I was leaving work one day recently when I had a panic attack—a big one. It was triggered by canceled subways: an annoying situation for most people, but for me, it's terrifying. As I made 15 phone calls to my mom, 15 calls that went unanswered, I quickly felt like I was losing control. I couldn't figure out on my own how to make a new plan to get home, so I paced and cried on a New York City street before finally getting into a cab, canceling an appointment (with my therapist, incidentally), and taking a later train home. I was overwhelmed with emotion. I felt crazy, betrayed, and misunderstood.
This is what it's like to have severe generalized anxiety disorder. Your mind spins and spins until it suddenly shuts down, and you end up crying on the street over a canceled subway.
That night, when I got home, I went to my room, shut my door, opened my laptop, and went to YouTube to watch my favorite family of vloggers, the SACCONEJOLYs. While my mom wasn't available to calm me down that night, this family of four, with their two adorable children, was there for me. And as I watched them interact, I felt relief. The fallout from the panic attack no longer felt as devastating. I've self-medicated my anxiety in this way for the past five years.
Initially, YouTube videos functioned as a way for me to escape from my life. They were a simple distraction from my constant thinking. But over time, they've turned into a way to ground me when my world is spinning out of control.
I'm a child of divorced parents. I was 14 when my parents split up, and since that unpredictable and unstable time, I've tried to give my life a sense of routine. I go through each day as if it's procedure, doing everything in a specific way for fear that if I don't, it will all go wrong.
When something in my routine goes awry, I feel frustrated, vulnerable, panicked, and worst of all, sick. It could be anything: homework, laundry, boys, friends, family, travel, commitments. Going to CVS gives me anxiety. I could have an unexpected interaction with a cashier or run into someone I know, and then I might do or say something ridiculous.
My anxiety paralyzes me. It overwhelms my brain and body, forcing me to shut down. Everything I do, I second-guess. Everything I say, I quickly question. And everyone I know I fear might someday disappear from my life.
These feelings of dread and sadness first came to a head during my senior year of high school. I missed almost two full weeks of class because the people and the stress were too much for me to handle. After I saw a therapist and psychologist, I was diagnosed with severe generalized anxiety disorder.
The psychologist suggested meditation, counting, working out, writing, and using an ocean waves sound app, but none of those things have given me the comfort I need when I am hit with dread. In those moments, I crave human interaction, but when I am in an unsteady state of mind, I feel like I can't rely on my friends or family to fulfill those needs. YouTube is the one thing that could turn off my over-processing mind.
More recently, YouTubers like Zoe Sugg and Tanya Burr have spoken openly about their own anxiety, and they've helped offer perspective about my own struggles. YouTubers are there for me in ways other things and people aren't. As I watch the SACCONEJOLYs live their daily lives, I experience their many big and little milestones, and remind myself that overcoming obstacles is something I try to do every day. They admit when life can be too much and they share the moments that make life worth living.
The therapist that I was going to see the evening of my recent panic attack is somebody I've been able to depend on less now that I have YouTube. Just a few years ago my pediatrician suggested I see my therapist multiple times a week, and now I realize that it's been almost a full year since I've met with her last. Although I could use her help at times, I feel empowered to know I've made it so long on my own. Anxiety is something that I'll never live without, but knowing that relief is a literal click away provides me a little bit of peace in my otherwise chaotic mind.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.