*Disclaimer, this is not like my usual posts. I wanted to get a little deeper with you all. Stay tuned for more posts on our usual lighthearted content.
For the longest time, for almost as long as I can remember–I have suffered from anxiety. The first time I remember it happening was in first grade. Ryan Jensen’s boy/girl Halloween party. I remember being excited but hesitant since there were going to be boys there who were not my cousins. I was in my angel costume, my roll-on glitter on my cheeks and my Dr Pepper Bonnie Bell chap-stick on my lips, but suddenly I was panicked. I was breaking out in a cold sweat and was sick to my stomach. I felt scared. At the age of six I had no idea what was wrong. All I knew was that I felt sick. I guess my terror was pretty obvious because my mom recognized something was wrong as we pulled up to Ryan’s house; I was quite tearful and white as a sheet. She was concerned enough that she called Ryan’s mom to let her know I would not be coming to the party after all. She gave me ginger ale and saltines, but that was not what miraculously cured my stomachache. As soon as she hung up with phone with Ryan’s mom I felt like a weight was lifted. Although I was kind of sad that I was missing out, my six-year old mind was relieved. Again, at this point I had no idea what this was. I did not have the name for this uncomfortable “feeling” until I was in high school. I thought I just had a sensitive stomach. Once I did figure out I suffered from anxiety, it was a journey of research and self-understanding.
A huge contributor to my anxiety was my shyness and my need to be perfect all the time. I know, I know…there is no such thing as perfect. Rationally, I am aware of this, but try to convince my brain of that. Unfortunately, there is no rationality when it comes to mental illness. I always strive for perfection in everything I do, to the point that I would make myself sick and spread myself too thin. If I did something not quite so perfect, like not getting a good grade on a test, I would privately fall apart and be so disappointed and embarrassed with myself. My anxiety and introverted-ness ruined many of my childhood friendships and relationships which was a devastating blow for me. I questioned myself and my self-worth. I couldn’t find the words to express why I did not want to go to parties with them and drink for fear that I would lose control and ruin my ‘perfect persona.’ I had no way to make people understand or make them realize I had no control over my emotions and could not simply “turn off” my worrying. I could not explain why I was this way, it made me feel like something was wrong with me, and did not know how to fix it.
It was the most frustrating time in my life, and I felt like I was failing. Yes, I had some friends and a loving family. I did very well in school, had gotten into my first choice college. I enjoyed dance and theatre and I was good at it. I had no reason to be anxious, but I was, and was not dealing with it well. I felt like I was always playing a role, just faking it to get by. I think I was pretty good at hiding it. No one except my mom and dad were truly aware of how much I was struggling because they would hear me cry in my room when I had a panic attack and would come sit with me, hearing me vent about nonsense. When it was finally time to leave for college, I was miserable. Change was so hard for me because I could not prepare. I hated feeling awkward and shy around my roommates and feeling like I did not know what I was doing, which went against the perfectionist within me. I felt embarrassed all the time and was paranoid that I was making a fool out of myself. I lacked confidence in everything I did. I tried so hard to make myself feel better. I took psychology classes to try to understand anxiety and I joined a sorority to help with my shyness and to make friends. These were good decisions, but they did not fix the problem. And that was it. My epiphany: I had been trying too hard to “fix“ myself. I looked at my anxiety like it was wrong and let it rule me in a way where it was in charge of my life. I needed to work with my anxiety; not ignore it or try to make it go away completely. Embracing that was the first step.
Every day is still a work in progress, but I am dealing with it. I still lack confidence and feel overwhelmed and panicked when I feel like I’m losing control or cannot handle a situation. Although each day brings its own obstacles, I do not let anxiety get in my way. I ignore the “perfectionist” “control freak” and “too quiet” labels and try to work with my Type A personality.
I have tried many things to deal with my anxiety including counseling, medication, exercise and meditation. Many of these did not work for me. I faked it during counseling. I put up a wall and pretended to be perfect. I never got comfortable enough to be real with the therapist. Meditation and exercise was only a distraction. I would not think about my anxiety while doing the activity, but as soon as I was done the intrusive thoughts would come back. Medication does help, but it does not provide total relief for me. The things that have helped include having trusted people in my life who I feel comfortable talking to. This was my mom and husband. They may not fully understand my meltdowns, but they listen and they do not try to fix me. My dog Tilly has also helped me. I do not live in the same state as my parents and when my husband has to travel for work, he often cannot have his phone. Tilly makes me feel less abandoned. She is always there and I can always talk to her.
The other thing that I do is journal, which is kind of what led me here – to this blog. Anxiety is a constant stream of thoughts and worries that never go away. Journaling keeps me from overthinking and stewing on my issues. Writing helps me organize my thoughts and get them out of my head. It many sound a little silly, but I also read quotes about anxiety and depression. It grounds me and helps me realize I am not alone. SO many other people are dealing with this as well! Finally, the last thing that helps me is telling myself I am good enough and that perfection is not needed. This mantra does not always work, but saying something over and over can be calming. I wish dealing with anxiety was simple and straight forward, but as I have said, it is hard to reason with mental illness.
This is obviously not my normal blog post, but this is my life. My anxiety and perfectionism does affect my style, make-up, and lifestyle. I want to be honest with my followers. I find that many bloggers only touch on surface level topics or ignore ‘real life.’ I will always be honest about my mental health and struggles with anxiety, depression and body image. As Jake’s deployment nears, I can feel myself becoming more stressed and anxious. It is hard to feel like I have no control over what is going on or what is going to happen. There will be so much change. I hope to continue to be open about this.
If you are struggling with any form of mental illness, remember you are not alone. As someone who has studied mental health while I was working on both of my degrees, it is important to remember that everyone who suffers from anxiety is different. This is just my personal story. My coping strategies may not work for you- don’t get discouraged. It took me years to get a handle on my anxiety, and I still have issues! Find your way of working with your illness, and do not give up.
This post is in no way sponsored, but if you are feeling down and need someone to talk to, try an online chat with a therapist. Many like http://www.betterhelp.com are free! I hope this post not only gives you more insight into me, but also helps those who are struggling feel more supported.
XOXO, Cait B.