Let's Talk: Anxiety
Happy New Years! Wow, 2018 is already here. With the new year I want to bring new content and new blog posts that go beyond just the simple designs I share from time to time. So, this blog post marks the first of the "Let's Talk" series in which I'll go in depth about topics that are very close to my heart. In today's post we'll be discussing anxiety, how I struggle with it, and things that have helped me overcome it.
If you're a longtime follower of my blog, you'll know I shared a post during my Disney College Program in which I talked in depth about my struggle with anxiety during my DCP. That post was SO well received and I honestly didn't expect it to get the reaction and positive response that it did. Loads of readers told me how they relate and that I wasn't alone and while that made me feel so comforted, I also felt sad. A lot of my readers are my friends and it sucks to know so many wonderful people struggle with something that sucks so much. I would also like to point out that I'm choosing to be very vulnerable in this post so that others that have experienced the same thing know they're not alone. I'm not looking for pity in any way. This is just an excerpt of my own continuing journey to self-acceptance.
When Did It Start?
I've always been a naturally quiet and shy person and I never thought it was strange that I liked to keep to myself. There came a time, however, when I started to think that wasn't normal. (Spoiler alert: this is totally fine and completely normal.) The earliest I can remember dealing with anxiety was about halfway through my Disney College Program. However, I think it really all started once I graduated college. For so long, I thought I had my life together. I had my life planned out. I think we all know now that it never ends up the way we plan. Not even a little bit.
College was such an amazing time for me. I loved my professors, I loved what I was studying, I worked hard with two jobs and an internship, and I was overall the happiest and healthiest I had been. Even though I was moving towards an awesome opportunity with the Walt Disney Company, suddenly the only model I had for my life was completely different. I had my structure: school, work, hang out with friends, see my occasional boyfriend, repeat. When that was over it was all just work and occasionally seeing my friends when I wasn't completely exhausted. Everything, even the same daily tasks, just felt foreign.
I think I've come to realize that no matter how much I wanted to believe I wanted adventures and spontaneity, deep down what I really craved was some sort of safety, structure, or stability. I embraced change only if it was calculated, well-thought out change. I never just went with my gut and said "screw the rest." Everything I'd ever done had a plan, a back up plan, a financial plan, and a back up plan in case everything failed because that was the way I was raised. Don't get me wrong - I love having plans and knowing the calculated risk of something. I believe having some sort of stability is important. I also believe life is an equal balance of planning and spontaneity.
However, this over-planning mentality has cultivated a huge sense of overwhelming and crippling fear every time I am pushed outside of my comfort zone or must think about things outside of my plans. The more I think about it, I think the only stability I had was the stability that came from the world around me, the plans my parents had for me, and the things that were expected of me. And I rolled with it for so long because I was too afraid to pursue things outside of that realm. Exploring anything outside of what I thought was already predisposed for me made me feel lost. And that was wrong. Let me also say that my parents never forced me to do anything other than get my degree. They have always been extremely supportive of all my creative pursuits. It was my own lack of direction that led me to believe I had to follow a certain mold.
In addition to being an overly anxious person I am also extremely self-critical. Whether it be about my art, my body, my life, or my role in my relationship I am always criticizing myself and thinking of ways to be better because in my mind I am never enough. Again, wanting to improve is not a bad thing but the measures I take and the overthinking I indulge in are toxic and unhealthy. My own self-criticism often spirals my anxiety out of control and triggers my panic attacks.
Let me tell you: panic attacks are not fun. Feeling like you can't breathe is not fun. Going out in public and not being able to shut off your brain from thinking of the worst possible scenarios is not fun. Not being able to explain why you're suddenly feeling sad is not fun. Going from the most confident person in the room to wanting to hide away from the world for a week is not fun. It's just not. I try so hard to always stay positive for my friends and look at the bright side of things but when it comes to myself I find it very hard to do. That's why a support system is essential.
