My History With Mental Illness

WHERE IT BEGAN

I started having panic attacks when I was 13 years old. I remember my first one. I woke up in the middle of the night gasping for breath. My heart beating out of my chest & the overwhelming feeling that my world was closing in. From there, I constantly feared having another panic attack. That fear quickly triggered more, which turned into multiple ER visits because I truly felt like I was dying. I felt completely out of control, detached, & lost all sense of reality. 

My world as a little 13 year old girl went from naive, exciting fun, to dark & completely terrifying. I vividly remember the years where I would open my eyes in the morning to immediately be hit with a wave of daunting anxiety & depression. I wanted to disappear. My world as I knew it had completely changed forever. I felt alone, ashamed, lost & scared to death of living.

ASKING FOR HELP

I want to preface this by saying I love my parents more than anything in this world, & they are amazing human beings. We were all trying to navigate our way through the challenges we were going through. 

As my panic got worse, my mom kept telling me “it’s just a little anxiety, everyone goes through this as a teenager. it will pass.” I knew what I was going through wasn’t just normal “teenage angst.” After desperately needing help, expressing my concerns & not being heard, I told my mom I didn’t want to live anymore. I actually screamed it at her in anger as I was crying. The night before that moment, I was taking a bath. I remember holding my breath under water, wondering what it would be like if I just didn’t come back up for air. I couldn’t understand how I could possibly go through life living in constant fear of my own panic. I thought, if this is going to be my life forever than I rather not live.

The next day my mom sought out professional help for me. I think then she knew this was something bigger than she understood at the time. I took anti-anxiety/anti-depression meds for 5 years, along with therapy at least once a week every week for 4 years. During these years of growth, I still struggled deeply. I felt traumatized from my panic attacks. I felt like I wasn’t in control of my mind, my thoughts, my life & I began to develop habits that helped me feel “safe.”

CONRTOL

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I began to control everything around me because everything inside of me felt OUT of my control. Once I got my drivers license I refused to let any of my friends drive us anywhere. I only felt safe if I was the one driving. I wouldn’t see movies unless they were comedies because I didn’t want anything to trigger an emotion in me that could possibly cause a panic attack. I couldn’t step foot near an airport without feeling terrified. The thought of being stuck on a plane & having no option of getting off made me feel physically sick. I couldn’t even take a road trip more than 1.5 hours from my hometown because the idea of being too far away from home made me panic. Once all of those things weren’t enough, I started controlling my weight to the point of disordered eating. This was my way of feeling safe, but it was no way to live.

As I got older, through years of therapy & growth, my panic attacks became far & few between. I started stepping out of my comfort zone & pushing myself to let the control go. I wanted my life back. I wanted to fully live again on my terms & I knew the only way to do this was to slowly take steps forward. Even if that was uncomfortable. (& it was.) It was terrifying at first, but started to feel extremely freeing.

I slowly began take road trips further than a few hours away. I pushed myself to get on a plane again, & somehow it’s become one of my favorite things to do. Now I hate being the one to drive anywhere, believe it or not. This took years of baby steps in the right direction. So many baby steps that now that I’m on the other side, I sometimes forget how far I’ve come. I forget to be proud of my story, the dark days, & the light. Because without the dark, I would never appreciate the light the way I do now.

GROWTH THROUGH LETTING GO

Even after years of therapy, it wasn’t until a couple years ago that I was able to look back & really see where my deep anxiety may have stemmed from. It took the realization that when we hold our emotions inside, they can manifest into anxiety & panic. This realization took the uncomfortable work of being honest with myself. I had to come to terms with the fact that my environment at that time in my life was not easy on me, was traumatizing & triggering. This wasn’t a simple thing to admit to myself. It was difficult because it meant allowing myself to feel all of those feelings again. It also meant letting go of codependent patterns & allowing myself to put the truth before the feelings of the ones I was trying so hard to protect.

I came from a home where it was encouraged to not cry, not be “dramatic,” & keep on keepin’ on. There’s nothing wrong with that. My parents taught me what they knew best themselves. But holding onto those values made it hard for me to let myself work through emotions I needed to let out. It was extremely difficult fo me to say to myself, “hey, those years in your life were really hard, especially for that little girl.” It took years to admit to myself that the things that hurt me deeply were not my fault. I had to truly believe that it’s ok to not be ok sometimes. That whatever my feelings are, are valid & to forgive myself for not knowing better.

INNER WORK + DAILY PRACTICES

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Over the years, I’m learning this is a big part of my story. Keeping the dark parts of my story hidden is what makes me feel more isolated. Not opening up is what makes others feel more isolated. I rarely struggle with panic attacks anymore, but my past with them has definitely shaped who I am in a big way & that’s important to be open about.

As I’ve grown I’ve learned a lot about myself & how important staying balanced is to my mental health. To me this means saying no to things that don’t serve me. Knowing myself enough to know big social events can be very draining to me, & to know my limits with them. This means knowing my boundaries & being firm when it comes to them. This means slowing down enough to look at my reactions to situations & examining what’s going on within myself that’s making react negatively, then learning from it. It means to truly feel my emotions as they come up instead of being scared of them & pushing them away. Also, learning to accept the love & good in my life without craving dysfunction.

I’ve developed a daily practice that’s helped me feel grounded, which keeps my anxieties at bay a lot of the time. 

  • First thing in the morning I open up all of the blinds in my house to let the light shine in.

  • Four/five days of the week I like to start my morning with my favorite movement. To me that’s either megaformer pilates, a beach walk, or a run.

  • I make my bed every morning because it feels so good to me to start my day with an uncluttered home. To me less clutter = less anxiety.

  • Majority of days I’ll journal + write 3 things I’m holding gratitude for that today. Some days this takes 3 minutes, some days it takes 30.

  • Throughout the day I make it a point to fill my body with real, nutrient-dense foods. This isn’t always perfect & that’s ok. I hold compassion for myself & allow myself space here. But at the end of the day I know that real, whole foods will help me thrive mentally.

  • Sleep is huge for me in relation to the amount of anxiety I have in my life. The less sleep I get, the more anxious I feel. 

If you’ve read this far, thank you for following along my story. If you are suffering, please know you are never alone. You are heard. Your feelings are valid, & I’m here to listen. There’s tremendous power in sharing our struggles. By sharing our stories with one another, it helps us feel connected & less alone. I encourage you to be open. You never know where the connection of sharing can lead you. Have you struggled with mental illness? I’d love to hear what helps you feel grounded & balanced.