Updated: May 8, 2020
I first began to experience anxiety in 2013. The fall semester just ended, I aced my term paper and I was relieved, but little did I know that was just the beginning of my anxious road.
I'd just move out of the desert a year ago, into a new apartment, and attending a new school. I'd convince myself that I was excited to continue my journey in a new city. A fresh start. It could be anything I wanted. I underestimated the impact it had on my mental health.
In reality, I was very nervous. I wasn't used to this much LA traffic and people. People everywhere. In the desert it was too hot to be out so you don't see many people out. Nor does it have this much traffic! I was on my own to figure out a meal schedule (no more mom) AND I was away from my friends. Just as they were returning home from college, I was moving away. I missed the familiarity and the peace of mind that came with living in the desert. I was overwhelmed.
From the outside looking in, it doesn't seem like a stressful change. But it was. You see, I hadn't accepted change. I didn't like it and I always did everything in my power to keep things the same. Change and I had a love-hate relationship. If things changed in a good way I was happy, and when they didn't I was stressed beyond belief. I was a complainer and liked things a certain way. I liked structure. I had my expectations of what life would be in a new city and that's where I made the first mistake. Having expectations. I didn't know how to let things happen organically.
One day, I was home and alone with my thoughts (like I usually like to be), but this time is felt different. It felt as if a wave of emotions hit me all at once. I felt like my heart was going to pump out of my chest, my fingertips and toes began to tingle, I suddenly felt lightheaded and dizzy. My chest felt tight as if someone was cranking a knob. Nothing extreme was happening in my world and I couldn't understand why I was feeling anxious. But the truth is I was constantly on edge. I hadn't notice how cranky and withdrawn I had become in my relationships.
I was like a cranky toddler who was suddenly feeling so many emotions and I didn't know how to label them. Before living with anxiety, I only heard of it briefly. It wasn't something we talked about in health class. I also didn't think it was something that I'd ever experience. In the beginning, I didn't know there was such a thing as triggers and labeling emotions outside of sad, happy and mad. I never gave it much thought. I just knew it existed.
The panic attacks began to happen more frequently and it was time I see a doctor. She suggested medication, but I decided I didn't want to go that route. Now, that's not to belittle those who do take medication because what is best for them, may no be what is best for me. Only you knows what makes you feel better. All anxiety varies.
Overtime it began to get worse. Panic attacks were happening every other day, if not twice a day. I was losing sleep, feeling nauseous and no will to socialize. I threw in the towel and just let them be. I felt defeated. It was beginning to take over my life and if it took over my body too, so be it. Somedays it got so bad all I could think about was death.
I never analyzed my death so much like I did in that time. What will happen with my debt, my stuff, my family, my dog? It's a horrible train of though to have, but this is what is what really happens sometimes. In the back of my mind I know it was just anxiety talking, but how do I keep it from coming to forefront of my mind?
Fast forward to 2018, I decided no, anxiety will not rule my life. I will learn my triggers and start by cleaning house upstairs (my brain). I read different articles about meditation (yes, at first I thought it was a joke), but I came to realize that I needed to close the open tabs in my brain from years past. Toxic relationships, closed. Toxic subjects, closed. Living in the future, closed. I was unconsciously storing needless information in my brain that was no longer serving me.
I was still struggling to identify my emotions and triggers, but at least now I had the will to try and manage it. I renamed my anxiety and called it "brain rut" instead. And the only way to pull myself out of a brain rut was to journal. And maybe this doesn't work for you, and that's ok. There is no right or wrong answer. But journaling allows me to get my worries off of my mind and onto paper. Once it's on paper, I find that I'm less worried. The more I journal, the less I'm having anxious thoughts.
I also paid closer attention to what triggers those brain ruts. For me, it's being around negative talk, like Covid-19. It's all that's on the news anymore (I swear if I hear another statistic or how people are at the beach I'm gonna lose it). Being around a group of people who are speaking negative really makes me feel shaky. I already have enough demons of my own to tame, I don't need outside noise. My brain begins to fog and I feel like I'm spinning. I can feel my body shutting down slowly and saying "GET AWAY!" That get away feeling is my warning.
When I feel triggered I excuse myself from that space and find a new space where I can clear my mind. Take a deep breath and meditate. It only takes me about 5 minutes. I don't go in a corner somewhere, sit on the floor and close my eyes. I simply breath and tune out the noise. It helps clear my head.
For some its not that simple. Other factors like noise, light, people, and scents are triggers and can make anxiety worse. Its like having a migraine in a room full of screaming toddlers. Everyone is different. We hate to cancel plan last minute and feel like we're letting down our family and friends. We don't want to, but the thought of being a burden to someone else other than ourselves, makes us more anxious. Many times we're exhausted from fighting through the day, overstimulated and very much on edge. We're never trying to be rude or inconsiderate, but our brain just simply doesn't have the energy to face the world.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorder is the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million people in adults 18 and over.
Somedays it's still hard to get out of bed. I'm nauseous and have no will to face the day, but at least I know that I'm not alone and that this too shall pass. It's not a bad life, just a bad day.
Hang in there, guys!