At 27-years-old, I began to live my life for the first time. Everything before this was a blur. Every sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste was only something I had heard of. Every experience was mediocre. Life was bland. There was no substance. There was no sense.
It’s hard to put these feelings into words, but I will try. The best way I can describe anxiety is going through each day feeling as if you’re underwater. Nothing is clear. All of your senses lack functioning. You’re overstimulated, and the only thing you can do is shut down. I cried a lot and it helped a lot. It was my outlet. I allowed myself to feel, to be vulnerable.
Anxiety is something that is too familiar to me. Since age five, it had haunted me. It had controlled me, and it had torn me down more than once. It didn’t come alone. It came hand in hand, like peanut butter and jelly, with depression.
Depression. You know that rainy day that feels like it’s never going to end? Your mood is sad. You’re exhausted. You can’t get out of bed? It’s like that, only times 1,000! It’s not just one day, two days, or even three. Sometimes, it lasts for months, sometimes years. You start to become a sucky person, flaky, insensitive and just overall a buzz kill. Not yourself.
From ages five to 27, until the day I hit rock bottom and had no other choice but up, anxiety robbed me of my freedom. I’ve been to dark places. Imagine if you must. Never physically hurting myself, but I’ve sunk into a few deep black holes where scary thoughts laughed at me while I wept.
Anxiety disorders are debilitating. No, I couldn’t just stop worrying. No, I couldn’t just relax or just breathe. I couldn’t just get over it. Trust me, I wish I could, but I couldn’t.
This is my first but not my last attempt at describing anxiety. My mission is to educate those who are dealing with it and who have loved ones who struggle with it. There is help, and there is hope. I’m so thankful this experience has allowed me to turn my mess into a message.
Here’s what I learned to be the do’s and don’t of anxiety:
1. Do speak to someone!
Anyone, a friend, a therapist, your significant other, or even me!
2. Don’t think it’ll just pass on its own.
Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves, thinking we can fix everything. It’s OK to ask for some help.
3. Do everything possible to try to stay positive.
Show gratitude. Show compassion.
4. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Not on Facebook. Not on Instagram. Not in the magazines. Not in real life. Trust me! If everyone threw their problems into a pile, then you would act fast to grab yours right back.
5. Do redirect your thoughts.
Distract yourself. As soon as a negative thought attacks, be prepared. Think happy. Singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” works for me! (Judge if you want.)
6. Don’t forget: Out of your vulnerabilities, will come your strength.
7. Do what feels good to you.
If you feel like you need to stay in, then decline the invite.
8. Don’t be embarrassed to see a therapist.
Here are a few sentences from a book I read and really found helpful when I was going through my funk: “No study has ever suggested that people in therapy are, on average, more troubled or demoralized than people who are not in therapy. Rather, they tend to be distinguished by the fact that they have chosen to confront the problems of poor self-esteem and inadequate contact with the self. They, thereby, offer us an opportunity to learn of a great deal about the psychological condition of the general population.”
9. Don’t forget to be.
Be self-aware. Be present. Be yourself.