It’s been a bit over a year since I first posted this article on my tumblr page (original post here) and I figured it might be time to give an update on the matter.
Standing here and looking back at those times, I can safely say that I have been down that dark, scary road of anxiety and depression and I have returned better and stronger than before. And the most important thing I have learned is that support matters immensely.
After having written the article, I wasn’t feeling quite alright with myself. It was a big step forward to open up about it and laying it down on paper (or rather in a post) but it doesn’t really help when you have other things to face besides dealing with anxiety. We all have those moments in our life where everything is okay and things might seem to be going well for a bit and then it all falls apart right before our eyes, making some of our darkest fears come true in the process. It’s not easy for anyone, regardless of their physical or mental health condition. But if it catches you off guard, as it usually happens, it tends to make things worse.
For a while I had a gut feeling that things will get worse before they would get better. And they did. I continued to try and deal with things on my own, find my own safe haven and retreat there whenever I needed to. But after a while, even that didn’t help. From having panic attacks once or twice a month, I began having them every week, then every two-three days until sometimes they occurred daily or even twice a day. That’s when I knew I needed help and believe me, takes a whole lotta effort to say “Please help me”.
So I went to see my family doctor, a very sweet and capable woman to whom I was able to explain what I was feeling. She gave me advice on how to keep myself calm, prescribed me some mild sedatives for better sleep and recommended I do some blood tests to see if the problem was pathological.
And turns out it was. Coming from a family with history in thyroid problems, at some point it was bond to happen to me as well. Blood tests showed I have a malfunctioning thyroid gland, producing less of the hormone than needed (hypothyroidism). That caused most of my irrational fears and anxiety and the overall stress fueled it even more.
Next step was to seek a professional endocrinologist and that’s how I met another lovely lady who took her time to explain to me what was happening and why. She prescribed some medication to help my thyroid gland function normally and three months later at the following checkup, blood test results were a lot better. And even I started feeling a whole lot better. I stopped having panic attacks and irrational fears, I wasn’t depressed anymore and finally, afters of struggling with it, was able to gain weight as well.
I was overall happier but not just because of the treatment. The support of my family and friends, their love, care and understanding made me realize I was not alone and through them I found the strength to get out of bed every morning and the energy to do other things besides going to work and sleeping. And to them I am immensely grateful for putting up with me and listening to me, staying up late when I was typing down nonsense and talking about the same thing over and over.
Now, a year later, I am still under medical treatment, although the dose has been reduced. I still get anxious sometimes and I still have bits of fear every now and then but it’s the good kind of fear that is meant to motivate. And I have a great man by my side to keep me grounded and put my mind at ease whenever it tends to go the wrong way ^_^
Hopefully a year from now I won’t need the treatment at all. For any of you out there struggling with anxiety or depression or any kind of mental illness: know that you are not alone. Find the strength and courage to seek help, I know it’s frightening, I know you might think it won’t help, but trust me, it could help more than you can imagine.
Lots of love, Juls ♡
I thought it would be time to share a little something with you, something I have been dealing with for quite some time. I wasn’t sure whether I should write this post or not but it felt right to do so. And also it would help me put everything in order and see things clearly while in the same time, hopefully, help anyone who is also experiencing anxiety to open up about it and see that it’s not something that should define you.
I can’t exactly pinpoint the time when it all started. I believe I’ve always had it one way or another or I was more prone to develop it in the future. I was always a much more sensible person, much more affected by what was going on around me and about what people thought of me. For some reason, I started developing a type of fear where I was afraid that whatever bad thing happened to someone, would happen to me too. That led to over-thinking, stressing about it and eventually having some sort of panic attack. Except I didn’t know what that was at the time, nor what it meant to feel that much fear and unease. I didn’t tell anyone about it, I didn’t know how to explain it. I thought it was just part of me and I would always be like that no matter what I did.
And it kept repeating itself; every once in a while I would hear about a bad thing happening to someone, it would stick into my head, I would think about it over and over and worry “What if it will happen to me too?”. It went on like that for about a year or two, with episodes repeating themselves every few months. They would last for about a week, maybe two and then they went away as if nothing happened. It never, not even for a second occur to me that it could be a mental disorder, let alone anxiety. I thought it was just part of me. I didn’t even know what anxiety meant.
It wasn’t until a year or so ago that I started to come across it more and more and after I heard one youtuber talk about it and her personal experience with it, I began understanding it better. But I didn’t believe it affected me too, whatever was going on with me was, the way I saw it, different. Still, out of curiosity I looked it up, listened to other people talking about it and found that anxiety is different for each person affected by it. There isn’t one set of symptoms that applies to everyone. Sure, there are similarities, but two people will never have the same experience with it.
It was frightening learning I have it and admitting it. But what scared me more is that people wouldn’t understand. I always sort of knew something was going on, that something was “wrong” with me and unconsciously I was looking for support. It’s like when, as a child, you are afraid of that monster under the bed and your parents comfort you and tell you there is nothing to be afraid of because it doesn’t really exist. Except now the monsters are inside your head and sometimes, no matter how grown up you are, you just can’t comfort yourself anymore so you start looking for it somewhere else. For a long time I, unfortunately, didn’t have such support, partly because I had no idea what it was to begin with, therefore I couldn’t explain what was going on with me and my mind was not clear enough to realize it was a problem that had to be dealt with, and partly because the people I was silently asking for help saw it as “a phase that will pass”.
