My anxiety has been around for as long as I can remember. In grade school I remember not being able to take timed math tests, because my brain would freeze and I would start to panic. Going on field trips with my class was nearly impossible without becoming sick and spending the entire morning in the bathroom. Therapists have tried to figure out the cause of this, but we have never found a spot in my timeline where my brain chemistry changed. The only thing I can do is continue to explore my self-awareness and only focus on things that I can control.
Fast-forward to high school. My test taking skills had advanced, but now there was a new social element involved that was hard to properly prepare for: Dating. I first want to apologize to anyone I ever dated, I was a terrible girlfriend and for that I am sorry. I was the girl that would call their house 100 times and cry when they weren’t home or were too busy to come to the phone. I was the girl who would drive to your house after you dumped me on the phone, because I didn’t understand why you didn’t want to be with me. I was the girl who obsessively kept tabs on your activities, and when things didn’t go my way I would throw an absolute fit. While I have never been truly abandoned by anyone in my life, the fear of being left behind and not cared for is real. In 9th grade I discovered the art of self harm. In my brain it made perfect sense: Make something hurt worse on the outside than I hurt emotionally on the inside. That’s when I began to cut myself in places nobody would see (inside the leg, across my stomach, etc.). When one of my ex-boyfriend’s found out he told the guidance councilor, and they immediately reported it to my parents. (He will never truly understand how important his actions were, Andy I thank you.) I was treated like a piece of china by my parents for a while, but we never looked for a therapist. This was before mental health therapies were more socially acceptable. Besides required visits to the guidance counselor, I did not seek any further treatment.
When I began college I went to my primary care physician for a physical, and took one of those depression tests. My doctor was convinced by my answers that I needed to consider taking an anti-depressant. At the time my knowledge of self-care and mental health was minimal, and she was a doctor so in my eyes her advice was the most important. So I began taking an anti-depressant but was not referred for counseling or to see a psychiatrist for follow-up. I took the medication for a few years and began to notice that I didn’t feel like myself. I felt like a replicated version of me, but not in a good way. I was emotionally detached from the world around me and unable to express any true feelings. Looking back on my experience I do not remember feeling any anxiety during that time, because I wasn’t really able to feel anything. When I fell in love with someone I decided that I wanted to feel emotions and the other person deserved for me to express how I felt appropriately. Naturally I did what everyone tells you not to do, and I quit the drugs cold turkey (side note: please do not follow my example, quitting your medication without a plan with your physician can be extremely dangerous).
The real turning point in my life was a few years later after my husband and I were married, and I started a new job working with amazing people. Well, it was a retail job to help get me through my undergrad degree, but who cares. I wanted to advance at that company badly, and I worked my ass off to prove what I was worth. The further I climbed the ladder, the more staff I was directly responsible for, and the more my anxiety began to fight with me. Towards the end of my employment with that company I was being considered for a promotion to department manager, and I really thought I had a chance. When I was passed over for the opportunity for someone that had kept getting promoted before me, I felt absolutely worthless. I began crying at work more frequently, and unable to focus on my duties as a supervisor. I let the drama and my anxiety run the show without a second thought. My direct assistant store manager and the newly promoted department manager sat me down and asked how they could help. They pointed out that I was not well, and they wanted to know how they could be supportive. It was then that I realized how drastic my entire demeanor became. At the time it felt like someone had slapped me in the face and I finally started reflecting on my actions. During my self-reflections I realized that the work environment had become too toxic for me and it was time to take a risk by branching out into the career path I actually wanted.
After I transitioned jobs I began seeing my first therapist. John was an absolutely lovely human being, and we got along so well. Many of our sessions ended in tears and headaches, because he really challenged my thought process. We would talk about topics such as, school, work, friendships, relationships, etc. John created an experiment for us where I would externally name my anxiety and create an invisible friend of sorts. Being 24 years old I thought this to be strange, but I agreed and named my new anxiety friend Bob. John and I would talk to Bob throughout our sessions, and I began confronting Bob on my own when I felt my life getting out of control. As weird as it sounds this actually worked well for me. I began to finally get control of my anxiety and identify triggers for when it was going to happen in order to prevent myself form spiraling. After 2 years of working together John and I decided that I was ready to “graduate” from his services.
For a while after therapy I was doing great. My relationships improved, I started doing more things for myself, and I was very self-aware of my anxiety and how to analyze my brain. About 3 years after I “graduated” therapy, I began to notice a shift back into myself. My coping mechanisms (breathing exercises, workouts) were not working as well as the used to. At some point I lost sight of Bob and he probably moved to an island to get away from me. I began to become exhausted from fighting with my anxiety every single day. I eventually started to let my anxiety control me again, because it just became too much to manage. I had recently graduated college with my undergrad degree, and began working on my chosen career field requiring a lot more stress and focus than previous jobs. I knew I needed to seek help again, because I could see the shift in my demeanor begin to turn negative again.
Currently I am seeing a new therapist, his name is Ben. I have been in his services since fall 2017, and we have been working great together. Identifying my triggers is still a struggle, because sometimes I don’t even understand why I feel the way I do. I still get sick on a weekly basis about going on new adventures or having stressful tasks to complete at work. I still have problems with my relationships/friendships, because I have the underlying fear that I will be unwanted by the people I love. I still cry almost everyday, because the stress of my anxiety needs an outlet. I still get nervous when I am having a conversation with someone and they don’t respond fast enough, I immediately think they hate me (even though that’s not true). The one big difference for me now compared to 6 years ago is that I understand the importance of self acceptance, and self care. I am far from a selfish person, and was raised with Midwestern values to help others before helping yourself. But in the crazy, busy world we live into today self care is the MOST important thing you can do to care for your mental health. Taking time from your week to breathe, go running/boxing, go hang out with friends, buy something you’ve always wanted. The key is to not allow yourself to feel guilty about it. The only thing in the world that we can truly control is ourselves. I choose to talk about my experience, because I am not unique. I am not the only person in the world struggling. I am not the only person with missing brain chemistry that cannot regulate their fight or flight instinct. But I am unique because I have a true understanding of what my mind, body and soul need to be healthy.
The one phrase that keeps replaying in my head over and over again is: Your anxiety will never fully go away, but it’s how you manage it that is important.