Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
My story begins after my first year of my undergraduate career at the University of Guelph. For the summer I moved to Winnipeg, a city I had never lived in, let alone ever visited. Now moving between cities was pretty normal in my life (having lived in 7 different cities by that point in my life) but this time something changed dramatically, in that I almost immediately became depressed and anxious. Looking back now it’s easy for me to see why that happened;
I crave socialization. In terms of extraversion and introversion I’m probably 90% extroverted. I’m always on the hunt, searching for friends and reasons to go socialize. I have one of the most twistable arms in the world when it comes to socializing. Literally all it takes is a message from someone and I’m out the door before I even read the message.
So how does being the ultimate extrovert bring out my anxiety? Well going to university and being put into residence can simply be described as a paradise. Here I was living with 100s of people around my age so my social craving was always fulfilled. Everywhere I looked I had a multitude of friends willing to hang out at any moment at any time. I was in an extroversion utopia. When my time in residence ended I moved to Winnipeg to live with my family who had just moved out there as well. In the first few weeks of this new city I was feeling great after living in my utopia for the past 8 months- but those feelings quickly changed. I went from an environment where my social cravings were constantly fulfilled to a city where my social life was non-existent. This city had quickly become a social dystopia and the turnaround from being social to nothing caused me to crash mentally. Whenever I moved growing up it was easy to find friends in a new school, however, I wasn’t going to school in Winnipeg so I didn’t know where to find fiends. For the first time in my life I was at a social loss; I just didn’t know how to fulfill my extroversion needs so I became anxious and depressed. I eventually found a job working for the provincial government but I worked with people twice my age so while it helped a little I was still stuck in my mental cage. What made it worse was that my depression made sure I didn’t put any effort into going out to find friends because I kept telling myself it was useless, so for the 4 months I lived in Winnipeg I let my depression and anxiety fester to a point where it decided it wanted to stay for the long haul.
Moving back to Guelph to start my 2nd year was mentally liberating. Huzzah! My social life was about to return and everything was going to go back to normal…or so I thought. The overarching anxiety and depression had relatively disappeared as my social life took off again, yet the anxiety and depression stuck around, becoming compartmentalized into two triggers:
The first trigger was the fear of missing social situations. If I left Guelph for a weekend I’d be sitting around anxious thinking about what I missed, questioning why did I decided to leave and telling myself I shouldn’t have left. It would get to the point where I wouldn’t even enjoy my weekend because I was too busy thinking about a city I wasn’t in. Even when I was in town the anxiety would strike. What if I had to sit in my house by myself all weekend? What if there was nothing to do? At this point I had become entirely dependent on other people to make me happy.
Now the second trigger is slightly more embarrassing but it comes down to dating, or lack thereof. For an anxious extrovert (or at least myself) dating seemed pretty cool; here was someone who wanted to spend time with me all the time! So having never really dated I started to obsess over what it would be like to date someone. This became slightly problematic as I had spent a whole summer literally hating myself and unfortunately those feelings don’t just go away overnight. So here I was, self-worth at an all-time low and wanting to enter the dating scene; nothing sexier than having no confidence and large amounts of self-hate right? So enter the dating scene I did, then immediately crashed and burned. My anxiety would cause me to over-analyze and catastrophize everything. First and foremost I’d tell myself that no one would ever want to be with me, because if I didn’t like myself how could someone else like me? Secondly, by the gods if I somehow expressed interest in someone and it was mutual I would immediately have doubts, which would spiral out of control and cause me to run away. The best part of all this (not really) was that it got worse as time went on. The constant sense of failure and anxiety was slowly but surely tearing down my psyche piece by piece; I was becoming a lonely, empty, emotionless husk of a person.
Soon enough my friends and family started to notice. I would always tell them that it’ll fix itself sooner or later and I always believed it would. Every few months I’d tell myself that I was on the mend and I tried so hard to believe it but in reality it was here to stay. My emotional baseline had leveled out below neutral; I was chronically depressed, I had constant anxiety attacks over the smallest of things, and I would go through episodes where my depressed mood would sink lower than the Marianas Trench. During these moods I would lose all hope for ever being truly happy again. They would last weeks, maybe even a month before leveling back out to my normal low emotional baseline. Even then, the last few days of the episode would be awful, the point at which my emotions reached the lowest of the low; I would literally become severely anxious over how depressed I was and how it would never change. Then magically I’d wake one day feeling normal, the lowest of the low was gone, I was healed! It felt great! I’d tell myself I’m all better now and life was grand. Until my emotions levelled out again a week or so later back to the depressed levels. The best metaphor for my mind is the weather. For me, the weather was always overcast with commonly occurring “anxiety” storms and occasionally a hurricane with sunny weather being highly uncommon. Whenever it was sunny I’d tell myself it was here to stay until it disappeared just as fast as it showed up.
Unfortunately I sat back and allowed this cycle to continue for almost 5 years before I finally decided to take action. I went to a doctor and told him my mind was overcast every day. He told me I was depressed and sent me to cognitive behavioural therapy. I got scheduled with an amazing therapist whom I refer to as Pistol Pete. The therapy helped me understand the workings of my mind. I started to learn about the various ways I cognitively distort reality to paint a picture of hopelessness when in reality my life is full of hope and joy, and that even when the weather is overcast the sun is still there peeking through the clouds. I made the decision to open up to my father about how I was feeling and what I was going through. I like to believe it’s brought me closer to him than I’ve ever been and I don’t know what I would have done without him.
I was always afraid to open up to anyone but now that isn’t the case. I had always felt alone but never have I been so wrong. I have always been surrounded by amazing people who care about me and it took me way too long to realize this. To these people I say thank you (you all know who you are). Thank you for always being there for me. I know it’s hard to be around someone who’s depressed and anxious all the time but I can’t even put into words how much you all mean to me. Without your support, especially through those harder times, I don’t even know if I would have been able to make it through this. You all saved my life and for that I love you all so much!
So how am I doing now? Better! Do I still suffer from anxiety, anxiety attacks and depressive episodes? I sure do! But now I have a greater understanding of why they exist, their triggers, and how to deal with them when they show up. My emotional baseline is on the rise, slowly crawling back to a more neutral state. For the first time in years I can confidently tell myself, and believe myself, when I say I’m getting better; those overcast clouds are disappearing and sunny days are becoming far more common. If you’re reading this and are at all going through anything similar please please please don’t be afraid to find help. You are not, and will never be alone.
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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.