A few notes for the reader before you begin reading this post. It is imperative that I include a trigger warning here for anybody who has experienced or is in the midst of experiencing an eating disorder, anxiety, or depression. If you are in the midst of any of these disorders, or other mental health disorders that aren’t mentioned above, please know that you are not alone. There is help out there for you.
– National Eating Disorder Helpline:
– National Suicide Prevention Helpline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
– National Alliance of Mental Illness Helpline: https://www.nami.org/find-support/nami-helpline
If you or someone you know is in need of support, please don’t hesitate to get help.
This is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most personal and vulnerable thing I have ever and probably will ever put out there into the world. I’ll be honest, writing and drafting this post has been scary for me. Vulnerability is nerve-wracking. But also, you can’t grow, evolve, and heal without it. If my messy, complicated story resonates with you in any way, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’d love to speak with you and give you the chance to share yours.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where to start with my story of anxiety. Do I start from my very first panic attack my sophomore year of college? Or do I start from childhood, recounting the fears I perceived as totally normal for a five or six-year-old to have that I now see linked to my adulthood anxiety? I guess like most stories, it’s best to start from the beginning.
Of me and my sisters, Alex has always been known as the one with the great childhood memory. She could tell you a hundred more details than I could ever recount about a specific event, despite all three of us being there together. That being said, I have very specific memories of my fears and anxieties as a child. It was around the time that my family moved from our home in Champaign to our home in Peoria that I started waking up in the middle of the night petrified for one reason or another. Sometimes, I remember thinking I was seeing shadows on the floor that looked like millions of bugs and there was no way I could leave my bed. Other times, I thought I was hearing noises from downstairs and my mind instantly believed that there was somebody breaking into our home. I would pace up and down the hallway outside my room because I couldn’t figure out what else to do with myself – there was no way I would be going back to sleep in that condition. Sometimes I would sneak into my parent’s room just so I could figure out what time it was so I could calculate how much time I had spent awake. Most of the time I was too scared to wake them up because I was scared they’d get angry with me for doing so. While the fear of the shadows on the ground eventually faded (I learned to ease my anxiety by simply flipping on the light), those fears of someone breaking into the house in the middle of the night stayed with me through our move to Plainfield and into my middle-school years. Albeit, if you’ve ever been to our home in Plainfield you’d know that our water softener is exceedingly noisy and that is what sparked my fear more often than not, but I digress. While these fears are some of those that I’ve mostly grown out of, there are others that remain.
I’ve had a general fear of my physical body sensations for as long as I can remember. Way back in elementary school gym class, we used to do this thing called, “Jump Rope for Heart”. For those of you who don’t know what that is, it is a fundraising program for the Heart Foundation. We would learn the basics about the heart in gym class and then we would spend a lot of time jump roping, sometimes trying to Double Dutch or teaching each other new tricks. Part of this “curriculum” was jump roping for something like ten seconds and then taking our pulse. I loved the jump roping part, but for some reason, I had this terrible fear of taking my pulse. I remember thinking, “What if I’m taking my pulse and then it suddenly stops, and I just die right here in the middle of second-grade gym class?”. Instead of facing that fear, I just avoided it. I would pretend to put my fingers on my neck, and I would count the seconds that went by instead of the heartbeats I felt. I’d love to say that I’ve grown out of this fear, but the reality is that I haven’t. I hate getting my blood pressure taken because it forces me to feel my own pulse. I hate getting blood drawn for the same reason – I’m not scared of the needle or even of the blood, just of feeling my own pulse.
Throughout middle school and high school, I can comfortably say that I had little to no anxiety apart from my aforementioned fears. I was happy; I had a supportive family and great friends. I didn’t experience trauma of any sort. However, that’s not to say that my internal world was perfect. Another arena where I’ve struggled for as long as I can remember is self-confidence and specifically, body-confidence. I was by no means an obese child or adolescent, but I do remember seeing my body and comparing mine to those my friends (and let’s be real, everybody is movies and on magazines too) and feeling ashamed of how I looked. I remember being in middle school – and even elementary school – and thinking that I should try and exercise so I could be smaller, so I could take up less space. That being said, it wasn’t until my sophomore year of high school that I started to do anything about it.
