So, I've touched briefly on my anxiety but I never really wrote about it. When I started this blog, I realized that most other personal style blogs didn't write about the negative parts of their life because let's face it, who wants to escape from the stresses of their daily life to read about someone else's stresses? But recently, I decided that I at least would talk about my anxiety and how I've dealt with it because maybe one of my readers deals with anxiety and might want to see how someone else deals with it. And also, I just felt that I needed to get this out there.
To get everything started, allow me to reintroduce (or introduce in case you're new around here) myself. My name is Angela and I'm 22 (turning 23 in August) years old. I'm currently at a junior college but will be transferring to a CSU next fall. I was actually pretty prepped to transfer this fall, but I'm taking a year off to save up money for moving and because of my anxiety/mental health. I plan on majoring in English Literature, getting a teaching degree for English, and when I'm able to get to grad school I plan on focusing on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. I currently work in retail at a clothing resale and consignment store. And yeah.
So those are the basics about me. So...anxiety well, I've always had anxiety. I mean, for as long as I can remember, I was always fidgeting, had a difficult time sleeping or I would sleep for a very long time, I always had internal debates over simple things like how to order food at a restaurant or how to chit-chat with people. I would often find it difficult for me to "switch off" my brain and just relax like everyone else. It wasn't until middle school that the therapist I was speaking to told me that I might have an anxiety disorder. After that, I stopped seeing her because growing up, I learned that anything having to do with mental health and mental illnesses was something shameful so I didn't want anyone to know that I was someone who suffered from a mental illness. Making friends was incredibly difficult for me as it was, so I didn't want to add anything else that would make it more difficult for me. So I kept it a secret.
I went through middle and high school feeling like something was inherently wrong with me, that I was sick in my head because of anxiety. Don't even get me started on how confusing it was for me to discover that I wasn't even straight but anyways! I was constantly freaking about being judged by any of my friends if I told them about my anxiety, sometimes I'd get panic attacks during school hours and would have to quickly excuse myself, and I'd just feel like I was about to explode from how worried and nervous I was over what would be nothing to someone else. Looking back, I definitely should have continued seeing a therapist but I couldn't. My family doesn't have the best attitude towards mental health and I definitely wasn't about to be teased for being too emotional, too much of a worry wart, or for faking something for attention. I knew too many people in high school who faked having depression or anxiety so that people would think they were interesting or so that their parents would pay more attention to them. I didn't want to be one of them despite the fact that my anxiety was making high school harder for me than it already was. Keeping up my grades, pretending I was a happy-go-lucky teen, dealing with my own self-esteem issues, keeping up with friends, AND dealing with family that I disliked? It was all too much but I dealt with it. At this point, I don't think I was coping. I was just barely getting by.
One of my escapes was the internet. At this point in my life, Tumblr was just an account I had made just in case any of my fandom friends from Livejournal moved over there so I didn't use it as much as I do now. Back in the high school years, Livejournal was my safe haven and I made so many friends there. I'm still close friends with a few of them like Linh (who went to my high school) and Rose. Livejournal and fandom were ways for me to relax and get away from the issues in my life. It's also a place where I found other people who were dealing with anxiety like me. I didn't feel like I was alone or like I was some sort of freak. I felt welcomed and like I was apart of something. Something that I rarely felt except when performing. Livejournal and the friends I made there helped me make it through high school and it also helped me deal with my anxiety. Through fandom, I found characters and story arcs that I could relate to. I found characters that reminded me of myself and that helped me to deal with my anxiety. I had panic attacks rarely, I found ways of dealing with things like chit chat and ordering food, and I was able to worry less about the things in my life. Now that I look back, I realize that I would ask myself "What would (character's name) do in this situation?" in order to deal.
