What do we think of when we hear these words? If you had asked me a year ago at this time, I would probably tell you that anxiety and panic attacks are what a stressed out college student gets when they’ve tried too hard to be perfect at everything. Depression is a fog of sadness that you treat with the countless pills you see on TV. I’d have told you that people who have too many problems and don’t know how to handle them have mental health problems; they’re the ones who need to be medicated and go through therapy.
This is the stigma we believe in this country. So many people live with a muddled idea of what it means to suffer from a mental disorder, myself included at one point. In actuality, one in four adults suffers from anxiety or depression in a given year, and often times they play off of each other, and both happen at once. They are also often coupled with addiction struggles.
You’re probably wonder what my point of posting about this is, or maybe you’ve already guessed. I
am was one of those one in four, and those three disorders? I had all three.
And I survived. I grew, I learned and I won.
I can still remember the feelings I had when I was anxious, depressed, having panic attacks and emotionally addicted to eating. It’s an absolutely disgusting full-body cloud of murky, sad, confused black. It’s shocking to recall that feeling and think that I lived with it and accepted it for about four months (I don’t know how people spend years attempting to self-treat).
I was highly stressed about this time last year. Coming into a music program late decision is one of the hardest things you could do (in my opinion). There was insane piles upon me to be more than my best, something I could only help so much having had significantly less training than those who had taken private lessons since they were 9… I took one year. There were pressures coming from my relationship, where I would be living my Junior year (this just completed year) and what my friendships here at school would become, and of course, that everlasting pressure I created within myself to worsen those situations. I elected to not express myself or how I was feeling through tears or anything else, because what would tears do? Nothing. I would look weak. I would look pathetic, and I would look like I wasn’t strong enough.
In June, I developed a crippling physical symptom that completed ruined the summer that was supposed to be the best of my life working at my childhood summer camp, along with deteriorating my physical health itself. I started living life in a fog – I was constantly dizzy and spinning and eternally wanted to lie down and take a nap. I started eating to supplement this weird feeling. I would eat and eat and psychosomatically convince myself that it was providing me the energy I was lacking – so I would eat more. I was working out every day, and then working at a summer camp, constantly moving, and yet…
I ate myself up a nice 18 pounds last summer (on top of the unfortunate 10 I had acquired from the lovely and dreaded Freshman 15). Awesome, right? I assure you that helped my anxiety along too; it fed it (no pun intended).
And somehow, my life carried on. I kept going through the motions, tried to make everyone happy, tried to express myself and physically wouldn’t let myself (which led to panic attacks). I took a blood test and tried a new mouth-guard for my TMJ (jaw clenching while sleeping – which also got HORRIBLE over the summer) hoping it would make my dizziness go away… surprisingly (sarcasm), it was to no avail. Every time nothing helped, I was devastated. I wanted the physical torture to be over.
I even started a new organization on my campus throughout this. All by myself, bold, brave Mandi who’s afraid of nothing (yeah, right). This still astounds me that I was able to do all of that despite what I was going through. So, life didn’t end – I dealt. As so many people “deal”.
One day, I had a panic attack at school over the way I looked, the way I felt physically. I felt bloated, humongous. I laid in bed and sobbed my eyes out and shook and felt like I was spiraling into a pit. So, I got myself up, brushed off my eyes and looked through our counseling center’s website. They had some sample tests, and when they came back with high results for anxiety, depression and social anxiety, I wasn’t going to stand for abusing myself anymore. This was the moment I realized I was truly suffering and had a problem. I called our counseling center.
And then my life changed.
The First Time
The consultation was one of the most horrible and most embarrassing moments of my life (or so my anxious self thought). I met with a woman who was to assess my needs and place me with an appropriate counselor. She asked me questions about my life, growing up, life at school, academics… and I just cried the entire time. Nothing I talked about was “wrong” or “difficult,” but I shook and wept through the appointment. I felt so stupid, but looking back, I believe my body was just so happy to have a moment to release everything it had been holding in for four. months. It knew this was the beginning of something good and it was time to start letting it go.
I read once that admitting to having anxiety and depression is not a sign of weakness, but a sign that you’ve tried to be strong for too long. I couldn’t believe this with more of my heart, and in September 2012, I stopped trying to be strong. I started to heal.
What I’ve Learned
I was assigned to a counselor named Heather. She actually grew up in Clyde, NY, and is a PhD candidate at UB, doing some applied work at our counseling center. She is young, relatable and so easy to talk to. Her abilities were such a gift to me.
Now, what many people also don’t know about therapy is that it’s skill-based. You don’t just cry your eyes out and walk away. You cry your eyes out, and then learn why you’re crying your eyes out. You learn how to handle your anxiety, you learn how to stop telling yourself you’re not worth anything, and you learn about yourself. How to be a better you.