Since I was taking Driver’s Ed instead of an actual P.E. class the second semester of my sophomore year, I was feeling lazy and gross from a lack of exercise (especially since marching band season was over so I wasn’t doing that on a daily basis either). Around this same time, we had acquired an old, rickety treadmill from a former neighbor that was sitting mostly unused in our basement. I’d heard and read on TV and in magazines that walking & running was the fastest and best way to start working out, so that’s what I decided to do. Things were slow in the beginning. I’d walk or run a few times a week. I didn’t change my eating habits. I was feeling good and I was treating my body well. Then suddenly, I started seeing small changes. I’d lose a pound or two and I liked the way it made me feel to see the numbers going down on the scale. It became a game I could play with myself, to change my exercise or try something different and see if it had an effect on my weight. Throughout the end of sophomore year and into the summer, I don’t remember seeing any drastic changes. I was working out a bit, but I was also eating like I always had (not super unhealthy, but not crazy healthy either). It wasn’t until my junior and senior year that things really started to change.
It was during the beginning of my junior year that I started using MyFitnessPal to track my calories. After putting in my height and weight information, in addition to my weight loss goal, it calculated that I should eat something like 1,400 calories a day. While that’s not an absurdly low number, it’s also not enough calories for a 16-year-old girl to be eating. Between starting up marching band again, working out outside of band semi-regularly, and tracking (and thereby changing) my food habits, I started to see more drastic changes. First, it was 10 pounds. Then it was 20 pounds. Then I’d hit a plateau and I’d try and eat a little less to move past it and the downward cycle continued, slowly but surely.
After marching band season had ended, I decided to join the track team. Over the previous year, I’d fallen into a love affair with distance running (although I was not at all fast) and I wanted to push myself further in my workouts, especially since they were proving themselves effective in dropping the weight. I was only a few weeks into the season when I developed substantial IT band pain. When things weren’t getting better after weeks of PT and taking it easy at practice, we discovered that I was having major hip problems, which included hip impingements, labrum tears, and the development of avascular necrosis. Needless to say, I was out of commission for the rest of the season. With my workouts to an absolute halt for over six months between surgery, being on crutches, and PT, I turned to the only thing I could control: food.
From the beginning of my senior year of high school through the beginning of my sophomore year of college is when I started to live in the rut of anorexic tendencies. Over 90% of the time I was eating less than 1,200 calories per day and my net calories were often less than 700. I started eating a vegetarian diet as a way to restrict (while I am no longer vegetarian, I still feel quite passionate about animal ethics and ethical animal consumption) and kept my calories dangerously low during these prime years of adolescent and young adult development. As soon as I got cleared for working out after my hip surgeries, I started working out more than I ever had before.
When I started at TCU, I was terrified of gaining the “freshman fifteen” so I tried training at least six days a week and I didn’t believe in taking full rest days. Even though I was the smallest I’d ever been (resting somewhere between 117-122 pounds – 40 pounds less than I had weighed my sophomore year of high school), I was still so, so unhappy. I was constantly picking myself apart in the mirror. I was wearing a size 2 but I still didn’t think I was small enough. I was unbelievably self-conscious when my boyfriend at the time would hold me or put his hands near my stomach or even pick me up – I was always apologizing for being what I perceived as “too heavy”. These feelings, thoughts, and actions persisted through the summer going into my sophomore year of college – it’s then that everything started to change.
It was during this time when I started experiencing a whole plethora of strange medical symptoms. I was constantly exhausted, dizzy for no apparent reason, always hungry but never actually craved anything, always thirsty, lightheaded, etc. (thank you to my younger self for keeping a journal and documenting all this 🙂 ). I was re-diagnosed with mononucleosis, told I had hypoglycemia and was simply told to slow down. Looking back on it now, I see it as my body sending my hundreds of warning signs that it was simply too exhausted to keep on living with anorexia/orthorexia. I had been depleting myself of calories and working out far too much for four years at this point. My body just couldn’t handle it anymore. Even more so, reading my journal entries from that time brings to light a clear beginning to my current health anxiety. I was so scared and confused all the time as to why my body was reacting the way it was.
