In-Depth, with Nora Vasconcellos
No Chance To Worry About Anything: Overcoming Anxiety With Nora Vasconcellos
adidas team rider Nora Vasconcellos speaks to the hurdles she’s overcome with a lifelong anxiety disorder, and how her personal journey with mental health has shaped her into one of the world’s most celebrated female skateboarders.
With a diagnosis of generalized anxiety at only a few years old, challenges in mental health shaped Nora Vasconcellos’ early and adolescent years, a time she describes as exhausting as she simultaneously navigated an up-and-coming skateboarding career that only continues to soar.
Despite the odds of often being at battle with her own mind, Vasconcellos has channeled her energy into both skating and art, landing spots on Welcome Skateboards and adidas, winning a world title, and partaking in acclaimed art shows—all in under five years’ time.
I honestly wasn’t aware of the anxiety itself, but it was a concern...
...Of course, my parents recognized it before I did, and I was first diagnosed with separation anxiety. When I was six years old, I couldn’t find my parents in the house and I ended up punching my hand through a glass door.
I had a really hard time in high school, I couldn’t be in places where I felt I didn’t have an escape route. There were plenty of social situations I skipped because I was so focused on skating, but it was also a way to avoid putting myself in a position where I could have a panic attack.
I couldn’t be in places where I felt I didn’t have an escape route.
There was this whole period of time where even the idea of flying on an airplane was unimaginable. When I moved to California from Boston in 2012, I took a train across the country. It’s such a bizarre thing to think back on, that you lived in a certain way for so long.
Eventually, I started learning how to cope with the anxiety, but there was such a long period of time where I didn’t have any way to cope with it, and I was convinced that was just how I had to exist. But finding the middle ground—that was what made the difference. Learning that the worst-case scenario in your head isn’t really that bad.
It’s such a bizarre thing to think back on, that you lived in a certain way for so long.
That was a big game changer, being able to find the middle ground—now I know there is a clear line between my anxiety and what I can actually control…and the whole point is knowing that you can’t really control anything.
Anxiety was an absolute ruler of my life.
I hit the point where I’d had enough and told myself that if I really wanted to do the skateboarding thing, there were some serious things I needed to change.
My therapist was aware of my situation, and she had laid things out pretty clearly: I had generalized anxiety, a panic disorder, OCD. When she brought up medication, she presented it this way: a lot of your issues come from your way of thinking and then your body having reactions to that; but if you can retrain your brain, what’s the harm in doing that?
If you can retrain your brain, what’s the harm in doing that?
For me, it allowed a flow in my body that prevented the physical reaction of panic. My therapist told me, if you’re not having adverse reactions, start saying yes to things. Start doing little things that make you uncomfortable. So I did. I started going on trips, I started going out, I started flying. Then I got on adidas, literally only a few months later.
It was so unbelievable to me to have this opportunity to skate at that level, it became the magic thing that helped me realize that I didn’t need to succumb to this anxiety. I was finally able to be in control, because I had worked so hard to get to that point, and nothing could get in my way.
Start saying yes to things. Start doing little things that make you uncomfortable.
I think having anxiety helps me be more empathetic towards other people.
Especially with skateboarding, skaters are just cut from a different cloth in terms of everything about them. There are so many unique people, and so many different stories, that when people talk to me about issues they’ve had, be it their sobriety, their addiction, their trouble socializing, I can relate to it because I too have a hindrance that I didn’t have control of for so many years.
There are so many unique people, and so many different stories
I think everyone has experienced some level of anxiety before, at some point in their life—and I believe that if I’m honest about it and talk about it—and honest with myself—it can really help other people confront their own.
As much as the anxiety curses me with all of these doubts, and this kind of madness, it also helps me hone in on what exactly I want, and my willingness to get it. It’s like having something to conquer, the repetition and focus. I have to conquer this thing in skating, and the same with my anxiety.
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