My Seesaw Journey with Anxiety
If it’s true that it has to get worse before it gets better, I’m living proof of it. My anxiety’s taken me to some real dark places, and I’m so thankful God saw me through the worst of it.
I went to a high school where people didn’t talk about their mental health disorders, or even just mental health in general. I’m so happy things have changed now, because that makes me more comfortable sharing my story with anxiety. The best way I can describe it is by comparing it to a seesaw. Here’s why.
It started the year that everything went wrong- the summer before my junior year of high school. I was just 16, and had my eyes opened, almost overnight, to a very broken world that I lived in. I’m a pretty happy-go-lucky girl who sees everything half full, but that summer I realized I had on rose-colored glasses to just about everything around me. Without getting too much into the details- that was the summer I got so sick I came close to dying, and it was also the same summer I moved out at 16 to get away from my parents.
It’s still a really scary and dark time to look back on, and I don’t like to dwell there for too long. At that point things were so bad in my life that I honestly didn’t think I’d make it to high school graduation. I started my junior year in the fall with no hope for life left. Not even a little.
I think I’ve always had a more doormat level of anxiety that was sitting in my body until it suddenly sprang into full force and consumed me that year. Before my anxiety was a little creature that kept to itself. All at once that creature grew into a monster that was hellbent on destroying my life. The one word that comes to mind looking at that year is overwhelm. I was drowning in strong, heavy feelings of what the worst case scenario could be for every party I went to, every drive I took, and every situation I’d run into when I left the house. I kept picturing myself getting into fatal car wrecks, being gunned down by mass shooters, and being the laughing joke in every room I showed up in. It was so bad that missed my best friend’s 16th birthday because of it….and that’s something I’ll always regret.
After almost dying, you’d think I would have a new lease on life that made me fearless. But instead it made me scared that everything bad in my life was going to get worse, and everything good was going to leave me.
And to be fair, it wasn’t my imagination going completely wild. I had a LOT of bad luck that followed me around that year, and things didn’t get much better until I went off to college. No matter how many positive spins I put on things, or how much I forced myself to smile everyday, things weren’t getting better. And that kept feeding my anxiety that seemed to only get stronger and stronger.
Things got so bad that at one point I’d literally have to lay on the floor before leaving the house because because my nerves were so shot that I couldn’t stand up. And for a while, I could only go to to school, work, and home without having a nervous breakdown.
I don’t know how, but I somehow made it to my high school graduation.
When I went off to college, things got a little better for a while. Having a change of scenery was really nice, and it did wonders for me. But the bad luck that I felt like escaped when I started college must’ve followed me from Auburn to Tacoma. Because my first semester of college, my university got rid of my major. I had to make the hard decision to transfer schools when I was just getting used to my new life. I had so much anxiety about going to a new school that I started feeling overwhelmed again.
And then I got in a car accident that could have killed someone, including me. I wrecked another car, but by the Grace of God, everyone involved walked away safe and sound. That car accident left me terrified in a different type of way. To this day, anytime I hear a honk or a scream while I’m driving, I jump a little in my seat. For about seven months after my accident, I could only drive by reciting prayer after prayer and clutching the steering wheel so tight my hands started to go numb. I wish there was an easier way, but the only thing that made things better was jumping deeper in the water, and driving more and more. The more I drove, the less I remembered that scary crash that almost took my life. And it took about four years, but I finally feel mostly healed from that driving anxiety that wouldn’t leave me alone.
Because life is cruel, around the same time I was dealing with the trauma of a car wreck, I was also literally in fear of my life since we had a stalker in my dorm. On top of that, two of my friends attempted suicide around that time, and my mental health took a nose dive. The combination of things left me spiraling, and for the first time since high school, I felt so physically sick all over again that I could barely leave the house. I’d hold back tears walking from class to class, and experienced my first true panic attacks. I’ve never told anyone this, but things looked so gloomy that I briefly contemplated dropping out of college. The anxiety felt like it was eating me alive. And it was winning.
The thing that helped me get to an okay place was getting out of the environment that I felt trapped in by my emotions. At that point, I was working eight hour shifts every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday so I couldn’t take a true break or go home to get off campus. I decided to take Saturdays off, and I spent almost every Saturday for the rest of the year going home to see my family. That did wonders for my anxiety- to be completely honest, I was still an emotional wreck, but for one day a week my anxiety mellowed out because I felt like I was in a safe place.