Thankfully, I can now say that I’ve fully recovered from my anorexia/orthorexia. It took about a year to restore my weight to what it had been pre-eating disorder and it was by no means an easy process. It was uncomfortable, even painful at times, and learning to let those insecurities go was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It’s a long and slow process to learn to love your body for more than what it looks like on the outside. Sometimes it takes jumping into the deep end and completely letting go of all your food rules (for me, that meant eating as I pleased and truly listening to my cravings while I was in France last year) to completely free yourself from your chains.
I think that finally, seven years after the onset of my disordered eating habits, I can honestly say that I am confident in this body and that all of my food rules have disappeared. I enjoy eating whole, unprocessed foods not because they are “healthier” but because they give me energy and make my physical body feel good. I also enjoy eating Double Stuffed Oreos, ice cream, and dark chocolate because those things make my soul feel good. I still love running and cardio (heck, I still love to challenge myself with running!) but instead of focusing on the number of calories I burn, now I’m focusing on breaking my PRs and just moving my body. Loving yourself for who you are and what you can do, as opposed to what your body looks like on the outside, is an incredibly freeing feeling. The world becomes a brighter place when you realize that you are worthy too – worthy of feeling confident, loved, and appreciated for everything that you are.
During my junior year at TCU, my best friend and I wrote a spoken word piece to perform at the To Write Love on Her Arms Hope ‘n’ Mic Night. We combined his story of dealing with depression and my story of disordered eating into a piece entitled “Fire and Faith”. We speak back in forth, telling our story in years, from 14-years-old to 20-years-old. Creating this piece was an important part of my healing process and I would have never done it without his unending support. If you or someone you know is struggling to understand what depression or disordered eating looks or feels like, or even if you’re struggling with either of these two conditions yourself, I encourage you to read it.
It is unbelievably important to talk about what we’re going through, which is something I’m relearning time and time again. Normalizing discussion about mental health is fundamental in eliminating the barrier that many people face in opening up about their struggles, myself included.
Fire and Faith
I’m 14 years old.
Kneeling before the altar that my mirror has become, I pray to God that He will make me beautiful. I’d heard for years that, “You are beautiful in His eyes”, but why does that matter? We live in a society that worships the beautiful girls on the covers of those magazines, where they promise, if you just buy in and read it, your world will change forever.
“Drop 2 sizes in 2 weeks”
“Lose 5 pounds overnight”
“Get the body you always wanted”
And when you open it and read, desperate for the answers to your mirror-whispered desires, calling to something or someone or anything greater than yourself that will answer your self-centered prayers, you get sucked into a world that completely encapsulates everything that you are and everything that you will be. And no one says world-changing is always for the better.
15 years’ old
I’ve had a word for this pain for a while now. “Depression,” he called it while writing the prescription that was meant to make me whole. But what the doctor told me was that it would feel cold and empty but even though my symptoms matched what I felt inside didn’t. I expected a glacier but what I received was always more like a low burn that some days felt like it would burst into a firestorm that would eat you alive. And even when it didn’t burn the scars just wouldn’t go away.
I’m 16 years old.
God, why aren’t You listening? Can’t You hear what I am saying? Can’t You hear that I’m unhappy? At the face of my alter, I pick myself apart until I reach my stark white bones and that still isn’t enough. And if my mirror could tell stories, it would speak volumes of self-hatred. From the beginning to the end is a story of a girl who can’t stand to stare back at her own reflection. And there’s a fire in my soul fueled solely on self-deprivation, lite by a match I didn’t even know I was holding. I pray to God one more time: Lord, I’ll do whatever it takes, just make me beautiful. Oh, you won’t? Fine. I will.
If my body is a temple than food is the Devil and I will do absolutely everything in my power to prevent it from entering. My stomach growls as I lace up my running shoes. I think to myself, “If you run 4 miles tonight, then you can have a normal dinner but if you run 5 miles you can have a little extra”. But I can only make it 3 miles before my body is exhausted and that night, I sit around the dinner table, moving the food around on my plate, wishing and wanting and praying that I could eat it without feeling like a failure. Food is no longer something to be savored and enjoyed, instead, it is a meticulously calculated intake based on the number of calories I burn that day. But if I don’t eat, I can’t gain weight and I will finally be beautiful. God, I’ll show you I can do it. I can make myself beautiful.
