Content Warning: This post discusses anxiety and mental illness, including mentions of suicidal ideation and self-harm.
I have anxiety. Generalized anxiety disorder, if we’re being specific.
For people that know me, this is no big surprise. Over the years, I’ve become increasingly more open about my struggle with anxiety and how it impacts the way I live my life.
Given that May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I figured now is the perfect time to discuss my history with mental illness on my blog with hopes of increasing awareness and fostering a community so that no one has to struggle alone. I know that when I was experiencing difficult times, seeing mental illness represented in the media helped me feel less like an outsider.
To be honest, this topic is way too expansive to fit into one post, so prepare several posts on the subject. I thought for today, I would focus on how my mental health journey has progressed in the last two years or so.
Let’s cast our minds back to the fateful time of January 2020. COVID-19 was barely on the horizon of anyone’s brain, and for all intents and purposes, 2020 seemed like it was going to be a normal year.
I was halfway through my junior year of high school. At this point in my life, I had been seeing a therapist since 4th grade, after I started showing signs of anxiety in 1st grade.
You would think having been in therapy for several years, I would finally have this anxiety thing under control. Alas, it always manages to pop up and make my life more difficult when I least expect it.
I think the general consensus regarding junior year is that it is very stressful. There are college applications to fill out, SATs to take, and a whirlwind of other important life milestones.
Naturally, I was stressed. Very, very stressed. To no one's surprise, stress and anxiety do not mix well. I had just taken my midterms, with some disappointing results. I didn’t fail any of my tests, but to me, anything below a 90 was failing.
Obviously, this was a very difficult standard to maintain. I was especially beating myself up for scoring below an A on my English midterm, which I thought was supposed to be my best subject. I wanted to be a writer, after all.
I was also fighting with my boyfriend at the time. We had some serious differences of opinions, and it was becoming apparent to me that our relationship was not always healthy.
Then, there was the fated driving incident. Driving was starting to become one of my biggest fears. I had gotten my permit in July 2019 and had barely sat behind the wheel since. My brain just kept fixating on how I could get into a car crash and die, and nothing could quiet this fear.
My parents were getting frustrated with me, and my friends were teasing me for not being able to do something so “simple.” To my friends and family, my fears didn’t seem rational, and they didn’t understand why I let driving bother me so much. Even I knew my fears were irrational, but I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t drive.
One day, my dad took me out for a practice drive, and I messed up a turn. My dad yelled at me to pay attention to the road, and then we continued our drive. For him, the incident was over after those two minutes, but I couldn’t stop crying.
When we got home, I locked myself in my room and sobbed for hours. My dad tried to talk to me, and I told him I was never driving again. I had never felt so worthless. And I was starting to express these feelings, much to the concern of my parents.
I began talking about how I wished I was dead. One time at dinner, I said something about how it didn’t matter what happened to me, how my life didn’t matter. I remember my mom and dad coming into my room the day of the driving incident to ask if I was seriously contemplating ending my life and that if so, I needed to talk to them and my therapist so we could work out a plan to help me feel better.
I didn’t want them to worry, so I told them I was fine, and repressed those thoughts so no one else could find out how I felt.
Here’s the thing: on the outside, to the average person, I really did seem fine. I went to school, talked to my friends, got good grades, and behaved normally. There were no outward signs that I was struggling because I didn’t physically harm myself.
I was also telling myself that I was fine because other people’s struggles were much worse. I wasn’t actively hurting myself, so I thought I would just get over my anxiety and everything would work out.
However, I was invalidating my own mental health. Sure, there were no signs of physical harm, but my brain and thoughts beat me up daily. I was struggling, just in a way that isn’t shown as often in the media or talked about as often.
When your brain tells you every day that you are worthless, eventually, you start to believe it. As a result, I went through my days wishing my life would just end. At least then all my thoughts would finally be silenced.
My mom once told me that I needed to look in the mirror every morning and tell myself I am worthy, that I have value. It sounded stupid, but I could never do it. I looked in the mirror and saw all the things I hated about myself.
In my mind, I was never good enough for anything. It didn’t matter anymore the awards or recognition I received because deep down, I was full of self-loathing.
My internal turmoil began in January and peaked in February. Eventually, I got busy again with school, and for the time being, I couldn’t focus on my self-hatred, because I didn’t even have time to think.
So then what happened? Ironically enough, COVID-19. In the long run, the pandemic and lockdown had some negative effects on my anxiety and mental health. But for the time being, it seemed like a band-aid solution to my problems.
With lockdown, I had an excuse not to leave my room, and also an excuse not to drive. In a way, the pandemic was enabling my anxiety because I didn’t have to go out and confront all of my anxiety triggers. I could stay in my room, “my safe space,” where nothing bad could happen to me.
Still, I knew this wasn’t how I should live my life. I was barely living at all.
Obviously, now I have learned to drive, and most importantly, I’ve learned how to love being here. So, since 2020, something has changed. And that, my friends, is a post for another day.
As this post concludes, it is important to note that people experience life differently, and therefore life and mental health struggles are relative. All mental health struggles are valid, and it is impossible to compare different experiences among different people. No one is a burden with their mental health, so please seek a confidant in a parental figure, doctor, or close friend if you need help. Even though this is commonly said, your mental health really does get better when you seek help.