As many of you have been following along in my journey this past year through my blog and social channels, you probably see an ongoing theme of happiness, fun, and living life fully. Many have stopped me in public to say how they have been inspired through what I share, my openness, and encouraging me with kind words.
While I have appreciated it greatly, I am always quick to add that it hasn’t been all fun. There have been some big struggles and learning curves…and some of which I haven’t fully shared but with it being World Mental Health Day, it seemed appropriate to open up on this part of my journey.
The first time I ever recall feeling the heaviness of depression, I was 15 and it was about 3 months into living with my first foster family. I had just begun feeling settled and safe when I was suddenly told I would need to move. It felt like the world was crashing in around me and I couldn’t breath. For weeks I barely ate, I cried myself to sleep and wished that my life would just end. Looking back on this today, I can see how this wasn’t just because of a move…it was a combination of events that my emotions were starting to catch up to. As the date neared, I slipped into a deeper depression, until one night I told my foster parents that I had seriously contemplated ending my life. It not only scared them…but it actually scared the shit out of me that I had come to that point. And I didn’t want to again.
I started into more therapy but I buried the pain, hurt, and any emotion related to my past and present just so I could cope with day to day life. Because the deep hole of depression I had felt scared me so badly that I feared feeling and dealing with anything would lead me down that path again. But that lead to the depression being replaced with anxiety.
I didn’t recognize the anxiety until later on in life. I didn’t realize it was underneath so many of the decisions I made, the fears that I had, and the emotions I was feeling. Until I started to get panic attacks. And sometimes out of the blue. It is incredibly scary to find yourself unable to breath, seeing spots, and not understanding why. But I quickly recognized when one may approach and knew to remove myself from a situation or try to understand what was causing it in that moment. And to remember to breath!
Fast forward to this past year, where life got turned upside down and everything that brought structure into my life had changed…and when you have anxiety…structure is your friend.
I continued with therapy, had supports in place and kept myself busy. I put on a happy face and climbed hurdle after hurdle after hurdle. I honestly thought I was doing ok. Until I wasn’t.
I’m not sure if the weight just became too much to carry or if life just handed me one too many lemons…but the anxiety increased to a level I had never experienced and with it came a dark cloud of depression. I fought so hard to battle through it, do the work I had learned in therapy and get past it. But I soon realized I may need more help. Back in June, after talking with my doctor and finding that the anxiety was leading to a depression and that it was starting to take over other areas in my life, I was prescribed an anti-depressant that works with anxiety. Just typing that alone, I can still feel twinges of shame in acknowledging that I had to go that route and the sense of failure that I couldn’t get through it on my own. It’s funny that I have always been open about going through therapy but there is just some sort of shame, a stigma surrounding the idea that you suddenly need to medicate yourself to be able to cope through life.
I still remember the first day taking the medication and how scared I was. Not just because of the long list of side effects…and let me tell you they are seriously unpleasant… but because it meant to me that I had failed. I had fought for over 15 years to never feel this way again, but little had I known I had probably just been keeping it at bay and not in a healthy way.
When I have felt comfortable enough, I have opened up to people about it and found out very quickly that I am not alone. Not just in these emotions and struggles, but that I have people in my life who have had to turn to something like medication to assist them. And when you realize you are not alone, the shame and failure you felt start to slowly diminish.
So that is why I felt, on a day like today, that it was important for me to share this part of my journey. If I don’t share it, it would feel like I haven’t being completely honest in the struggle and that it could be perceived that it has been mostly an exciting and fun year when in reality, it has been quite tough. No, what you see isn’t me ‘faking it’ for I am sharing a lot of happy moments…but it seems fair to also share that behind those moments have been some darker ones too.
I’m month 3 into taking medication coupled with the therapy I have been in. They come with some intense side effects sometimes…nausea being the main one for me. But I have also been able to feel so much lighter and think a lot clearer. I can’t say that it has cured the anxiety for me. I still feel it from time to time…but it comes up in a way where I am able to recognize it better and let myself sit in it to figure out exactly where it is coming from and work from there. I started out swearing I would not rely on medicine and would work hard to get off of it fast. But I soon realized I was putting way to much pressure on myself and only adding to the anxiety. I have come to terms with the fact it may be something I do on a long term basis…and I am learning to accept that and be ok with it.
In all of this, the one thing I have really taken away from it, is that we need to be so much more kinder to ourselves. I was so angry and so hard on myself for feeling like I failed, that I didn’t appreciate all that I had gone through so far without that help. I have survived so much and should feel incredibly proud of myself for it.
My hope in opening up more about my struggles with anxiety is that those who may resonate with some of what I have shared will realize they are not alone. That they will be kinder to themselves and maybe feel like they can reach out for help without feeling the shame.
Because there is NO shame in reaching out for help. There is NO shame in admitting that life can sometimes be more than we can handle. And we need the reminder that help is there and that we don’t have to go through this life alone.
**Great resources if you are looking to learn more about anxiety or are in need of a safe place to reach out for help**