17 years’ old
And the only burn I want to feel is the press of her lips on mine again. The pain of betrayal now all too strong in my heart. The low burn now feels like this constant overwhelming inferno. As I’m caught in this whirlpool of hellfire I can barely see where to go. It feels like no amount of faith in any kind of God could ever save me now. But I have one hope. Less than a year and I have my ticket to paradise. Hopelessly hopeful that getting out of this hell hole of a town will save me.
I’m 18 years old
God, I’m scared. I’m broken but I can’t let anybody know it. I thought that when I lost the weight, I would be beautiful, that I would love myself and others would fawn over me the way they do in the magazines but boy, was I wrong.
20 pounds gone. 30 pounds gone. 40 pounds gone. And what have I gained? Nothing.
I stand in front of my altar, my hip bones protruding, my cheeks sinking, my thigh gap so prominent and it’s still not enough. I need more. There’s got to be more. I pray to God again: Lord, what am I doing wrong? I’m sorry for what I’ve done to myself, but I thought I could take matters into my own hands. God, I want to be beautiful, but this isn’t working, and I’m terrified of what is to come. Please help me.
That fire in my soul has turned to ashes. I have extinguished all my resources and I feel defeated. I begin to realize that the hollow shell of a girl that I stare back at in the mirror is not what I want for myself. I know it sounds crazy, but I just know that there is something so much greater in this world that can fill me with light, that will turn my ashes into something beautiful. So I pray and I wait.
19 years’ old
I thought I had it all figured it out. Putting up the walls around the flame that had been burning inside for so long. Out of the hell that was that little down and having escaped to what was meant to be a new paradise. And while this world is so much better sometimes it is still just more of the same. The fire builds and burns and screams to get out. But I know that the moment I give in again is the moment everything falls apart…right? The underbrush and weeds in my life have grown so thick I’m not sure anything else is ever going to grow. For the first time in a long time, I begin to think that the pill bottle in my medicine cabinet looks enticing. I reach for it but find my phone first and send out text messages hoping someone, anyone can be there. And she was. And, as many times before in the two years I had known her, with faith as her guiding factor she talked me down and pointed me in the direction I needed to go.
I’m 20 years old.
Knees resting at the cross, my head is bowed, and my hands are clasped before me, I pray to God again. Lord, I praise you. I know I haven’t been the daughter that I could be, but I will thank you until I reach eternity with You for the life that You have given me. And Lord? Thank you for unanswered prayers. It has taken a long time, but I finally have realized that beauty is not what society has defined it to be. Being beautiful is so much more than having the “perfect body” that those magazines are advertising. And yeah, reaching that perfect body is a nice goal to have, but there is so much more that life has to offer.
The fire in my soul is no longer fueled by self-deprivation but instead by an All-Powerful God, whose immeasurable and constant love for me is greater than any match I could find on my own to light my fire. And even when I feel like I’m nothing, I know He thinks I am something important and irreplaceable and beautiful. Am I perfect? Far from it. Do I feel beautiful every day? Of course not. But now I know that being beautiful isn’t about being skinny. It is about loving yourself, through your flaws and imperfections and embracing the fact that you aren’t perfect. Thankfully, I believe in a God who is, a God who thinks I am beautiful and irreplaceable and unique.
I am beautiful in His eyes; why does anything else matter?
20 years’ old And I’ve realized the fire is nothing to be afraid of. The trick I’ve always needed but never quite had. The fire burns, sure. But the scars that never went away? That was because the fire was there to cauterize the wounds. The underbrush and weeds? What else could get rid of that but the flames? The fire burns, but without the heat what is supposed to keep us warm? The fire burns, at least until you tame it. Once you take the pain and make it mean something, it is much less painful. Once you realize that you don’t have to let the fire burn, you realize you can watch it shine.
