When my doctor told me I had anxiety, it was like everything suddenly clicked together and the puzzle pieces fit perfectly.
That was why I couldn’t breathe when talking about certain situations, why I had more trouble than usual sleeping and why I was so on edge around certain people. What he didn’t do to help my situation was tell me that I was a negative person and I focused too much on the bad. He even told me he refused to give me sleeping pills because I would party with it. I understand the health hazards associated with sleeping pills, but really?
I felt alone and unsafe after my meeting with him. I didn’t know how to deal with anxiety, and for all I knew, I was making it worse. It’s been a year and a half later, and sure enough, it is still something I am learning about and trying to navigate through. Just a couple of months ago, suddenly and without any warning, I had a panic attack. I couldn’t control the heaviness and quickness of my breathing. It was as if my body had trouble taking in air. The room around me suddenly felt very small, and I felt very out of control. It happened again one night while I was thinking of a certain painful situation.
That’s the thing with anxiety attacks – they come so suddenly and without any warning. Your mind goes into panic and flight mode. What may be even harder to deal with is anxiety in everyday life and the feeling of constantly being worried about the past, present and future. When you have anxiety, it’s hard to put things into perspective. You feel overwhelmed. You feel out of control. It’s an emotionally paralyzing and physically scary thing to deal with.
Something that has helped me a lot in dealing with anxiety was something I got out of a comic strip. There was a little fluffy pink ball called Anxiety that started freaking out and panicking. A little girl then picked it up, hugged it and said, “Everything is going to be okay!” Surprisingly, this works in real life. When I start panicking and the room becomes small and airless, I think about anxiety as this tiny, scared fur ball that needs to be hugged and told to calm down. It’s like a little child – it needs to be told that everything is fine, that everything will be fine. For some reason, when I embrace anxiety, it starts to relax, and I start to relax.
Another helpful trick is to practise presence. There are books and books on this (The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle being one that changed my life), but what I have learned on this is that thinking about the future makes you stressed, and thinking about the past makes you depressed. The key to a full and well-lived life is to live in the now. It’s so easy to let your mind wander off, and when it does, it can become a monstrous thing. It feeds the pain of the past or exaggerates the uncertainties of the future. When you practise presence, you bring your mind to what is right in front of you. You take life one moment and one day at a time. That’s all you can ever ask of yourself when you are dealing with something as debilitating as depression and anxiety.
It is important that you make sure you seek help, too. It is not a battle to be fought alone. Just like a person who is physically ill needs to go to a doctor, someone who is mentally struggling needs to do the same. A therapist, a support group or a good, close circle of friends are vital to break the cycle of anxiety. I know without all three and the love of God, I wouldn’t be able to make the great strides of progress I am making now. With a good support system, I can heal faster. Without it, I lose all perspective and spiral down into depression. Again, it is vital.
Most of all, if you are dealing with something as difficult as this, it is so important that you give yourself enough grace. I know I tend to beat myself up for it. It’s okay to allow yourself to grieve and heal. It’s okay that certain people and situations make you feel anxious. It’s okay to take your time, I don’t care how long, to learn how to deal with anxiety. It does not make you inadequate or dramatic. It just makes you perfectly and wonderfully human. So, as one of my favourite quotes go, “You stand on sufficient grace. Press on soldier, for He is faithful.”