My Anxiety At It's Worst
I always felt really uncomfortable talking to my parents about my anxiety. I love my parents and they love me but for some reason I just didn't feel okay bringing it up. They'd never seen me have a panic attack so in my mind I felt like they wouldn't understand it or try to write it off. There will be times when most people that don't struggle with a mental illness believe they aren't real. They'll try to tell you it's all in your head. Only you know what's going on with you and you have to do what's best for yourself to better yourself. Some people see therapists, others seek medical help, etc.
I preferred talking to my best friends or to Edwin or anyone else that had seen or experienced my anxiety first hand. I didn't like doing this. I didn't like feeling like I was "off" or "different" or worse, that "there was something wrong with me." I even tried to tell myself it was all mental. And then I tried to go to the doctor for it. And then I just resigned myself to the fact that I was going to have to deal with this forever. I would occasionally go from the outgoing girl I'd worked so hard to become to going back into my shell and hiding away. As much as I love helping others navigate their problems, I always run away from mine. I hide them. I don't like talking about them. I hate feeling like an inconvenience to others. The worst is when I actually do open up and someone tells me that I'm doing it to myself or that I should just stop being sad and overthinking things. If it were that easy, don't you think I would've done that by now?
I won't lie to you: my mind went to some really dark places when my anxiety was at it's worst which was during my time with my previous employer. My self-worth, self-esteem, my dreams, and so much more went to shit. My panic attacks were the worst they'd ever been. I went from having maybe one a month to almost one or two a week. At it's worst, one time I had to lock myself in the bathroom at work and sit on the floor shaking until the attack passed. And nobody ever knew. The sad thing is I couldn't even tell you what it was that triggered it.
My relationship at this time was pretty strained. We would have some sort of argument at least once a day or every other day. The conversations we would have about moving kept stressing me out because I didn't want to leave a job that I thought was perfect for me (even though I was really unhappy there) because I'd just gotten hired. I didn't know how I was going to be able to afford to move. I kept arguing with my parents about moving which killed me because I love them so much. I didn't want to upset them. After being hired I suddenly wasn't sure if that was the field I wanted to be in. It was like everything just kept going wrong. I was such an open wound that everything, even the tiniest things, were affecting me in such drastic ways and I just remember feeling like I was spiraling. I couldn't get a grip on anything.
And then I was let go. It was probably the greatest thing that could've happened to me.
How I Conquer My Anxiety Today
I was (forcibly) removed from an unhappy situation and suddenly my mind was clear. I realized what changes I wanted to make and I set out and made them. I stopped trying to hold all my problems in and decided to make myself vulnerable in a healthy way and talk out my issues. I still struggle with this but at least I'm making the effort to better my situations. I don't like to force things. I don't like to push issues. I try to let things happen organically. But sometimes you have to grab a situation by the horns and steer it into the right direction before it kills you. I've learned that I don't always need a plan, that I can't stress out over things that are out of my control, and that the most I can do I just be happy with what I have and what I can change.
I am by no means cured. I still have my anxiety and it still hits me at the most random times, however I no longer feel like I'm spiraling, I'm learning to keep my emotions in check as best as I can, and I'm trying to teach myself that who I am and what I struggle with is OKAY. No matter what anyone says, no matter how much I stress out, it is all going to be okay. There's so much in life to be happy about that it would be a shame to sit and overthink and over analyze all the little, insignificant issues.
When I do feel myself starting to get anxious I have certain things I like to do. For example I watch a lot of YouTube and that calms me down whether it be make up tutorials or gaming videos. If I start to get anxious around Edwin I just have him give me a big hug so it feels like he's holding me together if I want to fall apart. I have my moment of weakness then go right back to being as strong as I can be. I guess my point is: don't run away from it. Don't let it run your life. At the end of the day, It's still something I deal with but I no longer let it ruin me.
If you also deal with anxiety, I really hope this post has helped you feel like you're not alone. If you don't, I hope this has at least helped you realize how to help your friends and loved ones that do struggle with anxiety. In the end, we're all here for such a short amount of time. Shouldn't we try to help each other out? If you have any tips on how you deal with your anxiety or want to share your story/journey, please leave your comments here with me.
Let's be there for each other.
Thanks for reading.