To start, I guess I would have to go back to my childhood.
I've always been a perfectionist, ever since I can remember. I always had to be the best, get the best grades, be the teacher's favorite, have all the friends, and be a good daughter. Even when I was 3 years old, I remember comparing myself to one of my friends and wishing I could look like them. I felt like little dark-skinned, chubby-cheeked, brunette me wasn't good enough. I felt that way at 3 years old!
I've always been intelligent, and when my parents noticed that, they always encouraged me to get good grades. And for the most part, I did. They would provide incentives for me to get all A's on my report cards. I always put a lot of pressure on myself. So whenever I failed at this goal of being perfect and got a bad mark, I would have a breakdown. I couldn't let things go. Whenever something went wrong in my life, whether it be grades or social problems or issues at home, I would continually harp on it. Because, unfortunately, that's what anxiety does to you. It's that constant gnawing feeling in your head: "Something is wrong. Something is wrong. Something is wrong."
I was always a really happy and joyful kid, though, and it wasn't until I was about 16 that I started to really mentally and emotionally feel the toll of anxiety. I know it's different for some people, but for me, it came in the form of constant terror. Every single day, I would wake up with this gaping hole in my chest and the feeling of pure fear—for absolutely no reason. My schoolwork was going well. My social life wasn't hurting. My home life was fine. But for some reason, every morning without fail, I would wake up with this huge feeling of terrified emptiness in my chest.
The anxiety led to darker thoughts, and I verged on depression and obsessive thoughts for a while. I talked to my parents about it and discussed taking medication, but there never was a full resolution. I just told myself I would buck up and get through it.
Turns out, that is not a good strategy for getting through mental illness. At all.
Whenever I read articles about mental health, they would always end with words of encouragement, exhorting the reader to seek help if they needed it. There were even phone numbers for hotlines attached. I knew I needed help, but I was too scared to ask. I opened up to several people about how I was feeling, so people were definitely aware of it—but I was still neglecting the core of the problem.
The anxiety would come and go in cycles. I would get to the point where I felt like myself again, and I would dismiss myself as being silly for even thinking there was something wrong with me. But then, last summer, it got really bad once more. And suddenly, I was 16 years old again with that constant terror gnawing on the inside, obsessive thoughts creeping in, and dark places I had tried to hide coming out to find me.
Still I ignored myself, and I'm so sad that I neglected care for so long. I didn't finally seek help until this past semester when I began to get physically sick from stress. Can you imagine that? An entire life of anxiety, almost five years of realization of a problem, and it took me getting physically sick to seek out a resolution. I was taking 18 credits and working two jobs, one of which was unpaid at the time and the other of which was worth so little that I don't even know why I took it on. Plus, there was drama at my dorm, which was unavoidable and which greatly contributed to my stress factor. I felt like I was drowning. Every single day was a struggle. It wasn't until I was diagnosed with stress-induced IBS that I decided to seriously seek help.
I talked to several close friends as well as a counselor about treatment options. Medication had never been an option for me growing up since my parents are very holistic, but for the first time ever, I seriously entertained the idea. One of the people I spoke with told me that medication had helped her significantly. So I did my research and decided to pay a visit to my doctor, who had already seen me many times that semester.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: that was the diagnosis. And for the first time in my life, I heard those words come from a medical professional, assuring me that I had not been just overdramatizing my symptoms for so many years, as I thought I had been. I was prescribed the lowest dose of Sertraline, which is an antidepressant. But to be honest, I was so scared to begin it that I didn't even touch it for two weeks. I prayed about it. I was in contact with my doctor. I spoke with several other friends about it, as well as my parents and my boyfriend (who was on board with whatever decision I ended up making). Finally, I decided to try the tiny, seemingly insignificant pill. And though I was scared, now after two months of taking it, I can see that it has helped me.
Anxiety medication doesn't magically get rid of my mental illness. I don't think anything can do that, unfortunately. But it does put it at a manageable level for me. Whereas before, I couldn't even function and felt like I was about to pass out every single day, now I can go about my days with a sense of calmness and peace. Yes, I still feel anxious from time to time for no solid reason. Yes, I still occasionally obsess over things. But now, I don't really stress over the little things like I used to. Even with the bigger things like grades, which have been such a big and toxic idol to me ever since I can remember, I'm learning to loosen my grip. This is not to say that I don't care about things anymore. I'm still putting my all into everything I do, but I now realize that all I can do personally is put my best effort out, and the rest is not on me.
Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get into counseling this semester on campus, but I'm going to try again come fall semester. I understand how important it is to give yourself the care you need—because when your mind isn't well, your whole body suffers. I learned that the hard way.
Though I'm sad it took me so long to seek out the help I needed, I'm glad that I have finally taken steps to find it. And the last time I spoke with my doctor, he told me I'm close to being in remission. I know the journey isn't over yet, but I thank God I might be close to it. Anxiety is scary. Depression is scary. Going through mental illnesses, especially when you put it all on yourself, is terrifying and almost humanly impossible. So I implore you, if you are struggling, please don't be afraid to seek out help. I promise you the second you take that leap of faith and talk to a professional about how you're feeling is the moment your life will change for the better. It did for me, and I know that things are looking up. Don't neglect your mental health. Live the best life that you can, starting with your mind.
You won't regret that you did.