Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Serious Topic: Anxiety

I am going to preface this post by mentioning just how irritating it is when someone degrades or insults someone with a mental illness. I recently heard someone say, quite loudly, that she thinks some girl is "crazy, she's, like, BIPOLAR!" She yelled this in an area with a lot of people where, chances are, there was at least one person who is actually diagnosed as bipolar. The stigma against mental illnesses is real and these diseases are not taken seriously enough. Just because you cannot see someone's brain does not mean that it cannot be ill or imbalanced.  With that said, I hope that I can shed a little light and I hope even more that people educate themselves on mental illnesses so that we can all have a better understanding of one another.

This post is not going to go into extreme depth of every mental illness EVER because I honestly do not have the knowledge for that. I have done research on various illnesses because I want to work in the mental health field, but I am by no means an expert on any of it. I have however suffered from a couple of different things and can share my experience with them. I think the main reason I want to share this is because I don't want anyone to feel alone or isolated with their problems. Once I began opening up about what was going on with me, I found that a lot of other people could relate and had similar issues. I didn't feel the need to hide it anymore. It is a liberating thing to be like, hey I have some issues and they affect me a lot but it's okay because I'm just a human! 

As you can tell from the title of this post, it's pretty obvious where I'm going with this. 

Anxiety.

There are certain levels that are normal, of course, but I have suffered with anxiety since my early childhood. I had my first panic attack before my age reached double digits. I do not know the exact reason why I have it, but I have learned so much over the years about how to cope with it. This is what I really want to share because maybe, just maybe, it will help someone out there learn to cope with their own anxiety.

I have always felt very uncomfortable in groups of people. In high school, I was quiet and insecure and didn't feel like I belonged there. I have always been kind of a loner anyway, so being around a lot of people was out of place for me. Hello, I'm an Introvert - capital "I". But this was beyond the usual dislike of crowds. I distinctly remember feeling physically ill before attending football games. The idea of walking up the bleachers in front of everyone gave me knots in my stomach. This might sound silly, but the anxiety consumed my mind. I did not have the highest self-esteem, I had to deal with mean girls like so many other girls do, and I was just kind of ~different~. 

The perfect hand gesture to describe someone being ~different~. Thank you, Wes Anderson.


My anxiety grew even worse when I went away to college. I was also struggling with depression, so I would sleep a lot, not eat, randomly start crying, etc. I stayed in school, but my mental health wasn't really any better. I rarely went out to social events. I was usually by myself because I was too afraid of people. My third year of college is when my anxiety reached it's all time high. I was having panic attacks multiple times a week and to sum it up, I was miserable. By the way, a panic attack is a physical reaction to anxiety. For instance, my body begins involuntarily shaking, my heart rate increases, I feel really hot, my stomach hurts, etc. Things didn't really turn around for me until I reached my early 20's. My last year of college really helped me get a grasp on how to take care of myself. I still struggle with anxiety, particularly social, but I have friends who understand when I need to leave a party early. I have not had a panic attack in over a year. But I know that I will continue to struggle with this my entire life, particularly when I go through a big life change (that's definitely my trigger). 

I guess what I'm getting at is anxiety affects SO MANY people. Literally millions. It's still a big mystery as to why we suffer from it, but I have my theories. Someone actually had the guts to tell me I had "no reason" to be anxious because I'm "a young, pretty girl". My anxiety is not a switch nor is it something that I chose. It's my brain, my nerves, my perceptions, my sensitivities. Basically, that guy was an idiot. 

On to coping mechanisms! These are what have worked for me personally, so I cannot guarantee they will work for you. I would not recommend getting in your car at midnight and driving around until you finally calm down. Although I did do this regularly, it is not particularly safe nor environmentally friendly. My first piece of advice is to talk about it with someone you trust. Talking about your anxiety will help put everything into perspective. The things you are dwelling over will begin to sound a lot smaller when you say them out loud. Maybe even see a counselor because they can help you understand why you react to things the way you do. It is enlightening. You're not crazy, you're just a human. :) I know that when I begin to feel panicked, I start looking around at all of the solid objects in front of me. Looking at my current surroundings reminds me that I am in this moment and that whatever I am worried about is not in this moment. Focusing on the present moment, taking deep breaths, and reassuring myself (out loud) that I am going to be okay is my go-to method for not having a full fledged panic attack. And if all else fails, I'll hop into my car and go on a drive. Works like a charm. 

I feel like I could write about this topic for the rest of my life. I have found some great YouTube videos of people describing their own experiences with anxiety. Once I began opening up about mine, I found that quite a few of my friends also suffer with it. My goal now is to help people with similar issues and I am beginning that goal by posting this. Hopefully it helps someone, even if it's just a little bit. Remember, you are simply a human existing on a massive rock that is floating in an infinite space. The things you are anxious about do not need to weigh you down any longer. It takes a lot of work and a conscious effort, but eventually you will no longer dwell on these thoughts. They are too heavy for you to carry, so learn to let yourself let them go. I know anxiety is a consuming, gut wrenching thing. I know it feels like it will never end. But trust me when I say it does eventually fade away. You just have to be willing to face it and accept it for what it is. It is a part of you, but it does not have to inhibit you. I cannot get the years back that I spent consumed in my anxiety, but I can move forward from it and teach other people how to cope. It is kind of scary to post something where other eyes will see it, but I think it's important to talk about this. There is nothing shameful about having anxiety or any other mental illness. I'll say it one more time, we are all just humans doin' human things and dealin' with human stuff. It's not easy for any of us, so I think it is important that we learn and teach as much as we possibly can so that we can all understand each other and make life a little easier for everyone. That is all.

Until next time,

Amelia

1 comment: