Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
OCD and anxiety have been a constant companion my whole life. This made school especially difficult because while others were able to focus on the work I had to count every bubble, colour in every letter, repeat phrases over and over and over and over… My evening routine consisted of brushing my teeth. Then brushing them again. And again. And again until the anxiety momentarily went away. I counted tiles in the bathroom, then counted them again. I whispered meaningless, ritualistic words to myself for over an hour. Everything was difficult. OCD consumed every aspect of my life.
I never talked about it to anybody. I thought I could handle it. I was ashamed.
By age 18 something shifted and during my first year of university my anxiety got so bad I couldn’t focus and I became severely depressed. The first time I had a panic attack was during a test with everybody watching. I had never felt so humiliated in my life. After that my emotions began to shut down completely and I got admitted to a recovery program for depression.
By age 20 I had lost a dangerous amount of weight which put me in and out of the hospital for a year. I ended up at the crisis center twice because I was suicidal and the emergency room once. I had reached a point where I was having panic attacks while living in a state of constant numbness and apathy and had to be under surveillance. I had no hope and I was ready to die.
Today, I am happier than I have ever been in my life. I am pursuing an honours degree, dancing professionally, and traveling the world one summer at a time, plus I have a great relationship with my family and friends, countless passions and interests, and a love for life. The most important thing though: I love myself for who I am, and who I am IS NOT my mental illness!
What I learned is that there is always hope. I went into intense therapy for two years which included CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) where I learned how to identify the anxiety OCD makes me feel and let it pass over me one step at a time. Today, if I feel OCD creeping up on me (usually if I’m stressed or tired or too caffeinated) I can recognize the feeling and separate it from myself. This means I can completely avoid little anxieties every day! It was difficult at first but now it’s as natural and easy as breathing. Larger anxieties are a bit harder to defeat – but not impossible! Immersing myself in something I love is a good way to regain my sense of balance. Also talking to someone I trust, taking a moment to think of things objectively, breathing from my belly, and drinking tea are all useful. It’s important to be honest with myself and recognize where the anxiety is coming from. And never underestimate the importance of medications! I’m off all meds now and I feel so alive. I feel NORMAL, and I never thought it would be possible, but it is!
Just because you don’t feel hope doesn’t mean there is no hope. Hope is always there and it is so worth it in the long run because mental illness is just that: an illness. There are an infinite number of ways to cope with anxiety and there are so many people who are willing to help. It’s not something to be ashamed of and it’s no reflection of oneself as a person.
Mental illness does not make you a bad person. Mental illness is something to be treated the same way a broken limb would be: take care of yourself and realize it’s okay to rely on others when you need them. Additionally, life is not a competition. There is no race to some hypothetical finish line. The most important thing is to enjoy your life and take care of yourself. I want everyone to know that I am proud of where I am today and I am not ashamed of what I’ve been through. I feel stronger every day and with my support system I am prepared to face anything my mental illness throws my way.
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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.