This is a post I have wanted to write for quite some time now. With today being #BellLetsTalk day, it only seemed fitting for that day to be today.
Roughly three years ago I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and placed on medication to assist with anxiety and panic attacks. Although I was unaware of the fact that it was anxiety I had been suffering from – it was something I had been dealing with my whole life.
Most people who know me consider me to be an outgoing and social person. Few people know the struggle I face each and every time I attend a social event. Crowds and large groups of people can be overwhelming for me. I feel comfortable, happy and safe in my own space. Leaving that safe space causes it to be hard for me to breathe. Sometimes people will be talking to me and I can’t even hear what they are saying because I am so overwhelmed by everything and everyone around me. My heart beats fast, my palms sweat and my mouth goes completely dry. It is extremely rare for me to spend the night at a friend’s house because the idea of not being in my own apartment with my own bed and blankets is overwhelming for me.
As a teenager, my issues with social anxiety made it hard for others to be around me. I always felt like no one understood how I was feeling – because they didn’t. I always thought I was being overdramatic – because that is what everyone told me. It wasn’t their fault that they didn’t know how I was feeling or that they thought I was being over dramatic. I didn’t know what was making me feel that way, so there was no way for them to know. To them, I was anxious, over sensitive and got upset about the of smallest things. Within social groups, friends often tease each other with the understanding that it is all in fun and no harm is meant to be done. This was something that my anxiety could not handle. While my friends were just trying to include me and have fun, my anxiety caused my feelings to be hurt and for me to be overwhelmed by them. If my friends didn’t answer my phone calls or invite me somewhere right away – I immediately assumed they hated me and didn’t want me around. Eventually, this constant state of anxiety, paranoia, and sensitivity led to no one wanting me around.
In addition to social anxiety, I had an obsession with how I looked – clothes, hair, and make-up. People assumed I was being shallow and materialistic – but this was not the reason behind my obsession. My appearance was the only thing I felt I could control in times of anxiety. When I couldn’t control how overwhelmed I was feeling about any given situation – the one thing I could control was my hair, make-up, and clothing. It may sound silly, but I needed that sense of control.
At the time in my life when I was diagnosed with anxiety, it had reached an all-time high. I was having panic attacks almost daily. I couldn’t focus on school without having a panic attack. I couldn’t attend social events without having a panic attack. I couldn’t even go to the grocery store without becoming completely overwhelmed and taking a panic attack. I knew that this was no longer something I could ignore and hope I would get over. I knew it was time to figure out what was going on with me and how to fix it.
I went to my doctor and talked with a counselor about how I was feeling. I assumed that they were going to tell me it was normal. I was a 23-year-old university student – of course, I was stressed and taking panic attacks. I assumed they would tell me I just need to take a breath and calm down – this what I always heard from friends and family. However, this is not what they told me. How I was feeling was not completely dedicated to the fact that I was a university student. I had an anxiety disorder that I needed to treat.
When I was first prescribed medication – I was hesitant. I was hesitant because of the stigma that is attached to taking medication for mental illness. People say that we shouldn’t depend on medicine and that we should learn to cope without it. I agree that we shouldn’t completely rely on medication and that we should find additional methods of treatment – but what my medication has done for me is allowed me to manage my anxiety enough to be able to take those extra steps on my own.
Three years later and I can honestly say that I feel I have my anxiety under control as much as it is possible for me to have my anxiety under control. Now that I know and understand what is going on, I have been able to find ways to cope. When you are upset, stressed and/or having a panic attack, it is almost impossible to calm down and work through that moment when you have no idea what is happening or why.
Now that I know anxiety is what I am dealing with, I have been able to communicate my thoughts and feelings with my friends and family who have been understanding and supportive beyond expectation. Conversations and support from my friends and family are what have gotten me through the toughest times of my life and continue to assist me every day. If I am having a rough day and my anxiety is starting to take over, it relieves an enormous amount of stress and anxiety knowing I am not alone.
I share my story today in hopes of helping someone else with their struggles and continue the conversation to end the stigma associated with mental illness.