When Anxiety Attacks: A Story About Immigration and Anxiety
Updated: Sep 27, 2020
Please welcome Guest Blogger, Jessica Lewis who is writing about her experience with anxiety.
My anxiety started when I was about seventeen years old and I realized that I could not get in any type of trouble. I’m talking about anything that would involve myself and a police officer. No one wants to be arrested for anything, but for me it would mean something different. I was young and wanted to have fun with my friends but I would never do anything that I felt was too risky. Such as sneaking out the house or going to a party that I know would have some type of drug activity (mostly smoking weed). See, as a Belizean immigrant now living in the United States, acquiring a criminal record, or record of any sort is terrifying to me. I am a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipient, which means I have an employment card to legally work in the United States and I pay taxes just like everyone else. However, in order for me to become a citizen of this country, on of the many requirements is that I would need to have a clean record. The slightest misdemeanor could possibly result in deportation. Which would be the most heartbreaking and embarrassing thing that I could ever dream of.
In my early 20s, my anxiety was minimal. I would be nervous if I’m riding in a car and we get pulled over. It could just be a warning for window tints or a ticket for failure to signal but silently in the back seat my heart is racing. I was in fear of being booked into the system in any capacity.
Around the election of the current president of the United States, my anxiety began to increase with just thoughts of what the new administration would do with rulings on immigration. In 2016, researchers at the University of Berkley conducted a study on US-born children of Mexican and Central American immigrants based on the outpour of anti-immigration supporters. The study showed “Nearly half of the youth reported worrying at least sometimes about the impacts of U.S. immigration policy on their families. Those with more worries also experienced higher anxiety and poorer sleep quality than their peers.”. The same can be said for myself as I really didn’t know what good sleep was for awhile but was not sure why I wasn’t sleeping well. I would break out in sweats in the middle of the night. I would wake up every hour during the night, and I know this because I would watch the time on the clock change and text my boyfriend at the time just to have record of my sleepless nights.
It was 2018 and I had moved from New York to New Jersey and it was time to get a new ID. Still suffering from sporadic anxiety sweats and sleep deprivation. Making sure I always had up to date documents such as ID’s was another stress fact. So one evening I gathered all of my immigrant documents to prepare for my new ID application, I also need all documents for renewals as well. I arrived at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Jersey City New Jersey, got to the front of the line, my number was called and I presented my documents to the clerk. I was mentally preparing myself to take this new ID picture (I was practicing my smiles) and go home because it was a long day and I got to the DMV right after work. It didn’t take long for the clerk to say, “Your employment card is expired, you need to come back with a valid one.”
You should have seen the disbelief on my face. I could have sworn I had just renewed it not too long ago so how was it expired? I walked out of the DMV in such a rush and not even 5 steps away from the exit I started to cry. I cried all the way to the bus stop which was a 5 minute walk away. I could have taken the 20 minute walk home but I wiped away my tears, pulled myself together, and got on the bus instead. While standing on the bus my chest was expanding more with each breath as my breathing became heavier and my hands started to shake. Next thing you know I’m crying as I’m texting my sister of how stupid I am and how she has to get ready for my deportation. I began hyperventilating to the point that I couldn’t breathe properly. I got off the bus at the next stop that wasn’t even mine and walked the rest of the way home for what felt like an hour. I finally got home and was holding my chest because the pain was too much to bear. I finally calmed down and looked through my documents folder again. Guess what I realized? I had given the clerk the wrong card, the renewed card was now in my hand. I somehow kept the expired card that I normally put in a box with my high school documents I don’t need but hold on to. I was relieved and upset with myself at the same time. But after a while I realized just how crippling my anxiety was when I heard “this is expired”. The only thing that came to my mind was that I was about to be deported because this president spares no one. I could not think rationally to even remember that I went through an entire process to renew my card.
My mind was in a completely different world. I could not even think logically to realize I had the wrong card at the DMV. I still don’t have a clear understanding for why my brain decided to block out such vital information. Had I remained calm and back tracked, I would have not panicked the way I did. I would have just gone home to get the renewed card and return to the DMV the next day. Instead, anxiety took control of my brain and entire body and won for a few hours. When I placed the correct card into my purse to return to the DMV, I sat at the corner of my bed and I prayed. I prayed a prayer of gratitude. I had to be thankful for making it through that episode and regained hope for my future. My body was tense for the remainder of the night so I decided to meditate with my oil diffuser, I chose lavender that night. By the end of the 20 minutes I felt my chest open back up and fresh air was able to flow again.
When I feel my anxiety rising, I meditate. I like to light blue sage and smudge my space followed with sprinkling Florida water and I find turn off all electronics to sit in silence and breathe deeply for 20-25 minutes strengthening each of my chakras. When it’s time for bed I will turn on my oil diffuser with whichever oil I desire that night, whether it be tea tree, peppermint, lemongrass or lavender.
Laughter with my friends is also a great relief. Some days after I have worked through my feelings, I do like to call my friends to chop it up which always leads to deep belly laughing. It truly is medicine for certain situations.
Never underestimate a good walk. I like to take a walk with my phone fully charged so my music can play for an hour or two. When the sun isn’t too hot, I do like to go outside to soak in the sun and walk off my anxious feelings. I don’t do it too often now because we have to be socially distant and sometimes there are too many people with the same idea walking outside around the same time.
My most recent anxiety attack was very minimal. It was when my grandmother transitioned to heaven in Belize in March 2020. Because of the travel ban, no one was able to make the trip for the funeral, but it still felt different for me. I saw her in 2016 when she came to visit but I had always wanted to visit her back in our home when my time came but because of my immigration status my time never came and she passed away without me seeing her back in Belize where she raised me. I felt the anxiety attack creeping up on me, so I immediately took some deep breaths and tried to meditate. I couldn’t get through the meditation the first couple of nights because of all the crying but the breathing exercises worked. Nowadays with being quarantined I have been relying on my practices more often. I am still mourning but I do have responsibilities so I allow myself to mourn but regain my peace by meditating whenever necessary.
My hope for you and myself is that we never allow anxiety to conquer us ever again. It will definitely try but I want our practices to fight it and overcome. If you haven’t tried any of the practices I’ve mentioned, please do give them a try when anxiety thinks it’s going to conquer you.
More about Ms. Jessica Lewis:
Jessica is a Belizean immigrant now living in the United States. She has faced many hardships in her life but that does not deter her from remaining positive and being a motivating force in the lives of those closest to her. She is constantly searching for ways to elevate her life and way of thinking. Although she suffers from anxiety at times, she is determined to never let anxiety take over her life.
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I am not a licensed therapist.
This post does not serve as a form of therapy or diagnosis.
If you are experiencing an emergency, please call 911 or your doctor.