As a sophomore in high school, my hormones went crazy. There was the expected acne and widening of my hips, but I barely noticed any of that. I was too preoccupied with keeping food in my stomach and not fainting during class. I was truly convinced that I wouldn’t make it to my high school graduation. Although I was struggling with anxiety for years, it felt more like the first day back at work after a long vacation. I just couldn’t see the end. Every single day was a blur of darkness. I lost enough weight so that my hipbones were visible. I never have been and never will be a naturally thin girl. You could see the scratches and indents I had made on my own hands from digging so deep into my skin to feel something during my numbing panic attacks. You could see the exhaustion in my face. My skin had turned colorless and my eyes lifeless. I would pace back and forth through the hallways during class, assuming I was able to get myself out of bed that day. I became cruel and detached. I constantly felt nauseous. Some days I legitimately feared that I would pass out in the middle of a crowd and a helicopter would have to come and save me. These are the cruel jokes your mind plays on you when you have an anxiety disorder. You’ll believe anything it makes up. I couldn’t enjoy something as simple as going to the movies or strolling through the mall because I thought the ceiling would cave in. I was an entirely different person then. I wouldn’t recognize that girl now, even if we were stuck in an elevator together.
I’m not writing this for sympathy, and I’m definitely not writing this to romanticize or glamorize anxiety and/or depression. I’m writing this for anyone who feels stuck in the same darkness that I was once consumed in. I am writing this for anyone who tells his or her family not to come home because they don’t want to be seen bedridden, covered in tear-soaked tissues for the fifth time this week. I understand the shame you must feel and the sense of defeat that weighs on your chest keeping you awake until morning. You must be so exhausted and I am truly so sorry. I am not sure why something like this is capable of taking over your entire life, but I am sure that you are capable of overcoming it. You can choose not to believe me. I probably wouldn’t have even clicked on an article like this years ago because I was so engulfed and so comfortable in my sadness that I wouldn’t make a single effort to get myself help. I thought any morsel of positivity was dumb and a waste of my time. I didn’t want to recover. But here’s the thing – you have to want to.
You might have some wonderfully supportive people in your life, but only you can pick yourself off of the bathroom floor. Only you can get yourself out of bed. Only you can get yourself help. I know it sounds simple in writing, but I understand how something as miniscule as going for a walk can take all of your strength for the day. I wish I could tell you where I found the courage to get myself help, but I just dug it up somehow – the same way you have to. I couldn’t take the embarrassment or the shame any longer. The recovery was not easy and I don’t want you to think it will be a smooth ride. You just have to start slow.
Smile the second you wake up in the morning. Even if you feel ridiculous, somehow this “tricks” the brain into happiness. Drink a glass of ice water. Stretch. Wake up your muscles with some yoga… or a few dance moves. I don’t know how these things work… I just know they do. Leave your phone somewhere far away and drink your morning tea or coffee in silence. Focus on your goals for the day. These goals can be simple, such as walking your dog or cleaning up the house. When you have some time, practice diaphragmatic breathing. In simple terms: breathe slowly and deeply, filling up your lower stomach (“Belly Breathing”). This will slow down your thoughts and help you relax. This technique, along with daily meditation, is what I attribute most of my recovery to. I still love listening to guided meditations. If you have no idea where to start, the (free!) Headspace app will be of tremendous help. I also frequently listen to TheHonestGuys and YellowBrickCinema on Youtube. I want you to be conscious of who and what you allow into your life. Make upbeat playlists of Maroon 5, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé… anything that gets you dancing around your room (preferably in your underwear. It just feels right.) Go to a pet shelter and play with the animals. Experiment with recipes. Reorganize your closet. Getting your endorphins soaring through exercise is another activity that should become a habit. There is really no reason to not get yourself moving. There is no reason to not want to recover. And there is no reason you cannot.
Before you get to your diaphragmatic breathing, I just want to mention that it’s important to understand taking prescription medication does not signify any weakness or “short cuts.” Anxiety is an illness. Taking medication is completely acceptable and often even necessary. My hope for you is simply to find what will help you emerge from your darkness because you can and you will.