I’ve been a worrier my entire life. My mom tells me I was even an anxious baby. It’s not always easy to spot. When people first meet me and I tell them I’m an anxious person, they’re often surprised. They tell me how “calm and collected” I seem. In reality, I’m the complete opposite. My brain is a mess.
For anyone who doesn’t really understand anxiety, let me break it down for you. I worry about everything. Legitimately everything. If I have something to do the next day that is out of the ordinary, no matter how mundane it may be, I worry that something will go wrong. What, exactly? No idea. But something bad will surely happen and everything will fall apart and my life will be over. That’s my thought process. Ridiculous right? I think so too. But in the moment, it’s something I can’t control. On top of this, my brain is flying at a million miles an hour. When I’m awake, as well as when I’m asleep. It reminds me about everything in my life – past, present, and future.
It’s as exhausting as it sounds. Sometimes I have to physically unclench my jaw and remind myself to breathe. Sometimes I have panic attacks in the middle of night for absolutely no reason. Sometimes I feel like my brain is going to explode out through my ears.
“During my final semester of college, I would sometimes go two or three nights with no sleep.”
Things really started to get bad in college. It was the first time I actually cared about school and wanted to do well. I was constantly thinking about my classes and how I could do better. I also always wanted to be busy. I enrolled in extracurriculars and worked any days I had off. I thrived off of stress. During my final semester of college, I would sometimes go two or three nights with no sleep.
Not by choice, but because my brain would simply not shut up. I felt like my mind was laughing at me, as I lay in bed, exhausted, unable to get a minute of shut-eye. I wondered what the hell was wrong with me, but took comfort in knowing that in just a few months I would be graduating. In just a few months, I would be able to get a job, make money, settle in the real world, and ditch the stress…
Or not. Fast forward a little over a year, to a night in June 2015. I’m sitting on the kitchen floor at 4 a.m., sobbing uncontrollably.
“It takes me about 30 minutes to calm down enough to splash some water on my face and crawl back into bed. The next day, I awake with the telltale sign of a recent panic attack…”
I’m not sure why I’m so upset, but I can’t seem to relax. I’m having trouble breathing and my whole body is shaking. It takes me about 30 minutes to calm down enough to splash some water on my face and crawl back into bed. The next day, I awake with the telltale sign of a recent panic attack – little red dots around my eyes.
These, I recently learned, are broken blood vessels. They last a few days and they aren’t pretty. So no, I hadn’t gotten better since graduating. I got worse. The real world quickly proved itself to be more stressful than I had anticipated. I was dealing with weird work hours, being broke, and a string of terrible relationships. This whole adult life thing was really kicking my ass.
That night in June was the beginning of what might be the worst few months of my life. Not only was I plagued with anxiety, but I was also hit hard with an unexpected wave of depression.
I spent most of the summer lying in bed for days on end, forcing myself to sleep until I felt nauseous. I had no appetite. I didn’t even want to drink water. All I wanted to do was hide under my covers and have absolutely nothing to do with the world. Simply put, I didn’t want to exist. I often woke up in complete panic mode, wondering, “is this all there is to life?” – probably the most terrifying thought I’ve ever had. I became irritable and questioned why anyone even liked me. I sent out-of-the blue accusatory texts to a few people, demanding to know why they were ignoring me, which was never the case.
It wasn’t long before I started noticing how all of this was taking a toll on my physical health. I started losing weight, something I can’t exactly afford. If anything, I should be gaining weight. I was also dealing with acne for the first time in 10 years. Great.
During a routine check-up, my doctor asked why I had lost weight. I shrugged and said I didn’t know. She didn’t buy it. She already knew a bit about the anxiety I experienced in college. She could also tell something was up from my insanely high blood pressure. I left that day with a referral to a psychiatrist at CAM-H.
“I’ve been putting an effort into eating better, getting more exercise, and taking a few minutes a day to clear my mind.”
I know this is so much easier said than done, but finally talking to someone about what was going on in my head is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself. I’ve spent the past few months focusing on getting healthy, both mentally and physically. I’ve been putting an effort into eating better, getting more exercise, and taking a few minutes a day to clear my mind. Meditating is a skill I have yet to perfect, but it really does wonders. I’m also trying to be a bit kinder to myself by reminding myself of the things I’ve accomplished, and all the love my friends and family have for me. On top of all this, I’m doing CBT – a type of therapy that helps you become more aware and in control of your thoughts.
A friend of mine recently said to me, “I don’t get it. You’re young, living in a great city, with an awesome job. Why are you so unhappy?”
Honestly, I don’t know. And neither does the one in five Canadians suffering from mental illness. That’s a lot of people. It’s amazing how many people open up to me when I tell them about my own struggles. People I’ve known for years, who I would never expect it from, say, “I’ve been through the same thing.”
This is an incredible time for people suffering from mental illness. Efforts are being made around the world to better understand how and why our minds can turn on us. It’s finally being talked about. It’s so important right now to keep this dialogue open. Join in, if you haven’t already.
I am getting better, but I don’t think I will ever be fully “cured” from anxiety and depression. It’s just who I am. It’s something I need to accept and learn how to deal with. I still have days where I don’t want to get out of bed. I still have panic attacks. But it’s knowing things will get better that helps me pull through. It’s remembering all the little things that make me happy. It’s accepting the fact that there will be bad days, but also remembering there will be good ones too. Great ones, even.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.