October 10, 2018
I often read conversations online about anxiety and there seems to be some confusion regarding what this illness, yes illness, really is. Anxiety is not simply worrying. It’s not that worried feeling every parent has when they move their child into their college dorm for the first time. Anxiety is not simply stress. It isn’t like showing up for an exam that you feel didn’t study long enough for. Anxiety isn’t nervousness. It’s not the pre-game jitters you get before your first basketball game of the season. It’s not the uneasy feeling of standing in an extremely long security line and your plane takes off in 30 minutes. Anxiety is a continuous loop of what-ifs. It’s an all day, everyday rumination over the worst possible things. Anxiety is tossing and turning all night from body aches that are due to the physical effect this illness has on your body. Anxiety is not having an appetite. Anxiety is really, truly believing that all of your worst fears will at some point become a reality, even if they are not logically possible. Anxiety affects your personal life and work life and you may even have to use some sick days because of it.
Can you trace your anxiety back to some sort of trauma? I can. I’ve dealt with panic attacks since high school, which have become sporadic since I left home for college. After losing my volleyball scholarship, totaling my car, and losing all my friends in the same year, those panic attacks manifested into consistent, day in and day out anxiety. My life was spiraling out of control and so was my mind. I lived in total fear at all times and I believed that if I could predict the next bad thing, then I could somehow prevent it. So I imagined my worst nightmares, deaths in the family, illnesses, homelessness, accidents, you name it. This was my brain every single day for four years, nonstop. I had anxiety attacks at home, I had anxiety attacks at work, I had anxiety attacks at school. Dating became a trigger because I felt I wouldn’t be understood, which created more anxiety. It was an endless cycle that I never thought I could make it out of, until I did. You can overcome your anxiety. I know, wild right? Here’s how I did it:
Part of releasing control involved restoring my faith in God. I lost my faith and then I lost myself. I felt incredibly alone and I believed that I was fighting this battle with anxiety all by myself. All the while forgetting that He was right next to me and He always will be. In fact, God carefully crafted my “life-changing year” as I like to call it in a way that would get my attention. If I didn’t go through what I went through, my life would look totally different today. This step is so important that when I feel my anxiety creeping back now, it’s always because I’ve begun to lose my faith again. I hope you believe in something, whether it be God or the universe, or hell, even Astrology. I hope you believe in something. We all need someone or something to give our worries to and relieve our burdens.
I know I’m beginning to sound like a broken record at this point but when I say therapy SAVED MY LIFE, I’m not being dramatic. Therapy helped realize that my anxiety was rooted in this constant need to have control. I can admit that I am a control freak to this day, but I have gotten SO much better. 2013 turned my life upside down and from that point on I tried to control as much as my life as I could. This false sense of control (because we truly are powerless) made me become a prisoner in my own mind. I was merely surviving and not living. It wasn’t until I released that control into the universe and said, “whatever happens, happens!” that I was able to focus on what was actually happening right now.
I forget how strong I am sometimes. I forget that no matter what the situation may be, I will get through it. I am a survivor, it’s in my blood. My parents are survivors, both literally and figuratively. My experience made me incredibly strong and mentally tough. I never had faith in myself, and now I do. I can overcome anything.
It has officially been a year since my last anxious and depressive episode. I finally have the headspace to figure out who I am and actually create a future for myself instead of “predicting” one. I’m now living intentionally instead of staying mentally afloat. I know that anxiety can feel like walking in quicksand. It can be a constant battle of staying just above ground in all aspects of life, but it doesn’t have to always be that way. Hopefully my experience makes your battle with anxiety less lonely. I’ve been there before and I get it. I hope that my list of things that helped me help you. Either way, know that although anxiety may not be curable, it is manageable. Stay afloat until you figure out how to pull yourself out.