When school finally got out for the summer, I felt like I could breathe a little more, especially since I could go home a lot more now than just once a week.
And after that summer, I transferred colleges where again, the change of environment really helped me. I was having so much fun there, that I kinda forgot about everything else. My social anxiety was at an all time low, and a huge part of that was because I was constantly meeting new people and putting myself out there. For a little while, things felt like they were going so good in my life that I wasn’t constantly worrying about everything. And then COVID happened.
Our school moved all classes online in March, and I moved back home for a little bit while I figured out what to do. It was a dark and depressing time for almost everyone I knew. Our state was on lockdown, everything was scary, and nobody knew what would happen. I felt so caged in at home, even though I love my family to pieces. So I decided to move out and get my own place.
I then moved cities and lived on my own for that summer before my junior year of college. I felt really lonely, but I still went home a lot, and my mental health got better just by having a space of my own. Something that always distracts my anxiety is keeping busy but it was hard to find things to do in a pandemic. But that didn’t last long because in August I moved again, this time into a place with five other girls my age. I started my junior year of college and things started getting a bit better because I wasn’t as lonely anymore.
At this point we were thick into the pandemic and things just kept getting scarier and scarier with it. Lockdowns felt like they were never ending, and we had so many COVID scares that year it was insane. I quickly learned online learning was not for me, and I felt like I was in such a boring rut everyday that I hated waking up in the morning. I tried to stay busy, but I booked myself too busy. I felt like I never had time for myself anymore, and when I did take breaks I felt really, really guilty for it because I knew I had so much work I should be chipping away at instead. I picked up a lot of bad habits that year that just added fuel to the fire. I had the most inconsistent sleep schedule, developed chronic fatigue, got addicted to sugar addiction (in the form of coca-colas) and tanked my Vitamin D levels because I didn’t get outside enough to touch some grass. I didn’t really realize it at the time, but looking back at it I’m so mad I was makings things 10x worse for myself.
Then I made the best decision ever- after I finished my junior year of college, I decided to take a gap year. I moved once again, and this time it was back to my hometown where I interned in the mayor’s office. I had my own place, but hated the environment around me, so it was only a temporary 6 month stay.
Without the distraction of school, I had to really face my anxiety head on and figure out what the hell I was doing with my life.
I had time to study anxiety, and truly listen to my body’s signals that helped me find the root cause of my anxiousness. Boy did I learn a lot. There was no running; there was no hiding from it. It was a year of really uncomfortable growth, by pushing myself to do things that helped me heal, but weren’t very fun or sexy.
For example- I had the biggest fear of driving to Seattle because the traffic and one-way streets terrified me. It’s so easy to get seriously lost in that city. But on the second half of my gap year, I got an internship offer in the city that would really boost my career- only if I forced myself to face the fear head on. So I did. Everyday for six months, I drove into the city for work, and then drove from the office to shoot locations in the city, and then back to the office. It was really terrifying, but each drive made me less and less scared because I was proving to myself that I could do it. By the end of my internship, my anxiety was maybe 5% of what it was 6 months before.
I also had to learn how to have honest conversations with people who hurt me, and stop giving my time or energy to things to that made my anxiety flare up. That was really hard to do, because I felt more and more lonely with each person I cut out of my life. But the peace of mind I got was priceless.
And because I was on a gap year when all my friends were back at college, I had to get over my fear of doings things alone. I started going to coffeeshops, and movies, and hikes all by myself. I never thought I was capable of doing those things on my own, but I proved to myself I could.
I put in the hard work of testing out different things, by finding ways to not only calm my anxiety down, but avoid anxious triggers in the first place. It was like I forgot how to take full breaths for the past five years, and suddenly I was breathing normally again. It was such a releif.
That was a lot to take on all by myself at 21, but I’m so proud of myself for choosing to do the hard things everyday that paid off so much for future me. There’s no easy way out with anxiety- it’s hard no matter what you do. But I really believe in tackling it head on, and getting to the root cause of your anxiety by figuring out what triggers it, and then working on it from there.
Different things work for different people, but I have another blog post where I’ve shared what helped me in my journey.
If you also have bad anxiety, I am so sorry and I hope you find peace from it someday. I know what it can be like, and I also know there is hope. There was hope for me, and there is hope for you too.
Thanks for reading along friends, I’ll catch y’all in the next blog post!