I Am Anxiety and So Can You

As part of Bell’s Lets Talk Day – meant to raise awareness for and battle stigma against mental illness, I figured I’d share a quick recap of the mental illness issues I’ve dealt with over the past year.

I have an anxiety disorder – generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) to be vaguely specific. GAD is best described as experiencing excessive anxiety and worry, often expecting the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern. Which is a nice, generic way of vaguely describing a long list of crappy feelings. Different people experience GAD in different ways. For me, a lot of my anxiety/ worry is centred around self worth (or severe lack thereof). On good days I just worry a little about rational things. On bad days, it can throw me into a severe depression, which can last for months if left untreated. Sounds fun, right?

I think the one thing that surprised me the most about dealing with/ getting diagnosed with GAD was how it came about. I always understood mental illness as this really significant thing that presents itself in really profound ways. What I found was that though this is true, it has a habit of sneaking up on you gradually, so you don’t realize how bad things have become until they’re out of control.

Around November of 2015 is when things started to fall apart for me. Stress from my job started to eat away at me. The relationship I was in at the time was starting to show its inevitable cracks. I was spreading myself too thin, taking on way too many things for the amount of time (or sanity) I could realistically contribute. I was tired, I was worn out, but the biggest red flag – I would blame myself for all of it. I was constantly worried I was going to get fired because why wouldn’t they fire me, my relationship was falling apart because I wasn’t good enough, I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do because I wasn’t trying hard enough.

Probably sounds familiar to a lot of people, right? Life gets a little crazy, you start to feel a little worn down, nothing to worry about. The only thing was, things slowly would get worse. I’d avoid social gatherings, because I assumed that no one would want to spend any time with me. I had trouble getting out of bed in the morning; if I had nowhere to be on a given day, I’d spend most of the day just crying uncontrollably in bed, alone. I struggled to find the motivation to work, to train, to do anything I normally enjoyed. I felt like I was just a hindrance to everyone around me. I felt like I couldn’t reach out to anyone over how I was feeling, because I would just be a bother, and would be better off keeping my annoying complaints to myself. I started to wonder if everyone would just be better off if I didn’t exist. I spent a lot of time contemplating that idea, spent a lot of time wishing I could just disappear.

Suddenly there I was; suffering from a deep depression, having suicidal thoughts, and feeling like I couldn’t even turn to my closest friends or family for help. A spot I never thought I’d wind up in, though slowly over the course of several months I slid my way there. Depression (and anxiety for that matter) has this weird way of picking away at you piece by piece so slowly that you don’t notice it until you’re almost gone.

Now here’s the part I want to shout through cupped hands: if you can relate to even part of this, you are not alone. At some point during this grey fog I was stuck in, I managed to muster up enough courage to confide in one of my closest friends what I was going through. What motivated me to finally reach out to someone I can’t exactly remember. I expected her to reject my concerns and ignore me (thanks, anxiety). Instead, she empathized and shared some of her own, similar struggles that she too had been hiding. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so alone.

I then got in touch with my family doctor, who referred me to a therapist. Though it took meeting with a couple different therapists before I found someone who I felt comfortable with, I eventually started regular therapy sessions. With the help of my therapist, I’ve been able to understand that my self worth issues are closely tied to the abusive environment I grew up in, and not in fact, my own fault. I slowly shared what I was going through with a few more friends. I finally felt brave enough to tell my Mum what was going on. To my surprise, they were understanding and wanted to help. The fog slowly began to clear.

The sucky part of all of this is that the ‘path out of it’ wasn’t really a quick or easy one. Not everyone I opened up to about what I was going through was as supportive or understanding as I would have hoped. The relationship I was in at the time ended, partially due to the depression I was going through, which only further cemented my underlying anxieties that no one cared about how I felt, or that I didn’t matter. It took me a couple tries to find a therapist I felt comfortable dealing with, which was extremely discouraging. Having to open up to several different strangers about the awful things mulling about in your head is a difficult and exhausting process to go through. Even now, though I’ve been in therapy for over a year, I still have brutally awful days or weeks where the depression creeps its way back in. I’m not ‘fixed’ or ‘cured’, but at least I’m a work in progress. (That was so corny, I’m so sorry guys).

I’m not sharing what I went through to use it as a vessel for some inspirational quotes, or a ‘rah rah, it’ll be OK’ message. I’m sharing it because I know from my own experience, just knowing someone else feels somewhat the same way, can make it all suck a little bit less.

I’ve come a long way in the past year. I finally feel like I’ve got a great support network around me filled with amazing friends, my family, and a really supportive and understanding relationship. I finally feel comfortable enough sharing what I went through. To some it may not sound like a lot, but to me the difference is enormous.

If you feel like you’re sliding down a similar, awful path to some form of mental illness, all I can offer in advice is this: talk to someone. Your closest friend, your doctor, a mental health hotline, anyone. It may take a couple tries, but you will eventually find someone who wants to listen, who cares, who can empathize. It won’t fix everything right away, but sometimes that little offer of help is all it takes to help get through the especially crappy days. Want to help someone you know who’s struggling? Sometimes just being there to listen is all they need.

Be kind to each other y’all. Happy #BellLetsTalk day.

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