May is my beloved, beautiful, birthday month. Ironically, it is also is mental health awareness month.
As much as I love the month of May with all my heart, the blossoming spring season doesn’t diminish the impact my anxiety and panic disorder has on my daily life. Despite my own battles, I try to set an example for those struggling with depression and anxiety and urge them to come to terms with these illnesses the best they can. They’re no different than any other medical condition.
1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime. At least one person you see during your day to day activities suffers from a mental health condition, and yet there is still such a stigma attached to these disorders.
To be fair, it took me years to accept my own condition, and honestly I am still learning to deal with it. I’ve always had irrational fear for as long as I can remember, but I never thought it was anything more than me being a huge baby about literally anything that made me uncomfortable.
Then the more stressful my life became as I grew older, the more these fears played a part on my physical well being. In high school I had my first panic attack, and I remember it vividly. My heart raced, my hands cramped up, my stomach tightened, and I thought I was dying right then at the age of 17. But I wasn’t, they told me at the ER. It was only anxiety.
Anxiety isn’t only a mental health condition. It’s a real deal kind of difficult and scary. For several years after that first panic attack, it crippled my life. I was afraid of everything from car rides to meeting new people to failing a class… all to the point of where it would make me physically sick. It was so intense that I had to leave my undergraduate college after my first semester because I couldn’t be away from home. I NEEDED to be comfortable.
But I made the decision for myself to fight the condition. I had so many dreams and aspirations for myself, I couldn’t let this kind of fear hold me back from achieving them. I fought by pushing myself out of my comfort zone and traveling to Europe alone to study abroad for a semester, an ocean away from home and familiar faces. There may be students out there who take a semester abroad for an extra long vacation, but if you knew how utterly afraid I was of airplanes at the time, you would know that wasn’t my reasoning.
I did it to see, hear, feel, experience something different than I was used to, and learn to adapt to new surroundings.
That was two years ago… and to this day it is still the most amazing experience I have ever had in my life.
I credit my experience abroad as a major milestone on my road to overcoming my anxiety. Though I haven’t conquered it completely (and probably never really will) without pushing myself to do something that scared me in this way, I would have never been able to begin to accept that this condition is just a part of me. It makes me who I am, and sometimes it does get difficult, but finding that acceptance helps you learn to cope with it.
I still visit doctors about dealing with my anxiety, and soon will be starting counseling. But that’s okay. Accepting is the hardest part for people out there who suffer from these conditions. But I’m here to tell you that you can still lead a normal life and find help, too. I’m living proof.
Now I live in New York City, go to graduate school, and meet new faces all the time. Someone with panic disorder living in NYC may not make much sense. But this is where my dreams live.
I’m not letting irrational fear take them away from me.
In honor of mental health awareness month I’m sharing this story in hopes that some of you out there potentially suffering from depression or anxiety or any other condition, will find a path to peace with who you are. There are millions of people out there just like you, so don’t let the stigma keep you from expressing your feelings and thoughts. It actually makes you that much more beautiful of a person.
During my most recent visit to the doctor concerning my anxiety, he told me that high-functioning people tend to have this condition. So really, that means my anxiety isn’t a dismantling condition at all. It means I’m a superhuman. It explains everything about my perfectionist nature and deep emotions.
And if you’re a superhuman too, just embrace it.