My Experience with Anxiety
Editor's Note: This article initially started off as my intro explaining why I chose to complete a self-imposed 30-day vegan challenge. I started to explain that I wasn't changing my diet as a "bikini cleanse" or crash diet for summer. But instead, I was trying it out to explore how it made me feel from an all-around wellbeing perspective. My explanation took off in such a direction that I really felt compelled to share my whole story about my personal experience with anxiety. My hope is that it can bring some perspective and inspiration to others in similar situations. <3
I haven't talked about this on the blog before, but, I have anxiety. As in, I've actually been diagnosed with it and could elect to go on medication for it. I've had it since I can remember - actually, my first memory of being anxious was around the age of five. I obviously didn't really understand what it was at the time, but now looking back I can see how it's been a part of me since early childhood.
I got misdiagnosed at 13 -- they said I had social anxiety which is so dead wrong I'm amazed that the mental health professional had come so highly recommended by our family's GP. (I love being social, love being around new people; I love to speak in public, perform in front of an audience...seriously, the diagnosis makes zero sense.) Anyway. I didn't have a great experience when I first went to see this doctor who so incorrectly diagnosed me. She didn't have a great handle on how I was feeling and didn't particularly seem to care. She also prescribed me Paxil, an anti-anxiety medication.
After about a year taking this medication I decided (along with the suggestion of my mom, who was also frustrated with the experience as a parent) that it would be better -- and that I would feel better -- without the interjection of this medication and without the unnecessary influence of my apathetic doctor. I went off of it and didn't consult anyone about my anxiety until college. And I did feel better. For a while.
My anxiety in high school was easy and, now with the perspective I have, I think my anxiety was so low during these years because I was so scheduled, busy and distracted with activity, and when you're on your last few years of school in a town you've grown up in your whole entire life, there really isn't a ton of stress or question marks to consider. You're also under your parents' roof. My stress level was virtually non-existent.
Enter college: I struuuuuuugggled. Like, I did everything I could to just keep my head above water. So if anyone is reading this from college and you ever thought that maybe I kept to myself occasionally, or maybe I wasn't in the best relationship I could've been in, or maybe I said I was going to come to our sorority party and then out of no where just didn't go...I can tell you, that anxiety was 100% to blame. I was in a new city with entirely new (but very lovely!) people and I had no idea how to handle or manage myself because I'd never had to deal with my anxiety in this way before. In this "adult circumstances" kind of way. I kind of kept everyone and the whole college experience, really, at arms-length to make it easier.
It wasn't until I graduated in 2009 that I resigned myself to the fact that maybe the overwhelming feelings I was dealing with wasn't what everyone else was experiencing too. So I went to another counselor/doctor's office and they were incredible. I had never felt so understood or fully examined in my whole 23 years on earth. They tested my brain waves, my allergies, my environmental factors (such as if I lived near huge collections of power lines), met with my parents, my brother, gave me an IQ test. I mean. There was not one stone left unturned.
They told me that I had anxiety with a particular bend towards OCD. Basically, it’s generalized anxiety and in addition, it tends to rear it's ugly head in the form of me getting stuck on thoughts or ideas and obsessing about different outcomes - that kind of thing. (That's so accurate by the way. I worry into oblivion and lose sleep about seemingly benign things. And under stress I double check emails 10x before I press send…aaaand then go back and read it about 10 more times after it’s already left my inbox.) They, too, told me that they would prescribe me with anti-anxiety medication if I chose to do so.
At the culmination of that incredible experience, I walked away electing to manage my anxiety naturally.
They had equipped me with so many great tricks and tools to help me manage it, and honestly, just being understood and having answers gave me so much clarity. (And if I’m being honest, my negative experience with Paxil probably contributed a great deal.)
I have chosen to manage my anxiety naturally to this day and instead opt for alternate ways to prevent, and handle it whenever I feel it creep up. However, this is totally a personal choice and I know many people who insist that they feel their best while taking a medication, so this isn’t medication-shaming by any means! If you deal with anxiety, my opinion is that you should feel comfortable and empowered to manage it however is best for you! In fact, my method of handling my anxiety might change in the future. I basically choose to keep all options on the table.
That’s largely in part because handling it naturally has its occasional challenges. But I generally feel my best when I’m balanced: this means when I’m routined/scheduled, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, getting enough social time, getting enough time with Chris, getting enough alone time, feeling like I’m accomplishing goals at work, keeping alcohol intake to a minimum, keeping caffeine intake to a minimum, eating clean or healthy-ish, etc. It’s certainly not rocket science but it works for me. But because it’s this delicate balance, It’s also easy to get a little off kilter. Traveling, for example, isn’t ideal for me because all of those things that I just mentioned usually get a little uneven.
Wedding planning has gotten my anxiety back to a higher level than it has been in a while. (This is also the thing with anxiety: it doesn’t matter if it’s a happy emotion or not, the overwhelming nature of an emotion, period, can overstimulate you into an anxious ball haha). So this year, I’ve been even more focused on introducing new techniques to help me feel my best. I started going to a chiropractor regularly. I continue to go to hot yoga as both a workout and meditation practice. I’m told I need to go see a masseuse but somehow the forced relaxation of massage environments gives me anxiety so I am procrastinating it haha. And I wanted to see if changing to a completely plant-based diet would make my anxiety dissipate. (To check out my 30-day vegan challenge click here.)
I appreciate you listening to my story and I am only sharing it in hopes that maybe my experience can help bring clarity to others in similar situations. It took me a long time to really understand my anxiety and I know I always feel comforted when someone else can relate.
And if you’re feeling low, I encourage you to reach out to your support network of friends, loved ones, a mentor, or someone you trust. It’s amazing what a little bit of understanding can do.
And if you can’t think of anyone to call, you can always message me. My door is always open <3.
Love to all of you,