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My 7 Biggest Takeaways From Battling Anxiety and Depression

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Since 7th grade, I have struggled with social anxiety. I’ve spent years simply being called “quiet” or “shy,” cringing at how much I felt that minimized my reality. The truth is, no one really knows what I’m going through unless I tell them. Despite many physical symptoms of anxiety, I’m a master at hiding it. I can smile and seem OK, while inside I feel like I’m suffocating.

I’ve also been through several episodes of depression. Luckily, I’m on the upswing from my most recent depression, which was my worst yet. Dealing with both anxiety and depression can feel like an absolutely impossible battle – I’m outnumbered, two against one, and those two know me inside and out. It’s a tough fight, but I’d like to share what I’ve learned along the way.

1. It’s OK to not be OK, and to ask for help when I’m slipping.

This is actually hard for me to accept, but I’ve learned that pain and suffering are universal – everyone experiences them – and admitting vulnerability has the ability to connect people. Everyone has struggles in life – it just happens that anxiety and depression are mine. And truthfully, I’ve almost always been met with love and compassion when asking for help, and there’s no better feeling than “coming out” and lifting the weight of secrecy off my shoulders. Asking for help and admitting vulnerability is a sign of humanity and strength, not weakness.

2. The older I get, the harder it is to handle.

I always thought the older I got, the easier it would be to handle – after all, I’d become an expert, right? Wrong. Because of my tendency to bottle up my feelings, they build up over time, meaning there’s much more for me to deal with. I have to become more proactive to stay healthy, especially when my mental health also ends up affecting my quality of life at home, my ability to work and my physical health. I am worth the effort.

3. Meds and therapy really do work for me.

I was skeptical of this. Therapy and meds are new for me. Having an unbiased person to talk to, who I knew would not judge me, has been life-changing. And despite the short time I’ve been on meds, I’m feeling better than I have in months. There is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. I wish I had sought these options years ago.

4. It’s OK to open up at work. 

I didn’t want to be seen as incompetent, so I always went out of my way to hide my anxiety. I teach, which is tough with social anxiety, but when you love what you do, you make it work. This year, anxiety has kept me from performing duties I’ve done regularly throughout my 14-year career. It’s tough to explain why I suddenly can’t face these things, but anxiety doesn’t make sense. It’s often unpredictable. When I started slipping at work, I had two choices: continue to struggle and not perform to my usual standards, looking like a slacker, or I could be truthful. I decided on the latter, and I’m glad I did, because my bosses were very understanding. After a really crappy scenario (a panic attack in front of my admin), I was told to “take care of you.” Those four simple words meant the world to me at a time when I was hitting rock bottom. Fear had been holding me back, but by opening up, I feel more supported and more able to work through my anxieties at work.

5. I should not be ashamed. 

I’ll admit I know this, but it’s hard to feel this way. But if people can talk about their broken arm, or headache, or any other physical ailment, it should be OK to talk about anxiety and depression, or any other mental issues. I don’t want to shout about it from the mountaintops, but I don’t want to be afraid to talk about it. My self-acceptance is a work in progress.

6. A strong support network can mean everything. I just have to be willing to let people in.

Anxiety and depression feed me lies, telling me I’m never good enough, or that I’m a burden to those around me. I know these thoughts are irrational, but knowing doesn’t change my feelings. When I’m at my worst, I isolate and withdraw from everyone. It’s important to have people I trust, who love me and allow me to lean on them when I need to. In my darkest times, it’s almost impossible to lift myself up on my own.

7. I’m grateful for my anxiety and depression.

I know this sounds strange. Anxiety and depression can be debilitating, but they have had a huge impact in shaping who I am, and in developing some of my biggest strengths. I’m proud of my kindness and empathy. When things are good, they are great, and I feel an unparalleled level of gratitude. Familiarity with struggle makes a person appreciate the goodness in life so much more. Life is sweet, and life is short, and I will make my journey count. Anxiety and depression do not define me, but I am truly very grateful for the life lessons I have learned in working to overcome them, and of the person I am.

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Originally published: April 15, 2016
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