I have anxiety.
For a long time, I found it very difficult to say those three words out loud.
“People will think I am looking for attention.”
“Sharing personal obstacles makes other people uncomfortable.”
“This is a sign of weakness.”
Thoughts that plagued my mind on a daily basis. Anxiety about my anxiety: a series. One very important thing has taken me a while to work out; coming to terms with and opening up about your mental health, especially in your early twenties when being carefree is “all the rage”, is not a weakness. It is a triumph.
As I navigated my way through my last year of college and my early twenties, I realized that anxiety is personal, that part I had right. What I had wrong was my concern for how it would affect those around me.
I repeat anxiety is personal. It is, always has been, and always will be between me, myself and I.
I would often find myself in a crowded bar, music blaring, friends laughing, and feel completely isolated. An island in a sea of cheap vodka tonics and mainstream dance music. Heart racing, palms sweating, desperate for an escape.
I know what you’re thinking, “So you don’t like being in a crowded club, that’s not anxiety. You just don’t like it and that’s normal.” Trust me, you are not the first all-knowing person to provide a clinical analysis of what I feel. I wish I could say that my anxiety stopped there. I don’t think I would be sitting here writing about it if it did.
The thought of being trapped out to eat at a restaurant with a large group caused sheer panic. If I found out that we had plans to go somewhere and I wasn’t the driver, I would concoct a plan so that there would be no question about who was driving. I couldn’t just say, “Hey I would feel more comfortable if I drove” because what if someone asked why? What would I say? How would I mask my insecurity, my weakness, my crippling anxiety? If I didn’t have a bulletproof escape route from every situation I would feel a complete loss of control.
And I felt like I had lost all sense of control. It was affecting my self-esteem, my work, and most importantly, my relationships.
The worst part of struggling with mental illness constantly trying to explain what it feels to someone who has never experienced it. “Oh, I get anxiety the night before a big presentation at work. I totally understand what you’re feeling but you’ll get over it.” or “I don’t get it, what do you mean you’re scared to go out to eat?”
The aforementioned are perfect examples of the common misconception between normal levels of stress/nervousness and a mental health disease like anxiety and panic attacks. The stigma lies within the unknown. Isn’t that usually the case? Judgments are passed when you don’t have all the facts when you’ve never walked in someone’s shoes when you can’t relate to their struggles they must be fabricating their reality.
Speaking in past tense about my anxiety may be a bit deceiving. It brings about the notion that I have overcome this. Mental health is still a daily battle in my life.
Anxiety is never truly cured but now I have made a conscious decision to put up a fight rather than let myself be overcome. I woke up one day, some time and decided that I needed to take action. I am not the type of person to sit idly by and let something take control without fighting back.
I had reached a point where anxiety was starting to seep into all elements of my life, plaguing my mind more often than not. It was time to make a major change and commit to it rather than wondering when I would get the courage to work at bettering myself.
I started going to yoga. I practiced breathing techniques. I met with a therapist. I focused on positive energy and my belief that the universe rewards it.
Slowly I started learning methods to cope. I started to see a change. I have continued practicing all of these things.
Again, it would not be truthful to say that I have conquered all my anxious thoughts, that I haven’t had a panic attack since I started utilizing methods of relaxation, that I am “cured”.
I am not all-knowing when it comes to mental illness. These thoughts have been drawn from personal experiences that were not all that pleasant when they were happening but have certainly helped get me to the point I am in my journey right now.
Anxiety does not define you.