I’ve procrastinated to write this for the longest time, not because I would be short for words, or because I wasn’t clear about what I wanted to share, but simply because I had hope that when I would write this, I could title it: How I Overcame My Anxiety. Unfortunately, this is not the story I can share just yet.
This isn’t a Pinterest article that can or will list ways on how you can meditate your way out of anxiety, it is not a post filled with quotes about positivity and mindfulness or one that will teach you how to live a stress free life. Believe me, I have read and watched all the motivational books, tips, quotes, Ted talks. I have tried therapy, yoga, meditation, healing, neurolinguistics and even acupuncture. I have become so obsessed with learning all the ways that I can cure myself that finding a solution has become its own stressor. Therefore, this post is not another article that aims to cure you of high functioning anxiety. All it aims to do is express ruthlessly and honestly what it is like to live with General Anxiety Disorder, so that those who are fortunate enough to live without it can find empathy without pity, and those who face it can find strength in their own vulnerability.
I originally thought of posting this article with one of my Instagram bikini pictures next to it to see if it would attract attention. After all, nowadays a post about mental health will get 35 likes and my Ibiza bikini selfie will get 700. Clearly, we humans are not ashamed to show appreciation for what we consider “beautiful” and we do seem desperate to hide sadness, loneliness and fear. I am not placing blame or calling everyone shallow because I myself am guilty of all the above. I am someone who when you look up on social media, you would never guess the things that actually go through in my mind. My travelling photos with captions about wanderlust, my bikini pictures that take 1000 shots to get right, my inspirational quotes that tell you I have my life together, would never reveal to you what I battle with on a daily basis. The square pictures on my Instagram are simply reserved for the wonderful moments of my life when I feel worthy, and because of what I choose to show the world, I simply do not fit into the stereotype of someone with a mental illness.
Oh god. The phrase ‘mental illness’ alone makes makes me cringe. It immediately makes me imagine something destructive and unfixable. It makes me picture someone with dark clothes, on the ground, with little awareness of reality. It makes me think of what we all like to label as ‘crazy’. So, let me get this straight once and for all. Yes, I do have a mental illness, but no I am not ‘crazy’.
I have had general anxiety disorder (GAD) since I can remember. Enough therapists have tried to pinpoint the exact moment in my childhood that caused me to develop this, however what they don’t seem to understand, is that for me there was no one moment. I feel like it is such a massive part of who I am as a person, that I see it as a trait, just like having brown hair or being 5’2, something inevitably part of me. I have always been aware that I worried a little bit more than others. When I was just 5 years old, when all the other kids would eventually get over being left alone at school, I continuously obsessed with going to the nurse and getting sent home. I had an irrational fear of uncertainty (thank you £100 therapy sessions for giving it a name) and thousands of things would go through my head, “what if something happens to my parents while I am at school? Why is my mom late to pick me up? What if these kids don’t like me? What if I fail this test? What if I am not as good as the others”? Only now reflecting do I realize that these thoughts were not healthy for such a young child, and that these thoughts became fears, and these fearful thoughts became habits. This is what I consider my anxiety to be: a terrible habit. By calling it a habit I am not blaming myself for the thoughts that consume me, I am simply recognizing that anxiety is caused by repetitive thoughts and continuous fears that I did not identify as toxic until they affected my wellbeing and my ability to deal with the uncertainty of life.
For most of my life my anxiety has been a continuous rollercoaster ride. In my good days, it only presents itself in situations that seem normal like 30 minutes before a test. I was always the annoying kid who would repeat “I am going to fail, I am going to fail!” and would end up doing quite well, clearly pissing off my peers. What my friends didn’t understand though is that for me every single one of those moments of panic felt more than real. I feared failure, I feared not being capable and those fears would manifest themselves into physical symptoms (sweaty palms, hyperventilating, dizziness, headaches, stomach pain) causing me to lose my composure. This uncomfortable feeling was tiring, making me wish with all my heart that I could just be one of those people that didn’t care about anything at all. I would have given up my perfect GPA to simply be numb from all the thoughts inside my head that made every stressful situation feel like the end of the world. I knew that I produced unnecessary drama inside my head, but still, knowing this I still felt incapable of stopping it. That’s the thing about anxiety, you can be very aware that you are being irrational and yet you feel incapable of controlling yourself.
