It’s a beautiful, sunny afternoon, but I’m in bed. I’m not asleep though. My heart is racing. I can hear it thumping in my ears. There’s a voice in my head chastising me, telling me to get out of bed, that I’m lazy and useless. “You’re wasting the day. You’re wasting your life.” But, I am paralyzed. I can’t bring myself to move, my limbs are weighed down by shackles my brain has constructed.
This is a glimpse into the war in my mind. It’s a constant, ruthless battle between my anxiety and my depression, and I am just a powerless spectator.
Instead of gaining the “freshman fifteen” during my first year of college, I lost it to anxiety. My appetite is not the only thing my anxiety stole from me. It stole my freedom, my energy, my basic reasoning skills, my patience, my spontaneity, my confidence. For a year, I was able to hide my mental anguish, or so I thought. Those who loved me were slowly beginning to notice a shift, a change they couldn’t quite put their finger on.
Sophomore year I came home for winter break and slept all day, only leaving my bed when my parents would urge me to come eat something, after which I would return to bed for the rest of the day and through the night. After a couple weeks of this dismal routine, my mom, crying at the sight of me, a shell of the vibrant and carefree girl I once was, dragged me out of bed and to the doctor. That day I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. It was then that I finally saw my mental illness for what it was and for the first time felt hopeful that I would not suffer forever.
Since then, it’s been a journey. Nearly a decade has passed since that day, and it’s been ten years full of trial and error and trying to find balance. There have been spectacular highs and plummeting lows. I’ve been overly medicated, as well as medication-free.
Treatment looks different for everyone; here’s what it looks like for me today. I keep my anxiety medication, “my security blanket” as I call it, close at all times. Just knowing it’s nearby is often enough to fend off a panic attack. I practice yoga, go to therapy, write, allow myself to unapologetically feel, and most importantly, surround myself with a loving, nonjudgmental support system of family and friends who may not understand, but are unwaveringly understanding.
This doesn’t mean I don’t still have off days, weeks, or months. My depression urges me to stay in bed and skip class, work, the gym, and social events. I’ve declined invitations, canceled plans at the last second, and felt like I’ve disappointed those who love me the most. My mind operates in worst-case scenarios, which is exhausting not only for me but for those close to me. My constant state of worry has pushed people away, irritated them, and put strain on my relationships. There are times, in the throes of a panic attack, that I have to remind myself I’m not dying and that I can find the air in my lungs to keep breathing. Sometimes, tasks as small as getting in the shower seem like insurmountable feats.
Yet, I persevere. The most important thing I’ve learned is that you must not let anyone convince you that your mental illness isn’t valid. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety affects 40 million adults over the age of 18 in the US, while depression affects 16 million. You are not alone. What you feel is real, and you never have to be sorry. Mental illness may be a part of you, but it sure as hell doesn’t define you. You have too much to offer the world to spend years of your life, literally or figuratively, under the covers.
Anxiety and depression will never win. I found my voice and demanded a ceasefire. I am no longer a spectator to the war in my mind.