My Struggle with Anxiety Disorder + Depression
Yesterday was one of the bad days. The days where no matter how hard I try to fight my anxiety, it always seems to win. It's days like that in which the mask that I wear day to day slips, falls, and comes crashing to the floor. I have been pretty open with my anxiety and depression ever since I started blogging back in college but I have barely scratched the surface when it comes to actually sharing my experiences with anxiety.
I don't know why my struggle with anxiety disorder is more difficult to talk about than my depression. Maybe, in some ways, it's because depression is easier to explain. That sounds ridiculous in my head but it's true. My depression can be explained. My anxiety, however, cannot. I am still trying to figure it out for myself so how could I possibly sit down and type out on a laptop how it truly feels to live and battle with anxiety?
I was helping a friend with her essay for a grad school application when I remembered that I had written my own essay not to long ago. I pulled it out and sent it to her but then I paused and actually took the time to read what I had written in 2014, probably hyped up on Vanilla Coke and cheap Mexican takeout. Then it hit me. The fact that so many people are going through what I went through at this very moment. This is not a typical blog post. What you're reading here is raw and it is real.
If I had been alive in the time of an author like Charlotte Perkins Gilman while she was writing “The Yellow Wall-paper” there is a very good chance that my “illness” would have just been considered part of the assumed hysteria that was thought to be a characteristic of all women at that time. In fact, for a long time I assumed that I was just hysterical; panicking over trying out for a choir or speaking in front of my classmates. I made it a habit of hiding everything from my parents, even my mom, who I normally told everything to.
I don't really remember when I had my first panic attack. I think it had something to do with track team tryouts or maybe it was an argument with my parents about school. I just remember lying on the floor suddenly, a cool and damp floor. I remember the walls seemed to be closing in, darkness swelling up from within myself, and a tightening in my chest as if someone was digging a screw into a thickly plastered wall. You know those dreams in which you try to scream out but all you hear is a mere whisper? Yeah, imagine that happening to you, except instead of waking up and realizing you have just had a bad dream, the situation turns out to be real and you wake up crying on the floor of a locker room or the kitchen (depending on which panic attack we’re talking about). It is like you are slowly being cut off from the world around you, suffocating in a sea of your own thoughts and irrational fears.
Somehow, I always managed to pick myself up after a panic attack. Brush myself off and go back to worrying about whatever caused it in the first place. Most times, I would just nap for hours on end in the wake of the aftermath. My parents never caught on. They just assumed I was a hormonal teenage girl who had a bad day at school.
It wasn’t until college that I decided to take action and face my anxiety head on. Just as I had a stigma about disabilities in general, I also had a stigma about seeing a therapist. In my mind, therapy made me weak; seeing a therapist meant that I was unable to handle the “real world” on my own. Then I heard the three words that changed everything: generalized anxiety disorder. Wait, what? It sounds made up.
So what exactly is generalized anxiety? Well, you may worry about a test until you study for it, or until you sit down to take it. I will worry about a test until it makes me physically ill. You may be nervous about not doing well at soccer tryouts. I will avoid the try-outs all together, no matter how badly I want to play. You can’t stop thinking about the tasks you have to complete for the next day? I will not be able to sleep because of it. People with generalized anxiety operate daily on the level of anxiety those without the disorder have when something is worrisome. The worst part about an anxiety disorder is that no one really knows how it happens. In my case, almost all of the women in my family have some level of anxiety. Men in past decades would be jumping for joy of the evidence they could gather from my family, I usually laugh at myself.
So, I started seeing a therapist on a weekly basis. She was a petite, Asian woman with kind eyes and a soft voice. Her office had an oriental flair and a slight vanilla scent. I thought my problems would be solved. Our sessions helped me understand when I may have a panic attack, how to keep my anxiety from getting out of control, basic tools for everyday use. I felt better, felt that medication was out of the question, did not want to rely on anything but my own strength. But I soon realized that no matter how strong of a person you are, sometimes you are unable to rely on your strength alone.
The day I got medicated for my anxiety disorder, I felt defeated all over again. I was in denial, not wanting to believe that I had a problem. But I do. Obviously, I cannot compare my experience to that of someone who was born with a disability, but coming to terms with the fact that I have a disability is something that I struggle with physically and mentally every day.
Some may say that I am just exaggerating my symptoms or trying to get attention. This is one of the main concerns that I run through my head every day. How will people look at me if they find out? Will they treat me like I am more fragile than they are, that I am weaker? It is a constant struggle to find balance in my life between who to disclose information to and who to keep from it.
I refuse to let my disability hinder my life experience though. In high school, I missed out on a lot of experiences because of my anxiety, I try not to let that happen to me anymore. It also has encouraged me to help others in situations similar to mine. I may have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression in college but despite that, I thrived. Despite that, I’m out here living my best life and I’m here to tell you that you can too.
I also did something actionable last night and decided to join Talkspace. Talkspace is "therapy for how we live today" and is basically the best invention ever when it comes to technology. For $39 a week you get to talk to a licensed therapist every day which is incredible. My track record for finding doctors I like in New York hasn't been very good so I didn't want to risk it when it came to therapy. I'll keep you all posted on how I'm liking it so expect a full post all about it later on.
This is basically a pledge to all of you that I'm going to start writing more about my anxiety. Not just for myself, but for anyone else who may feel the same things that I did or that I still struggle with today. I don't know how often I'll write about it or even when the next post will come but if there are specific topics related to anxiety that you want to see, please let me know! Thank you from the bottom of my heart to everyone who took the time to read this post.