This is the post that I sorta kinda don’t want to write. I don’t want to publish or share it. I don’t want to be super vulnerable. I don’t want to expose my messy life. I don’t want to seem needy or desperate. I don’t want to cry for help.
But I’m going to. Because that’s part of being the girl who dared. Being real and honest and raw and getting past the glossy highlight reel-filled world of social media is a big part of why I started the conversation that is this blog. Also because this week is Bell Let’s Talk Day which is devoted to raising both money and awareness of mental health. And last year, I was absolutely blown away by the positive response I received to my post on social media.
And because I owe it to myself, to my readers, and to all those out there struggling with mental health to continue the conversation. To be honest, and to maybe, in a small way, help to end the stigma and encourage people to reach out for help.
So…all that to say, this post is about anxiety. More specifically, my own struggles with anxiety. I’ve alluded to it before, but never written a post entirely devoted to it. So I figured the time is now.
*Asterisk time* I’m not a medical or mental health professional in any way. The only thing I’m an expert on is being me. So I can only tell you what I feel and what I’ve done. If you feel like you need professional help, please PLEASE reach out for some.
The thing that has been holding me back though, is truthfully, I don’t feel like I’m doing great right now. It’s difficult to exactly pinpoint why, but I feel like I’ve taken several steps backwards in terms of mental health lately. I am feeling things that used to be a regular part of my life that I thought I had moved beyond. I am in mental places I didn’t want to go back to.
And do you know what? That is ok. It is not great. It is not where I want to be, but beating myself up about it will NOT help. That’s my first message to you (and myself): mental health is not linear. You never get to “win” or “be done.” It is an ongoing struggle that probably you will have to deal with for the rest of your life. Two steps forward, one step back (although sometimes it feels more like 10 steps back).
That is not meant to be discouraging, and not necessarily the best/most comforting news. But we need to be kind to ourselves. Cut ourselves some slack. Reward ourselves for small victories. Find the safe friends and strategies that work. And do the best we can.
So what does anxiety feel like? I can’t speak for anyone else in the world, I can only tell you my experience. Personally, my anxiety isn’t the acute, panic attack variety (I have friends who have that experience, but I can’t say I’ve ever had a panic attack).
For me, it’s a more subtle, creeping, sometimes all-encompassing feeling of dread and well, anxiety. It’s an overwhelming feeling that life, and sometimes even the simplest tasks are “too much.” It’s a feeling that I am totally alone, despite the community of family and friends who love and care for me.
It is an overwhelming feeling of “I can’t.” I can’t “be like other people.” I can’t do this or that. I can’t. I can’t. I can’t. It’s knowing that I am the only one stopping me, but also feeling completely powerless to get out of my own way.
It is a feeling that makes everything, even fun things with people I love, seem to require effort. It is a feeling that sometimes make me sometimes show up at work, and just hope that no one talks to me. It is a feeling of inner panic, that I just have to “hold it together,” lest someone say something and I be found out, or worse, start crying and reveal what’s going on inside.
I often describe myself as a homebody, and while this is true, normal and healthy, it is also because my house is my escape and hiding place when anxiety gets me down. Being at home with tea, Netflix or a book and cozy blankets always appeals to me, but never mores than when I am in the grip of anxiety.
I also often joke (sense of humour = great deflection/defence mechanism) about being OCD/a control freak. But you have to know this about me: my heightened desire for control/my borderline obsessive need to plan ahead or seemingly applaudable/borderline ridiculous meal prep are big time anxiety coping mechanisms. i’ve come to realize that it’s my way of trying to control what I can when it seems that my grasp on mental health is out of my control.
So this feeling – it comes and goes. As I said, it used to be much more prevalent in my life. In my university years and early to mid twenties, this feeling was my baseline, my normal. Oh sure, I was happy at times, and it came and went. I might have been really good at keeping it together, but inside, anxiety was the norm.
Through a lot of positive changes, getting out of my comfort zone, seeking help from a professional (who I still see on a somewhat regular basis FYI), medication at times, and being intentional about building up and belonging to community; this feeling has become a lot less normal for me.
…which is a lot of why I was hesitant to write this post. I am supposed to be the girl who has battled anxiety and won. Who’s healthy and CrossFits and goes to church and has built all these amazing friendships and poured into other people’s lives and beat the odds! This inspirational figure.
If I admit that the last two months have been hard, anxiety-wise…well…I’m some sort of poser, some sort of failure. Maybe all my changes and hard work were for naught. Maybe I’m doomed and destined to struggle with this. Maybe anxiety wins.
While I don’t have all the answers…I think the answer is yes…and no.
As I said above, I think that anxiety, depression and mental health are a lifelong struggle, for me, and so many others. But that doesn’t mean they have to win. They might get the upper hand sometimes. Certain things may trigger me, but I have to believe that I am smart. I have made positive changes, and I am not powerless (and neither are you).
Struggling, and admitting that struggle, is NOT a failure. It’s being human. It’s being brave to admit you don’t have it all figured out. if I’m being honest – those are my favourite people. The messy, broken, not-all-together, willing to struggle and be real about it kind of people. Those people are the brave ones, the strong ones, and the ones I am proud to call friends.
These days (and social media only helps further the myth), it’s easy to pull off “having it all together.” Anyone can curate their pictures, posts and insta-stories to show the carefully selected highlight reel of happiness. But where are the guts and vulnerability in that? Admitting that you’re down? Asking for help? That, in my opinion is the real gutsy move.
So what’s an angsty girl to do? This post isn’t exactly one with a neat little conclusion, or any conclusion for that matter. The older I get, the more I learn that less and things in life come with a neat and tidy ending, a bow that you can wrap up, a chapter to close, something that you can wash your hands of and be done with.
Mental health, and life in general, are messy. What I can do is remember what has worked before. Faith. Prayer. Taking steps out of my comfort zone even when every part of me is screaming “I don’t wanna.” Asking for help even when it’s scary. Building community, and leaning into that community even when I feel as though I am a mess and would rather pull back. Finding those safe friends. Investing time in people and things that matter to me. Taking care of myself. Being kind to myself. Remembering that I am not broken. I don’t need to be fixed.
And, when all else fails; putting one foot in front of the other. Knowing not every day will be awesome. But that it’s ok. And I’m ok…or at least, I will be.
*If you are reading this and needing help – reach out. Whether that means sending me a message, talking to a loved one, your doctor or another professional – just do it. If there can be one takeaway from this post, let that be it.