Originally posted to my personal Facebook account, as part of #BellLetsTalk on January 25, 2017:
I’m late to the party, but today feels like a day for sharing.
From the time I can remember, I’ve had the following said to or about me, both by myself and other people: “She’s just high-strung.” “You’re such a perfectionist, you don’t need to get so stressed about this.” “You’re blowing things out of proportion.” “There’s no need to be so agitated.” “You worry too much.”
I’ve suffered from head aches and stomach aches that coincided with worry about, well, everything, since my childhood. I would torture myself with impossible scenarios and ‘what if’s’. I would beat myself up for ‘saying the wrong thing’ in social settings and keep myself awake at nights imagining what people were saying about me or thought about me because of what I’d said or done. I hold (not held, but still hold) myself to extremely high standards that are completely illogical and justify it by convincing myself it’s what others expect from me.
I have anxiety.
In 2013, I hit a point where it was so severe that I had an anxiety attack at work that made me physically ill, all because I had accepted an invitation to a dinner outing that would require me to interact with people I had never met before and I was absolutely terrified that I wouldn’t live up to whatever expectations my friend had set in their minds when she had described me.
I was mortified. Not only that I ended up cancelling on a friend at the last minute because I was afraid of strangers’ opinions, but that I had cried and thrown up at work.
It was the push I needed to seek professional help in managing my anxiety. I’ve been working with a registered psychologist since the spring of 2013. She’s kind, empathetic, and intelligent, and has never once made me feel like there was something wrong with me, as other ‘counselors’ had done in the past. She’s helped me to build a box of tools that I can reach into whenever I start to struggle.
I do struggle. Some days are great, some are terrible, and some are just okay. That’s what my life looks like, because I have anxiety and I’m going to have anxiety for the rest of my life. I’ll get better and better at managing it, even if I backslide sometimes, but it will never be completely gone or ‘cured’. That’s a fact that took me a long time to come to terms with, especially since my anxiety, for the most part, is high-functioning and hidden unless I choose to talk about it or someone witnesses me having what I call ‘a very bad day’.
Recently (since November), I’ve had more not so great and very bad days than I have in a long time, but I keep working. I keep trying. I keep doing my best to use the tools my psychologist has equipped me with, because I choose not to let my anxiety define me or rule my life.
If you’re suffering from mental health issues, I encourage you to talk, even if you only feel comfortable talking to your loved ones right now. Saying anything at all about how you’re feeling is the first step. Open up, talk until you feel comfortable seeking out professional help if that’s what you need. Your mental well-being is just as important as your physical well-being. If you were worried that you had an ear infection, you would go to a doctor, right? Psychologists, psychiatrists, and counselors are there to help with mental ailments like doctors are with physical ones.
So let’s talk. Let’s remove the stigma around mental illness. Let’s build a more complete picture of what mental illness looks like, together.