Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Anxiety and All: My Story

I’ve always been open with my thoughts and feelings here on Lizzy’s Luggage.  My number one value on here is to be honest.  There are some topics, however, that I haven’t been completely upfront about sharing yet.

I’ve mentioned previously, but never really explained, my struggles with anxiety and the depressive thoughts that can stem from it.   What’s changed to make me share my story now?  I’ll explain at the end, but let’s just say it has to do with Netflix and binge-watching ten seasons of a show.

Growing up in a small town, I always used ‘outgoing’ and ‘extroverted’ as words to explain my personality.  I graduated with 90 other people, and I felt like I knew everything about everyone.  I was thrilled, though, to move to a bigger town and school where I had a ‘clean slate’. After arriving at my new life, though, I was surprised when I lost a feeling of ‘comfort’ that came with living in my little small town.

Forgotten were the words ‘outgoing’ and ‘extroverted’, and in came words like ‘introverted’, ‘homebody’, and ‘nervous’.  While everyone else was growing in their new college environment, I was learning how utterly scared I was… of everything.

Step forward: Counseling.  It got to the point where I wasn’t sleeping enough at night, and I had experienced my first panic attack after a golf meet.  I met with a man that I like to call Counselor Craig.  He taught me that this anxiety I’ve been holding stems mainly from my need to please everyone.  After my five free sessions of “I am #1” talks, I was free to live my new life of college living.  The biggest takeaway?  Writing helped me stay calm.

Fast forward to the months after my study abroad trip.  The laid-back culture in England seemed like paradise, but coming back to this fast-paced US society was a wake-up call.  Even though having the knowledge of my high stress tendencies made it a little easier to handle, the stress of reverse culture shock brought my anxiety out full blast.

During exceptionally stressful weeks, I’d forget to eat one or two meals during the day.  It’s not really that I didn’t want to eat, it’s that I felt like I had more important things to do.  Instead of sitting down and eating a proper meal, I’d grab a quick snack; sometimes going to sleep with only eating a handful of almonds and an apple for the entire day.  I lost about 10 pounds in two weeks, a lot for an already small person like myself.

I started to have more panic attacks.  I’d wake up with what felt like a weight on my chest that seemed to spiral me down a hole until I was finally on the floor of my bedroom trying to slow down my breathing and crying.

I started to get in these ‘slumps’ where I couldn’t get myself to do anything or really feel anything.  I started feeling useless and angry.  I started feeling like I was walking around in a body that wasn’t even mine…

And it scared the living crap out of me.  The thoughts and feelings going through my mind weren’t equal to the happy, 21-year-old I tried to be around other people.

This led me into Student Health Services, who then sent me back to Personal Counseling.  Bring in a new counselor and I was back on the couch, telling most of my friends that I had ‘meetings for the newspaper’.

Three weeks in, and my ‘little bit of stress’ was better defined as a disorder that needed a plan of attack.  I became educated on the difference between being ‘stressed’ and being ‘anxious’.  I became conscious of the things that could trigger my anxiety and how to avoid panic attacks.  I became prepared with a plan to follow when my anxiety got too high.

After an entire semester of sessions, I can say I have the 'tools' to live with my anxiety and all that comes with it.  There are still those days, though, when I’ll wake up with what feels like an elephant on my chest.  These are the days where I don’t want to get out of bed, talk to people, or face any kind of responsibilities.  These are the days where I go through all of the motions of the day waiting for the impending panic attack that is sure to come when one of my triggers jumps out from around the corner.  These are the days that I have to try a little bit more.

“It’s all up in your head.”  I know it’s all up in my head.  What you’re asking me to do is stop thinking, which will then mean I would need to stop breathing.

“Just do your calming breaths.”  Meditation breaths work for some people, but the fact that I’m in public and stuck in a crowd makes me feel like I’m sucking air through a straw.

“At least you don’t have a severe case of it.”  Undermining how I feel is only going to make me feel worse.

I’ve heard it all.  Frankly, you need to shut up.

Yes, an anxiety disorder isn’t the worst thing someone can have, but it’s real and needs to be talked about.  Same with depression, self-harm, addiction, and suicide.  It’s all real and it all hurts.

Remember how I said Netflix had a hand in this post?  In only one month, I managed to watch all ten seasons of Supernatural that starred my inspiration for finally writing this down:

Jared Padalecki.

I know what you're thinking, "Oh good God, another blogger trying to get attention from a celebrity."  Hence the reason I waited till the end to say something.

I know what you're thinking, but I need to give background to why I'm telling my story.  Earlier this year, the former Gilmore Girl’s star shared his struggle with depression.  From there he’s been working to raise awareness through the motto “Always Keep Fighting”.  He’s created and sold three different shirt designs to raise money and awareness for the cause.

I liked Padalecki as an actor, but I gained a whole new appreciation for him after hearing how he was using his status to make a change.  This is the kind of person I want to work for.  If someone under continuous scrutiny can share his story and help thousands, I can do my part and maybe affect one.

I couldn’t possibly fit everything that needs to be said in one simple post, but I’ll end it this way:

There’s a stigma out there that mental illnesses like anxiety and depression are only that: mental.  Well guess what; they can have excruciating physical symptoms and consequences too.

I’ve picked my fight.  I don’t quite know my plan of action or what I’m going to do, but I have a direction and that’s to change a negative way of thinking and I’m hoping to start with you.

Did you like this post?  I'd love your help in raising awareness by sharing :)

You can support my campaign for 
World Suicide Prevention Week at the link below! 
 Help To Write Love on Her Arms continue bringing 
awareness and tools for those suffering with depression, 
addiction, self-injury, and suicide!  
It's time we kick out that negative stereotype behind mental illness!
Help me fight for more tomorrows!

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Thanks for being open and honest. There are many, and I am one, who have felt the same way at some point in our lives. :)

    Beth Boswell Johnson - Aurora