When I woke up this morning, I thought “today is going to be like any other day.” And for the most part, it has been. Except during my lunch break, I decided to put together a list of what I was going to get everyone for Christmas. When I got done with the list, I went back and added up the costs, and it came out to over $500. For most people, that may not seem like that much. But for me, that’s a price I can’t afford to pay this year. And almost instantly, I began to feel anxious.
For the past three hours, my heart has been racing, I’ve been feeling sick and I have a horrible headache. Yep, I’m having a full-blown anxiety at work. All because I don’t know how I’m going to pay for Christmas presents this year.
I was diagnosed with anxiety when I was 13 years old. Next week, I turn 25. I honestly don’t remember what my life was like before I was diagnosed. For the past 12 years, I’ve dealt with the effects of anxiety. I’ve had weeks where I couldn’t sleep because I was so worried. Nights when I’d cry myself to sleep because of the completely irrational thoughts I was having in my head. Days when I couldn’t focus at school because I was worrying about something else going on in my life.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults over the age of 18 (that’s about 18% of the population). Although anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only one-third of people actually seek treatment. It’s also incredibly common for people with anxiety to also be diagnosed with depression or vice versa. About half of all people diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with anxiety (AADA).
Despite all of these statistics and how common anxiety actually is, there are times where I’m still ashamed of my diagnosis. Like when I’m at work and I’m dealing with an anxiety attack (aka right now) or when I’m out in public and I start feeling anxious. Even worse, I feel bad for the people around me who have to deal with it. I feel bad for my boyfriend who will watch me get anxious when we’re out to dinner at an expensive restaurant or for my coworkers who see me have an anxiety attack and have no idea what to do. I feel bad that I’m so broken and “messed up” – even though I know deep down that having anxiety does not make you either of those things. I spend so much time speaking out about the importance of seeking help if you’re suffering from a mental illness, and yet I can’t seem to do it myself. Even though I tell people that depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses are nothing to be ashamed of, there are times when I’m ashamed. Like right now.
After three hours of feeling anxious about how I’m going to pay for Christmas presents this year, I’m finally calm enough to realize that if it’s going to cause this much stress, I should probably cut down on what I’m going to buy people. Giving people the best presents possible (and over-spending in the process) is just part of what I do for people, but is it really worth having a three-hour anxiety attack at work? Probably not. I don’t have all the answers right now, but like everything else, I know I can get through this.
My anxiety doesn’t define me, but it is a huge part of who I am. And despite how embarrassed I am about it at times, I also know that it’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve learned so much about myself through dealing with anxiety, and in some weird way, I know it’s made me a better person. When I was 13, I promised myself that I wouldn’t my diagnosis of depression and anxiety ruin my life. I promised myself that I would grow from it and that I would turn it into something good.
I’d like to think that my 13 year-old self would be proud…because at 13, I never imagined I’d be alive to see my 18th birthday. Here I am, 5 days until my 25th birthday, stronger and healthier than ever. Although I still suffer and have moments of weakness, I fight every single battle with strength and courage. And to me, that’s something to be damn proud of.