‘You are not weak for needing help,’ my mother-in-law said. ‘It makes you so brave.’: Woman shares lifelong journey with anxiety, mental health

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The Early Days of Anxiety

“I learned what it was at 18 years old. It started in 4th grade, around age 10 after I switched from a public to a private school.

A few months into school, there was a social studies exam. My cousins came into town that night, so instead of studying, I played. I took the test the next day, knowing I had missed almost everything. Then we graded them. Before we even started, I knew I failed that exam miserably. My teacher started giving us the scores based on questions missed. I could feel my heart racing so fast, my stomach becoming a huge, knotted mess. I had never felt so nervous in my whole life.

I asked to go to the bathroom as my voice shook, you know, when you’re trying to prevent yourself from crying. I got to the bathroom, dropped to my knees next to the toilet, and sobbed. I felt like the knot in my stomach was going to turn to vomit very quickly.

I failed that test, and my parents were going to be so disappointed. Why didn’t I study? I shouldn’t have played; I should have been responsible. I just sat there distraught, afraid, not knowing what to do.

After a while, my teacher found me, and I told her my stomach was in so much pain. She called my mom, who took me to the Instacare at IHC. After waiting for what seemed like forever, the doctor saw me and said I was fine. Nothing was wrong with me. He mentioned an ulcer but that was the extent of information we received. So, for years, I battled daily migraines, headaches, waking up with stomach aches, fatigue, exhaustion, etc.

When I got into middle school, I finally had an MRI done because those headaches were not normal. Guess what? The MRI came back clear. Again, no conclusions were met.

After that, I just decided I was probably going to deal with those issues so I’d better get used to them.

Those symptoms were present in anything I did. At work, at school, in volleyball, in choir, at church, at the store, and pretty much everywhere else.

A young woman wearing a black jacket and a blue shirt
Courtesy of Alexis Graff

Knowledge and Pain

I graduated high school in 2014 and started college. That’s when everything came to light. There I was studying psychology, and we were discussing different mental disorders. As the professor went over GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), I felt so much relief. I no longer felt alone and misunderstood. I felt like I belonged. I knew after struggling on my own for 8 years through anxiety, other people were going through situations where they felt those same feelings.

The next year, 2015, I began experiencing depression. I found myself thinking of suicide daily. I would cry every night after work because I didn’t want to wake up to another day of depression. One night, I was watching Grey’s Anatomy with my hubby of almost a year. I got up, walked from our tiny entry/living room area, through a doorway, and into a small kitchen where I kept my scriptures.

A woman and her husband together dressed up for an event
Courtesy of Alexis Graff

I sat at one of the stools that was tucked under our little counter-height table. I opened my scriptures and tried to read as tears rolled down my cheeks and onto the pages. My husband came in and asked what I was doing. I told him, ‘I’m just trying to find some sort of joy or happiness even if it is just for a second.’

I felt hopeless, worthless, and useless. I wondered why I had to experience such awful depression. I asked God every day, ‘Why me?’

I can now say how grateful I am for those experiences. Without them, I wouldn’t be able to speak to adolescents about my own experiences. Anyone can stand up and share numbers about mental health or suicide but listening to other people’s stories about how they have overcome hardships is inspiring, not to mention relatable.

A woman with her husband outside, both are wearing grey sweatshirts
Courtesy of Alexis Graff

Sharing My Experiences

In 2017, during my last semester of college, there was a speaker who talked about needing to ‘elevate the dialogue’ and ‘make the uncomfortable comfortable.’ Those simple words triggered something in me. A few days later, I asked if anyone had a question about life on my personal Facebook page, and I got one response, ‘How do you deal with your anxiety?’

I went live on Facebook that day, and then a few days later, unable to sleep, I created Make the Uncomfortable Comfortable which is now a relatable, vulnerable social media page created to help everyone understand that they belong, matter, and make a difference. I want to help others understand what it means to live with adversity and still find hope. I want people to know they aren’t alone, and that the difficulties they are dealing with are to help others going through similar experiences.

A woman sits on a bed wearing a blue shirt pulled up above her stomach
Courtesy of Alexis Graff

Communication is Key

Once I got married, I found out I really didn’t know how to communicate. My husband and I would get in fights, and I would shut down, stop talking, and tell him that we would talk about it another time.

He really helped me learn how to communicate and that’s been SO helpful in so many ways. Being able to talk through things has been a huge way I cope with life.

A woman and her husband on their wedding day
Courtesy of Alexis Graff

I still go through ups and downs with depression/anxiety but being able to accept and vocalize how I’m feeling really helps me. I also have changed my mindset in that I look for opportunities to help others when I am in those dark times. I use those experiences to share that others aren’t alone in life, that someone understands them, and that they can still find hope in the hard times.

When I was suicidal, I tried everything. I thought I could help myself. I tried eating better, exercising, taking supplements for my mental health, listening to motivational talks as often as I could, etc. While those things were positive and a change from what I was doing, I learned that getting help doesn’t mean relying on yourself.

I talked with my mother-in-law who had experience with depression and anxiety. I had never been able to talk to someone else about it because it took me so long to realize what I was experiencing. She told me, ‘You are not weak for needing help. It makes you so brave.’

And my first step after that was calling my doctor to get on some medication for my disorder. I started meds, started my social media page, and life became so much better. My page became a journal for me which was a great outlet for expressing myself, not only to strangers but to my husband.

I completely believe that there is no such thing as a coincidence. So in every interaction, I ask myself, ‘How can I impact someone?’ Finding meaningful interactions is something that helps me get through life, even when it gets super overwhelming.

A mom sits with her husband and two kids
Courtesy of Alexis Graff

The Here and Now

I am now 26, a mom to three boys, a college graduate, a motivational speaker, influencer, empowerment coach, and one day an author and inspiration to MILLIONS.

I’ve come a long way. I am proud of who I am, the woman I have become. She is someone I never thought I could amount to.

You bring a lot to the table, and it is okay to act like it. When you realize what you bring to the world, you can truly use your gifts. Stop holding yourself back to make others feel comfortable. Nobody can replace who you are and what you bring to the world.”

A family of five stand together in front of a rock structure
Courtesy of Sarah Murdock

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alexis Graff of St. George, Utah. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here.

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‘I woke up feeling as if I had a brick on my chest and couldn’t catch my breath.’: Anxiety warrior urges to normalize talking about mental health

‘I failed at death, and that is a failure I’ll wear proudly.’: Suicide attempt survivor shares important mental health message

‘People are in pain, you’re wasting a bed.’ My intestine had literally turned itself in a knot.’: Mother battles chronic pain and hospital stays, urges ‘mental health matters’

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