So, I thought I would share what I’ve learned in hopes that someone else can benefit from it, and maybe even, take themselves a step further to get help for themselves and learn their own skills:
Anxiety is fear based. So, what are you afraid of? Anxiety is completely reversible. It may be hard to process that, but you are not doomed to be anxious your entire life. You have to figure out why going to that party makes you anxious, and then nip it in the bud. Anxiety is irrational and likes to play on your “what ifs”. It likes to say, “you’re afraid so-and-so will be there? Oh WELL THEY WILL BE SO IF YOU GO YOU’LL HAVE A PANIC ATTACK,” or “you don’t like what you’re wearing to the party and hate yourself? Well here, have a panic attack to deal with that.” No. You’re better than that, and you don’t deserve to live with that. Which leads into the second thing I learned:
Challenge your thoughts. Fight back against the negative thoughts. Challenging your thoughts is all about thinking rationally. It’s about realizing that getting a C on a test isn’t the end of your life. It’s telling yourself that until you believe it. Challenging yourself is the absolute hardest thing to do; you have to make yourself. It sucks, but something changes when you do it enough. It becomes second nature. You instantly say – hey self, that’s not really rational, don’t do that to yourself!
A tip for panic attacks: breathing! When I still had frequent panic attacks (MY LAST ONE WAS IN DECEMBER!!), I used breathing to help stop them before they started. The first thing that happens with a panic attack is a quickened heartbeat, so if you breath in to a count of 3, hold it for 3, and let it out for 3, you slow that heartbeat and slow your body from freaking out. This is allows you to collect yourself and:
Distract yourself. When you feel like you’re going to have a panic attack, do something that completely takes your mind off of it. My strategy was always going to the gym. I found exercise to be a great outlet to keeping myself mentally in check. If I’m having an off day, it’s probably because I haven’t exercised in a couple days. Really anything physical or social works – go for a walk, go to the movies, go out to eat, talk on the phone… whatever works, find something that works for you and distract!!
I give myself physical cues to explain to myself what’s happening mentally. This is called a mind-body connection. They communicate with each other. This is where my dizziness came from. I also used to have days where I would have a crippling fear of being around people or going to class and I would feel physically ill (one particular day I still can remember – I refer to it as “the bad Thursday”), and I always went and moped in my room. Heather and I realized this was my overworked, insanely busy mind telling me that I NEEDED A BREAK! So, my whole being would just decide to shut down on me. I’ve also realized that I get nauseous when I’m overtired.
I wasn’t taking care of my mental health. As busy college students, we don’t take time for ourselves (or at least I didn’t). I was overworking and over-stressing myself never taking time to take a break or do what I enjoyed and I was never present in it if I was (meaning happy I was doing it and not doing it while feeling stressed and feeling like I was procrastinating and wasting time). I remedied this at first in a small way by watching TV while I ate dinner. Just that 30 minutes of solace doing something I enjoyed made everything seem so much more manageable and that self-love time has grown since!
My emotions… they’re not my nemesis. My emotions were my nemesis. I physically would not speak to anyone about them, not even my boyfriend. I could not communicate to him how I was feeling about any situation for fear of hurting him and destroying our relationship. So instead I just suffered in silence and destroyed my emotional well-being… sounds fine, right? WRONG. This was the main reason I went to counseling. I wanted to repair the damage I was doing by not being able to speak up for myself (and I did (:). I learned that we shouldn’t categorize our emotions as “bad” or “good” – they all exist and they’re all human. We do this thing called living, and it’s all just a part of that. We have to accept them for what they are and tap into them to move on.
People are just people. Everyone’s dealing with their own thing. You CANNOT bend over backwards to make another person happy and keep your relationship with them solid. You are not responsible for any other being’s happiness. Only they can want to be happy, and they have their own problems and emotions and baggage that they’re dealing with. You have to be you, and sympathize.
What I’ve Gained
This is more of a “me personally” story time. My entire world has reshaped over these two semesters. I’m so grateful for what I’ve gained and know that I am so blessed to have been able and dedicated to changing my life as much as I have.
My Relationship with my Dad. Through High School, I believed I hated my father. I believed that we were too different to ever get along as well as we had as when I was a child (some of my fondest childhood memories are of doing things with my father, like car rides where we’d talk and ice skating). I had given up and didn’t care and was one of those really annoying bitter teenagers who hates their parents and wants to get out of the house ASAP. Then, through this change in how I regarded emotions, I began to see my dad in a new light. I started listening to what he was saying (not just hearing it), and giving him a real response instead of just writing him off because he “didn’t get me”. I was emotional when I felt it in our conversations, and the world didn’t implode. I wasn’t a weakling (!!). My dad calls me frequently now; he’s learned that this newer me welcomes it. He supports me and he loves me and he absolutely goes out of his way to make sure I’m happy and make sure he’s doing all that he can to help me be successful, and this moves me to tears. I am so blessed to have welcomed this unwavering support back into my life, and I know this is something I will never let go again. I love you, daddy.
