From a very young age, I was always extremely anxious. No matter what I did, a little voice inside of my head would tell me that it wasn’t good enough; that I was inadequate. It didn’t take long for that negative voice to grow louder and louder and I eventually grew afraid to try new things. I never felt comfortable speaking up or letting myself be heard.
I suffered from crippling anxiety in lower and middle school. Sometimes the anxiety was so extreme that it kept me up. I would cry my eyes out late at night, making it really hard to wake up and go to school. Most of the time school terrified me. I had friends and made decent grades, however my anxiety often got in the way. I would have panic attacks whenever I had to give oral presentations, which would always result in a low grade. My body would shake, my heart would pound, my face would blush and my mind would go blank. “Friends” would laugh, and my teachers would stare. I assumed I was incapable, a loser, not “normal”. These moments that happened far too often knocked my already low self esteem down lower and lower.
I remember particular days where I would spend time fantasizing about being able to speak up, use my voice and be heard. I used to spend hours wishing so desperately that I could look like, feel like and be like the pretty, thin, confident girls I was friends with. I also spent hours on Google trying to figure out what was wrong with me and why I felt so scared all the time. I was constantly in my head, worrying about what everyone thought about me. I was struggling so much internally and I didn’t know how to possibly begin to express it. When teachers would tell me I simply wasn’t trying hard enough, as they did often, I would feel completely misunderstood.
When you are young, it’s not exactly easy to articulate that the reason you are not speaking or participating isn’t because you are “bad” or “lazy”, but because your mind won’t allow it. It’s difficult to explain why you start to obsess about calories in, calories out, just to feel some sort of control. And it’s difficult to explain why you sometimes purposefully knick you wrist with a razor, just to feel something. By the time high school came around I was introduced to the quick and easy fix to all my problems - alcohol. When I would drink I would turn into this loud, confident version of myself that everyone seemed to like much more. I started to get attention from guys and I would thrive off of that validation. Alcohol was my liquid courage; it made me feel okay in my own skin and not afraid to speak up. It brought me such immense relief from the anxiety I was experiencing. It quickly became my go-to coping mechanism for pain, and later developed into something I would abuse regularly.
Fast forward to my freshman year of college, I was struggling to end a toxic four-year relationship with my high school boyfriend. I was so unhappy with how I was being treated, yet I was too scared to actually end it because then I would be alone again. Me, myself and my anxious mind. I was at a loss on what to do. One day, I woke up feeling sick and tired. I was sick and tired of feeling the way that I did and I felt determined to change it. So - I sat in Panera with my best friend, and opened up to her about everything for the first time in my entire life. It was the first time I was able to articulate how I was feeling and have someone respond in a caring, nonjudgmental manner. It felt so damn good. It gave me the courage to pick up my phone, set up an appointment with a therapist and finally seek the professional help I had always needed.
I have been in therapy ever since - so, roughly 4 years now - and I am so grateful that I was able to find the strength to get myself there every week and to get the help I always needed. Therapy isn’t fun and games. It’s hard, and it can hurt. But trust me, it’s 100% worth it. Today, I am a completely different person. I still suffer from anxiety, but with weekly therapy sessions and medication, it has become much more manageable. I’m also sober now, which definitely helps keep my mood and anxiety at a much more manageable level.
Today I can stand up in front of class and talk without any physical anxiety symptoms. I don’t particularly enjoy it, however, I am now able to do it. Today I feel much more comfortable in my own skin and am learning to love and take care of myself and not put up with others treating me poorly. I still have my fair share of bad days and anxious moments, but they are nothing compared to how bad they once were. And today I can speak up about my struggles and let myself be vulnerable without fear of judgment - because I now know that my anxiety disorder does not define me or make me weak. I am not my anxiety disorder.
Every one in four adults (approximately 61.5 million Americans) experience mental illness in a given year. Living with a mental illness is hard enough as it is, but the fear of admitting we are suffering and need help is what makes it so much worse. One way that I became comfortable sharing my experience with others was through blogging about it. Once I started doing this, other people began to reach out and open up to me about their own experiences and how they can relate to mine. It has become so clear to me now that too many of us are suffering in silence. So - it’s time to speak up and open the dialogue. The more we talk about mental illness and the daily struggles of life, the more likely we are to inspire others to speak up and get help too. The stigma needs to end.
You can read Alivia's blog at www.liv-light.org.