My friend Amy Dott has inspiring advice. I asked her if she could share her experience with anxiety. She wrote:
When I was in the first grade, my first episode of anxiety kicked in. I had no idea what I was feeling. I only knew that my heart raced, I was panicky, sweating, and felt imposing doom. It was terrifying and frequently debilitating. I spent a lot of time hiding in the bathroom, waiting for the impeding doom to consume me or go away. It was exacerbated by a scary bus driver. I was terrified to get on the bus for fear he’d call me out for something. Later that same year, we moved and I changed schools. I remember the terror I felt when a fire alarm or earthquake drill went off. The anticipation of such events was enough to set me off and terrify me.
Anxiety is like having a chronic fire drill going off in your mind. You think it is real, your heart races, and you want to flee but in reality, there is no fire, no emergency but your body acts like there is. During these anxiety episodes, I would withdraw from the world, not realizing that my anxiety was then causing some depression. It became a repeated cycle throughout my life.
Thankfully, through the years, I’ve gained some great coping skills. Through some good professional counselors, a supportive family and at times, medication, I have learned that anxiety and depression do not need to control me or my life. I’ve learned to be watchful of things in my life. I know when my anxiety or depression starts to creep in, I need to be proactive. Being honest with myself and seeking help and support during these times is so important and part of proactively finding joy in life.
Certain times in life are natural triggers for depression and anxiety. Adolescence, young adulthood, pregnancy/postpartum, or any time period where major changes are taking place can exacerbate anxiety and depression. Knowing this has been helpful and made me pay attention to anxiety and depression during transitional times in my life. I’ve learned a few things from these experiences:
-I’m grateful for those who kept confidences when I shared that I was struggling.
-I learned that reaching out to my parents when I was young and struggling was a gift. Even if they didn’t exactly understand what I was feeling, they were sensitive to my needs and were open to getting me mental health care. Their openness to mental health care was a gift I know many did not have and still don’t have. I hope that keeps changing for the better. If you have a child struggling, please do not be afraid or ashamed of getting them professional help.
-More people than you know struggle with mental health challenges. If you struggle, you are not alone. One gift of opening up about your challenges is it opens the door for others to also share their difficulties and experiences. Knowing there were others who forged through dark moments and emerged triumphant gave me hope that I too could feel peace and joy again. Also, sharing, helps people better know what you need and how to help you. Empathy is so important.
-The stigmas associated with mental health are so damaging. Opening up the doors of understanding can make a huge difference.
-Telling someone to have more faith or serve others more will not help someone clinically struggling. Chemicals in the brain and behaviors that contribute to anxiety are not magically fixed by praying it away or serving more. They can be helpful but professional counseling and medication may ultimately be needed. Seeking out and receiving help should not be something to be ashamed of. Strong people ask for help.
-Cutting yourself some slack and simplifying your load when you feel that you are struggling is imperative and important. Do not let guilt get the best of you.
-People will say insensitive and mean things. It is usually not intentional but a lack of understanding. Frequently, people are unaware that they are hurting your feelings. I remember many times people saying things that they thought were helpful but their words felt more like daggers to my already heavy heart. I’ve learned to put these things on a shelf and try not to take them too personally.
-Depression and anxiety are survivable. There is hope and joy. Seeking help and gaining skills to cope are so important, especially when you feel you are not getting out of the dark hole. Each episode in my life has been terrifying but surviving each of these has given me courage that in time, all would be well again. My mental health esteem has been built by surviving hard times. Life is full of challenges but it is also full of so many incredible and amazing life experiences.
My hope in sharing is that it will remind others that they are not alone. Additionally, I pray it may give hope to someone who has lost hope and that better days are ahead. No one’s life is perfect. We all have struggles. We need to be here for each other and create safety networks for one another. Empathy and understanding are critical.
Please reach out to a trusted adult or friend, if you need help. You are loved. You are valued. You are needed!