I knew something was wrong. It came out of nowhere. I could feel it in my stomach and my legs and my arms—it was like that feeling when you’re about to perform a dance solo in front of a crowd for the first time, or that feeling when you were about to walk into the SAT senior year with your entire future on the line. Except the feeling stayed for months.
We all know that anxiety is irrational, and no matter how much we know that, we cannot stop ourselves from succumbing to the thoughts of impending doom, the heart racing, the sweating, the heavy breathing, the shaking and the crying. We all cope with the inevitable shit storm of racing thoughts and the unimaginable, unrealistic terror in various ways at the height of our anxiety. For me, I avoided all social interactions outside of school. I deleted all social media. I wanted to be erased from everything. And the craziest part of it all was—I had no idea why.
I have always been really open about my mental health with everyone who knows me. I feel as though hiding my anxiety and depression serves no purpose. I want people to know what I deal with, so they can take it into consideration before forming an opinion about me, however negative or completely false. Truthfully, my reason for being upfront about my mental health issues in the last few years has been a direct result of me no longer wanting to live with secrets that do not define me.
I feel like, as we all probably do, that mental health issues are seen as something that only affect people with extreme personal life situations. Across all cases, this is not entirely true. In fact, as a college student that generally lives paycheck-to-paycheck, in a completely different state from their family, and struggling to maintain a decent GPA all while working towards their post-grad future which is relatively always up in the air, these factors are enough to make anyone develop a mental illness.
From anxiety to depression, in my case, I have noticed that it is all the same. My depression would make me stay in bed for three to four days at once, and my anxiety would be my ‘best friend’. If I ever felt like I could physically get out of bed and try to start the new day fresh and wide eyed, my ‘best friend’ would say “But what if when you do get out of bed, the world is worse? Your problems haven’t really gone away…I think you should take another day”. And so while lying in bed for the third or fourth day, I’d stare at the back of my eyelids, thinking about how the longer I stayed in bed, the more the feeling in my stomach stayed. But if I were to get out of bed, or go socialize, or sign into Twitter, I would explode. The thought alone always brought tears to my eyes.
After an entire summer and much of my last fall term of college feeling like there was a giant rock on my chest that couldn’t be moved no matter how hard I tried with alcohol, or friends, or a different boy, I decided to get into therapy. At first, I wanted a quick fix—I really just wanted someone to tell me how to live my life, so I stopped crying every five minutes about something as little as someone not returning my warm smile in passing. I wanted to know why all of a sudden, I couldn’t be in social settings without the feeling of embarrassment, or the feeling that everyone around me hated me. I wanted a simple “It’s because those people suck”. I wanted a quick answer. But as we all know, therapy isn’t as much about answers, as it is solutions. It wasn’t until over the course of seven weeks that my therapist said, “If you keep avoiding certain places because of how you think they will make you feel, you begin to close off your world until it becomes only you”. Holy. Fu*king. Shit.
I will say that is a lot easier said than done. A lot of people say that anxiety is only as strong as you allow it to be—and that is not only dismissive, but far from the truth. I believe that no matter however irrational our thoughts and feelings of fear and dread may be, that does not mean that the feelings do not matter. It is so easy to say, “Just breathe,” “Everything will work out,” or “Don’t worry about it,” but the truth is, because by this point in our lives we have learned that life is something we can’t control, it feels absolutely impossible to remind ourselves that the sun will rise the next morning, what we are worried about now won’t matter in five years, and that even though everything seems out of place, we are exactly where we are supposed to be.
For me, through therapy and psychiatry, I learned that I cannot ‘tune out’ when I feel the invisible black cloud of anxiety and depression hanging over me. There is no way to avoid the storm—you simply have to walk through it. Yes, its less than ideal. But once you walk through, the next time, and the next time after that, it won’t be as hard. While I certainly cannot speak for anyone other than myself, walking through the storm meant cutting out alcohol completely, getting more sleep, eating what I wanted, going to the movies with my best friend, getting into new shows on Netflix, and spending more time in settings that were quiet enough for me to hear myself think.
I am truly grateful for all the love and support I have received in the last few months from my therapist, psychiatrist, friends and biological/grown-to-be families. I cannot even begin to describe how thankful I am for the people I surround myself with, and for the way that even during my darkest time, they never left. Not everyone can say that about the people in their lives—I am so lucky that I can. If you are reading this right now, thank you. You did not have to be there, but you were. And I could not ask for a better group of people to be in my heart.
While it is certainly a journey that is long from over, my biggest take away from the process thus far is that progress is not linear, and at times it will feel like you are doing it all for nothing. I can also say that nothing happens over-night—it will feel like it is taking forever to overcome the feelings that linger over your head and tell you that it will never get better. But the first step is the step out of the darkness. The first step is seeking help; whether it is friends to lean on, a therapist, a coach, an advisor, a family member or whomever, once you talk about the demons you’re fighting, from that point on, you’ll never have to fight them alone again.