I am able to give people the benefit of doubt because I know we all have our stories, our struggles, and our own childhood’s to overcome. You may know someone for years and years yet you’ve still only scratched the surface of who they are and what they have been through. People tell me their first perspectives of me, compared to their perspective of me now and both are not entirely true. That is because we are constantly growing and changing not only physically but mentally. My view of life and the way I cope with what it throws at me is completely different from what it was years ago. I’m not the person I was 5 years ago, 1 year ago or even 2 months ago.
Let me get straight to the point: I’ve suffered off and on with anxiety and depression for a good portion of my life- but I only recently discovered this in retrospect and even more recently decided to acknowledge it.
I’ve struggled with telling people because I don’t want the sympathy and I certainly don’t want any association to the stigma surrounding the topic of mental health. Anxiety is not “overreacting”, being too “emotional”, “caring too much”, “craving attention”… and it’s not as easy as saying “it’s ok, just calm down”.
What is it then? It’s difficult to say, as it’s different for everyone. I admit it’s irrational. So yes, I’m aware of the irrationality in driving to the grocery store, desperately needing groceries, but not getting out of the car because I was nervous to forget where I parked or buying too many groceries and having a hard time hauling them to the car, or walking through the store and looking suspicious. What if something falls into my purse and it looks like I’m stealing? What if my card is declined? What if they think I look suspicious because I haven’t found anything yet? I’ve actually bought something I didn’t need, just because I had walked around the store for so long and was worried about it looking suspicious to walk out empty handed. Again, it sounds ridiculous! I know. I had my own studio apartment on the bus loop but I had a fear of riding the university bus alone because I was worried about missing my stop and not knowing where the bus would go after. During tests I’d second guess myself to the point of a breakdown, no matter how much I prepared myself for the exam. I could start studying a month before and you can bet that I was awake at 3 in the morning trying to use every last bit of time before the test to study. Which combined with excessive caffeine- threw me into my first ever full on panic attack. It was an intense feeling of impending doom. As if something was going to happen but I didn’t know what, or when, or where. It’s an intense feeling of fear, intense emotion, difficulty catching a breath, a sudden urgency to escape, fear of losing control of your thoughts and the frustration of the inability to understand it yourself.
In retrospect I discovered I most likely had depression at that time as well. In my head, I thought because I wasn’t sitting home crying the whole time that it couldn’t be that. I can tell you that the better part of my college career was dealing with anxiety and bouts of depression. I read something that described the feeling almost perfectly. Having both is like “being scared and tired at the same time. It’s the fear of failure but no urge to be productive. It’s wanting friends but hating socializing. It’s wanting to be alone but not wanting to be lonely. It’s caring about everything then caring about nothing. It’s feeling everything at once and feeling paralyzingly numb because of it.”
It affected my relationships with people, it affected my productiveness and overall successfulness in my classes, and it ended my passion for singing and performing. I could sleep the entire day and night. My body felt so weak that it took everything to wake up and go to class. I was disappointed, frustrated, and angry at myself for not being able to get up and get dressed but I knew I wouldn’t dare walk into class late because anxiety brought to light any possible situation that I wanted to avoid. “What if I can’t find a seat at the end of an aisle and have to make everyone stand up to be able to get in and sit down?” “What if the professor gets upset and calls me out in front of the entire class?”
Have you ever been extremely nervous for something? Maybe public speaking, or a presentation, or even a performance. Being a little nervous is typical and even healthy for the average person, especially in these types of situations. For me, I am so intensely anxious and nervous that I can throw myself into an “out of body” experience, I could forget my own name if nervous enough. Multiply that anxious feeling you’ve had times 10 or more. Then imagine having that for the most common day to day activities. I can guarantee it’s more frustrating to the person dealing with it than the person judging them for “overreacting”.
“Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering.” -C. Strayed
It’s not rational. I’m aware. But society needs to be aware that it’s not a simple switch that can be flipped off to stop the thoughts, the fear, and the emotions. We can only explain our feelings to the best of our abilities but if you’ve never experienced it, if those thoughts and fears have never continuously occupied your mind- then you will never truly know.
I tackled this obstacle head on a little over two years ago by stumbling upon a newfound passion- traveling. Dropping everything to move to another continent is not by any means easy for anyone. In a lot of ways I took baby steps. Had an American roommate when I first moved to Spain, but was on my own a fair amount. 7 months later the semester ended and I decided I was moving by myself to Germany as an au pair. The rest is history. I traveled completely on my own. To most following my travels it looked like a complete dream. In many ways it was, I had never felt more centered or more happy, but this didn’t come without struggle. I had to train my mind to be at peace, to rid myself of the “what ifs” and deal with the NOW. I can’t explain how empowering it was to travel alone. On one of my many solo trips, I got myself from Munich, Germany to Venice, Italy. By trusting my inner most “gut” feeling, having complete faith in strangers, through ridesharing, couch surfing, the train, and the bus. It took me 23 years to finally understand the complexity of intuition and just how to trust it. After all, it’s the only thing I had to rely on.
I had to move to a completely different country alone, navigate utilizing a completely foreign language, and force myself out of the familiar to get where I am at today. Although it can come back in sudden moments I’ve found a way to quiet those thoughts and while I’m still working on completely overcoming my anxiety, I can atleast say that I’ve come a hell of a long way. How it’s possible? I can’t say for certain. I as well as many others are living proof that we have the capacity to redraw the lines between our powerlessness and our power. Maybe I liked the fact that people didn’t expect so much of me in other countries because they knew I didn’t know the language. Maybe the love and passion for travel and overall fascination with other languages and cultures completely outweighed my fears. Maybe it was simply that I wanted to see and do what I wanted and that in itself made it a hundred percent worth the challenges that coincided. Or quite possibly, it could’ve been the fact that the only worry I allowed myself to have was my next choice of wine.
“Bravery is acknowledging your fear and doing it anyway”-C. Strayed
So am I aware that I can be irrational? Yes. Am I “overreacting” or “too emotional”? Maybe. But one thing I am NOT is ignorant to the fact that mental health is important. I’m not ignorant to health science and chemistry, to neurotransmitters and their functions in our bodies, or to the fact that 1 in every 5 Americans live with a mental health condition and more than half of them will suffer silently without getting help.
You see, the point is this… I could remain quiet and keep this all a secret within- but I choose not to. I choose to fight the stigma. I choose to question why we are so accepting to get help for any other body part breaking down other than our own BRAINS. I dare say that is pure ignorance. And that ignorance has created a world that doesn’t understand anxiety, doesn’t understand depression, and doesn’t understand mental health. Even the happiest of people are only human and if we just took a little time to even try to understand them, to go a little further than just scratching the surface- well, maybe we’d all be a little better for it.
“The particularity of our problems can be made bearable only through the recognition of our universal humanity. We suffer uniquely, but we survive the same way.” -C. Strayed
A ridiculous amount of coffee was consumed in the making of this. Click below to add some fuel & keep me going.