For a while I was good. I had a good period where I barely had any panic attacks. I was able to just converse with people without thinking TOO MUCH about what I was going to say. I felt "normal". Then I met my bad ex and all of that progress just disappeared. I was back to having panic attacks. I was back to sleepless nights and weekends where I wasted daylight hours sleeping only to wake up and feel more tired. I found myself feeling more and more, pardon the language, shitty. I opened up to my ex about my anxiety and about my depression. Despite previous knowledge, I for some reason hoped that he would accept me. He did not. He made fun of me and told me "You're just being dramatic. 'Anxiety' and 'depression' aren't real. Those are made up words that liberals like you use to make up for all your mistakes." I was completely heartbroken. I don't want to get TOO into my first long-term mistake, but long story short, hearing him say that to me made me feel like maybe I was just making all of this up, maybe I am just making excuses for my shortcomings. When I finally broke up with him, I still had that thought in the back of my mind though. The thought that I was just using anxiety as an excuse for all of my mistakes and for all of my shortcomings as an "adult". Often times, I still feel like that, even now.
During the year after I ended things with my ex, as I said in my "Late Bloomers" post, I worked on building my self esteem up. While my anxiety was still at a pretty high 8-9 on a 10-scale, I liked myself a bit more and felt comfortable in my skin. Not all the time, but just enough that I didn't feel like drowning. During the year of 2013, I essentially ignored all of my mental health issues. I pushed myself through classes even when I couldn't find the energy to get out of bed, I hung out with friends even when I felt like lying in the dark by myself, and I sought out happiness in beds of strangers and sometimes, friends. I won't lie, the single swinger life was really fun and I was always safe with it (CONDOMS EVERYONE! COMMUNICATION IS IMPORTANT), but deep down, I was anxious that I was going to die alone because of my faults, because of how bad my anxiety can make me feel and how it can make me act.
It wasn't until 2014 that I realized I needed to stop ignoring my anxiety and learn to deal with and cope with it. My boyfriend helped a lot with that realization. Last year was hard for me because a lot of things happened. I had issues with my bank that resulted in me owing them $200 because of how they scheduled payments, I lost my nannying job (the family moved to the father's home country), I cut things off with my mom because she was definitely not helpful to my health, my car just completely died, and things were not great at home. I mean, things were never perfect at home, there was always some form of arguing and yelling going on and I was always being blamed because I didn't fall for the Filipino cultural rule of "respecting elders because they cared for you and birthed you" which by the way is a fucked up rule. Things just weren't going well. On top of that, I completely checked out of fall semester and didn't do as well as I should have.
The only saving grace was my boyfriend and my friends. I know people say that you're supposed to love your family because they're blood but honestly, that's so dumb to me because I've had my friends and my boyfriend support me in ways that my blood-family can't even think to do. This internalized hate and guilt at myself just wasn't helping me and a lot of that, I've discovered, was because of my family and how they've treated me. So my friends and boyfriend kinda became my surrogate family. I had a lot of panic attacks last year, some sober and some when I was drunk after a night of fun with friends and my boyfriend. Who would help me through these panic attacks? My boyfriend and on some occasions, my friends.
My panic attacks can range from hyperventilating (the easiest) to a combination of hyperventilating, crying, convulsing, shaking, and curling up on my side (the worst). I've never had anything in-between. It's always been one or the other. It wasn't until I spoke to my human sexuality professor that I actually really considered therapy. Last year, I had considered it because I had been having so much trouble controlling my anxiety and coping with my panic attacks but I thought "Oh...I can't afford that. Our medical insurance only covers group therapy at Kaiser and that's like the worst." If you haven't had a group therapy session at a Kaiser hospital, count yourself lucky. I had a group therapy session there once (because it was covered so it was free) and I ended up having an anxiety attack in the middle of the session (someone had said something that triggered something for me) and had to leave because the person running the session told me to go outside, calm down, and breathe. The whole calming down and breathe thing doesn't work me so I waited until I could leave and left. The individual sessions are also just too expensive for me to pay on my own and I knew that my dad wouldn't want to help with that since he already pays for my phone and the rest of my car insurance and I didn't want to feel guilted for asking for something that I needed (something that I already felt when I told my godmother that I was putting transferring off for a year because of my anxiety and she said I was taking my education for granted).
