This week on aSweatLife.com, in honor of World Mental Health Day on October 10 we’re talking about mental health to raise awareness of the issues we all face and lessen the stigma of discussing mental health openly. We believe #everythingisbetterwithfriends, and we encourage you to be open to discussing mental health with yours — and if you need to talk to someone right now, you can dial 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
It was the summer before I entered 6th grade. What I remember of that day is through blurred memory, snippets of images and flashes of faces. I remember my parents had gone out. I remember my sisters were home. I remember I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I remember that when my parents did arrive home my dad rushed into the house, panic and urgency in his voice. I remember landing in urgent care.
After speaking with a doctor for some time, and after he had run some tests, he told me parents he thought I had been experiencing an anxiety attack. After some digging, what the doctor surfaced from within me was my fears turned into anxiety — after Labor Day, I would be starting middle school, I would be separated from my best friend, and I was sinking in my fears of the unknown.
I am now 35 years old. Change is still hard for me — and this is perhaps especially interesting as I have chosen a life abroad for the past five years, full of immense, soul-stirring and soul-shaking changes — and I am still daily working on my relationship with anxiety.
In the 23 years since that first panic attack, through a great deal of reflection and mindful practices, I have come to a certain reckoning with Anxiety. We have a kind of pact now. I acknowledge that she is going to forever have a dwelling within me — even when she refuses to pay rent — and she becomes a better tenant when I remember to offer her kind neighbors.
I have learned that Anxiety turns down the blaring music in her room when I am running regularly, practicing yoga and lifting weights with friends at the gym. There is not an instant cure-all, but when those breathless moments freeze my brain and cause my heart to beat faster, the endorphins seem to hold hands with the Mr. and Ms. Panics loose in my body, creating, even if temporarily, moments of balance.
I have learned that Anxiety’s hardness turns softer when I share my spinning thoughts with a trusted friend. I often turn to my sister Cassie, my soul sister Vanessa or good friend Hannah. I know the space with them is safe. When I call them, I put Anxiety on the line, and they know how to talk her down.
I have learned that words hold power when conversing with Anxiety. She’ll say What if you fail? What if you’re not enough? What if you’re too much? And I’ll raise my right eyebrow say Thank you for your thoughts, Anxiety. They were interesting to consider. And I continue But I know that I fail forward. I am more than enough. And I’m always evolving.
I have learned that there is also value in talking with a counselor. I did this for years after I broke off an engagement. I wanted help understanding how I had gotten to a place of losing myself in the relationship, how I could no longer look in the mirror and see an independent identity. These reflective and honest conversations came without judgement from my therapist, and allowed me to regain a sense of self again.
I have learned there is something to building a meditation practice. I am still working on this daily practice, and I continue to find that if I show up, Anxiety slows down the race she is running inside of me. I have the Headspace app to thank for its series on anxiety.
I have learned that, like anyone else, Anxiety does not want to be judged or analyzed. I have begun to explore Anxiety with a curiosity. I have found that I do not have to push her away, that, in fact, as I get to know her, the relationship does not have to be toxic. If I take the time, Anxiety actually helps me to bear witness to what is unfolding within myself.
I have learned that while I once nicknamed Anxiety “My Crazy,” she is also paradoxically connected to My Superpowers. After times when my conversations with her are most dynamic and frequent and intense, I have a sense of calm clarity that surfaces. I have a stronger link to Intuition. I have a deeper connection to Inner Strength.
For some time, I used to think of Anxiety as my foe. Our relationship is still evolving, but there are moments now when I can see that she is insisting on being my friend.
Additional Note: Recently I was introduced to Michele Kerulis, a lifestyle and wellness consultant who also serves on the faculty at Northwestern University as part of the counseling program. If you are considering seeing a therapist, she has some sage advice to share: “Feel confident in interviewing counselors to find the best fit. It is kosher to call different therapists and say, “These are my concerns that I want to talk with you about. Can you talk to me about how you would work with me to help decrease my anxiety?” It’s perfectly okay to let that person know that you are looking for someone to be the best fit.”