Mental Illness is Only Part of My Story

 

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nxiety has never followed a strict pattern in my life: sometimes it creeps up without warning, leaving me confused in addition to panicked, and other times it has been the reaction to a variety of escalating life stressors. Since my late teens, anxiety and depression have been an uphill battle. As I write the closing chapters of my 20s, there’s one thing I know with certainty; for each time I’ve gone toe-to-toe with these illnesses, I’ve always come out on top. Call me the defending reigning champ.

My adjustment to college life presented itself with hurdle after hurdle. The nascent anxiety and depression I had been feeling since my early teenage years deepened into constant panic attacks, sleepless nights and apathy towards the things I loved. I found a brief refuge with my aunt guiding me through Reiki healing, but for the most part I was left without the tools and resources to truly find help.

Circumstances worsened after enduring an assault my sophomore year. I became obsessed with planning for the end, my end, as a means to stamp out the pain and fear that outpaced me.

I tried to ask for help. I didn’t know how.

I booked an appointment with a school counselor, never having seen a mental health professional before. For an hour, I sat on the couch and chose my words with careful consideration. I didn’t tell her how much pain and fear was instilled in me. I glossed over the details of the events that forever changed my life. I desperately wanted her to believe that I was okay but just needed to unpack my mind. I went into the appointment thinking if I told her everything she would have me committed to an institution. At the end of the appointment, she managed to put words to what I was going through, generalized anxiety and depression. Being that I had worked so hard during the appointment to ensure I was fine and operational, the counselor didn’t think I needed to be seeing a school-mandated counselor. Instead, she referred me to counselors in town. 

That piece of paper didn’t make it far out of the office. In one second it was in my pocket, gripped by my fist and the next it was at the bottom of a wastebasket. I believed seeing a therapist would show up on my insurance which was still under my parents. And I knew that my parents believed in the stigma. I let fear win.

It has been a long time since then and mental illness in some form has followed me every step of the way. Though it has been a difficult journey, I am in a much better place with my mental health than I was in college and the trailing years. Today is still a lot better than yesterday. I’ve re-discovered therapy, traveled the world, and have met many of these obstacles with hope.

There are still moments that shake my process of growth. Most recently on Christmas Eve, I had to pull my car over, roll the windows down and blast the AC amidst the frigid New York temperatures while calling my best friend. A week prior, my grandfather had been hospitalized following a heart attack while I had already been enduring a stressful workload. When I went to visit him, I was so consumed by anxiety and grief that I passed out in his hospital room. On Christmas Eve, the boiling point was reached again but this time I was able to recognize it coming on. 

The panic attack came, I didn’t pass out, and my best friend assured me that I was loved and everything at that moment was okay. I still fight with anxiety, but it no longer has a grip on me to prevent me from living a full and rewarding life. 

It has been a long time since I walked out of that campus office plagued with stress, confusion, pain and fear. Growth in terms of mental illness isn’t measurable by physical standards.

I discovered that a lot of my growth was in the details. It was stepping out and doing the things I loved despite my fear. I stopped letting the ‘What If’s’ stifle my choices and began allowing them to open myself up to possibility.  

I wasn’t always aware of the details that aided in my growth and healing. The details piled up in moments that I chose to speak up about discomfort and from doing what I love despite being afraid. When I feel those familiar pangs of anxiety, I have learned to take a moment to ask what is this teaching me? What can I learn from my fear? Learning to meditate and applying its practice in my life has helped me greatly.

Growth happened in seeing a therapist who truly cared and in discovering ways with friends that would help me feel less anxious in certain situations. I taught my friends the signs of an oncoming panic attack and presented them with words of affirmation that would help stick my feet back on the ground if they noticed I was beginning to become uneasy. Growth happened each time I drove a little further from home, stayed out a few minutes later or took up a new hobby. 

In my battle with mental illness, I’ve learned that it is okay to be a little selfish in the pursuit of healing. Taking the time to understand what harms me, what helps me and repeating the notion that I deserve to be okay have become the tools to heal. I’ve been in the ring with anxiety for a long time and in this fight I’ve learned where it will throw its next punch. I may not always be able to block the hit, but softening the blow will keep me on my feet.

 

Hailing from the suburbs just outside of New York City, Laura Cerrone took to writing as a means to explore the world beyond her backyard at an early age. After earning a BA in journalism from the State University of New York at New Paltz, she ventured into pop culture, entertainment, and professional biography writing. Outside of writing, she enjoys comic conventions, concerts, DnD, pole dancing and just hanging with her maniacal cat, Joey.

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