Cut to this year and I have a private meeting with my human sexuality professor (who I think is [I can't remember Dx] a practicing therapist) and I end up crying and coming clean to her about my anxiety and how stressed my family makes me and all of my concerns with money and school. She listens to me ramble, cry, and sniff and then asks me "Why do you feel guilty for taking care of your mental health? Don't you think that your family should care about your mental health?" and my response is "Because my family doesn't see mental health as a real thing. It's not something that should take precedence over getting a good education so that I can provide for them like they provided for me." and she says "Stop. Stop that thought. You owe your parents and your family nothing. Those are the people that ARE supposed to provide for you because you are their child. If they had you just so that they could guilt you and say things like 'I can't wait for when you're older and can take care of me and pay for everything', they do not deserve your respect and support. Your happiness, your mental health comes first. Not them. You." I mean, that's not verbatim, but it's basically what she said to me. Like. Just hearing an adult say those things and tell me that what I've been feeling almost my whole life isn't wrong was just such a relief. A lot of my anxiety comes from guilt and from hating myself for how I am. What she said helped me see that it wasn't me that was wrong, it was the people that are supposed to be my support system that was wrong. When she asked if I could afford therapy on my retail job and I said no, she helped me find therapy that's specifically for low-income patients.
However, I was still very nervous about delving into therapy despite feeling slightly less hateful towards myself after speaking to my professor. But my boyfriend, who has seen me at my worst, thought therapy would be good for me. Earlier this year, he started seeing a therapist and honestly, it's helped him so much. I mean, he's even said that but just looking at him after sessions and speaking to him about it, it's obvious that it's helped him. I figure, he and I are similar in our anxieties, not the same, but similar so I decided to go ahead and schedule an appointment. I was very nervous because I thought "What if I can't open up to this person? What if it doesn't work out?" Just being my general worrisome self, the days leading up to my first session were filled with nervousness, anticipation, and anxiety.
I can't say much since I've gotten sick like twice and have only been able to go to one full therapy session but that one session has helped me a lot. My therapist helped me fully realize what my professor had already opened my eyes to. She also helped me see that my anxiety isn't some enemy that needs to be destroyed. It's a part of who I am but I shouldn't let my anxiety/ies define me. After that first session she's got me back to creatively writing (not fully, but I wrote a bit after our session), she has me attempting to meditate to help put my mind at ease, and she gave me some very helpful advice which she said I need to start internalizing.
My life with anxiety hasn't been crippling or debilitating. At times, it seemed like that to me to be honest, but I know that there are others who have worse anxieties than me. I went from hiding my anxiety and suffering quietly, to hating myself for it (at times, I still hate myself for my anxiety), to opening up only to hide it away again, to fully ignoring it, to acknowledging it and coming to terms with it. While my anxiety makes it difficult to go to work, school, see friends, or just live in general, I learned that I can't let my anxiety control me. I'm still in the process of coping with it, but that's already miles ahead of where I was this time last year. I still have pretty bad panic attacks. I actually had the one the other day after killing a particularly reptilian spider and that attack last like 30 minutes. I tried very hard to control myself but it didn't work. And while that sucks to not be in control, I had to just breathe and focus on what was around me at the time; the feel of the pillow beneath my head, the way my boyfriend's hand felt in mine, the way he smelled, the way my shirt felt against my skin. I just had to find something tangible to focus on to break myself out of the attack. It took a while, but it worked.
I hope that made sense. I don't think it did. Describing living with anxiety was surprisingly more difficult than I thought it'd be. My point was that there are a lot of people out there living with mental health illnesses like anxiety that have a hard time living. Like, it's honestly amazing that I'm able to get out of bed sometimes. For me, anxiety has felt like a heavy spiky vine that's been wound very tightly around and inside my body. It's made periods extra difficult and general living harder than it should be. Little mistakes are huge in my world. Chit chat is a mine field to me that can end in a possible friendship dead before it's even started. Seemingly harmless things could trigger a panic attack. I work in retail and literally every work day is physically (I'm anemic) and emotionally/mentally draining for me.It's difficult and it makes me want to cry. A lot. If you're suffering with anxiety, honestly, the best thing to have is a really good and solid support system. Whether it be friends, family, and/or a significant other or some combination of all or any of those, a support system is important to have. That's the best advice I could give. That and seek out professional help if you can. If you can't afford it, I promise you that there are plenty of therapy programs that help lower income patients. Coping's easier with a good support system of people who understand you and can be there when you need someone.
If you have any questions or anything, feel free to ask me but keep in mind that I'm not a mental health profession. I'm just another anxiety-ridden college student but I do want to help if I can.