Everyone has a story of where they once were and where they are now with an underlying obstacle they had to overcome. My obstacle was anxiety — a term that’s now thrown around and used lightly as an attempt to normalize it. But after living with it as such a regular part of my day-to-day life, it felt as if it were part of my personality.
There was no way I could let anxiety be the ruler of my mind.
There was a time in my life when I didn’t go a day without having a panic attack. “What’s wrong with me?” I thought, “Is this all my life is?” From a young age, I was terrified at the thought of going off to college followed by the shadow of a mental monster I couldn’t escape. I worried about the people I confided in being far from me.
For too long, I was too busy worrying about the future to handle the day in front of me. I wish I would’ve had more hope that my life wouldn’t always feel like I had a dark cloud hanging over my head, like Eeyore. Instead of sitting under that dark cloud, sulking and soaking up the rain, I needed to look up long enough to see the sun. My mom always tells me “Action alleviates anxiety”. I needed to do something about this aspect of my life, not continue to live in it willingly.
Depression followed anxiety close on its heels in high school. My journal knew more about it than anyone. My parents were afraid for me and didn’t know what to do, so they had me meet with a therapist to get to the bottom of my mental state.
It helped to talk to a therapist who held the same values as me. After taking a while to open up to her with honesty, everything in my brain became easier to process. She gave me mental tools and strategies to calm my nervous system and learn from my episodes rather than try to avoid them. I consider her a good friend and we still keep in touch like old pals.
The first step to getting out of the rut I was in was asking for help. It’s not a sign of weakness, but actually one of strength. It was hard to talk about where my mental state was at sometimes, but it was so necessary.
I wish I would’ve shared what was on my mind and in my heart more with the people that cared about me instead of bottling up all of my thoughts and feelings and suffering in silence. I didn’t want to be a bother to people and, frankly, I didn’t want to get better because I didn’t see a way, but there was.
Having a strong support system is crucial to fighting mental battles. I know now I can share the things that are burdening me with the people I feel safe with. The safe people in my life that I can count on to meet me with compassion, care and love. And when I’m not with those people, remembering that I’m valued and understood helps to keep me going.
Confiding in a safe person or someone in counseling services and taking advantage of mental health resources on campus are great ways to start. See what happens when you talk to a campus counselor. Get involved with events that encourage and educate such as Here For You Fest next week (September 12 at the Quad 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m). There are plenty of events to throughout Suicide Prevention Week (September 11-16) to remind you to check in with your friends and with yourself because we are all worth being cared for.
For me, finding things that calmed my swirling thoughts was important when things seemed out of hand. Things like walking, talking to a friend, getting outside, or reading helped me feel grounded. Sometimes I felt helpless to control how my body and brain reacted, but I could control what I did to make myself feel better.
Finding a place to chill and recharge gave me somewhere peaceful to go when I was feeling overwhelmed. That place, for me, was usually a lookout spot in my hometown with an unmatchable view of the lake and mountains against the backdrop of the colorful sunset.
Anxiety isn’t who I am, it’s simply a part of my story. I still have days where it affects me, but I can understand it and tolerate it without beating myself up or letting it take over. It’s freeing to not let it have control over my everyday life. It doesn’t control me, instead, it motivates me to be hopeful.
My journey with anxiety was an ugly part of my life, but I had to go through it to grow into who I am today – stronger and happier. It took destigmatizing mental health to arrive at a place where I saw the growth that came out of hardship. I’m beyond grateful that I’m here to share what I’ve learned. If you take anything away from my story, let it be this — your mental state is not your identity.