by Kaitlyn Rose
I have struggled with anxiety, at least to some extent, for most of my life. Whether it was being afraid to make new friends, or leaving my comfort zone for fear of being ridiculed, or having to do The Most so people wouldn’t leave me, I have been impacted in various degrees for a long time.
But it wasn’t until the last few years that I’ve really been able to get a hold on it. It began at a “rock bottom” of sorts. I had never had anxiety so bad. I was having attacks multiple times a week. I locked myself in my bedroom and took naps almost every day because the anxiety exhausted me so much. I fell into a depression from being so helpless from all of my insecurities.
I was in a very toxic relationship. The kind where one person feels way more (me) and the other keeps that person around because they have their own mental health issues and being around someone who loves them unconditionally feels really good, even if they can’t reciprocate those feelings (him).
I’ve always been a giver and in many situations, I’ve let guilt fuel my choices rather than doing the thing that would be best for me. So in this relationship, he had things in his past that left him all but friendless. So along comes loving, vulnerable me and wraps him up in my arms like a sick puppy.
But the problem with that is the sick puppy isn’t going to reciprocate care. They are going to take your love and keep you at a distance, but just close enough so you’re there if they need you.
This isn’t an article to complain about a past relationship. I only say all this to paint a picture of where I was mentally. I was begging for his attention and when I couldn’t get it, I assumed it was something I did. It took an extreme toll on my mental health and eventually I had enough and was strong enough to walk away.
It was rough going at first, but choosing myself was the first step towards healing. But still, I blamed him for how I was feeling. He still had this power over me that wasn’t deserved or valid.
And only when I realized that, only when I let any qualms I had toward him go, was I truly able to get a handle on how to move forward. This was my cross to bear and it would only get lighter if I did the work.
So that brings us to step one:
1. Do the work. Support systems are great, but all they are are support. They can’t fix you.
a. I am blessed with a strong support system. My family and friends are well versed in mental health issues (both luckily and unluckily) and when I came to them for help, they listened and offered advice and made me feel validated in my feelings.
So I was on my way out of the pit that was daily naps and self-scrutiny.
Learning to put myself first is still something I struggle with, but it’s something I’m getting better at. I no longer feel guilty taking a day off work or saying no to hanging out with friends when I need to recharge my introverted batteries with a night at home.
2. Self-care is not selfish.
a. We’ve heard this over and over again but it’s something worth repeating. If you, like me, are used to putting others needs or wants before your own for fear of not being useful and therefore, not worth being around, taking time to do what’s right for you at the adversary of someone else can be terrifying. But on the other side, you will feel satisfied and your people, if they are worthy of your love and energy,
will still be there for you. They may even be more likely to want to be around you because you will, in turn, be a lighter, happier person.
Self-love has also been a journey throughout the years. Whether it be body acceptance or learning to love all of my weirdness and quirks, it’s been a constant battle.
3. Compliment yourself every day and accept compliments when they are given to you.
a. Whether it’s picking out an outfit you feel confident in or feeling pride in something you’ve created, or done particularly well at work, it is not cocky or self-aggrandizing to recognize your accomplishments.
b. Brushing off compliments from others is an easy way to deafen yourself to people’s care and appreciation. Responding “oh, no need to thank me.” Or “it’s nothing, it’s stupid”. You’re telling yourself and that person that what you’ve done or who you are is not worthy of praise. Which can lead to the wrong kind of people taking advantage of you.
4. Find the things that set your soul on fire that don’t rely on the support of others.
a. For me, this has been hiking (endorphins don’t suck either), writing, and performing. The greatest of these is hiking. It seeks no approval from others and allows me to have the alone time I so desperately need if I’ve been working a lot or have had constant social engagement. The ability to not worry about the mud-caked on my legs or the hair stuck to my forehead with sweat and bug spray allows me to realize that we are more than the sum of our accomplishments. It’s enough just to enjoy what’s been put on this beautiful earth.
5. Recognize your triggers and symptoms.
a. This will not be the same for everyone. I know I tend to feed off others’ stress and anxiety.
b. I compare myself to others: physically, in terms of accomplishments, in terms of productivity.
c. My heart starts to race and I can sometimes get light-headed.
d. I focus on my flaws and what’s wrong about the way I look or act
6. Find ways to overcome these triggers and symptoms.
a. Write down how you’re feeling, why you might be feeling that way.
b. Use the five senses method: find three things in your surrounds you see, smell, hear, etc. This one works great for spiraling thoughts.
c. Talk about your feelings with someone you trust. (Therapy is great!)
d. Do at least one act of silly self care: a bubble bath, buy yourself your favorite coffee, turn off your phone and take a walk. Holistic healing doesn’t always work, but doing something to show love for yourself is progress.
7. Recognize that recovery journeys are not linear.
a. You will fall. If you, like me, could go months without an anxiety attack, when you do fall, it may seem like you’re back to square one. But that is not the case. You have tools and techniques to help you get back up faster than the time before.
b. Be kind to yourself when you do fall. You can’t heal a wound by rubbing dirt into it. Clean the scrape, put on some antibiotic ointment, and put a bandage on it. It will heal with time and care.
I hope some of what I’ve shared will help in your journey towards mental wellness or the journey of someone you love.