“When I first started experiencing anxiety, it was terrifying. I was beating myself up for not being able to ‘keep it together.’ I used to think I was the only person I knew who was experiencing it. Frankly, I felt completely alone in my struggles and as creatures who crave connection, that is a very scary place to be in.
The more I started opening up about my anxiety, the more I realized I wasn’t alone – and this is why I’m sharing my story. I started experiencing anxiety when I was 19-years-old. It was the summer before my sophomore year of college at Purdue, and I had no idea what was really going on. I didn’t come to realize it was anxiety for a few months. It started out as physical symptoms; I constantly felt nauseous and dizzy. In the weeks leading up to my move-in day at college, I had horrible stomachaches. I remember eating a piece of bread and at the risk of TMI – it went right through me.
Growing up, I had my share of stomach and health issues. Despite being active and eating healthy, I was diagnosed with an ulcer, had pneumonia 3 times, Scarlet Fever, saw 3 different doctors, and had multiple scopes trying to figure out my ‘stomach issues.’ I was told I had GERD, IBS, ‘un-diagnosable chronic gastric pain’ and ‘a sensitive stomach.’
With only a couple of weeks before I was supposed to move in to my sorority house, I took the prescriptions that my gastroenterologist prescribed me (including an extra prescription just to deal with the side effects of another prescription) and charged forward in hopes these would be my cure-all.
Twelve different prescriptions, 50 bottles of Zantac, a million Mylantas, and a few months later, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder – something I’ve come to realize has been the root of many, MANY health issues for me.
Typing this, I feel slightly uncomfortable using the words ‘diagnosed’ and ‘disorder.’ They seem like a couple of extreme word choices, especially considering anxiety is normal and something everyone feels, right?
It’s true anxiety is common. Nearly everyone experiences some form of anxiety at some point in their life, nearly 40 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and 1 in 13 people globally suffer from anxiety.
So, why is it something no one wants to talk about? I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, I was thinking a few things:
1. I didn’t want something to be wrong with me.
2. If something was wrong with me, I could fix it myself.
3. Mental illness is only something ‘crazy’ people have and I wasn’t ‘crazy.’
I spent months suffering through my anxiety before I finally decided to take my mom’s advice. (Note to younger self: you should’ve listened to your mom a lot more than you did. Like, a lot more.)
So, in December 2006, I put on my big girl pants, picked up the phone and [in the privacy of my car where no one could hear me] made an appointment with a doctor.
That week I had two new prescriptions and my first ever therapy appointment – an appointment I begrudgingly made and showed up to with anxiously bitten nails and a low-hanging head, hoping I could avoid eye contact with my peers.
I felt anxious, embarrassed, defeated, anxious, nauseous, nervous … did I say anxious?
I wish I could go back in time to give my 19-year old self a hug and tell her how brave she is – because it can be a really scary thing to do.
So I took my medicine, went to therapy, and eventually, I started to feel better. I realized where the root of my anxiety was coming from at that time. I had some really difficult conversations, and I moved forward, assuming I had cured my anxiety.
Fast forward 9 years, and my anxiety came back with a vengeance. In those 9 years, I had experienced mild anxiety on and off, but it was always something I was able to breathe through and manage.
Through the next few years going on and off medication, going to therapy and avoiding therapy, landing in the E.R. with panic attacks more times than I care to admit, ending up in a wheelchair on vacation because of a back injury (what I believe was the result of years’ avoidance of self-care). I’ve realized you can’t get rid of your anxiety.
(Shout out to my anxiety for giving me the middle finger and laughing in my face every time I tried to ignore and ‘get rid of it.’)
One of the best things I did was find a therapist who worked for me. I found a safe and non-judgmental space to work through all of these uncomfortable emotions I had built up and spent years trying to avoid.
I’d like to say I wish I would’ve found this therapist years ago… but maybe I found her at just the right time. Maybe I needed to hit such a rock bottom low that I would do anything to avoid the crippling anxiety I was feeling – and I did just that.
What I’ve learned in the last two years of therapy I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
I’ve learned the only way to get past the anxiety and emotions I wanted to keep buried was to bring them to the surface and work through them. Was it easy? Hell no. Was it worth it? Absolutely.
I’ve learned the way we speak to ourselves has a direct effect on the quality of our lives, and I started speaking a lot kinder to myself.
I broke down all of the false beliefs I had about myself, and I started focusing on all of my truths that make me who I am.
I stopped saying, ‘I’ll take care of myself when’ and started saying, ‘I’m taking care of myself because I deserve all of the love for myself that I share with others.’ (And you know what? It’s made me 10x more capable of taking care of others.)
After first experiencing anxiety in college, I assumed it was a one-time thing that I would be able to get past – but the truth is, there are always going to be challenges in our lives. As humans, we’re going to crave love and connection, and we’re going to experience fear and loss.
It can be extremely uncomfortable to sit with your negative emotions – but if I’ve learned anything, it’s these negative emotions don’t just go away.
When I’m feeling anxious – I give myself permission to feel what I’m feeling, and I check in with myself to figure out why I’m feeling that way.
I realized my emotional health was taking a toll on my physical health, and once I learned how to manage my stress, I had no need for prescription or OTC medication for my stomach.
While I believe anxiety medication was helpful for me at the time – I see it as a crutch I needed while I was learning to walk again and learning how to work through my emotions – and not something I’ll need forever. I’ve been off all medication for a year and a half, and I feel better than ever because I make a conscious effort to continually take care of myself. I make an effort to keep my body moving. I fuel my body with foods that make me feel good (not without the occasional treat here and there!)
While my struggles with anxiety were extremely challenging, I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. I wouldn’t have sought out a therapist, and I wouldn’t have done all of the work I’ve done to really get to know and love myself.
Everything I’ve been through has led me to the journey I’m on today, living life to the fullest. Five months ago, I launched my passion project, allrootswellness– which is my safe space for sharing what I’m doing to fuel my mind, body, and soul – and I am so excited to see where life takes me next.”
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