Today is mental health awareness day & I wanted to share how I live with both anxiety & depression. I first learned what the word ‘anxiety’ was after my sophomore year of college. I spent my first two years as a student athlete focusing a lot of my energy on basketball. As crazy as it sounds, I have an extreme phobia of throwing up. I’ve always had this fear & it goes as far back as I can remember. It’s completely irrational & absolutely terrifying all at the same time. Going into my junior year, without any real explanation, I became afraid of eating food. For the mere fact that food poisoning can happen & could make me sick. So, I would eat breakfast, my anxiety would kick in, a stomach ache would develop & I wouldn’t eat the rest of the day. I lost a lot of weight, I couldn’t’ function in school & I withdrew three weeks into the semester. I took that year off & got a job while starting therapy. I wanted to talk to a therapist about eating disorders because that’s what I thought I was experiencing. Even though my goal wasn’t to lose weight, it was to avoid throwing up.
This is when I first heard the word anxiety. I was anticipating a situation happening, before it would happen & the fear of being sick started to control my life. I couldn’t go to a mall, target or grocery store. There were too many people there & what if I threw up? Everyone would see, I would be humiliated & I would feel disgusting. This resulted in me not wanting to go anywhere if there was a possibility of big groups or wide open spaces. Multiple times I would leave a shopping cart full of items & go home because I was having an anxiety attack. Now imagine, I am 20 years old & am afraid to go in public when all my friends are at college parties having the time of their lives. It’s even more humiliating trying to explain what’s wrong with me.
As a result of my isolation, depression develops. Nothing feels good, I just want to sleep & I don’t want to talk about it.
I eventually went back to school & kept playing basketball. There were times where I would wake up in the middle of the night, have an anxiety attack & drive home to my mom. I didn’t tell anyone what was happening, only she knew & my therapist. It was too embarrassing to talk about.
In therapy I learned ways to cope with my anxiety attacks that I still use today. I make lists of what I’m grateful for, do puzzles to distract my brain or I knit like a little old lady. I’ve now gotten to the point where I can have a full-blown anxiety attack in public & no one would ever know. This summer I went to lollapalooza to see The Weekend & stood in the middle of a crowd of 10,000 people. After the show I told my friends how proud of myself I am for being in that crowd & not having an anxiety attack. What seems like a normal experience to some is an incredible victory for me. I have learned when to remove myself from certain situations in order to avoid an anxiety attack. But there are times when it happens unexpectedly without warning.
I empathize so deeply with those who live with anxiety & depression. I would encourage anyone who feels lost to find a friend or family member they feel safe with & tell them what’s going on. I remember telling my mom & she said “you don’t always have to feel this way, we can get you help”. I often have days where I have to be alone to decompress & build my energy to be social. Those days I might take a yoga class to remind me to be grounded, present & thankful.
I just want to remind people to be kind. You never know what goes on behind closed doors. You never know who needs help but doesn’t know how to ask for it. You can’t just snap out of a mental disorder. If only it were that easy. A little compassion can go a long way, sending love & support to anyone who can relate.