it’s crazy what a difference a year makes. how memorable some days on the calendar are over others.
This day last year, I hit publish on one of the scariest things I’ve ever written.
Scarier than any other blog post, instagram post, tweet, or facebook message.
I finally wrote about my mental hell. In (almost) full-detail. I’d alluded to it before, and had only told a few people– 2, 3 people at most– about what had happened from October to December 2014. But this? This laid it out on the table. No turning back, hiding any of my thoughts or feelings on the subject— I placed it all out here and hit publish.
I was scared as hell. It was the most vulnerable I had ever been in my life. It took me weeks to hit publish on that post because of how personal it was.
I wasn’t sure what people would say (if anything). Or think. I was afraid people would think I was being overdramatic and exaggerated (I wish I was). I was scared of the stigma around mental illness and getting help–I’d already experienced it in my personal life, would I get more of it here?
But I knew I needed to write it. Writing has always been my outlet– and writing things here in the blogging world made me feel less alone. I knew I needed to be honest and tell people what I was going through. I was at a point where I was going to snap under pressure, and I needed a release. This was an easier release than talking about it in person (something I still struggle with a year later).
As soon as I hit publish, I exhaled. Both because I’d finally finished it, and because I wasn’t hiding such a huge part of myself anymore.
Now here we are a year later. I’ve reread the post since writing it, mostly glossing over it by skimming. But today, I read it line by line, re-living the words I wrote.
I can feel the emotion in my writing. It’s palpable, all coming back to me as I read it again.
My heart racing. The lump in my throat. The hyperventilating. The shakiness and fear in my eyes. The tears of shock, the fear of not knowing what was going on. The crying myself to sleep. The body aches the morning after– I remember it all so clearly as I read my words again.
I felt those symptoms and more for over two months before seeking help. Every day, I went to be thinking I was dying and something was going to kill me in my sleep.
It all came back so suddenly as I read. I could feel it– those symptoms– rising up in me all over again. I can barely read them without feeling anxious and panicky. Re-reading my words makes me teary. And exhausted. I can’t believe I didn’t just write those words–I lived them. It was the scariest time in my life so far.
The crippling anxiety that came after my initial panic attacks is something I still struggle with, to a degree. At that point in my life, I was in an extreme mode of anxiety– not sleeping, constantly pacing the floor, crying and screaming to God about where the hell He was in all of this. I checked WebMD every time I had an ache or pain as if my life depended on it– because in my brain, it did.
I felt so alone and so scared. I didn’t tell anyone unless I had to, and even then I kept it to a basic “I’m just feeling anxious” answer. It took months for me to tell anyone how extreme it was. I didn’t start therapy until the semester after this all started-partially because of time, partially because I was scared to figure out what the root of this problem is (I still haven’t figured that out, truly).
Reading how everything after my initial attack unfolded (the parent in the lobby, the EKG coming back normal, my initial GAD diagnosis) makes me stop and see that God was there even in the midst of one of the scariest moments. Even if I didn’t understand (or still don’t) what was happening, there were subtle whispers and moments that gently reminded me that I hadn’t been abandoned– even if my brain felt like I was. I was never alone in those few months– even when I felt like I was. This whole diagnosis and life after has changed my faith in lots of ways, looking back. I feel like I depend on God more now– I felt like I had to depend on him for survival every night. I held onto Him and scripture for dear life some days, finding comfort and reassurance from David in the Psalms that I wasn’t the only one that was on this emotional roller coaster. GAD has changed the way I depend and open myself up to God, and for that I’m grateful. I still have a lot of questions and still have some anger about this whole season of life, but even if they don’t get answered and I don’t understand all the hows or whys, I still believe He proved his sovereignty and his love for me in the smallest, sublest of ways. He’s still good, even when life all around me isn’t.
A year later and I look back at what has transpired since.