I still don’t fully understand anxiety. It’s hard to tell what is anxiety and what is a bad, stressful day at work that takes its toll on me. It didn’t begin with a panic attack out of nowhere that would then make me realize there was a problem, it rather sort of snowballed over the last couple of years. But reflecting upon it and upon how it manifests itself and recalling past experiences, a lot of situations found an explanation, so it was comforting finally knowing what was wrong.
There are good days and there are bad days and usually I can tell the bad ones apart. But there are days when it comes out of nowhere, a sudden feeling of unease, aching stomach, sweaty palms and elevated heart rate that would then turn into nausea, chest pressure and sometimes pain and even outbursts of terror. The way anxiety manifests itself for me has a social tendency but it’s not limited to it. There are a number of other things that set me off, like certain noises, people shouting or arguing, hearing about tragedies, large crowds, the feeling of being left out or alone and so on.
Like any other person with anxiety, I tend to distance myself from situations that make me nervous. For instance, I am terrified of talking of talking on the phone with people I’ve never met before so I avoid that as much as possible. If I am in a place where there is a noise that bothers me (because for some reason I am more sensitive to noises more than to anything else), I try to leave. I also avoid being in large crowds, near very noisy people or in situations I can’t walk away from. But all these things become particular at one point.
Yes, I avoid crowds but I like going to that coffee shop in the mall where there are usually a lot of people. And yes, I hate ordering food all by myself but if I know it’s so delicious that it’s worth making the extra effort, then I’ll do it. It makes me nervous being around angry, noisy people, people that are overly excited or over manifest themselves or just a lot of people in general but if they are fun to be around then I grow comfortable with it. And the examples can go on forever. It all depends on my overall mood, who I am with and how much I enjoy whatever it is I am doing.
The same way I can tolerate some things if I try hard enough, there are situations I simply can’t cope with. For instance driving. I failed my driver’s license exam because it wasn’t just a few mistakes, it was downright the most terrifying experience I’ve ever had. And while some will say not to give up and try again cause anyone can drive, well let me tell you: no, not everyone can drive and that is perfectly fine, stop trying to force your principle of “anyone can do it” on someone whose story you don’t even know.
Being someone who always put extra, most of the time useless, pressure on herself, after realizing that anxiety was a real problem that was happening to me, I decided to do something about it. Normally one would seek a doctor’s help but I decided to resort to drug-free remedies. Here are some of the things I do that personally help me deal with anxiety and stressful situations in general.
I started with changing my view of anxiety and having a different general mindset. It’s not something that defines me, I can control it and overcome the feelings it gives me. I am not the first, nor the last who has to live with it. And if it does overwhelm me, I know I have people I can talk to about it and feel better. I tried not putting that much pressure on me, especially if I mess up (which I tend to do quite often). Nobody is going to have my head for that one tiny mistake and I can always try again. I also tried removing the expression “I can’t do it” out of my vocabulary and replace it with “Let’s give it a try”. It’s harder than it sounds but once you accept it and put your mind to not let it take over, it will be much easier and relieving to change your view on things.
I also listen to music. Since most of my anxious moods happen in crowds and usually on a packed bus, I always keep a pair of headphones in my pocket. Music has always been comforting so resorting to this happens most of the times. I don’t necessarily listen to calming music but just songs I like a lot, that remind me of certain things. This keeps my mind distracted from what is going on around and the anxious feelings go away. Like I mentioned before, I am more sensible to sounds and this method is probably the most efficient for me.
Doing things that generally relax me also help not only with anxiety but with stress in general. I love tea and I noticeably drink more tea than before. There are hardly any days when I don’t drink at least one cup of tea, usually with sugar and milk. I also made a habit of drinking a cup of warm milk with honey before bed because it helps me sleep a bit better.
I have also made a routine for when I am particularly stressed and/anxious. This involves a long, relaxing bath, getting cozy with a blanket and a mug of tea and either watch a movie or YouTube. I resorted to it more lately because of the increased amount of effort I had to put at work (holiday season is always crowded for us) and even though I have still been quite tired, I managed to keep stress levels relatively low.
I generally don’t sleep well. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I had a good night sleep without feeling drowsy in the morning and that’s because my mind never stops. It continuously works, even at night and I end up with wacky dreams and leave me with a “What does it all mean?” feeling, even if it doesn’t mean anything. I still haven’t fully figured out how to solve the sleeping problems but the warm milk helps a bit as well as coloring therapy.
Coloring therapy is something I found out about recently and it’s basically just coloring in a book. Sounds like what kids do but not exactly. There are differences between children’s coloring books and the ones used in coloring therapy. The latter have much more detailed drawings, with thinner lines and small spaces, especially made to keep you focused on what you are doing and distracted from whatever else is happening in your mind or around you. I have tried it before bed and notice a small increase in the quality of my sleep.
The key to keeping anxiety under control is to keep your mind distracted because whenever you are not doing anything and have some free time off your daily tasks, it will start wandering off and you will end up thinking about that one time you messed up in school and begin stressing over it. So I try to keep myself distracted as much as possible. I watch movies, even if it’s the 17th time I saw the entire Harry Potter series, I play The Sims because it tickles my creative side, I play League of Legends cause I want to master that one particular champion and I know it will take a hell lot of time to do it, I watch YouTube because seeing and hearing someone else laughing and having fun, instantly improves my mood.
So that was the little bit about myself I wanted to share. I hope it will help some of you who are experiencing anxiety to understand that you are not alone in this, that whatever scary thoughts you have or worries that are just irrational, they are just happening in your head and whatever you think might be “wrong” with you, you can always talk to someone about it because it will help a lot.
Don’t stay quiet, don’t let fear overwhelm you.
Lots of love, Juls ♡