May is Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States and I have struggled with my mental health for most of my life, so I thought that there was no better time to talk you through my mental health journey than right now.
Sorry in advance that this blog post is not the average fashion-packed, light-hearted content that I usually give you, but I think this conversation is important to have because the stigma around mental health is really dangerous and anything I can do to break that stigma is worth it, in my opinion. My hope is that by telling my story, someone out there in the world will read this and feel less alone and more seen.
Disclaimer: Mental health is not one size fits all. What works or doesn’t work for me may have similar or different affects for you. Doing your own research, consulting your doctors and therapists and testing what works best for you is vital to your success.
I’ve always been what I like to call a worrier. There is not a time in my life where I didn’t overanalyze just about everything. I can remember confessing things to my mom the moment I did something wrong. I would fixate on that thing for so long that I would think of nothing else and I would eventually burst into tears and confess my crimes to my mom.
Most of the time no crimes were committed. I convinced myself many a time that I cheated on a test, when I didn’t. I should have known then that there was something bigger going on than just worrying.
It wasn’t until high school that I really started noticing that my anxiety was really taking over my life. I became obsessed with the idea of being a bad person. I was always anxious about whether or not I was a good person. I would convince myself that I had or wanted to do terrible things to myself and my loved ones. I have a couple ideas of where these ideas came from, but I’m not ready to talk about that at the moment. Just know that I spent a lot of time worried about what I was capable of.
There wasn’t much I did to cope with those thoughts except for cry a lot and tell only my closest loved ones what was going through my head. This continued through college.
College is where I have my first memories of having panic attacks, where my steady state of panic would spill over the edge and control me.
I kind of have two different kinds of panic attacks. One kind is when I am hyper focused on a certain idea and I have trouble breathing. The other kind is when my mind races and everything I do feels like it is moving in hyper speed. They both suck and there’s not much I can do to stop them in the moment.
The only thing that has ever, ever helped me when I was mid-panic attack was listening to military cadences. My therapist would later attribute that relief to the consistent and repetitive beat featured in those types of songs.
After grad school, I couldn’t find a job for a long time and I got to the lowest point of my life thus far and hopefully for the rest of my life. The real term for what I was feeling is depression, but all I knew is that I was unmotivated, I felt worthless and I slept a lot. I perked back up when I found a job, but my anxiety and depression didn’t just magically disappear.
Maybe it was the continuing discussions around mental health on social media or my good friend deciding to go to therapy, but I decided in 2018 it was my time to give it a try.
Talking to someone who did not know me was phenomenal because I didn’t feel crazy anymore and I had someone whose job it was to listen to me ramble and cry about my life. I started meditating and that helped in certain ways, but my constant state of low level panic was always there. When I went to bed, I would worry until I fell asleep. I would worry at work. I would worry any time I was awake.
All of that worry led to my therapist suggesting that I go on medication, anxiety and depression medication to be exact.
I was scared to try medication, let’s not lie. I thought I didn’t need it and I didn’t want to feel like a zombie. I also had been made to understand by society that only crazy people took medication and that I should just deal with my shit. In short, I should get over it. I know now that that mentality could not be more false.
But, I tried it and boy oh boy, am I glad that I did. I have a way of describing my anxiety that maybe will paint a better picture for you. So, follow me if you will:
I am a circle, a purple circle. I am surrounded by another circle, a shield, that stops anything that can trigger me; that circle is green. My triggers bump into the green circle and don’t get to me or they do by coming through a gap in the green circle. Without medication, the green circle is broken and full of gaps and my triggers hit me non-stop. With medication, there are very few gaps in the green circle and less of my triggers get to me.
Sometimes triggers still get in and they hit me. That’s when I use the tools I have learned in therapy or elsewhere to combat those triggers. But, most of the time, the green circle stops my triggers from getting to me, the purple circle, thanks to medication.
That’s how my writing major brain likes to think of my anxiety, but my medical records say that I have generalized anxiety disorder and I take 50 mg of Sertraline or generic Zoloft every morning.
Medication has changed my life and I am honestly afraid of the idea of going back to a life like I had before.
I will never, ever place stigma on someone who takes medicine or goes to therapy for their mental health ever again. And I will always, always encourage everyone, but especially those who are worriers like me, to go to therapy and consider medication, if necessary.
There is a lot I haven’t figured out yet. I think I’ve got other things going on with me related to my body and my relationship with food, but mental health doesn’t get better with the click of a button and I will be figuring out my own shit for the rest of my life. I have to work on trusting and believing in myself every single day. I have to remind myself often that I am a good person and I’m worthy of love and success.
The point is that I am trying to better myself and my mental health in any ways that I can because my quality of life is important to me. This journey is a lifelong one that is ever-changing and evolving. It has highs and lows and everything in between, but it’s worth it because I’m worth it.
That’s my mental health story. This is a shortened version, but it’s all there to maybe reach someone else who needs to hear it or to simply allow you to get to know me a bit better.
I want to give a shout out to those loved ones of mine who have stuck with me through the bad days I had and will continue to have and loved me and supported me through them all. I appreciate you so much.
Let me leave you with this: We are all perfectly imperfect. Our traumas shall never be compared, but always validated. How you feel always matters.
This Mental Health Awareness Month give yourself and your loved ones some grace and let your people know you are there for them, but also be there for your damn self. We have all been through it in the last few years and we deserve to listen to our own needs and live the best lives we can.
I’m here for you. Holler if you need me.