Therapy and medicine entered my life — and practically saved it. Medicine helped me balance out what was over my head, and therapy both helped me grapple with reasons and explanations as to why I was/am anxious, and giving me tools to combat the anxiety before and after it starts. I’m always going to be anxious–it’s a part of my life. But it doesn’t rule over me like it used to. And on the days where my anxiety runs higher than normal, I use one of my tools to combat it and bring me back down. It doesn’t always work, but it usually brings me some solace. Sleeping was one of the biggest struggles I had; therapy helped me develop a “nightly ritual” of sorts–take my melatonin, write my to-do list for the next day (so that I’m not up all night thinking about what I need to do the next day), make my bed up (at night, I know I’m weird), and pray. I try to go to bed before/around midnight every night so I’m consistent– obviously college makes that impossible some nights, but I try. Sleep is now my best friend– along with melatonin.
With medicine and therapy, I have been able to do a lot of things I didn’t think I could do: I traveled, I went on adventures, I let myself be more spontaneous. I didn’t let fear and anxiety keep me from living every day. Somedays it overpowers me and my wants, but I don’t let it have control over me anymore. It’s a great feeling. I still have my days where my anxiety keeps power over me, but I’ve learned that it’s OK– some days and some things are just going to make me anxious. I’m aware of it now, and how to handle it– and sometimes that means sitting out. I’ve learned to know my limits and boundaries, and it’s a nice thing to figure out.
It took awhile for medicine to regulate me, but when it did, the intense panic attacks became fewer and far-between. The anxiety was still there, and some nights crippling, but the full-blown attacks that kept me from living were slowly disappearing. As of now, I only have full-blown attacks when I’m under a lot of stress or am overwhelmed. The last time I had one was in January. I have smaller attacks when I let myself get to overthinking and spending too much time in my head, but I can combat those easier than I could last year. I feel a lot better about my ability to control my attacks than I did last year.
Along with the good comes the bad. A lot of life changes have happened over the past year, and they brought even more anxiety and stress than just the everyday anxiety I’d been carrying. I left student teaching and was left utterly clueless with what to do with my life, I began having more stress at home, and anxiety about the future and going back to Lipscomb for an unplanned extra semester just sent me further into a pit I couldn’t get out on my own. In September, I made the decision to talk to my doctor about upping my medicine dosage. I’m glad I did– after a couple weeks, the fog I’d been under lifted greatly. I started feeling like myself again.
After writing this post last year, my ability to be vulnerable went up greatly. In writing, at least. I heard a lot of “me, toos”– more than I expected. Now that friends knew what I was dealing with, they were able to check in and ask me how I was feeling. I’d post on facebook or instagram and felt relieved I could talk about how I was honestly feeling– and people would listen. Vulnerability became easier for me– almost too easy. I’m learning to draw more boundary lines about what I need to say and what I don’t need to say. But it’s so easy for me when I’m having a bad night to write about it than it is to actually talk to someone.
On that note, talking in person is my biggest struggle. Still. I have a support system, but am just afraid to reach out to people in person like I am in writing– and online. It’s one of the weird things about social media for me– it’s such an outlet for me, yet it’s made it easier for me to be less than open and honest in person. I want to fix that. I haven’t found the right people to talk to in person yet, minus my therapist. I have friends I’ll text when I need them, but I’m always scared to hit send and bother them with it. Same with in-person– I’m one of those that says she’s fine to save face when she’s crumbling underneath, just to not offer the other person grief. I’d rather be the helper than the one being helped. It’s a lot easier for me to be honest and vulnerable and not okay behind my computer screen than when you’re sitting across from me. It’s a work in progress– I just need to look for the right people to talk to.
This year has been such an eye-opening year of growth. I’ve learned so much about myself, about mental health and self-care, about how to be honest and vulnerable (and how far I have to go on that front), about who to talk to and who not to. It’s been such a process dealing with this. While mentally I’m a lot better than I was when I wrote that post last year, I am still a work a progress. I have a lot to go, and don’t know if I’ll ever be fully okay. I’m always going to be anxious, but now I know what’s okay and what isn’t– and how to fix it. I learned more about what it really looks like to depend on God, and to find him even in the midst of scary and dark times. It’s been an eye-opening year since I first told people about my life with GAD– and even when it hasn’t been easy to talk about, I’m glad I did. I’m a healthier, better version of myself for it.
I’m a new me since GAD entered my life. Even though this new me is a little shaky and a little louder, I like her. And while I don’t like that GAD eneted my life at all, it’s made me a better version of myself– and for that, I’m thankful.