#WorldMentalHealthDay: Anxiety, OCD & the Art of Healing

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Anxiety by TamberElla

Ever since I entered the scary ride that is adulthood (to place that in time, let’s just say when I finished high school – I’m 22 now), I knew there was something off. At first I thought that maybe I was strange, different from anyone my age. University is supposed to be the craziest time of your life. Instead, I spent those years locked in my room wondering why I just couldn’t go out and have fun and stop worrying so much about every little thing in my life. However, I thought that was just my personality. Maybe I am just a dull over-thinker.

I had what I later found out was my first panic attack when I was travelling with friends back in 2013. I’d been very irritable for days, and at that very moment all I could think of was that I was going to die away from home. It sounds ridiculous now, but it’s what I remember the most. I didn’t die -well, obviously-, but I kept it for myself. Come to think of it now, I didn’t share it with my family because I knew it was not ordinary. I knew it didn’t have anything to do with my blood pressure or any other common health issue. I didn’t want to worry anyone.

I spent the following year being very unsure as to why I was so unstable emotionally, so to speak. I was irascible, tense, constantly stressed out, angry, probably very difficult to be with. But I still didn’t tell anyone. I kept thinking I was imagining the whole thing. However, over a year later, everything fell apart. I was dealing with so much at the time, but not more than usual. To this day I still don’t know why it happened. All I know is that I started getting worse and worse, to the point that I couldn’t even focus revising or reading a book. All I know is that one fine morning in May 2015, I went up to my mother, crying, and I told her everything: that I wasn’t okay, that I was obsessing over things that did not make any sense, that I didn’t want to be near anyone I cared about in case I ended up hurting them accidentally, that I couldn’t bear being inside my head anymore. She was really surprised. That’s the thing about mental health, that you learn to hide things really well. However, I got really lucky with her, which is not the case for many people suffering with mental health issues. She’s had anxiety for almost 15 years now and she never once told me it was “all in my head”, thankfully. When my tears let me finish telling the whole story (or as much I felt capable of sharing at the time), she didn’t even give me a choice: she said we were going to our family doctor as soon as she was available, which was in a couple of days. I didn’t oppose. I was so grateful. That’s how badly I needed help.

I spent the following days crying. I’d kept it all bottled up inside for so long that, as weird as it sounds, it felt so good to finally be able to cry about it. I cried in front of my doctor. I told her I thought I was going insane, and she told me that I definitely wasn’t, that what I was feeling was real but she couldn’t really help me as much as I needed, so she sent me to a psychiatrist. I cried in front of her, too. She also told me I wasn’t crazy, which felt ridiculously good to hear. I cannot stress enough how important it is to feel validated when you’re dealing with mental health issues. It is so relieving to finally put a name to your problem. On that note, she diagnosed me with anxiety and OCD – which, mind you, I’ve been suffering for since I was a kid but never had a clue. I just thought I was hired that way. It turns out that the pressure I’d been putting on myself for years to make up for what I thought was a messed up personality had finally taken its toll on me. The beast that still lives inside my head had been unleashed. My anxiety was at an all-time high. My OCD had basically exploded.

I’m always going to remember that summer as the worst of my life for the mere reason that I wasn’t feeling like myself at all. I was taking two pills of sertraline a day while also going to therapy and doing anything I could to help me stay sane: meditation, herbs, exercise, poetry, self-help tips I got from the Internet. I was also saying yes to every single plan that came my way, even if all I wanted was to stay in bed and cry – advice that I stole from my mother, who kept saying “You have to force yourself to actually do things when you least want to because it’s when you need it the most” when she first started dealing with anxiety herself.

Some of those things -or maybe all of them combined- worked, because by the end of the summer I remember there was a Sunday where I thought, “Wow, that was the first (almost) anxiety-free week in forever.” I felt free. I felt alive. And it was, mainly, because I’d forced myself to go out and get my mind off things and sleep at a friend’s and go to a random party where I ended up having the time of my life. Obviously, these were all people I felt very comfortable with and to this day remain some of my best friends. But I suddenly wanted to do things with my life. I no longer wanted to sleep and never wake up just so I didn’t have to deal with my own brain. I wanted to see my friends, sing, dance, write, have fun. It obviously wasn’t an abrupt recovery. It didn’t happen in a week. It took months and so much hard work for me to feel whole again. In fact, even though there are days that are a lot easier, I still have what I call the Dark Days; days that require a little bit more of work on my part in order to keep my sanity.

Look, I don’t think there’s a secret to recovery that works for literally everyone. However, I can share some advice from my own experience: Get help. That’s the most important advice I can give you. Tell your family, close friends, professors if you need to. Tell your doctor. You’re not insane, or losing it, or even a bad person. They will understand. They all helped immensely in making dealing with such a delicate health issue a bit easier. Say yes, even if all you feel like doing is hiding under the duvet – especially then. Find whatever form of expression works for you and dedicate yourself to it whenever you feel a bit closer to the cliff. I found mine while taking a Poetry class at university when I was at my lowest, and I will forever be thankful to my wonderful professor for being so passionate about poetry, hence passing it on to me. Listen to me, your art matters. More than any demon you might be battling. Remember that. That ugly, scary demon is very real, you’re not making it up, but you can’t let it win. If there is something that makes you feel even a bit better (whatever it is: painting, writing, learning a new language, scrapbooking, woodworking – ANYTHING), do it. Since I was diagnosed with anxiety, I have graduated university, successfully finished my final dissertation, written a collection of poetry, been published on some of my favorite websites, created my own blog (which people seem to love judging by the heartwarming private messages I receive), become a contributing writer for an entertainment website and I’m about to start my Master’s Degree in Editing and an internship at a publishing house. So you see, I’m not just blowing smoke. Heal any way you know how. It will get better eventually.

So if you take only one thing from this ridiculously long (and relevant – at least, for me) post on #WorldMentalHealthDay, let it be this: please, please, please… Get help. Come to terms with the fact that you can’t solve everything yourself, because sometimes that’s the hardest part to admit. It’s completely fine. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be shy. Dumbledore was right: just because it’s happening inside your head it doesn’t mean it’s not real. Be kind to yourself. Let other people guide you if you just can’t find the way. That’s what will make all the difference.

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