Something that I’ve learned over the course of my time in higher education and studying social work is that there is a strong link between anorexia and anxiety (don’t believe me? Try typing ‘comorbidity of anxiety and anorexia’ into Google Scholar). Looking back, the links between both disorders stick out like a sore thumb; everything in hindsight is always 20/20. I can now see how my childhood fears and anxieties flowed into my eating disorder and how my eating disorder flows into my adulthood anxiety. To see things even more clearly, let’s take it back to my first major anxiety attack my sophomore year of college.
It was October 2015. I was in San Antonio for fall break with my roommates and we had spent the day exploring the city by bike. I hadn’t been feeling well for most of the day (if you recall back to the beginning of this story, this was the same time I was experiencing all my weird health problems) but I had prospered on the best I could. We got back to the hotel room that evening and even though we’d spent a good part of the day biking, I wasn’t feeling hungry for dinner, so I stayed behind while my two roommates went to dinner. I’m not sure exactly what triggered my anxiety – probably a mix of being completely alone in a hotel room in a city I didn’t know and not feeling well – but I started to panic. My hands started to tingle, and the feeling quickly spread up my arms and through my body. I remember texting my roommates to grab me a Gatorade because I wasn’t feeling well and then I calling my parents because I didn’t know what else to do. My heart was beating out of my chest, I was hyperventilating, and my vision was going crazy. My roommates (bless their souls – they are truly the best) came back in the midst of this and called 911. An ambulance ride and a few hours in the ER later, I was told it was hypoglycemia, I needed to rest, and I was sent on my way. What I wish I’d known then is that this was just the start of my anxiety story.
Thankfully, my anxiety stayed away for a while after San Antonio. Eventually, my weird health problems resolved themselves as I started to put the weight back on and I slowed my life down the best I could. Of course, life wasn’t stress-free during this time, but I was on a relatively stable track and things were good.
It’s hard to write a story so personal without mentioning the individuals who were at my side for so much of it. Everybody has people in their lives that shape them, those that leave an impression on you; they leave marks that change who you are and sometimes, scars that outlive the relationship itself. In the beginning of my time at TCU, where I couldn’t find joy within, I found it from someone else. Being with him made me feel worthy. It made me feel like all the times I’d gone hungry and worked out to the point of exhaustion where worth it. Being with him made me feel important; it made me feel special. I believed I had finally reached the point of being worthy of love. While feeling this way was amazing in the moment, leaning on someone else to feel all these emotions doesn’t lead to you actually feeling it and internalizing it for yourself. Feeling emotions and actually knowing and sitting with them are completely different things.
Don’t get me wrong, being with him taught me so much about myself. I learned what it’s like to have love and be loved. I learned how to let my guard down and be silly. I learned what it means to show up for someone you love. I learned that maintaining a relationship takes a lot of hard work. I learned that, whether you want them to or not, people change.
When that relationship ended suddenly at the beginning of 2016, those feelings of unworthiness crumbed back down around me. I remember lying in bed that night thinking, “Why am I not good enough for him anymore? Why am I no longer worthy of his love? What changed?”. I spent months in a fog. Everything I thought I’d learned and everything I’d ‘built up’ in the previous two and a half year was suddenly no longer at my disposal. Stated simply, I was heart-broken, confused, and felt unexplainably unworthy.
As time went on, I slowly (I can’t emphasize this enough – it was a SLOW process) began to relearn those feelings and emotions I thought I’d learned with and through him. I began to recognize myself as worthy of love not because of somebody else, but through my relationship with Christ. I learned what it means to have love and be loved in my friendships. I found joy in post-sorority meeting late-night snacks and chats with my roommates (love you Annaliese and Holly <3), through devoting myself to my leadership roles across campus, and real and honest conversations with friends and mentors about life.
This all being said, I can’t paint this time of my life as a period of bliss because if I speak truthfully and honestly, it was not. During the beginning of my senior year, I was in a new relationship that, while fun and exciting, I knew deep in my soul wasn’t for me. I fell back into my old habits of trying to find worthiness, validation, and joy in someone who (to no fault of his own) didn’t give those things to me. As time when on and I kept searching for these feelings and emotions and coming up empty-handed, I became anxious.
