I believe that my first noticeable issues with my mental health began when I was in middle school. During the time, it was written off as me being an emotional teen but it was the beginning of long journey for me. For the longest time, I was left untreated because I thought I was just a sad teenager, but as I got older I realized my deep sadness stemmed from severe anxiety. Working like a mother pulling her child behind with her, my anxiety took the reigns of my life, depression being a mere symptom of it. I was able to function like a normal person and qualities that my friends and I saw as just bad personality traits overwhelmed my life: perfectionism, hyperventilation, shaking, picking at my nails until they bled, and sleepless nights.
When I began college, I was seeing the student health services on campus. When the doctor went to touch my stomach as part of a physical exam, I winced in pain the moment her hands were on me. I gripped the sides of the table as she continued to try and find where was causing me pain.
She pulled back and asked me, “Did that cause you pain?”
I replied, “Yes,” as I pulled my sleeves down to fidget with the ends.
She then asked me to touch my own stomach, “Did that hurt?”
She wrote down a few notes and proceeded with the appointment.
At the end of the appointment she sat down in front of me, and said, “Do you feel nervous a lot.”
I nodded yes.
“I would like to help set up an appointment for you at counseling services because you shouldn’t have been in pain when I touched you. I believe that you had such severe anxiety about being touched that it caused you physical pain.”
This was the first interaction that somebody had validated my mental health and picked up on it by observing me. I had been suffering from severe anxiety for years that was preventing me from doing so much in my life. Here are some helpful tips I learned from a year in therapy.
1.) Perfectionism doesn’t rule your life.
For the longest time I lived my life feeling as if nothing I did wasn’t good enough. Many times, I coped with this feeling by not even trying at things because it was easier for me to rationalize that I did not even try, instead of trying and failing. If things did not go 100% then I would beat myself up over it for months on end. I learned that I have to accept failure, and let myself know that it’s okay. Last semester I made a point of rewarding myself even when I felt like things did not go as expected. Got a B on a test? Instead of spending my weekend in the library punishing myself, I got my eyebrows done or went out with friends because I was teaching myself that it was okay.
2.) Stop internalizing it all.
Ever since I was a small child if anybody said anything to me hurtful, I would internalize it. If I had an argument with somebody, I would play it out to be all my fault. Some would refer to this as victimizing myself. It was not something I meant to do though; I genuinely would put all the blame on myself in every situation regardless of if I deserved it or not. I would play arguments over and over in my head about how I could have fixed the situation better. One of the ways my therapist recommended overcoming this was to just remind myself that I did everything I could. Something so simple made all the difference, because I would allow myself some sympathy that I was willing to give everybody else, but never myself. Over time I have begun to do this without even trying.
3.) Just breathe and stay hydrated.
One thing therapy also thought me was that mental health is closely intertwined with physical health. Learning to meditate and become more physically active allowed for me to ease some of the tension I held with myself all the time. The more I was able to improve my physical health, the better I felt mentally.
The same things do not work for everybody, and I still struggle daily with my anxiety. Each day gets a bit easier, but everyday is a battle. Do not let a person belittle your mental health and seek out professional help as needed. Just know that you aren’t alone, and you deserve to feel better.