Somewhere in time, having a mental illness or even talking about mental illness, was labeled: taboo. The lack of acceptance and understanding of this issue caused those who suffered from it to suffer in silence.
Anxiety can be experienced by everyone: becoming nervous before a test, a first date, or at work, but having clinically diagnosed anxiety disorder is a completely different experience, often times constant and crippling.
This is my story……….
As a child I was not shy at all, I was very outspoken and always the center of attention. I was never scared to do things that seemed bigger than my tiny, little body, I was always a dreamer. The same can be said for me today, but I’m also a lot more conscious of the world around me…sometimes, too conscious.
My mom had me when she was still trying to finish up college, so for a couple of years I was sent to live with my grandmother in Florida. This is the earliest memory I have of feeling anxious. It started out as separation anxiety from my mother. I would talk to her every single night without fail and I would sleep with an article of her clothing in order to feel closer to her. Little did I know, I was already predisposed to developing some type of mental illness since my biological father also suffers from this overlooked disease.
Fast forward a few years, I began learning more about the world. It wasn’t a fairytale place like my beloved Disney movies portrayed it to be. I experienced direct racism (my 3rd grade crush told me he couldn’t “date me” because I was black), dealt with my biological father not being as active in my life as i’d liked, and many other things that may seem insignificant to some, but was hard for me. Instead of speaking about it, I internalized all of my feelings, stashing it away into my “woe is me” box, or the pages of my poetry notebook.
College is where my anxiety became the worst it had ever been. Growing up in private, Catholic schools my whole life, I was sheltered a bit. I had the same friends throughout my childhood in Connecticut. Embarking into something new such as college, with this new found freedom, I wasn’t all too prepared for what was in store, and the different people I would encounter.
I joined a sorority, and my self-image and self-confidence went for a drastic decline. In my mind, I did not compare with the skinny, tall, gorgeous, white sorority girls I was constantly around. I had to do something to be more like them, and to silence my anxiety. This is when I developed my eating disorder which I learned during my treatment, was only a way to cope with my anxieties. As my weight drastically declined, so did my grades and self respect. I let my negative thoughts of what I thought I should be and what I wasn’t, take control.
During all of this, I kept how serious my anxiety was becoming to myself because I felt like no one would understand. I also felt silly that I was letting my insecurities and worry get the best of me.
Treatment and the support of my boyfriend, family, and some friends were what saved my life. After addressing my eating disorder, I was finally left with my anxieties and finding healthy ways to cope.
When I have overwhelming anxiety, my heart palpitates, my breathing shortens, I grind my teeth at night and clinch them during the day (to the point where I crack my enamel), and my thoughts of bad things happening to those I love, wreak havoc on my mind. How does one cope with those feelings in a healthy way?…
I have found that eating nutrient dense foods, positive thoughts, staying active and surrounding myself with positive people are great ways to cope with my anxiety. We don’t realize that what we put into our bodies (food, music, television) and who we keep around us has a direct effect on our mental stability. I also lead a strong prayer life. Growing up in the church has always remained a big part of me, so reaching out to the big guy upstairs on a daily basis keeps me sane.
Another big way to deal with anxiety is to talk it out. Whenever I am feeling overwhelmed or notice signs that I’m having an anxiety attack, I call on my boyfriend, mom or a couple of close friends to help me through.
Lastly, if it becomes too much, seek help from a professional! I am a big advocate of therapy. Speaking to someone who isn’t close to you is a great way to gain a different/ unbiased perspective on life. It’s relaxing to meet weekly with someone and just talk for an hour.
I hope a little glimpse into my life with anxiety/ a mental illness is helpful in understanding it a bit more, or even dealing with your own anxieties.
If you have further questions about this topic, please leave a comment below, or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you!
For more information and resources regarding mental illnesses, please visit: https://www.nami.org/ or http://www.mentalhealth.gov/