Anxiety. Even if you haven’t experienced it, you’ve heard of it. One of the most common mental illnesses, affecting 18% of adults in America every year.
It affects everyone differently, so today I wanted to talk about my experience.
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Where it started
My anxiety started around my late teens. I’d already experienced mental illness having been diagnosed with depression, but this was different.
I was in college (year 11, 17 years old for you Americans!) at the time and had an unstable living situation. It started off simple enough, not wanting to go to class and be surrounded by other people. It went suppressed and ignored for a while, until it got to the point where I dreaded the idea of going to class.
So I stopped going. Great idea right? (Don’t judge me I didn’t have half the coping mechanisms I have now!)
Thank god some of my teachers must have really believed in me, because despite missing most of my classes and assignments, they kept faith in me. One teacher set aside time to help me through it, which was absolutely invaluable.
Somehow, I squeaked through that year with respectable grades.
The next year
Next year was year 12! At the time I was living with an ex boyfriend and his family in an extremely isolated area. I leveraged the fact I had no car license to be able to study year 12 from home.
I excelled that year. Contrary to what people thought, I wasn’t just lazy about school, I loved learning! I just couldn’t handle being in a classroom full of people. My anxiety meant I always wanted to be prepared, which meant I never turned in an assignment late.
My anxiety really escalated towards the end of the year. For my final exams, I needed to sit them with the rest of the class on campus. This sparked indescribable fear. I couldn’t do it! I tried to compromise with my teachers, I knew the material.
It got to the point where I was willing to throw away my entire college education by not sitting those exams. This wasn’t normal nerves, this was absolute gripping terror at being in a silent room filled with other people.
I ended up seeing a psych who advocated for me. Again, thankfully my teachers believed in me, and knew that I was trying to learn as best I could. They averaged my grades and I passed that year without taking exams.
How it affected my jobs
My first job was working full time in a pool shop. Great team and good environment, but my anxiety made it impossible to flourish. The biggest issue with my anxiety was that I couldn’t leave work at work.
Anything that happened, I would go home and stew on it until I made myself sick. Minor incidents or bad customer interactions would leave me physically ill and I couldn’t escape it.
I was constantly exhausted. My nights and weekends were spent combing through every action I’d done to pick at faults and shame myself. Although I was doing my job just fine, I couldn’t let anything go.
Of course in a mix of hyper attentiveness and exhaustion, I started making mistakes at work. This of course just escalated my already crippling anxiety! I started calling out sick because I couldn’t face it, but then I would just spend those sick days filled with guilt and more anxiety, it was a self fulfilling prophecy.
My next jobs I resolved to ignore it. (Because that always works for mental illness right?) and I ended up in a really dark place.
How I’m managing it now
Anxiety is still a huge part of my life, but I feel like I have a (somewhat) better handle on it now. I still avoid public situations, and meticulously plan every driving route, but I’m learning how to live with it.
The biggest thing that helped me was really reflecting on where it comes from. For me, I believe it stems from a fear of failure or judgement. Even things like going to the grocery store fill me with dread that I will do something so unforgettably stupid that everyone there will never forget it. (Yeah, super rational right?)
Knowing where it comes from is helping me address it. The biggest way I’m addressing it is through journaling. I’ve always been really bad with starting to journal then just giving up on it because it felt overwhelming.
Journaling felt too hard because I never knew how to lay out what I thought or felt, but I found a brilliant workbook that let me stop stressing about how to frame my thoughts. (Read my full review of this workbook here)
Will these workbooks cure your anxiety in one afternoon? No. I haven’t found any magic bullet to do that yet, but anything that helps me manage it is a win in my book.
How lockdown has empowered me
Lockdown has nearly everyone working from home. Suddenly I didn’t feel like such a failure for wanting to find work I can do from home! So much pressure and judgement was lifted now that it’s normal to want to go out as little as possible.
This allowed me to really grow. It helped me learn that I wasn’t useless or hopeless for struggling with ‘normal’ things, and taught me that I just needed to work with it, instead of beating myself up over it. So I embraced it, and started this blog! I didn’t believe I could do anything ‘worthy’ but I was wrong.
This blog has been the most empowering thing I’ve ever done. Not only has it been humbling to meet other bloggers and learn that I’m not alone, but it’s taught me that I can achieve, even if it’s not in a ‘traditional’ or expected way.
How my mindset has helped my anxiety
A lot of people want treating anxiety to mean it disappears completely, but sometimes it’s just about adjusting and learning to coexist with it. Is it ideal? No, but it beats forcing myself into situations and setting myself up for failure! I’ll keep working on improving it but for now, I’m done judging and beating myself up over it.
I spent too many years believing I was a lesser person because I was struggling, and being too proud to admit I wasn’t perfect. I’m finally listening to myself, and helping myself succeed and finally, I feel like I can breathe.
I’m posting about a personal mental illness to the entire internet because I’m not ashamed anymore, and it’s so important for anyone reading this, to know you’re not alone. If there were more blogs like this when I was struggling so hard, maybe it could have made a difference, so now I want to be that difference.
I’d love to hear your experience and the tips that have worked for you. Let me know in the comments below or follow me on social media to join the conversation! Also, if you liked this post or know someone who will, please consider sharing it!