“Happiness” I tell myself, “is a choice…
YOU can make that choice, Evan. The power lies within yourself.”
I repeat this over and over in my head, cocooning myself in blankets, holding onto them so tightly that my knuckles start to turn white. Tears streaming uncontrollably. Unable to shake the urge to run at lightening speed, far away from the demons that have found their way into my mind, yet my body numb, paralyzed, unable to even lift my head.
As I lay there, powerless, I feel an incredible sense of guilt. There is absolutely nothing fundamentally wrong with my life; who am I to feel this?
But, that is how it feels . . . to walk around with the weight of the world on your shoulders, dragging the burdens of each struggling soul along with you, feeling the pain of every suffering person you encounter.
It’s waking up in the morning thinking, “who can I save today?”
It’s going to bed tonight wondering why didn’t I stop to talk to that stranger that looked lost on the street, or make a trip to the ATM to get money for the homeless man I see everyday on my way to work, or take an extra few minutes to call a family member I haven’t talked to in a while.
It’s, hours after submitting a project at work, being unable to stop wondering if there was a mistake I didn’t catch. Why didn’t I proofread that a tenth time? The fear of imperfection consuming my mind.
It is analyzing every single interaction, day in and day out. Was I assertive enough? Did I come off as weak? Was my tone too soft? Too mundane? Too aggressive? Did I say the right thing? Should I not have said anything at all? Why didn’t I offer my input?
It’s muffling my tears as I let them loose at night, ashamed to expose my truth to the world. When others ask what’s wrong, it’s being unable to find the words to describe what I feel because I don’t want to burden them with my struggle.
It’s the guilt of being depressed despite a world full of others with greater struggles than me.
It’s thinking “I’m better than this”, while being unable to shake this constant feeling of intense worry.
It’s typing and deleting word after word, email after email, text after text because I must. always. say. the. right. thing.
It’s constantly feeling like you’re running five minutes late even when you are on time, or worse, even if you have nowhere to be.
It’s having even the slightest word of bad news crush your fragile heart, causing your mind to spiral into uncontrollable thoughts of the worst possible outcome.
It’s knowing that in this moment, you are okay, but not being able to shake the thought that maybe you’re not okay or someone else isn’t okay and you are somehow responsible for them not being okay even if you have no direct connection to their circumstances.
It’s being trapped in a body that doesn’t entirely feel like yours. A mind that is separate from that body. A soul that’s lost among the stars.
I used to think these things were just me . . . flaws that no matter how hard I tried to tame them, they were a part of me and I’d have to deal with them for the rest of my life.
Growing up, I assumed I was just different. I’d lay awake at night planning escape routes for any crisis situation that could happen in my home — a fire, a burglar, a kidnapping. Before sporting competitions, I’d get stomach aches so painful sometimes I would nearly throw up at the starting line. On report card days, I remember staring at the envelope for so long, terrified to open it, afraid of even one mediocre grade while those around me boasted their straight As.
I knew these things weren’t normal — but they became my normal.
When I was 16, I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety. It took me by complete surprise. Never once had that thought crossed my mind. But once that diagnosis was given, things all started to make sense. I started to understand why I couldn’t stop myself from crying some nights if my mom wasn’t cooking a dinner I was happy with, or why I’d rather stay at home on a Friday night than feel awkward at a social gathering, or why I was constantly double, triple, and quadruple checking that I had everything I needed with me — my keys, my purse, my bookbag, etc — because this constant feeling that I was missing something followed my every step.
But these realizations didn’t cure everything. Just because I became aware that these were symptoms as opposed to personality traits didn’t mean I had it all figured out. That was just the beginning of my struggle. But, realization is the first and most important step to recovery.
Fast forward 7 years to me at age 23, my depression and anxiety came back full force. Something I thought I had conquered with minor anti-psychotic medication and a few lifestyle changes had actually never quite left.
Over the past year my struggle with anxiety has been intense. And perhaps the details of this struggle deserve their own blog post, though there is much about this past year I am still trying to sort out.
But the point of this post is to say: it’s okay to admit, both to yourself and to those around you, that there is an imbalance in your brain. It does not make you any less human. In fact, it is necessary if you wish to find your true self.
The challenges this disease puts us through are often so personal, so emotional and so embarrassing that we think it’s best to keep to ourselves. But that could not be further from the truth.
We all have our demons and our inner struggles and I firmly believe that sharing them — as painful as it might seem at first — is one of the major keys to overcoming them.
Living with anxiety means accepting a life of highs and lows. It means understanding that each day could bring a new battle. It means expecting the unexpected, or expecting nothing at all, because anxiety is an ever-changing beast. It means knowing that every time you fall back under its pull, the fight is going to be worth it. Because with every negative thought we overcome, every anxious spell we escape, we get stronger.
By no means is it easy… it’s really freaking hard. To walk around feeling as fragile as glass, existing in fear of a world that doesn’t understand your struggle.
But we were made this way for a reason. Inside of us exists the strength to pull us through.
We are not alone in this fight. And the more we vocalize our struggle, the more we encourage others to do so, and the bigger our support system becomes.