With that said however, for a very long time I had become comfortable dealing with my anxiety as it came through stressful situations. Of course, periods of such high stress had left me with some consequences (like making me develop migraines and IBS) but overall I felt I had some form of control over my anxiety as it was not my constant state. Yet, as I grew older my anxiety seemed to grow along with me. My thoughts and anxious habits grew stronger… and after going through a life changing – traumatic experience with my health my anxiety came back in its strongest form. Months passed where the only thing I cared about in life was trying to regain control over my own mind. Thankfully, with time I have been able to find better days, but the good days come and go. In the good days I can think clearly about what it is and treat it as I have always: with my mom’s advice and some chamomile tea. But on my bad days, it has made me question my entire self, everything I hold as valuable and it has made me feel physically inferior to everything and everyone around me. Anxiety is not nerves. Anxiety is not stress. Anxiety is something that you feel deep inside you. It is like a punch to the stomach that doesn’t go away. It is similar to the feeling that you get when there is turbulence on a plane and your mind and body fear for its life. A panic attack is one of the most debilitating, traumatic experiences any human being can experience because it is when your mind convinces your body that it is shutting down. You literally cannot breathe. You cannot think and the physical sensations that you get are far beyond what WebMD can list down. I have felt it all ( mostly because I suffer from health anxiety). My anxiety symptoms have reached such extremes that my body has become physically exhausted. Parts of my body felt like they were on fire. I have had such extreme pains that I have convinced myself that such sensations could only come from the most horrific and life threatening illnesses. My mind gets a thousand thoughts per second, making my body literally feel like its shaking from the inside. Sometimes I cannot bear my own fatigued body, or control my heart as it seems to jump out of my chest. These sensations have not only stopped me from doing the things I love the most but they have also made me doubt how useful I am in this world. The voice that would haunt me when I was young comes back stronger than ever asking me “ how will I be able to hold a steady job with my condition? Will I be able to do all I want in life? Will I survive in this world of uncertainty? Am I strong enough for this life or will I be a failure? ” In the most terrible of days, these thoughts are so consuming that I am only good for laying in bed trying to block out all of the noise inside my head. Sometimes these thoughts are so loud that it feels like I had a radio inside my head that I simply cannot turn off. Believe me when I say that there is no greater suffering than being in war with your own body and soul. Especially, when you feel like very few people understand your battles. You begin to see yourself as only a burden to everyone you know and love.
The past year for me has been one of the toughest years of my life, however despite all the pain and frustration I have found myself a silver lining for all that I have gone through. My journey of dealing with my anxiety has forced me to explore my mind in ways that most people do not, and I have learnt to understand myself so well that I know what brings me happiness (something that takes some people their whole lives to figure out). I have refused to go on anti depressants (treatment is something I personally have put off because of fears of side effects, but do not discourage, and perhaps may try in the future) but because of that I have worked incredibly hard to look within myself for the power to overcome this struggle. I am not going to say that the things I have discovered have cured me entirely, but I do know that they have helped me feel like life has a greater purpose and they have taught me to deal with my anxiety even in the worst of situations. What is ironic is that these discoveries are actually quite logical ways about how one can live a peaceful life, but most of us forget how important these practices really are. In this generation, we tend to make stress and anxiety a habit, and only search for relaxation and peace when we are already worn out, when some of the damage is already too much to heal. This is why I will repeat to you all, what I repeat to myself when the world is just a little too heavy.
I will prioritise my mental health above all else, because no success is significant if you have to sacrifice your wellbeing. No job, no grades, no perfect body, no relationship is worth it if it destabilises you.
I will keep and cherish the people in my life who make me feel worthy and respect me, and let go of those who do not wish the best for me. Those who are with you in your bad days and do not treat you any different are people you want around with you for the long run. Find people who you feel no shame to be yourself around.
I will appreciate every good moment without taking it for granted. I will not ruin a good day with the worry of the next day. (Something I’ve learnt is that moments are fleeting and enjoying every second, as cliché as it sounds, is the best way to kick anxiety in the ass)
I will not fear failure so much. I am bad at a lot of things, but I am also good at a lot of others. Life is all about finding out. Some of my dreams may never come true, but I may also achieve some things I never imagined.
I have faith that my life will work out the way it is suppose to. There will always be things beyond my control, but instead of holding on to fear so dearly, I will try my best to simply have faith to accept that what is for me, is for me. (This is very useful to battle my health anxiety)
I will not let anybody shame me, specially not myself, for at times having to step away to breathe a little slower to calm my own mind. And I do not accept that my life is less beautiful or meaningful than anybody else’s.
Call these mantras, affirmations, prayers, whatever it is that suits you best but repeating these things to myself and applying them to my life has helped me heal in ways that I never thought possible. It puts me at peace with myself and everyone around me. It reassures me that I have control over my body and mind, even when I feel powerless.
This may be the longest rant I have ever written. Opening up with such detail is never easy and in a way I feel like I have exposed a side of myself that is too much for some to bear. My anxious voice inside my head fears judgment and ridicule from so much exposition, but my better self knows that only by sharing these stories can we overcome stigmas about mental illnesses and learn to better understand it. Mental health problems are a real issue. People feel alone, and because of this people lose their spark, their faith, their happiness. I may not be able to provide a step by step guide to eliminating anxiety, but if I can give anyone any type of hope to persevere through the bad moments then I will consider myself successful.
I am not my Instagram stories or my profile pictures. I am not my GPA or my waist size. I am all the thoughts that fill my head, both my beautiful ambitions and my greatest fears, and for that I do not feel ashamed. And neither should you.