That’s how many years anxiety and depression tried to steal my joy. My happiness. My life.
I remember I was nine years old when I felt the first wave of panic wash over me.
I wasn’t in any danger. There really was no reason for it.
I had no idea that one night while laying down trying to go to bed, would be the first of many….many sleepless nights to come.
Anxiety came crashing into my world & tried to cripple every bit of who I was.
To be clear, I come from an incredibly loving home. I grew up feeling very grateful & thankful for what we had & how hard my parents worked to give us a good life.
Many therapists & psychiatrists asked me if I had ever been sexually, physically, or emotionally abused and the answer was always a solid, “no.” That’s the absolute truth.
So when they tried to rule out all the reasons why I felt anxious, they had no answers for me. The only thing they were eventually able to tell me was my brain was chemically imbalanced. Like Lady Gaga likes to say, “I was born this way.”
I didn’t like hearing that from doctors. Not only did I have a daily battle of trying to feel normal, but now they were telling me If I didn’t take medication….I would never feel stabilized, normal, happy. Because it was a chemical in my brain, it wasn’t situational. And that was really weird to feel completely out of control & to trust a complete stranger to help me. When it came to doctors I felt grateful they had the knowledge to give me some form of relief, but I was also somewhat skeptical. My parents had to pay almost $200 for an hour long session & then who knows how much for my medication. & sometimes all I thought was does she really care? Or is she stuck in the motions of her career, and just pushing medication down my throat because it’s going to pay her bills? Is she really listening to my heartache, or is she thinking about at the end of her day she has a week long vacation she’s about to go on?
I know that might sound somewhat odd, but these are thoughts I would have. Sitting there as she is trying to help me find methods of coping with my anxiety in those moments. Telling me to close my eyes & think of a relaxing place– like a beach, or somewhere in the mountains and you can see for miles and miles. She wanted to take me to a place (mentally) where my mind would convince my body that it was okay, and I would relax. But during those sessions, where she would want me to listen to my breathing, & try to relax my muscles by clenching them together then letting go…. I felt helpless. It wasn’t working. That isn’t what I needed.
So as a young girl who knew nothing about this mental disease, I was in for one hell of a journey. I had no idea how awful anxiety was & how quickly it would consume me. It would keep me from wanting to go on vacations, or simple things like a night at the movies. It stole my sleep so much that I began to function normally off a few hours of sleep. It took me away from my studies so viciously that my mom ended up homeschooling me for a couple years. It kept me from going out with my best friends. It made me afraid of going out anywhere in fear that anxiety would overtake me and no one would know how to help me.
Anxiety quickly became something I would quite literally fight with absolutely everything I had. & in the depths of my dark days, the only energy I had was simply to lay in my bed and cry. I had moments where I lashed out at family, or friends… simply because I didn’t know how to handle my emotions. I would yell at God because if he heard my prayers, he wasn’t listening. I would blame him for my pain. I would hide in my room because somehow that was a safe place. If anxiety got me there, it was okay…. because I would walk through whatever was thrown at me & I would be the only one to see.
For a long time I felt shame in my pain. In the 90’s, it wasn’t really a topic of conversation. I didn’t know a single soul but myself who suffered. I googled relief. I would try to find forums or group chats of people who had the same “insane” thoughts I did. So that way, I would feel a little less crazy. And a little more understood. But to no avail, I still felt alone as I ever did. & it wouldn’t be until years later that I really got why I had to go through all of it alone, because I came out stronger & more brave than ever. But when it was happening, I would question my existence daily. I wouldn’t understand why this was my life. Why everyone around me had these different paths and journeys to walk, but mine would be full of pain and confusion.
It didn’t even make much sense to me, you see. Because I was so deep in my faith. I believed in God. I went to church every Sunday & youth group every Wednesday. My community of friends all did the same. I felt safe in their presence, in our friendships. They accepted me for who I was & vise versa. They saw a girl who was brave, courageous, & capable. Even when I saw one who was broken, weak, & fragile. They saw past my weaknesses. They saw my strengths. And that was enough for me to realize, enough for me to know that this evil disease or whatever you want to call it, had no control over my life. & in moments like this, I truly & fully believed in that. I was strong. I had faith. I knew my life was mean’t for so much more.
But then when I was alone, away from them…. my mind would try to get the best of me. Telling me I wasn’t any of those good things. & back into the depths of darkness I would fall again. I’m telling you it was a rough, ongoing thing for twelve years. In these moments, I knew I had to fight. I had to do anything I could to not let evil overtake me. & I did just that. I would read self-help books, you should see my collection. I would write. I would read any & all inspiring & motivating articles. I would google success stories. I tried to mediate. I would pray. I would pray, a lot. I would be around people who loved me. I would sing. Singing was one of my biggest saving graces. I’m not even sure why. But I’ve been singing since the 3rd grade, right around the time my journey with anxiety started. & it was almost like anytime I would be singing in choir practice, or during a concert, at home, wherever- I would be taken to another place.
The music would consume me. The beautiful words. The notes. The melodies. The harmonies. The different languages. All of the stunning, intricate pieces that go into making a song what it is. Something about expressing who I was in song, healed me. Being in a group of humans that came together to want to make magic, that was a wonderful thing. It was incredibly healing. It was something that since my first tryout at the age of 9. I knew would be a huge part of who I am. And I was right. I remember walking around my home during childhood throughout high school & my parents would gauge my happiness/sadness around my signing. If I wasn’t signing, my mom would know something was wrong. & If I was happy- I wouldn’t stop singing. Half the time I never realized that. But one day she mentioned it to me & I thought about it. It made me laugh because I did it unknowingly. It just became a part of who I was.
It became a part of me, just as anxiety did. Although anxiety isn’t the part that wins these days. & it doesn’t need to win your days either. It is however the part that guides me. It is the reason I fight for hope everyday. It’s the reason I’m trying to build a community for sufferers. Not just online, but a physical one where people get together in a place of love to speak of their pain. It’s the reason I’m writing a book to hopefully help those going through the hell I did, who thinks no one understands them.
I do. I get you. I was there. I am here. & you, my friend… are not alone. Nor will you ever be.