Over the next few weeks, follow me as we dive into mental health. I’m going to talk honestly about my experience with Anxiety, as well as share advice that has helped me along the way through my recovery.
Sometimes it’s upsetting to look back on our past. For me, it’s downright painful. But for you to learn about who I am and how I improved my mental health, we’ve got to start at the beginning.
I’ve always been a worrier. From a little girl clutching her mom’s shirt sleeve to hide from the mall Santa, to the awkward teenager getting super nervous to present in front of the class. I’ve always been a double-check that the door is locked, oh shoot did I turn off the oven before I left type of worrier. Typical anxiousness.
There were signs that my worries were a little more severe, though, as I entered high school.
My First Real Panic Attack
I remember sitting in my high school Psychology class as we were learning about lobotomies (you know, that practically-medieval procedure where they stick an ice pick into your frontal lobe and pretty much erase the fundamental thought processes that make us human). Just the thought of it now still freaks me out.
As we were watching video clips of the procedure, my hands began to feel clammy and I began to sweat. I tried to ignore the sensation but it got worse. Pretty soon I was getting tunnel vision, my sight going black. I was feeling extremely dizzy and I could hardly breathe. I scrambled out of the classroom and into the bathroom where I splashed water on my face.
I legitimately believed I was going to faint.
I imagined other students dragging my limp body off of the bathroom floor. I didn’t know even understand what was happening- was I fainting from dehydration? Was there just not enough air circulation in that room? I never knew your body could have such a severe reaction to fear.
Although experiences like this were hints that something was wrong, I continued to bottle in my emotions. It was just stress, I’d tell myself.
It wasn’t until college that I started coming to terms with what was going on.
When I Lost My Mind
Here’s a few of the most notable moments of the downfall of my mental health during my time in college:
- The time my boyfriend and I were going to go to his friend’s party (where I was going to be the designated driver). On our way there, I had to pull over into a 7-11 as I couldn’t breathe and couldn’t stop crying because I was afraid of being the only sober person at the party.
- The time I was confident there was a mouse in my room (despite never actually seeing the mouse). Couldn’t sleep, called my mom crying. Ended up going to Walmart at 11 PM to get a couple mouse traps. Never caught anything. (my boyfriend at the time compared my experience to Walter White and the fly from one episode of Breaking Bad).
- My 20th birthday that I spent crying in my bedroom while my friends (and a bunch of strangers) were partying in our apartment. I didn’t know why I felt so uncomfortable and so alone and I didn’t know how to tell my friends what was going on.
- Night terrors several times each week. Having the same dream of a building collapsing on top of me. Always waking up screaming and in a pool of sweat.
- Racing thoughts. Feeling like my mind was running 100 mph or like a computer with 50 tabs open. Constantly feeling overwhelmed by nothing.
Those were just a few of the signs that my mental health was at an all time low. Irrational and intrusive thoughts, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, and a couple more public panic attacks- been there, done that.
I’ll admit, I had some pretty bad habits that were likely contributing to my emotional decline
- Plenty of fast food every week (hey, it’s convenient and comforting)
- Two cups of coffee every day (considering the nightmares I was having, it’s clear I wasn’t getting the restful sleep I needed)
- Spending time with the wrong people (took me years of reluctantly coming along to crazy nights out to realize that it’s okay if the party scene isn’t really for me)
But the most harmful contributor was my own self-critic. That little voice in the back of my head that told me I was worthless, the voice that convinced me that my friends didn’t actually like me, the voice that kept me from actually seeking help for my issues. That voice was what often made these experiences unbearable.
From the outside, I probably came across as mostly okay. I had good days every now and then where I felt in control. Plus, there were enough smiling photos on Instagram to tell people “hey look I’m fine! Everything is good guys!”
But as the saying goes “everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”
Take this photo for example. Posted on February 25, 2016. Granted, I probably was having a better day when I decided to post this selfie. But based on how happy I am in the picture, you wouldn’t know that I had one of the darkest moments of my life just a couple weeks prior.
This was rock-bottom. I was sick of my irrational thoughts and feeling like I was out of control. My Anxiety was affecting my relationships with others (stay tuned for details about that later on in the series) and I was losing my sense of who I was.
This was the beginning of my mental wellness journey.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share with you the advice and tips that transformed my life and improved my mental health. I’ll talk about my current state and what changes I continue to implement in my life today. All in the hope of encouraging open dialogue on the topic of mental health, ending the stigma, and allowing others to share their experiences openly as well.