My journey to mental health has been a long and harrowing experience, and strangely enough, sometimes rewarding. My fight with anxiety started before I could really even comprehend that I had anxiety. My dad worked in Manhattan as a computer technician, and I would worry about him at work almost every day, calling him on the hour. Then 9/11 happened; not being able to reach him, to talk to him, the incessant, all encompassing thought that something terrible had happened. Those are really some of my first memories of struggling with mental illness. Luckily, my dad had been late for work that day and never left his house. I was relieved to still have my dad. The sickening feeling of uncertainty, of obsessive fear, never really went away, though. For a child who was all of 7 years old, imagining your father’s death was a dark and confusing feeling to confront. As I got older, my anxiety shifted inward and became more existential. The adventurous, inquisitive person I’d been was eclipsed by an unwillingness to try new things, just because I was afraid I would fail. It became difficult for me to do simple tasks, like get on the bus in the morning without obsessing over and vividly imagining my own death in a car accident. Even asking someone for directions became an ordeal I had to contemplate every facet of.
“What if I sound stupid?”
“You idiot, you should really be able to find this on your own.”
I was the target of my own fears, frustrations, I had learned to fabricate my own problems.
Mostly, my depression and anxiety impacted me and my everyday life. The only person it ever really caused turbulence with was my mother. My mother didn’t understand. My mother didn’t want to understand. For her, a depressed and anxious teen was a concept that didn’t exist when she was my age, and so couldn’t exist now. It was my friends, the few I had, who gave me insight into a problem that had become part of who I was. It was a struggle that had invaded every single part of my life, and for a long time I believed I was alone with my crippling anxiety, but as I got older I learned that wasn’t the case. As I learned to really listen to the people close to me, I realized I wasn’t alone. My friends struggled with mental illness, too. In our own way, completely unique to each of us, we fought the same battles internally. Mental illness became real for me then, tangible, and when something becomes tangible, it becomes able to be confronted. I realized as friends we didn’t even have to talk about our anxiety to help each other with it, we just needed to be there, to have that quiet and mutual understanding.
Anxiety has taught me many lessons, the most helpful being that anxiety, by its nature, forces us to be contemplative in our everyday lives, to be self-aware. It’s this that’s allowed me to channel my anxiety into something more positive; I’ve used my anxiety to help me become a more thoughtful person, conscious of myself and how I impact the ones around me. “All things in moderation,” It’s not anxiety on its own that’s detrimental to our mental well-being, but its anxiety, coupled with obsession and the inability to stop stressing out over something that defines it as a mental illness. We can be anxious; this stress can actually be a good thing that drives and motivates us. It’s learning where the line is between healthy and unhealthy stress that can allow us to live fulfilling lives in spite of mental illness. This line is in a different place for each of us, and often we need help defining that line.
- You can learn to live with your anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy, or simply “talk” therapy is one of the most effective ways out there to learn how to cope with anxiety.
- Just having someone to talk to, someone who can help you understand what you’re dealing with is a powerful tool to have.
- There are so many ways to deal with mental illness, but we can never overcome it if we don’t make the effort to in the first place.
- Don’t view your anxiety as a bad deal you’ve been dealt, instead view it as an opportunity to learn about yourself, and to grow stronger than you were before.
By: Andre Olden, AiT Contributor