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Confronting the Elephant in the Room: My Journey With Anxiety

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Whenever I talk about my anxiety – whether it may be in writing, in a sermon or in casual conversation – I always feel like I am at an AA meeting.

So, let’s get something out of the way . . .

Hi, my name is Natalie and I have anxiety.

There, much better now.

My journey with anxiety began about two and a half years ago, when I soon discovered that I could not handle the pressure of taking five classes and working two jobs. Luckily, I was able to control it by dropping a class, attended therapy to help maintain the anxiety, and managed to float through the rest of that semester.

I thought that would be the end of my anxiety, if you could call it that. Oh no. In the fall of my senior year, my last full academic year, anxiety came back – with a vengeance, I might add. I began to experience panic attacks, moments when I could sit in bed and do nothing but cry, and times when I felt crushed by the weight of everything that I needed to do for my classes and my jobs. I felt isolated, like a constant sinking stone that felt so lost at sea that no one can come to rescue me.

So, I tried to do the best I could. I went to see a therapist at my school, something that ended up not being helpful, because he had a list of things that I needed to do. That list was a set one. First, let’s try some deep breathing exercises. Didn’t work? No problem, let’s try writing. Didn’t work either? Okay, time to try medication!

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Since nothing seemed to work, I felt like I was setting myself up for failure, almost as if I were failing at therapy if that were such a thing.

I then realized that something had to change. Little did I know at the time was that change had to begin with me.

2016 began as a year of change. I changed therapists, and got a job that didn’t make me sick to go to anymore.

Things began to look up – kind of. I still cried at night because I was just so overwhelmed with everything, I still had panic attacks regularly, and I still felt as if I was so easily broken, almost as if I were made out of glass. I felt almost as if I were in a hole that I couldn’t dig myself out of.

But, beneath that sadness and anxiety, I began to slowly see sunlight. In the spring of 2016, I began to take the wheel and do what I can to make sure that my anxiety was better for once and for all. I was successful to completing that goal – to some degree – thanks to the help of an amazing support system. By the end of the summer, despite some ups and downs, I was able to finally make the right steps to get better.

And, it’s safe to say that most of the steps I took worked for my last semester as an undergraduate. My anxiety, other than the confusion of what to do after with my life after graduation, was pretty much at a standstill. I thought that I beat anxiety for sure, and triumphantly gave a sermon at Luther House at Yale University about how I conquered anxiety and beat it.

As 2017 approached, I was certain that I would leave anxiety in 2016. But, I thought wrong. I struggled as I transitioned from being a full-time student to being a full-time employee. I reverted back to my old ways – crying at the drop of a hat, panic attacks, and being an overly irritable person. To top things off, I soon began to get really sick, to the point where I ended up getting really dehydrated to the point where I couldn’t even move.

At that point, I realized that I had to once again make the choice to do what’s best for me. I never once regretted it since having to do so, and now, am currently leading a life that I am happy with.

And, as I wake up every morning, I appreciate every morning I wake up.
Going through my journey with anxiety these past two years, I believe that it has taught me to love and appreciate myself – the person I am, the person I aspire to be, the journey I am on to get to that point, and the progress I have made to get to that point. I came a long way from that person that I was a few years back! I have learned to take the wheel and make changes that I need to see a result. I learned that my happiness matters above all else. I learned that sometimes life can take unexpected turns, but can fight it with a positive attitude and ‘I can’ spirit. I try to make light of what I went through with humor, and am grateful to be able to laugh at my experiences, rather than cry about them.

Many people – friends, family, teachers, my pastor and a therapist to name a few — have contributed to that journey and supported me to be the person I am today. That very cast of people reminded me that I was worth every challenging moment, were the arms of support when I needed it, and were the people who reminded me that everything was going to be okay whenever I had any doubt that it wasn’t. So, to those who this applies to, I thank you with my whole heart.

But, what I am so glad to announce, is that I have become that pillar of support for myself. I can calm myself down during a panic attack, and remind myself that despite the dismal appearance, everything will in fact be okay. And, that is everything.

Anxiety will always be a part of my life, just as my hair is brown. However, it’s not my whole life, and I refuse to let it consume me. There will be some days when panic attacks that are the furthest thing from my mind, and there will be nights where I can’t sleep because of my anxiety. But, I am not just my anxiety, as I reminded everyone during my sermon at Luther House. I am a bookworm, a blogger, a writer, and a human. But, most importantly, I am stronger than I could have ever imagined myself being. I will not let anxiety be the road barrier to my paradise.

So, as Mental Illness Month draws to a close, I hope that you all have gained insight about anxiety, and for those who suffer with some kind of mental illness, I hope that you know you are strong and wonderful beings. I hope that you know that you can get through whatever you don’t think you can, and you are worth every challenging moment that you have with anxiety.

And when you do have those moments, I’m going to leave you with some lyrics that have been helpful during times of turmoil:

“I won’t break/I won’t bend/But, someday soon we’ll sail away to innocence, and the bitter end” – “Simple Life,” Elton John.

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