Did you know that up until 1980, anxiety was not a diagnosable condition? 1980 wasn’t all that long ago! That means those who lived with anxiety weren’t able to seek treatment or understand what they were experiencing. Or in my case, being able to go to doctor to confirm “you’re not crazy”.
Before I dive in, I want to be clear: I don’t want to write about anxiety in a sad, “feel sorry” for me sort of way. In fact, I want to write about it in a very uplifting, empowered way. I recently purchased “First, We Make the Beast Beautiful” by Sarah Wilson and the title alone felt like a big sigh of relief. I wanted to scream, “YES! That’s it!” Someone else understands that we don’t want pity, we don’t need people to feel sorry for us. We need someone who knows that it’s ok to feel a negative emotion, and that we are just looking for ways to manage the symptoms.
Since it’s mental health awareness month, I felt it was a good time to finally write about my journey in hopes that others would find it helpful. Two years ago, anxiety crept into my life in the most unusual way. Devin and I had just gotten married. That’s when I first experienced the emotional dichotomy that can exist when you live with anxiety or depression. In my heart I felt so blessed, loved, and happy. However, my body felt like it was going into fight or flight. I even went to the doctor to get blood work done because I was convinced something was physically wrong with me. My blood work came back fine, and I spent the next 12 months ebbing and flowing (not gracefully) through seasons of panic attacks.
Then last year, right after the holidays, we were told that our lease would not be renewing. While I fully expected panic attacks to come back then, I was all consumed, mentally and physically, with finding a new place to live, moving, and learning the house buying process. It wasn’t until a few weeks after we settled in that I felt the panic creep back. I couldn’t sleep. I didn’t want to leave the house, but I also didn’t want to stay in our new home. My body was telling me to escape, but I didn’t know from what. That was my tipping point. I decided to finally find a doctor/therapist.
I want to note for anyone reading this who doesn’t have anxiety, the thoughts and experiences that cause us anxiety are usually not that big, or they’re not real – we’re VERY aware of that. For some reason, our bodies don’t know the difference and react in the same way.
This last year has been a year of exploration: understanding my triggers, talking with friends and family, and giving myself permission to be on the journey. I am in a much better place today. For some (including me), medication and talk therapy are crucial in their anxiety management. If you think there is a stigma surrounding anxiety and depression, you should feel and experience the stigma associated with the decision to take medication.
I also learned these past few years were not the first time I’ve experienced anxiety – it has been a lifelong thing I’ve coped with, likely poorly at times. I can also say I’m not done with this journey. I’ll probably live with anxiety for the rest of my life, and new seasons will bring the need for me to find new management strategies. I’m thankful to know what I need in this moment: the support of my family, exercise, therapy, medication, and a healthy dose of alone time.
So why did I decide to share this? Well, one thing I found helpful over the past year was reading others stories who are also managing anxiety. Open communication is just one way to combat the stigma surrounding mental health, and this stigma can make it difficult for many accept their symptoms and feel strong enough to find the right treatment. So many times I told myself if I were just a little stronger, if I prayed a little harder, if I exercised more, etc…. then I wouldn’t have to live with this….that I wasn’t doing X Y or Z, and therefore I brought it on myself. These self destructive thoughts didn’t work, and making myself feel bad usually made it worse. This stigma also makes it seem like mental illness can only impact a certain subset of our population. But, I’m a fitness instructor, health coach, dietitian, and run coach. I live a very blessed life and I have an amazing support system. There isn’t one specific thing in my life that I can attribute as the source of my anxiety.
I’m choosing to be honest about treatment and to feel empowered instead of ashamed in order to fight the stigma. I’m choosing to share with you because I want you to know it’s not your fault. That it’s not the fault of your friend or loved one. It’s helpful to openly discuss the ways I practice self-care that positively impact my mental health. We all need to start treating mental illness in the same way as physical illness. There are many people living amazingly full lives with anxiety or depression!
Are you also interested in fighting the stigma surrounding mental health? Here are a few ideas:
– Learn more! Educate yourself about mental health. You likely have a friend or family member who is dealing with some version of a mental health issue. The more you understand, the more likely you are to feel comfortable talking with them about it.
– Practice equality. Physical and mental health should not be looked at or treated differently. Would you argue against someone who was taking blood pressure medication? Would you tell someone fighting the flu to just look on the bright side to feel better?
– Check yourself. Do you say you feel anxious sometimes? Do you tell someone they’re acting bi-polar? Any way we use mental health conditions as adjectives is just another way we end up continuing the stigma.
Have questions or just want to discuss anxiety more, I’m here! Message me by clicking here.
Thank you for your kindness as you read this post. Obviously, this isn’t the ENTIRE story. I may or may not share more, but this felt cathartic and like it could do some good for the world. Let’s go meditate 🙂