When I first experienced anxiety, I had no Idea what had hit me. I knew it existed: my mom and sister had it, I heard about it through social media, I read about it – but I never thought it would be something that would hit ME. See, I never felt like I was missing something: I had started this successful fashion blog, I was doing extremely well in school, and was over-all socially popular. I am an ambitious, self starter, driven person – this had always been my main personality trait – which gave me a lot of confidence during the years. I knew, however, that this might become a source of a lot of anxiety (It’s what I was told) and yet I had never felt it. I remember a period of 10 months or so of me not shedding a single tear, blocking sadness or weakness of any kind. “If I want to be a businesswoman one day”, I told myself, “I have to be the motherfucking toughest person I know”. And so I was – the 18 year old me did not shed any tears, had no doubts, and shared no feelings with anyone (not even the good ones). I became captive of what I thought was toughness – a false Idea – not knowing what real resilience means.
When people spoke about anxiety, I could not relate. Like literally, NOT AT ALL. I thought this was just some weird thing people made up for attention. So when I was on the highway driving back from a friend and I couldn’t catch my breath, I panicked. I didn’t know what was happening. Driving made it even worse – I was sure I was about to faint and crash the car. My heart was beating so fast I was sure I was getting a heart attack. Luckily, I knew this might be anxiety from past conversations I had with my sister, so I called her. She answered, and she helped, but I still couldn’t calm myself down. I remember crying, telling her “I just want to get home already”. I got home and for 4 long hours, my racing heart and shortness of breath would not go away.
This was the first of many panic attacks, yet I did not share this with anyone. I was “strong”, remember? I was so “strong” that even when I was working in the army and my hands started shaking out of stress I wouldn’t let myself cry or tell anyone. I couldn’t focus, I couldn’t think clearly, I couldn’t enjoy a night out with my friends. I stopped drinking coffee or the smallest glass of wine out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I had the worst headaches, stomach aces, and again – hands that were constantly shaking. I struggled doing the smallest tasks and at some point, I had to have someone on the phone with me every time I was driving. The biggest problem was that I did not reach anyone for help. I felt shame for having these attacks. You see – I was the one people had always reached out for help. I was the rock, the tough one, not the other way around. I had no one to talk to – I was hiding it so well that no one even noticed I was in stress. Not even my family, not my boyfriend, not the people in the army (who spent days and nights working with me) and none of my friends.
One day I was eating lunch with my mom and I decided I should tell her. I remember my anxiety was so intense I felt like I had to tell someone before it would get way, way worse. “I cant function anymore” were the first words that got out of my mouth. “I have anxiety when I wake up. When I go to work. and when I fall asleep”. Truth is, it also woke me out of my sleep pretty much every night. A day later she booked me a session with a psychologist. Going to a psychologist was going out of my comfort zone on its own, since I thought that that was just a weird place where people talk about their feelings, and what’s feeling anyway? right? But It helped. a lot. It took time and It got a little better every day. There were also days when it got worse, when I felt helpless, when I felt like the therapy would never help me and that it’ll be like that forever. Eventually it did help, along with other things, and time.
There were many reasons why this happened. First of all, I was going through a series of rejections from army jobs I had applied for. Like literally every single job said No, without giving an explanation. This gave me a lot of thoughts and stress (even though eventually I got a great job, the process was terrible). Second of all, I was going through some social changes. I had a friend that did something very nasty to me (I will leave it at that) and turned my other friends on me aswell. I was never the type of person who would fight, so I just let it go, and kept the feelings for myself. In addition, I started this new relationship that was good on the one hand – but very disappointing on the other. When I started the army I was overwhelmed, I worked countless hours, the job was super demanding, and I wanted to do very well – thats when things escalated. On top of that I had to take care of my blog which I loved so much, but had no time to do so. All in all: I was receiving stress from every corner, which eventually added up to a complete “system overload”.
Yet you would be surprised to find out that this may not be the only reason. One of the characteristics of people who deal with anxiety is being emotionally involved, and very aware of the surrounding. I can definitely relate, even if I didn’t show it or noticed it before. This means that every move you make in life you think twice and deeply. Every word that comes out of someones else’s mouth, every encounter, every negative or positive action that someone makes is examined in depth. You care about people’s actions and comments and thoughts, and in your head, you even take the time to analyse where they’re coming from. But this can put your mind into a race, into another system overload. Moreover, you start to notice every word that comes out of your own mouth, and you start to criticise yourself: was I right? was I wrong?
I learned a lot from my anxieties. I learned that in order to be “the motherfucking toughest businesswoman”, you have to have actual inner strength, not some kind of a false image of what strength is. That strength comes from compassion, from taking a moment for yourself when you need it, from HAVING the occasional anxiety and from dealing with it. My anxiety shook me and everything I thought I knew about myself. This may sound corny but its so, so true. I wish I had told someone before things escalated but I am also very grateful that it had happened to me, and that I changed so drastically. I’ve never, ever in my life felt so strong. I now know what resilience feels like: it’s having an opinion of your own, its about being creative, its having strong gut feelings. Its not letting small things shake you to the ground, its laughing about them. Its being emotional, having the occasional cry, and above all – its about being real, and being real out loud. Its confronting the truth even if its a bit ugly, its about saying the unsaid, its about sharing thoughts with others. Its that one part of me that was missing, and now I feel so whole and strong. It almost scares me: I feel like I have the power to change the world, or at least some of it. I can do anything now. I have both the ambitious to drive me forward and the resilience to go side by side with it.
If you’re seeing this and you’re struggling, I want you to know that you will be ok. This is normal. In fact, it shows great things about you: you’re an emotionally involved person, whether you show it or not. You’re driven. You’re real. These anxieties build your resillience (from the real and best kind) and you will come out stronger than ever. It takes time, it never fades away entirely, but you learn to let it go and appreciate it. Sometimes we just need a punch in the face to remind us how much we like to live. This punch grounds us, it lets us alternate the game and invent ourselves over and over again.
I have a lot more to say about this matter, this is just the tip of the iceberg of things I learned and dealt with. This whole thing was sitting on my chest for a while and I felt I needed to share it here. I would love to share more – Let me know if this helped you in any way.