Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
“I don’t know what living a balanced life feels like. When I am sad, I don’t cry, I pour. When I am happy, I don’t smile, I beam. When I am angry, I don’t yell, I burn. The good thing about feeling in extremes is when I love I give them wings.” - Rupi Kaur
Life for me without pristine mental health is both a blessing and a curse. The irrational thoughts and physical discomfort which are the manifestations of anxiety taunt me (and so many others) on a daily basis. However, the perspective I gain from the contrast between my good and bad days, and the compassion I’ve acquired, are precious to me. My relationship with anxiety has changed over the years, convoluted with bouts of depression, insomnia, break ups and interpersonal tensions. Some days I don’t know the difference between anxiety and my personality, and other days I don’t give my thoughts the slightest chance to gnaw away at my confidence. I am one of those people who doesn’t really know life without anxiety- I’ve struggled with disproportionate nervousness for as long as I can remember. But I am okay with that.
I grew up in a relatively healthy and compassionate household; my parents are together, I have two younger sisters, and we have always done a lot of family outdoor activities. From a young age I identified as “responsible”- my youngest sister was born with Down Syndrome, and it raised my moral standards to a fairly high level. Between grades 3 and 6 I became aware that I was a fairy nervous person. In middle school I became focussed on hobbies; I got my first guitar, learned all of Avril Lavigne’s songs, placed third in my school’s Iron Knight Challenge, won a math contest, and was on the cross country running team, participated in jazz band, and did cross country skiing races. But I struggled with the magnitude of my emotions and existential thoughts.
A few of my friends started self harming around this time, experimenting with it in high school as well. So I started doing it too. But for me it went on for 10 years, and I do not hesitate to refer to it as an addiction. Self harm, for me, was both a symptom and part of the problem. I didn’t realize the scope of the habit until my third year of university. At this time I had gone through two big break ups, I was struggling to stay in school, I had to step down from an excellent summer job due to concentration and memory impairments, and my confidence was at an ultimate low. Realistically, I know there are worse things one could experience. But these events, linked with my disordered thoughts and big emotions, had me spiralling into another depressive episode and a daily battle with anxiety. That’s the thing about mental health- it’s not necessarily the events or experiences that lead to struggling, but the context, or sometimes there’s no relation at all. I was barely hanging on to life as I knew it. I never struggled with school before this, but in my third year I was unable to study and write exams. Academic success was part of my identity so this was very, very hard for me to experience.
Since 2013, when I hit this mini rock-bottom, I have been on a variety of medications, seen several counsellors, read over 10 self-help books, practiced yoga weekly and strived to exercise as much as I could. I also focussed on the basics: doing my dishes, taking the garbage out, coffee dates with friends, getting groceries every week and cooking proper meals. I worked really hard to maintain productive and helpful behaviours, challenging self-defeating thoughts. I wage a daily war against anxious thoughts, but I can finally say that anxiety doesn’t rule my life.
I want to emphasize the typicality of my story- I no longer believe anxiety to be an uncommon experience among people my age. I am thankful for the progress I have made, and I am very optimistic about continuing to strive towards maintaining my mental health. Although anxiety can be extremely limiting, it’s also an opportunity to rise to a challenge. In addition, anxiety has kept me safe, on my toes, and forces me to practice self care every single day. We might struggle with mental health, but we are alive, capable and just as deserving of a healthy, happy life as anyone else.
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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.