On the outside, I almost always appear pretty calm and collected. I can laugh, make jokes, and have a meaningful conversation with almost anyone. If you were to ask the majority of the people who know me, they’d probably tell you I was a generally happy person. I wouldn’t say those people are wrong—it’s not that I’m not happy, I have happy moments in almost every day. However, on the inside, my world is completely different.
Deep inside of me—so far tucked away that only those closest to me know and understand—I fight a constant, uncomfortable battle with myself. Self-doubt, worry, frustration, panic, fear, isolation…the list could go on and on. Regardless of the term(s) or feelings I use to describe how I feel when I try to talk about it…the word with which most people are familiar is anxiety.
Anxiety isn’t a word I use very often, primarily because it’s pretty difficult to admit to myself that it’s something with which I struggle on a regular basis. It’s still pretty new to me, and I don’t really like to talk about it. I don’t want attention, I don’t want pity, and I really don’t want to expose this part of myself. Everyone has experienced feelings of anxiousness and panic, fear and worry. When something bad or embarrassing happens, most people can address it, acknowledge it happened, and eventually move past it with time—maybe it never really ‘goes away’, but it’s not something that can literally grab ahold of them and feel like it won’t ever let go.
I get incredibly envious of those around me who can move past these events in their lives that cause them these feelings of anxiety; I want to be there, too. Why can’t I just ‘relax’, ‘calm down’, ‘move on’? I don’t ever want to be stuck in a downward spiral of ‘worst case scenarios’ and ‘what ifs’. Unfortunately, sometimes that’s what happens to me. It is in these moments that I don’t know which way to turn, what do to, or even which way is up.
Most days I’m okay, and I get through the day without too many negative thoughts. They’re always there, they’re always lurking in my mind, but I’ve developed coping mechanisms to get through them pretty successfully. Then, when I least expect it, a bad day happens. One of those days where everything that can go wrong seems to occur, where I can’t convince myself things will be okay in the end. The world starts spinning and I truly don’t know where I am. I start shaking and feel nauseous. Everything seems to be completely out of my control.
As difficult as it may seem to comprehend, I usually don’t know what triggers these downward spirals (panic attacks, as they’re more widely known). They feel like they hit me out of nowhere and are pretty uncomfortable to anyone who is around me at the time. Fortunately for me, my most significant moments like this have been few and far between and have only occurred in the company of the people who know me best. In these moments, I completely lose control of myself—my rational, level headed, logical self—and the really bad thoughts, the completely irrational and incredibly negative thoughts come back. They feed my self-doubt and fuel my anxiety to a point at which I can’t rein myself in without some help…or at the very least without some time.
Mental health is a topic we discuss when it’s convenient, when it fits into the message we’re trying to portray. The problem with that approach is that mental health isn’t exactly concerned with convenience. I’m 29. I lived 28 years of life pretty simply—and over the past 12 months, everything inside of my brain seemed to change. I know that’s not exactly true—there were always times growing up that I felt anxious or worried, but this feels so different. And it was anything but convenient, but that’s the card I was dealt. So, I can choose to continue to shutter myself away—to put on my poker face and pretend I’m fine—or I can choose to speak about it and make anyone else out there feel less alone. I’ve seen celebrities do it lately, such as Carson Daly and Kevin Love. While I really enjoyed reading these articles, sometimes it can be hard to really relate to a celebrity. So, I decided to write and share this. I don’t want attention, I don’t want sympathy, and I really don’t want to send the wrong message to those anyone I know. I’m not sure yet if this is the right thing to do, to put myself out there in such a vulnerable manner. However, one of my favorite quotes is:
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” –Brene Brown
No two people are the same, and everyone processes their own battles differently. However, I hope, through this writing or through my relationships with those around me, that I can be the light in someone’s darkness. If I can’t be the light you need at that time, I’ll stay in the dark with you until you’ll let me help you find a way out.
I think I could go on forever about this, but it doesn’t help to repeat myself over and over again like a broken record. I’ve spoken to a few other people who have similar struggles, and I think the message that I’d really like to get across with this whole blog is that we’re trying. I promise, with absolute honesty, that we’re trying. I can’t explain how much I wish it would all just go away, how much I wish I could just enjoy life like someone who sees the world as a much happier place. I believe in good things. I have two of the best jobs in the world that bring me so much joy. I have a wonderful family and the best friends I could ever ask for. And, I know that in the end, I’m going to be okay. Even on my worst days, I know that they’ll end and that I’ll be okay again—I’ll feel as ‘normal’ as I can again soon. I try to do a lot of things on my own, but I’ve learned, through therapy, practice, and experience, that it’s not necessary—and really, it’s not wise. I’ve learned that staying busy (coaching, lifting, teaching, reading, writing, etc.) keeps me grounded. But, there are times that staying busy doesn’t work and I need some help.
It’s not easy for me to ask for help (truthfully, is it easy for anyone?), but I’m learning how to do it. I’m learning how to make that phone call when I am alone and on the verge of a downward spiral. I’m learning how to respond to the question, “Are you okay?” with honesty. And, most importantly, I’m learning to accept and understand who I am. If you happen to be reading this and find yourself needing a friend or someone who might understand, reach out. Ask for help. Talk. Breathe. Process. Hug someone. Play with your dogs. Write. Cry. Go to bed. Do all of that and more. Keep showing up, keep trying, and take things one day at a time. Some days you’ll win and some days you’ll lose. If I’ve learned one thing throughout this whole year, I’ve learned that it’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to think you have to do this alone. Just get up, reach out, and try again tomorrow.