Closure. We always believe that when a long relationship ends, closure comes in the form of a long, deep conversation where both parties end on this fabulous note of feeling okay with how everything ended and they both move on amicably. My senior year my best friendship of eleven years unfortunately deteriorated. We grew apart, and hurt each other’s feelings entirely too many times. I’ve always regretted how I handled this. I had always been my best friend’s rock, and was unable to provide that anymore. I had someone new to turn to for support during our bad time, but I felt as though I had left her in the dust when she was going through some really tough times with school things and the rest of our friend group. I felt like a bully. But at the same time I was also horribly upset with the way I’d been treated, too. But that felt selfish. I felt disgustingly guilty… I felt a lot of things actually, as you can see.
I spent nearly a year being obsessively bitter, and then a LONG time being just plain sad, seeking closure (a long being until this April, just a few weeks ago). Heather helped me realize this closure was within myself. I have felt the biggest weight lifted from my shoulders, after nearly two years of carrying it around with me. I am not guilty; I was a part of an unfortunate situation. I was a teenager, whose brain was still developing, and I did my best to handle the cards I was dealt. I truly feel like this is not a pain I need to carry any longer; it’s not closure I needed from the other side, I needed to give it to myself and it’s amazing to finally let that go and stop letting the fear of it happening again afflict all of my other relationships. It’s life. We live and learn, and sometimes we make mistakes when immersed in a situation and trying to swim out. It happens, and it’s okay to let go of it.
Bye Bye Stupid boring me! When I get depressed and anxious, I got SUPER boring and super self-loathing. I lost the fun, silly, goofiness that I identified as in high school. I lost the fun and more importantly, I stopped laughing. For ages. I’ve finally gotten my laugh back (it started reemerging in January), and the goofiness is coming back. For a long time, I hated myself. I hated who I had become. I thought college had hardened me into this serious drone of a human being and I hated it. I didn’t know where to go with it though, because I had accepted this as my new reality (which by the way – NEVER do this. Especially if it’s with the larger scope, the anxiety/panic attacks/depression. It is not who you are now. It’s who you’re going to learn to not be). With the lifting of my anxiety and its murky haze, my old self started to show her true colors again. My relationship started to allow that fun back again, too, so old me has been allowed to flourish (: Stupid boring me also hated to cry at movies or anything, really. News stories, happy moments, sad moments, proud moments, body pain moments, stressed moments… nothing. That was not allowed. I lost the empathy for the world that I had always been so proud of, and it sucked. With a new outlook on myself, I’m able to start allowing my empathy to shine through and feel for everyone even more. I also gained the SUPER POWERFUL skill of how to communicate effectively and emotionally. It’s not actually that scary! Shock! It’s changed every relationship I have on this planet for the absolute better, and I believe it’s the most amazing benefit I’ve gained.
Health and fitness… Remember that 28 pounds I gained freshman year + that summer… GUESS WHO’S ALREADY LOST TWENTY POUNDS OF IT?? Yep! 8 more and I’m back where I started (and then I decided that I’m going to drop 10 more, ain’t no thang)! I started counting calories in the fall to teach my body how to control itself. How to eat proper portion sizes, how to not overeat (often called binge eating) from stress or boredom, which I did all summer. I had to learn that eating was not going to make me feel better about myself, and it wasn’t going to make me less dizzy or tired. I needed to eat when hungry, not when stressed or exhausted. That was fall semester, and that took off 8 pounds, along with very sporadic gym attendance. This semester I dropped 12 of the 20 pounds with decreasing the calories I was eating and exercising 3 days a week at first, and now it’s up to 4, and it will be 5 over the summer. I’m actually grateful that I’ve learned how to fuel my body and keep it healthy this early in life, and I’m glad that I’ve come so far in my weight loss this year, along with my mental health repairs!
Finally… my faith. Today was my last session with my counselor, Heather. It was all about my successes and I spent the hour rambling and crying about how amazed I am about my improvements and how my life has literally been changed. The thing I ended with was how much faith in myself I have going forward, which even in the middle of this semester, I was still shaky about. I was convinced I would always be in counseling, that I would never be able to take care of myself by myself.
I’ve realized that I am stronger than that.
I have the tools, and I can do this now on my own. I was able to live through four months of hell and still accomplish life and starting Campus Girl Scouts and work and school and blah blah blah. I did that without the tools, the self-awareness I have now.
I can do anything. I believe in myself, and that’s all that matters.
If you struggle with anxiety, panic attacks or depression, you can have the tools, and you deserve to have the tools. Stop telling yourself you don’t.
I basically see Aaron Tveit’s face on my dashboard and hit the reblog button…
crying is manly as shit
crying was originally seen as a masculine thing. if you were a roman centurion or something and you didn’t cry when one of your fellow soldiers died, you were seen as an insensitive pussy.
trappedinsanity replied to your post: do you think ozai and ursa felt genuine affection…saw in an interview from bryke once that they had an arranged marriage.
Really? I had never heard that before. If anyone’s got a link I’d be interested to read.