Living with Anxiety
I preface this post with the warning that it’s a bit longer than usual.
Several months ago, a friend asked me if I had a "life motto" - a driving motive around which I oriented my choices, actions and values. I was a bit taken aback at how quickly I answered – “to fully know and to fully love.” I hadn’t ever actively realized this, but after admitting it out loud, I realized this was true and had been for some time. My life is oriented around deep, meaningful, non-judgmental relationships. I pursue things based on this. I love listening, talking, learning.
A few days after I said this and was thinking about it some more, I realized I was being entirely hypocritical. How could I fully love others when I didn’t even love myself completely? There was an area of my life I had pushed away for so long – it was especially thrown to the backburner upon moving to San Diego – out of fear and embarrassment…and just not wanting to deal with it head-on all the time. Over the past few months after realizing that I needed to get real with myself again, I’ve worked to become vulnerable which isn’t always easy – fully embracing all the flaws and cracks in my life. That’s my life and I can’t pretend it’s not there and ultimately, it does not make me less than.
Thanks to my co-blogger friend, Stacey, who inspired me to finally get real with myself and who is one of the bravest people I know, to my sweet friend Erin who has helped me embrace who I am to my fullest and realize the progress I’ve made even if she’s across the world, and to my dear friends Gina & Jenn, who sent me encouraging words about being vulnerable and open when things aren't always sunshine and rainbows.
So, here goes.
In fourth grade, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). It's hard to fully delve into without going on and on and on, and I promise I'm not crazy, but to make a long story short(er), I suffer from bad panic attacks, am prone to depression, and generally am extremely anxious – typically without any reason to be. I was taken to the hospital in fourth grade during a particularly bad panic attack and honestly didn’t fully understand the diagnosis at that age. However, as I’ve grasped it throughout the years, I’d become progressively more and more embarrassed and anxious (shocking) to talk about it with anyone.
Though generally a happy kid, I had a hard time going away for Girl Scout camping trips, let alone sleepovers…and when I moved into high school, the problem only got worse as my stress from school, student government, newspaper and cross-country/track increased – it hit a really, really low, unbearable point when my friend Paige passed. I dreaded going to sleep, knowing come 2 AM, I would wake up shaking, nauseous and unable to breathe. Nights in high school were marked with lack of sleep, and days were filled with a lot of self-doubt. Again, I note – I was still generally happy – running definitely gave me an outlet to really process my emotions during this time.
Then, college hit. Shockingly, throughout my freshman year, my anxiety seemed to disappear, despite a year of really hard change. I thought maybe and miraculously I was “cured.” As per usual, I was proven wrong. The remainder of my college years was marked with intense waves of on-again, off-again anxiety, hitting the lowest point the summer before senior year. After going through an awful breakup and really truly hating myself for mistakes I had made, I found myself depressed and completely unwilling to get out of bed, suicidal and incapable of sleeping because I was so anxious. I finally sought help – I started talking to a therapist who taught me coping tools and I toyed around with medicine for a few months finally finding the right dosage.
Throughout all of these years, though, I hesitated to tell any friends. In a cyclical (and ironic) pattern, I’d become anxious about telling them I struggled with my mental health – I was so embarrassed to tell close friends what I had been dealing with. I was embarrassed it would change their outlook on me and would create an awkward conversation - I didn't want to be treated differently. So, with the exception of a few friends I briefly told, it remained a silent topic in my life that was only known to my parents and my wonderful spring break group who I came clean with after a horrible panic attack where they helped take care of me.
In the past year, I’ve finally hit a stable point. Through years and years of practice, I’m finally learning what helps me – and what works for me. Of course, the big move to San Diego and a big change in career path rekindled a lot of my negative, anxious feelings, but I’m learning to deal with them – one day at a time. Some days are better than others, and it’s still a learning curve, but it’s something I refuse to push to the side anymore.
More importantly, I’m learning that this isn’t something I should be mortified about and taking proactive measures to hide from my close friends. It makes me – well, me – and accepting that fact has helped me finally open up about it. I'm happy that my friend's weird question ended up in me realizing I needed to face my issue head-on and learn to fully love myself - anxiety issues, depression bouts & all. More than that, I’m incredibly proud of my progress – I am genuinely, truly happy and joyful when just a year and a half ago, I honestly thought that wasn’t ever going to be possible.
It’s not comfortable to talk about, but if you struggle – you’re not alone. Here’s what works for me:
While it's happening:
• Talk it out. No, you don't need to talk about being anxious, but talking to someone on the phone - or in person- helps distract me to the point I forget that I was anxious at all.
• Take a long hot shower or a nice hot bath (with lavender bubble bath). The hot water and lavender both help soothe.
• Similarly, essential oils. I prefer eucalyptus and lavender. Place them in a diffuser next to your bed or rub two drops in your palms and take a big inhale.
• Ice water. Sip on it if you're feeling nauseous.
• Breathing. Wonder why I have inhale, exhale tattooed on my forearm? A daily reminder when I start to feel my anxiety coming on.
• Medicine. It has a bad rap and honestly, I was extremely against it at first, but it's something I should have done before. Luckily, my emotions have not flatlined, and I still feel incredibly energetic. I'm planning to wean off soon, but I think my medicine really hoped me cope through a particularly tough time.
• Yoga & Running. Both helped me focus on breathing, which comes in handy in terms of having an attack. More than that, both clear my mind. Bonus: running puts me outside in the sunshine and in fresh air, which is naturally calming.
• Therapy. Similar to my note on medicine.
I write this to be honest - and to fully know and to fully love myself. This has been such a process to even tell close friends about this, but mental health needs to be talked about.