I have been thinking about writing something in regards to “Mental Health Awareness Week” last October 7th to October 11th, 2019. But, it took me a while to come up with an idea since it is very personal to me. When it comes to talking about mental health, I always feel I am talking about a part of who I am.
When we heard about anxiety, depression, and any other mental disorders we usually think about something we need to be ashamed of. It is like we are talking about some contagious diseases that need to be kept as a secret and cured in secret. In reality, yes it is a serious medical condition but it is also something we need to talk about and not to be ashamed of. As a person living with anxiety and had survived depression which almost took my life, I am not ashamed to talk about my experience in battling mental problems. I want to encourage anyone who is going through any sort of mental disorder to be brave and don’t let it take you down.
I am not going to kid myself that I am completely healed. No, I wasn’t and I will not. This is a fact that has taken me a long time to recognize – when it comes to mental health problems, “getting cured” or “finding a solution” isn’t always fit to help you.
So when did all begin? I’ve always had an issue with the way people think about me. I worry a lot, I worry about a variety of of everyday issue. From my body, my mindset, and the way I socialize with other people – I always think I am different and there is something wrong with me. Waking up in the morning, I will start my day by worrying about how can I be like normal people, think and act like normal peoplep, especially with my age. Being outside in public and at school can turn into an exercise of paranoia, worrying that everyone will notice my indifference and laugh about it. From a young age, I was often teased and called out in public for being too skinny or often called “malnourished”. Being a tall kid with a very skinny body is something people can mock on. Some of our neighbors used to talk about how our parents don’t treat me well or don’t feed me well, presumably to try to spread rumors about why I looked like a giraffe. Even though I know the truth that my parents are trying everything they can to support me and my siblings and it’s just I am genetically skinny but those rumors still hurt me.
Through my teenage years, I struggled severely with my confidence, both with my weight and how to fit into the social norms. I always feel trapped in a cage where I can’t make any mistakes because everyone around me will notice it. It is not just about what “other people” think about me some were also from my inner circle – family. Even though my parents always try to assure me that I am perfectly fine and constantly reminds me of how much they love us. It is still unavoidable that there were things they do that also make us think we are not good enough. I knew it was never their intention to have caused their child’s anxiety, they are just doing what they think is good for us. For example, from a young age, I was always told that getting good grades especially A’s is an example of being a good child. Even though I wasn’t told that I won’t be love anymore if I don’t get the grades, there is always something in my mind that I don’t want my parents to get disappointed with me, and that pressure makes my anxiety worse.
After graduating from high school, I have an expectation – a fantasy, really – about going away for college. I always taught that being away, I can prove to everyone that I am independent. It was also about the transformation too. I was marking a new chapter in my life, one that separates childhood and high school from what lay before me. I expected that by leaving home, I would grow into the person I was always meant to be. So I decided to ask my parents to send me far away for college with a reason that I want to be able to stand and built a future with my own feet. My parents did not agree with me at first, sending a seventeen-year-old girl who has never been away from them scared them. It took me a while to convince them, and finally, my dad sent me to the United States of America for college.
I was excited, I thought I can start a new life in a place where no one knows me. But I got it wrong. When my Dad agreed to send me to another country, he has one condition. I am going to stay with my Aunt (his younger sister), a person I have never met in my life. A person who never knew my existence not until my Dad contacted her (My father has his reasons), it was like my life turned in a telenovela. But we are not going to talk about it for now.
The first few weeks of freshman year were filled with typical college experiences. Lots of wandering in circles not sure how to get where I was going. Getting used to living in a house with a stranger – they’re family but I felt strange (in a while) for not knowing them my whole life. Feeling awkward, but also hopeful as I made a few friends. I was also taking classes that intrigued me and were widening my understanding of the world around me. Eventually, I found a part-time job in a fast-food chain restaurant to help me support myself. While all of these experiences were moving me closer to this new life, one was pulling me away.
