Most of the time, I feel like I'm okay. I have a stable job and things are going pretty well. But then one day, something happens to trigger my anxiety and it spirals out of control. It feels like everything around me is closing in and getting closer until my chest is too tight to breathe. My hands shake, my mouth dries up and all I can think about is running away from it all - even if that means driving away in a car with no idea where to go or what's going to happen next.
They say that anxiety is a normal part of life but being unsure about my own mental health is something I've never felt comfortable with. I don't want to be tagged or stigmatized as a person who loses functionality because they're stressed, overwhelmed or anxious - so when people ask me how I'm feeling it usually just comes out as a simple "good".
My anxiety stumbles upon stigma
It's not that I can't talk about anxiety - but it feels like no one truly wants to hear about it. In fact, many people expect me to hide what's really going on inside of me. I'm hyper-aware of what I say and how I act around other people, and that makes it hard for me to just be myself.
Most people would agree that there's a stigma around mental illness in our Indian culture. What I never knew was that it would affect me so much on a personal level until it did. It makes me feel like there's something wrong with me because I'm not "normal", or the “expected”. It makes me want to stay quiet and keep my problems to myself - even though in reality, what I want the most is to be able to talk about them with someone.
What people don't understand is that anxiety gets in the way of my everyday life. I feel like I sometimes don't know who I am or how do I exist in the world - so I have to keep constantly reminding myself about myself. It sounds a little dramatic when you say it out loud, but that's what it feels like.
My learning: People might not understand how you’ve been feeling inside, and a lot of times it will feel unfair to you. At the same time, it’s okay if most people don’t understand. Focus on how you can yourself feel better without getting affected by the conservative mindset of people around you. You don’t necessarily have to wait for other’s validation to start your therapy or medication.
The "firsts" of anxiety
Most people would probably think that this isn't something serious, in reality, anxiety is a real problem for me. I first started to notice that my anxiety was getting worse as far back as secondary school. Even then, anxiety still wasn't something I was willing to talk about - especially with other adults. I never really understood why it was so "weird" to be anxious - because it's just a part of life, right? A feeling that no one should be ashamed of. I feel like people should actually be happy that they experience feelings they don't understand or have words for - and I'm definitely not one of those people.
But the pressure to "just deal with it" was still there. My anxiety got more intense as I came into my twenties, and although I was able to suppress some of my symptoms, it didn't go away completely. Instead, it built up until my anxiety felt like an elephant on top of me. I tried to get help, but it wasn't enough. I felt like I was only getting help when things were really bad, and it usually came in the form of therapy.
My learning: I realized that a lot of people like me in their teenage years and their early twenties cannot exactly afford to go for therapy once a week or even once a month due to financial constraints. But, this doesn’t mean you have to just “deal with it” like people tell you to. You can start a low budget self care routine for yourself like spending an hour with yourself, journaling, and taking out time to do things that you really like. You can also share your feelings with an empathetic active listener like your friend or any family member to make yourself feel heard.
Healing from anxiety in bits
After therapy and medication, I began to get better. The first few times that I felt happy and content were due to my improving mental health, but after a while I went back to those tough feelings again. Sometimes anxiety makes me feel like my body and brain are not in sync anymore. I cannot control my bodily actions when I really want to calm myself down. I feel like something inside of me changes when I can finally breathe again - even if it's just for a short period of time. It makes me feel like I'm able to enjoy life in a way that I never thought was possible. This made me realize that therapy or any solution will not show-up results in one day, you need to consistently be at it.
I'm not afraid of anxiety but sometimes it makes me think more about things that I am not comfortable with. It makes me feel anxious in the present about things that could happen in the future. It also makes me think about the direction my life is going and how much more there is for me to live through and experience.
I don't know if I'll ever be completely "cured" from mental health issues, but I'll keep trying until that day comes. There's a lot of pressure to live as a "normal" person, and I don't want to become that person just because it's what people expect of me. I want to be myself and live my life - and if that means getting help when I need it, then that's what I'll do.
My learning: It is essentially important to understand that healing is NOT linear. Even after you start taking one on one or group therapy, you will find yourself falling back in the dark zone over and over again. But, this doesn’t signify that therapy is not working, it simply means that it is taking some to progress. You will have your ups and downs while healing your emotional and mental health but gradually, you’ll start to feel better. Moreover, I realized therapy doesn’t just “heal” you like a medicine, it makes you understand your inner self and get closer to your feelings. You begin to understand where it hurts and why it hurts too much. You will gradually learn about some coping mechanisms that will help you deal with more difficult situations that are about to come.
What has helped?
I still get anxious about who I am and what I'm doing, but now after taking consistent therapy, doing a little bit of self care, I know a lot more about myself. Anxiety might never go away completely, but that doesn't mean I have to be afraid of it anymore.
PS: ManoShala conducts a “Conscious Caretaker” workshop on a monthly basis. This workshop is especially built for people who are caring for their loved ones undergoing any kind of mental struggles. This workshop equips you with the right tools and knowledge that you need to possess to tackle such situations. At the same time, it helps you develop a self care regime for yourself so that you don’t feel affected by such events.
Written by Harshita Sevaldasani