This post about anxiety has swirled around inside my brain for some time. It started as an Instagram post but became much longer, and so, I am creating the space for it in hopes that it will start a dialog and help just one person realize that they are not alone. The Canadian Mental Health Association shared that in any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. Like so many incredibly brave people sharing their stories on #BellLetsTalk day, I have my own mental health journey.
My Mental Health Journey
Since childhood, I have experienced anxiety related to travel, so the feeling isn’t new to me. I am all too familiar with shortness of breath, racing thoughts, sweating palms, paralyzing fear, lack of appetite, and the tight pit in my stomach. To this day, this is what I experience before boarding a plane. It used to be restricted to travel, but over the last few years, my anxiety has grown. Life got complicated, and it became too much.
I received a diagnosis of endometriosis. My family and I started a business. I had a life changing fight with a best friend. I was in a car accident and went through months of physiotherapy twice a week. A bout of what I now recognize was likely depression followed. A number of breakdowns and panic attacks happened at work. I lost loved ones. Social interactions with new people terrified me. Doubt crept in. I started sleeping all the time. I sank into the endlessness of social media, Netflix, books–anything to distract. Isolation from my closest friends, my family, and my husband was a convenient defence mechanism. I desperately tried to hide it and pretend that I was ok.
In the midst of all this heavy chaos that was drowning me, one incredibly compassionate friend told me that it was ok to seek help and to talk to somebody. That conversation was in December of 2016. In November of 2017 after running out of excuses and hitting rock bottom, I arranged to see a psychologist. That one action—taking two minutes to make a phone call—took me a year to do, but when I hung up the phone, the smallest amount of weight lifted from my chest.
What Anxiety Feels Like for Me
For me, anxiety is a constant struggle in my mind. I over analyze and judge every moment of the past, and I experience uncertainty and fear of the future. Every interaction, every conversation is up for debate. My brain is on an endless loop of what ifs and should haves. I believe my thoughts and feelings are truth, when they are simply that–thoughts and feelings. Small incidents in daily life are sometimes too much to bear and can make me shut down. Relatively simple decisions are exhausting. In my mind, even gatherings with people I love turn into something they aren’t. My emotions get the best of me, and I can’t stop my thoughts. This takes so much energy that I’m often lethargic in the evenings and on weekends. The amount of tasks that I get through in a day is limited, because my brain is constantly in overdrive.
Why Therapy Works for Me
With therapy, I am learning how to shift my thinking. I know that anxiety is something that I will constantly carry, but I’m working on acknowledging it, letting it be, and giving it less power. On some days this is easy and I can ride the wave of my thoughts and emotions with ease. On others, I’m swimming against the current and I’m exhausted before breakfast even hits the table. It’s unpredictable and irrational, and that makes it all the more difficult to live with. I go to therapy once every three or so weeks, and I have takeaway tools after every session. This gives me something to work through and to focus on. I’ve got a long journey ahead of me, but I’m so proud of the first few steps I’ve taken. I finally feel like I can breathe.
The Importance of Community
The stigma surrounding mental health is a huge barrier that stops people from seeking help. For me, I didn’t want to admit that I was vulnerable and suffering. I didn’t want to be seen as weak. I thought that I was more than capable of handling anything that life threw my way. My ability to problem solve, deal with conflict, and support others through their challenges is a source of pride. Yet when it came to myself, I couldn’t talk about what I was experiencing, and I couldn’t ask for help.
Now that I’m finally opening up, I realize that there are millions of people experiencing the same thing. It never fails to surprise me when people who I see as strong and confident open up with stories of their own personal struggles. In the age of instagram perfection, it is often hard to remember that we all hurt, and we all need help from time to time. We are all worthy of love.
I wouldn’t be where I am without these shared stories of struggle. Movements like #BellLet’sTalk and local Edmonton communities like We All Believe In You are starting the conversation, ending the stigma, and normalizing mental health, for which I am so grateful. I feel less alone when I talk with others about their struggles with mental health, and so I invite you to get in touch with me if you ever want to talk about your own mental health journey. Know that you are not alone!
If you or someone you love is in danger of self harm, please call 911 or your nearest distress line. In Edmonton, call 780-482-4357.