I was scared of leaving the relationship because I didn’t want to give up on what I perceived as my only chance to potentially feel loved again. I was almost always terrified he would leave me for someone who was “better” than me, which led me into a terrible downward cycle of being anxious he would leave me and being too scared to walk away myself. Ultimately, when the relationship did end a few months later, I was filled with a strange mix of sadness and relief. I was sad to see something end that I had originally felt so passionate about, but my soul was relieved to be free of the weight that was bearing it down.
It is also during my senior year that I started to have frequent panic attacks while driving. Most people who know me know that driving is not on my top 10 list of favorite things to do. Sometime after I had acquired a car and was being required to travel long distances to get to and from my internship senior year, I developed a fear of fainting while driving. Let me say here that I’ve never (knock on wood) fainted before, yet I had this unsettling fear that it was going to happen pretty much any time I was driving farther than a 5-mile radius from my apartment. The fears only intensified when I was (a) sitting in traffic, (b) on the highway, or (c) both a and b. It got bad enough that there were times where I’d call my roommates and they’d drive out and sit with me when I was on my way home. Or there was another time I had a full-blown panic attack leaving work and I had to call my best friend and his girlfriend and ask them to pick me up and drive me and my car home. I’m thankful to say that as time went on (and honestly, after my relationship ended), the number of panic attacks and general feelings of anxiety decreased substantially. However, they definitely didn’t disappear for good.
Now is a good time to fast forward to my year in France. I can honestly say without a shadow of a doubt that I have never felt as good as I did mentally as I did when I was in France. Before I left, I was worried that I’d be anxious. I was traveling abroad for the very first time and I was about to go through a huge life transition. If you ask me, that sounds like the perfect place for anxiety to manifest itself and really take charge. However, that is not at all what happened. Being in France was invigorating. It was freeing in every sense of the word. I found joy in speaking French, teaching my students, and living in a small town in rural France.
Even though I truly loved being an English teaching assistant, I made the surprising decision (to everybody – including myself) to accept my previously deferred admission to UIUC and not renew my teaching contract in December 2017. After I’d thought and prayed about it for so long, I knew it was where I was being led. However, it was in this decision, though it was made in confidence, that doubt and anxiety began to creep back into my life.
It wasn’t until I returned home in May that my anxiety truly started revving its engines and bearing down into my soul again. I didn’t have a job over the summer and after my best friend’s wedding at the beginning of June, I really didn’t have much of anything to do with myself. I was spending significant amounts of time alone or with my mom. There would be days that went by where the only reason I would leave the house was to go to our Clubhouse gym just 5 minutes walk from our home. I was feeling sad about leaving France (especially about leaving L) and I wasn’t sure how life could get better than those eight months I spent in France. I knew God had called me back to the U.S. and to grad school for a reason, but somewhere along the way, I had convinced myself that the only reason He would send me back was because something absolutely terrible was going to happen to me. Specifically, I was having intense fears that I was sick – that I had an untreatable and life-threatening condition – and that is why He brought me home. Because of this, I was living in a state of constant fear.
The (not so) funny thing about anxiety is that it can manifest itself within you in a whole plethora of ways. Therefore, every time I convinced myself that I was facing this ailment or that one, I’d start to “have” the symptoms of whatever I believed myself to have. The mind is incredibly powerful – I believe you see that in the thoughts, theologies, and ideologies of the world’s greatest leaders – but with that power for great thoughts also comes with the ability to convince yourself into believing nearly anything.
I had my first major anxiety attack in over a year this past June. After speaking to my doctor about everything I was feeling, she had prescribed Lexapro (an anti-depressant & anti-anxiety medication) to me. I was so tired of living a constant state of fear and anxiety that I decided that medication was the next best option for me. After taking a full dose on that morning in June, not an hour and a half later I noticed an anxiety attack coming on – one that ended up lasting (in a series of ebbs and flows) for over two days. Needless to say, that was enough to convince that medication was not the route for me and that I just needed to try harder and things would get better.
