now that it was indoctrination. That first week we were starved, sleep-deprived, and indoctrinated. We were brainwashed. And it worked.
The first panic attack I ever had was here. I was on my period, so my hormones are already on high. I used to wear this huge ball chain with a diary lock. (I was so hardcore. Fight me.) I’d worn it all through my teenage years, but that day it was like it was so heavy it was choking me and the feel of it against my skin was like fire. My clothes felt like sandpaper rubbing against my skin. Like ants crawling on me. I just wanted to get them off, to be naked. I had to take the necklace off. I had to go back to my dorm and undress. It’s the only time I’ve ever had an attack where the stress of everything manifested like that. I didn’t know what was going on. Looking back, I can see where the stress of everything I was going through was getting to me, but I wasn’t educated enough in anxiety and mental health to so what was going on.
This was just the first stop on my journey with anxiety. I was supposed to be at this “internship” for two years. I left after eight months, but not for the reasons you’d think. I didn’t realized I had been in a cult until ten years later. Next week, I’ll discuss what happened after I left the cult.