There was a time in my life when I experienced constant anxiety. Obsessive thoughts, excessive worry, and uncontrollable heart palpitations. Fear of the future was constant. Daily.
Over time, my anxiety faded. I couldn’t contribute its disappearance to anything specific, but I think it came down to an inner calmness I possessed from being genuinely happy. I thought my anxiety was a thing of the past.
Then my father died. I made an unexpected move to San Francisco. I was overwhelmed by obsessive thoughts about work and the pressure to start a family. My fear of the future was a constant again.
It all happened so quickly.
I contemplated canceling. Again. I felt empty. But my brutal inner chatter forced me to get it together; I’d been calling myself a piece of shit for days.
Before I knew it, waves of anxiety came creeping in during the strangest times. I stormed out of a friend’s birthday party a few months ago. My husband quickly paid the bill and rushed out as my friends tried to figure out what was happening. A stomach ache, I said. When I finally left the restaurant and felt the fresh air on my face, my throat closed up. I couldn’t breathe. While my friends continued celebrating, I was having a full-fledged panic attack two blocks away.
A week later, I met a friend for an early dinner. I contemplated canceling. Again. I hadn’t gotten out of bed all day, and I hadn’t taken a shower in several. I felt empty. But my brutal inner chatter forced me to get it together; I’d been calling myself a piece of shit for days. It will just be for two hours, I convinced myself.
We ordered my favorite: Aperol Spritz, pasta, pizza. She started talking about her depression and how bad it had gotten a few months ago. She told me how scary it was for her, her husband, her parents. Those were the only people who knew. She told me her dad would often come over to her apartment and just sit with her until her husband got home. I wish my dad could do that, I thought. I got lost in my own thoughts as flashes of him rushed through my mind. I hadn’t allowed myself to think about him much. If I didn’t, I thought, I could somehow get myself out of this hole. When I come to, my friend said:
“Depression is when you are not able to feel joy in the things you would normally find joy in.”
Tears were streaming down my face. I couldn’t control it. Finally someone had found the words to describe how I was feeling. I was unable to find joy in the things I normally found joy in.
Those check-ins became my therapy. I stopped entertaining the debilitating voices in my head, the ones taunting me for being unable to get my shit together.
She told me how much therapy helped and strongly suggested it. I told her I could figure this out on my own. I thought therapy wasn’t for people like me. I didn’t need anyone else.
After that night, she checked in on me every day. She sent me funny memes but never forgot to ask: How are you doing today? When she sensed I was faking a happy answer, she’d push until I gave it to her straight.
Those check-ins became my therapy. The push I needed to put myself first. She gave me permission to own how I was feeling, and I stopped entertaining the debilitating voices in my head, the ones taunting me for being unable to get my shit together.
I had more honest conversations with my husband and other close friends. I asked for help. For the first time in months, I finally said the words: I’m not okay.
Debilitated by my own mind, I thought no one would be able to help me.
I’m not in an anxious state anymore. Those months feel like a blur now, but when I was in it, it felt like it would never end, that this would be my new normal. I didn’t go to therapy, but I made my mental health a priority and focused on other types of healing, like acupuncture, womb healing, and endless walks in nature. But the biggest thing that got me out of my mind was admitting to myself and others that I was not okay, and letting down my ego to ask for help.
I am eternally grateful to this friend. It makes me want to push when I think a friend is struggling, instead of saying things like: I tried, but she doesn’t want to talk about it.
I will try harder.
Mental health affects all human beings. It doesn’t discriminate against age, race, sexual orientation, class. When I was in it, I felt debilitated by my own mind. It was such an isolated experience; I thought no one would be able to help me.
I now know that I’m not immune to anxiety and that it can come back anytime. I also know that I can ask for help and that people will be there. I’ll be picking up the phone more often; I know I’ll be on both ends of the line.