Every year, during the first week of October, NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) raises awareness of mental illness and those living with a mental health condition. I realized that this would be the perfect moment to share with you something personal in my life.
The other day, I had a great conversation with a friend about my anxiety. Back in the day, I probably wouldn’t have done that as easily or even admitted I had anxiety. Now that I recognize what I have, I feel very strongly that it’s something we should all talk about. Being vocal about mental illness is extremely important because you can relate to people in ways you didn’t expect and it makes you feel like you’re not alone anymore.
Ever since I was younger, I’ve been anxious. Back then, I didn’t realize it very much because, for the most part, I didn’t have many things to be anxious about. I had a great childhood and I have supportive parents. But every first day of school was a TRIAL. I would get so nervous and anxious about starting a new year of school that I would make myself physically sick. I would get nauseous and throw up and would get no sleep at all the night before. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just talk myself out of it. I mean, it was FINE. It was just school.
Don’t even get me started on talking in front of the class or public speaking. Those were other ordeals of extreme heart racing, nausea, and not being able to catch my breath. I dreaded it. Especially if I knew I had to give an oral presentation. I would think about it for weeks and days and couldn’t get it out of my mind. The older I got, I would try to talk myself out of it. “It’s FINE. You’re FINE,” I would say. I knew a lot of people hated public speaking so I just attributed it to that and forgot all about it until the next time I had to speak.
2016 was a really stressful year for me. It kind of was a culmination of all the stress and anxiety in my life. I had recently broken up with my boyfriend, my aunt & cousins stayed with us for a while, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It was the first time I had had a panic attack and my heart rate would be so fast even when I was just sitting on the couch, watching TV. I would pick at my fingernails, my face and my skin. I would keep telling myself over and over, “You’re FINE.” But nothing would help. Luckily, 2016 also happened to be the year I took an Abnormal Psychology course and I learned more about anxiety. This was extremely beneficial and couldn’t have come at a better time.
The more I learned about it, the more I realized I was exhibiting the symptoms. My dad is a very anxious person and throughout my life, I’ve watched him deal with things in ways that I told myself I would never do. For example, I hated when he would stress out about something because it was overall consuming. It was all he could think about. He wouldn’t sleep. He would get angry easily. I was always annoyed and couldn’t understand why he couldn’t just get over things. Little did I know, I was doing the same thing. I was doing what I told myself I didn’t want to do. I learned through my class that it can be genetic. If someone else in your family has it, it’s likely that you might develop it as well.
After learning about it, I decided to find someone to see. I found a marriage & family therapist that I talked to a few times and that’s when I realized the benefit of talking about what was going on in my life. I had never poured out my entire feelings to anyone. I had only done it in bits and pieces and usually left out the deeper parts. Ultimately, my therapist and I weren’t a great match so I decided to part ways but I learned a lot from that experience and decided to take what I had learned and move on.
Early last year, I was having a hard time eating. Anything I ate made me sick, including home-cooked meals. When I met with my primary care physician for my yearly physical, I explained to him the feelings I was having. He asked me if I ever get anxious and I was a little surprised. How did he know? He explained that you have nerve endings in your stomach that are connected to your brain so when you’re stressed out or anxious, your stomach receives those signals and can act in response to it. We started talking about my feelings and how easily I get annoyed or I snap at others. We also talked about how sick I make myself when I have to do certain things that I stress out over, like speaking in front of a group. He diagnosed me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) and we finally decided on starting a low dose of anxiety medication.
I’ve been taking it for over a year now and I have never felt better. I’m more confident in speaking in front of others and I don’t get sick! Food isn’t making me sick anymore (unless I eat too much junk food, of course). I don’t get annoyed as quickly anymore and I noticed that my relationship with my family members, especially my sister, improved dramatically.
This year, I also tried hypnotherapy. I decided to try it because I was still having a hard time picking at my face or my fingernails and I was so done with it. She recorded our sessions on audio files that I could listen to whenever I was feeling stressed out. This helped out a little bit but what really made a difference was the new position I started in July. I am not as stressed out at work anymore (which I don’t think I really realized the toll my job was taking on my mental state) and I feel like I notice a complete difference. My face has started to heal and I’m back to having clear skin.
I’m much happier these days and couldn’t be more grateful for the support I had from my friends and family throughout my life, dealing with this issue. I also am super grateful for the advancement of medicine and the ability to help me feel better with a simple solution. I still get anxious and I don’t think that will ever change but it’s more manageable. I know when it’s happening and I know what I can do to stop it.
If you have any questions about this or need someone to talk to, please let me know! I think the best thing you can do if you’re having feelings that something is wrong is to talk about it. Once you can relate to someone or open up, you will realize you don’t have to do it alone. Break the stigma and talk about it. It’s the most powerful thing you can do.
Please visit NAMI’s website for more information on mental health or call their helpline if you need to talk to someone:
Monday – Friday, 10 AM to 6 PM ET