As the summer progressed, things slowly did get better. I spent three much-needed weeks with L, and shortly after, was preparing to move to Champaign and begin my semester at UIUC. In all the excitement of moving, starting my MSW program, exploring my city, and falling into a new routine, I felt some of my anxiety disappear. But as the semester went on and things got busy, stressful, and honestly, really lonely, the feelings came rushing back all over again. You can only put on a front for so long before things start to crack and fall apart.
We were three weeks from the end of the semester and I had just gotten back from Thanksgiving break when I realized that things were getting really bad again. My anxiety skyrocketed – there were days that I had to force myself to get out of bed as to not miss a class or a shift at work. I took multiple mental health days and on a particularly rough morning, I found myself in an emergency session at the counseling center because I felt like I was going absolutely crazy. I was overwhelmed to the point of almost constant tears and it took everything in me to make it through each day. Yet through it all, I was convinced that I didn’t need to be on medication, that it was just a phase of life, and I would make it through all by myself.
Boy, was I wrong.
I’d been praying over this time and, being at wit’s end with my anxiety, told God: “If I need to be on medication, please just make it obvious to me. I can’t do this anymore, but I really don’t want to take this medication.” One thing I’ll say is that when you earnestly and desperately ask Him to show up, He does.
I ended up spending the Saturday before finals in the ER because I thought something was terribly wrong with me. After my bloodwork came back perfect, the doctor told me that it was probably just my anxiety and even though it sounded like I was doing everything right to try and fight it off, that maybe it would be wise for me to start my medication. I took this as the sign I’d been so desperately asking for and even though it took a lot of extra convincing from family and friends, I restarted my Lexapro that night.
I’d love to stop the story here and tell you all that from day one on it has been rainbows and butterflies, that I haven’t had a single moment of anxiety since then. In reality, that would be a big fat lie and even though it’s hard to admit, things got worse before they got better.
The Monday after my day at the hospital, my aunt and uncle dropped me off at my apartment so that I could try and make it to my last days of class. Even though I hadn’t had any anxiety attacks in those first two days after starting Lexapro, I was still living in this state of being completely and unexplainably overwhelmed. It took me being alone at my apartment for less than 20 minutes to set off my anxiety all over again. Feelings of unworthiness, shamefulness, and derealization had been plaguing my soul for so long that I felt trapped under my own mental and emotional weight. What was so explicitly different about this anxiety attack, compared to all the others, was that I was faced with an overpowering feeling and fear that I wanted to and was going to hurt myself. Those feeling in that moment – those of unwavering sadness, disappointment, and hopelessness – are feelings that I truly hope nobody ever has to feel. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have high self-awareness and a good amount of social work counseling knowledge because had I not, I don’t know if I would have reached out for support as quickly as I did. I’m grateful for my support system – for the people who have been cheering me on every step of the way – because, without them, I don’t know where I’d be.
It has been just over two months since I started taking my medications regularly. While the transition onto these medications hasn’t always been easy, I can’t even begin to describe the positive effects these two medications have had on my mental and emotional health. Instead of feeling solely anxious from the moment I wake up to the moment I fall asleep, I finally have the ability to fully feel and experience a full range of feelings and emotions. I am finding joy in places where I previously only found sorrow. I can look at pictures of myself from my times in France and no longer feel disconnected from the person I was a year ago to the person I am today. Most importantly, I no longer feel like I’m floating among the clouds, completely disconnected from life around me.
I’m grounded, and I’m worthy of space.
I spent a long time making myself small because I believed that the less space I took up in the physical world, the more I would be valued, loved, and worthy. I spent a long time packing my feelings away into a tiny little box because I believed that the less space I took up in the emotional realm, the more I would be seen as strong, valuable, and “perfect”. In reality, taking up less space doesn’t lead to any of those things. What does lead to those feelings is letting yourself take up as much physical and emotional space as you need. You can’t expect to grow – physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually – if you are constantly cramming yourself into spaces that are too small for you anyway. So, give yourself permission to step out into the open, feel your feet connected solidly to the ground, and say to the world:
“I am here and I am worthy of space.”
Thanks for reading my story. Please know that you are loved far beyond what you know.
Until next time,