Seemingly out of nowhere, I started having intense bursts of fear and chronic worrying. Everything from my childhood and high school starts to come back. It was like a nightmare, and I can’t just wake up from it. I start being anxious about not being able to fit in this “new world”. I start over-thinking about my future and feeling homesick. I’d stay wide awake until 4am and I felt as if I were not in control of my body or mind. Following the news that my Dad was diagnosed with prostate metastatic cancer. I was convinced that I was going to faint or die. During those moments, I experienced an actual pain in my chest, which caused me to difficulty in breathing, my throat dries up, and my body will start to tremble.
Days become weeks, and weeks become months. I was expending a lot of energy worrying about having one or feeling sick as I tried to recover in the aftermath. It was a painful and exhausting cycle. The way I moved throughout my days changed. I started missing classes, I became less be social, and when I did go out, I often went home early. I regularly left class to hide out in the bathroom and calm myself down. The fantasy of turning into a new person was being replaced with a new narrative I told myself: I had gone crazy and all the things I hoped for in my life – that my parents hoped for – were gone.
With all those attacks that I went through, and with my childhood experiences. I cannot accept the fact that I am having some problems like this, I was in denial, instead, I try to blame myself , I hated myself for being weak. So I pretended that the whole thing had never happened. A year after, the whole cycle came back full force. I repeated the pattern of anxious torment, followed by complete denial. I don’t want to be the girl who got anxious and I am ashamed of what is becoming me more times than I care to remember. However, I have reached the point that not only being anxious, and attacks, but depression has also consumed me. Followed by a heartbreak, I feel more pain. So I came up with the thought of ending my life will be the only solution for me. I don’t know why it suddenly becomes my idea. The only thing I knew was it’s for the best, especially since all signs were pointing to my anxiety getting worse while I was toughing it out on my own. Because of being embarrassed to talk about what I am going through, I couldn’t ask for any help.
A few weeks after my suicidal thoughts began, My father decided to get treatments in the United States and also so he can stay with me. Maybe it is meant to be, I don’t mean his cancer but his decision to stay with me. After a weeks of still battling my suicidal thoughts, I was brought to the emergency room because of my severe attacks. Those moments, I can’t breathe, and my body was too weak to move. I can feel numbness from my neck down to my left arm. Without any knowledge of what is going on, my dad thought I was having a heart attack. But instead, I was diagnosed with a Generalized Anxiety disorder and Panic disorder. I couldn’t think of a way to tell my dad that I am in need of his help. But instead, he was the one who talk to me first about it and encourage me to get some treatments.
In the first step, he made me see a therapist to talk about what I was feeling. Sitting across from the therapist, I cried and told her all the terrifying thoughts that regularly raced through my mind. It was painful and embarrassing, but it made me feel lighter. Along the way, she explained that my fight or flight reaction had gone haywire and that we could get it back on track though therapy and learning some coping techniques. She also wanted me to go to a psychiatrist to talk about medication – that was step two – I was prescribed of a medication called setraline, a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI).
After months of therapy and medication, my anxiety leveled out. The panic wasn’t gone, but it wasn’t as loud or as frequent as it had been. By the spring of my sophomore year, the panic was even further behind me. It felt like a triumph so I decided to stop seeing a therapist and stop taking medication due to the side effects since the panic was mostly quiet. It even seemed far enough behind me until my grandfather passed away while my father has been admitted to the hospital for the 4th time this month (April) and brought the panic back in full force.
Living with anxiety for years. I have managed to discover new things to tame it. I have accepted that I can’t banish my anxiety from my life forever but I can control it. I know I wouldn’t hesitate to seek any medical help when the time comes that I need it. So far, I am still able to handle my anxiety. By accepting my condition to discovering things to help me cope with it, I knew I have come far from who I was before.
To anyone who is going through something, do not be embarrassed to ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength. It’s you recognizing that life can be better—that you want it to be better – and you need help finding the tools to get there.