As I write this in the first week of 2020, I can’t help and be proud of how far our collective effort to improve our mental health has come.
A couple of short years ago, admitting you suffered from anxiety, depression, or any other mental health challenge would have been unthinkable.
Today, as more and more celebrities and influencers talk about their own struggles, us ordinary Janes are also finally more at ease with speaking up about it.
So let me speak up.
Where I’ve been
I’ve been suffering from anxiety for five years (will be six later this year), and I’ve had bouts of depression over the past two. One thing leads to another, right?
However, last year has seen me make some major breakthroughs, which is what I wanted to share today (although I’m having major anxiety as I type these words).
I’ve not only managed to survive several panic attacks in airports, but I’ve also managed to do it alone, without calling anyone, without telling anyone, and without anyone even noticing.
And it all began with going on my first ever solo trip – with or without anxiety.
How I got myself to do it
The thing you need to know about my anxiety is that it’s triggered by feeling unwell – every headache, every cold, every back pain: I get anxious. And as anxiety itself triggers a whole host of unpleasant physical symptoms that make me feel anything but well, we’ve entered a very vicious circle I didn’t know what to do with. That’s where the depression part entered the stage.
However, after all the days and weeks and years and lost time, last year I decided to force my brain to accept that being uncomfortable is the new normal, and that it either has to get used to it or kill me.
So I started leaving my comfort zone, at first every weekend, then twice a week, then every single day for three months. During those three months, I went to Manhattan on my own (I live in Brooklyn) – and considered that my first solo trip.
It was awful. I can’t remember anything other than being scared and thinking I was about to die on the bridge where everyone will just rush past me and no one will even notice.
I came home, alive, and forced myself to think of it as a victory.
I kept doing it and doing it, literally putting myself through my worst nightmare every single time. I felt like a wreck most of the time, to be perfectly honest. But every time I wanted to give up, I asked myself do I want to go back to living in a very limited space, going only to the places I felt safe in, basically wasting the time I was given.
To cut a long story short, the three months of what I call “exposure” ended with a three-day trip to San Diego, all by myself, where I wanted to force myself to do three things I was scared of: go whale watching, do paddle boarding, and go surfing (you’ll notice that I was also afraid of water).
I only realized I didn’t have a panic attack when I got back to the Airbnb. That was my second day, and it felt like being let out of prison (I would imagine).
What I have learned
Needless to say, I still have anxiety. But I know how to manage it.
My panic attacks are just an unpleasant feature of any given day they choose to make an appearance.
Exposing myself to my fears has taught me that I can survive, that I am not “a wuss” for having anxiety, and that anxiety is really not going to kill me (something I believed, despite what my therapist told me over and over again).
I’ve firmly embraced the belief that my life is my own, and that I can’t let my mental health prevent me from living the life I want to live.
So here we are, six months on, not quite there yet, but miles from where we started.
A word of warning
I realize that what I have just talked about sounds like a piece of cake and like the ultimate nightmare at the same time.
But please don’t attempt the same just because it’s worked for me.
I’ve had years of therapy under my belt before I decided to expose myself. And I’ve also really hit a mental breaking point, where I was all in.
If you are not there, please don’t feel bad or less worthy. Anxiety is horrible and can mess with your mind in endless ways, so don’t feel like you have to walk through fire to get it to loosen its grip if you’re not there yet.
We all deal with it differently, and finding your own way is all that matters. This is just me pushing myself out of my comfort zone again.