Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
I can’t remember a time where anxiety didn’t exist in my life, or when depression wasn’t a perpetual monster sitting and waiting in the shadows of my mind. This is a glimpse into a part my story.
The monster was there during elementary school, when not understanding math made me sick, and I was so scared of breaking rules that I was teased without mercy. Ms. Perfect was the title they gave me, which turned into much more hurtful words as I got older.
I didn’t want to be perfect, I wanted to be able to goof off, but even being told to stop interrupting in class sent me into uncontrollable tears. What was seen as being a cry baby was not recognized as anxiety. Anxiety rooted in the fear of not being loved if I was not perfect.
Fast forward to high school and after years of verbal and emotional abuse by my father, I hurt myself for the first time. A pair of scissors became my release. The anxiety seeped out of me temporarily through the cuts in my skin, only to return again. I started contemplating suicide for the first time at the age of fourteen, and sadness was my most loyal companion. What saved me in high school was the escape that being involved in extracurricular activities offered from having to spend time at home and the amazing teachers that were there for me. I thought that once I escaped my house and the verbal abuse by going to university I would be ok.
As much as I would love to say I was right, that I broke away into freedom from the dark thoughts in my mind, I was sadly mistaken. At the end of my first year I developed insomnia. I was not sleeping because I was anxious, and I was anxious because I could not sleep. To this day, one of my biggest triggers into a panic attack is not being able to sleep. When I don’t sleep, I have a very difficult time managing my anxiety, and putting up a fight against the depression. Coming into my second year, I began to have debilitating panic attacks. They would leave me so exhausted and void of anything that resembled me as a person. I was a human shell. I was not myself. I stopped going to class, and started drinking…a lot. Alone. Bottles of wine, and cigarettes became my coping method for the fact I was, for the first time in my life, failing classes. The cycle of panic attacks and drinking to get to sleep were slowly stripping down my mental defences. I wasn’t just sad, I was hopeless. I did not think there was a reason to keep going. I had hit rock bottom.
On April 20th, 2013 I sat down at my desk and wrote goodbye letters to my loved ones. I did not intend to make it through that day. Everyone was gone that weekend in the middle of exams, and no one would notice as I slipped away from this world. Fortunately for me, a friend had shown up, unknowing of the plans that I had set for that day. I don’t think I would be here today if they hadn’t by chance been there and had wanted to spend that day with me. They don’t really know that their kindness and laughter saved me that day. What has kept me from slipping into that low again was starting therapy and medication to manage my anxiety. I resented medication for a really long time, because I was scared it would change me. Instead, it allows me to be me, because the anxiety is easier to handle.
There has been times since that day where I haven’t wanted to exist, where the monster that is depression eats away at what makes me who I am: goofy, smiling, a constant supply of factoids, and much more. I would not be here today without the love of my friends and partner. It is their patience and them understanding that sometimes I am sad, and that sometimes I can’t really do anything but stay in bed. That sometimes even showering is hard. That sometimes I am not quite myself.
When I feel the panic attacks coming, as they often do when I am tired and stressed, the best thing I do for myself is self-talk. Having a conversation with myself about why I am feeling this way, what caused the pressure and light headed feeling. Asking myself: “Will this matter 5 minutes from now? 5 hours from now? 5 days from now? 5 weeks from now? 5 years?” Often trying to dissipate the feeling by forcing a perspective, despite my moody reacting into a panic mode. My best coping method against the depression is walking, getting out of the house and going out into the world when all I want to do is hide in the bed. It forces me to put on clothes, brush my teeth, and at least try to look a little bit human; it gets me moving out of my biggest prison: my bed.
It you take away anything from this post, is that it is a part of my story. Not my whole story. Anxiety and depression are not what define me. They are chapters of a book that includes happiness, hiking, adventures, shaving cream fights, love, happy buns, an adorable dog, and many other things that encompass who I am. Try to remember that if you are going through hell, that the darkness does not define you, it is just a part of your story. But you need to keep going to write more chapters.
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Katie McLean holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and bases her anxiety aid in personal experience, as well as techniques that have been passed on to her by counsellors, friends, and fellow anxiety sufferers.