Confession: I have terrible anxiety. Most of my loved ones know this about me but many others do not. I have never felt the need to tell strangers, until now. Maybe it will help more people learn to deal with it as I did.
Misconceptions: Most people equate anxiety to a singular, fleeting feeling, like being nervous. That is one definition of anxiety but it’s definitely not the only one. People can range from mild to severely anxious but it’s my personal belief that a large percentage of the population have very bad anxiety and haven’t yet recognized it.
My Case: I have always been a very detail-oriented, conscientious, and organized person. I am always looking to the next step so that I can be prepared for whatever life throws at me (I’m one of those people who carries an entire survival kit in my purse). However, when I started college, things escalated. I found that my brain would never turn off. There was no point in my day when I could just sit down and think, “Hm, that was a great day, now I’m going to sit down and relax.” My brain never stopped so neither would I. It’s hard to explain to people without this condition but it was like a movie reel that just kept spinning and spinning even though there was no film left. Even after my endless to-do lists had finally been accomplished my psyche would make up new things to think about. It was awful.
By the time I was 20, I was plagued by such overwhelming anxiety that all I could do was cry. A lot. My frustration just turned into sadness at the thought that I would never, ever be able to relax. I dove into a deep depression that stopped me from enjoying my life. It must be said that I am one of the most selfless people you’ll ever meet (obviously I’m not quite as humble, haha). I would never take my own life because of the pain it would cause my family and friends, but it was during this few months that I understood people who try to commit suicide.
Thankfully, I have an incredible support system. My family was available to talk over the phone anytime and I had an amazing boyfriend who would have done anything to see me smile. (I think every one has support like this, they just have to accept it.) The problem was that not one of my supporters truly understood what I was going through. After a couple of months, I knew I had to figure this one out for myself.
Therapy. < my mom correctly pointed out that therapy was only one small part of the solution. Actually, it was a combination of self analysis, exercise, forgiveness, and therapy. The problem was that I’m from San Diego and only had emergency health insurance in Boston where I lived. So I did some research and found a group of doctors that provided help for only a much as I could pay. I scheduled my first appointment with Dr. Linda Puretz and the healing process began. I was still really busy with school and work so I only saw Dr. Linda once every two weeks but just that little bit started the ball rolling.
For about 1/8 of her normal hourly rate (that was all I could afford), she helped me practice coping mechanisms like muscle relaxation and meditation. But that was just a fraction of what I had to do for myself. I began exercising on a more regular basis but instead of focusing on weight loss I did it for mental health. I would use those workouts to clear my head of everything but technique and breathing. I also found yoga videos for really cheap online and started doing yoga and guided meditation whenever I was feeling overwhelmed. But most of all, I started to forgive myself. I started to realize that being productive wasn’t everything in life and that sometimes, the best moments and opportunities result from relaxed downtime. I just stopped putting so much pressure on myself. Pressure to be smarter, faster, skinnier, funnier, and more appealing to everyone else. I started to try to be HEALTHY. In mind and body.
Step Two: Although I had finally broken the loop, anxiety still floated around in my head like a free agent, looking for something to destruct. When I started grad school, it struck again. The combination of financial worries and intense academic obligations sprung up all those precursors to depression. Because of my self-analysis years before, I recognized the warning signs and took action immediately, before things could get worse. My mom had recently also been through some weird mental stuff and tried a new method, hormone medicine, or bioidenticals.
I still had three months before I got home to see our doctor so I started taking some depression medication. It definitely pacified my erratic thoughts but dulled my personality and zest for life. I was so excited to get the hormone testing when I got home in December.
December break finally arrived and I got my blood tested for my hormone levels. It turns out that I had almost no estrogen or progesterone in my system. Both things contribute to lack of relaxation and lower energy levels. Dr. Kelly Austin at California Natural Health in San Diego analyzed my hormone levels and prescribed me a couple of creams which I now apply, twice daily, to my arm and leg skin. Within 30 days, my anxiety had become manageable again. YAY!! I am still on the hormones one year later and consult with Dr. Austin every three months to make sure my anxiety and energy levels are on track, along with a host of other things that are affected by hormones. Also, it should be mentioned that hormone imbalance can affect any person of any age or sex. It can be pretty expensive to get tested but I know there are payment plans and it is seriously worth it. Just your nearest health center and ask some questions!
Finally: Its been three years since I pulled myself out of depression and one year since I started hormone treatment. Unfortunately, depression and anxiety are similar to addiction and it never actually goes away. I have learned to recognize the warning signs and to reign myself in when my thoughts get out of control. I still exercise regularly and practice some preventative yoga so that my brain never forgets how to relax. I learned an incredible amount from that period in my life but what I want to shout to the world is this: Every life has the potential to be wonderful, no matter your finances, family, or genetics; but every sad person has to find the strength to break their vicious cycle before they can improve their lives.
Something Fun: On a totally different note, I am on vacation with my family in Santa Cruz right now and I got to visit one of my best friends, Katie! We raced bikes together in college and now she works at Specialized (the biggest bike company in the US) in San Jose. We got to tour the office and everything! I am so insanely jealous of her work place.
ps. If anyone else can relate to this post, please have the courage to comment. Put yourself out there so you can help others.