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How Saying No and Being Vulnerable Helped My Anxiety

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Three years ago, I had a major life event. I was diagnosed with a progressive chronic illness, I was brushed off by various doctors every time I struggled and discussed my symptoms and was repeatedly told it was my anxiety.

I started to panic even more, because it seemed everything I was complaining about was due to that dreaded diagnosis, “anxiety,” I was given shortly after giving birth. “It will pass,” I told myself, but reality threw me a curve ball — one I couldn’t swing back. I ended in the ER, and thankfully a female doctor didn’t believe this was all due to anxiety, and asked for further tests.

The reason I pointed out the gender of the doctor is simply because every other doctor I saw was coincidentally a male doctor, and they simply thought I was being emotional, irrational, overdramatic and anxious. It took someone to see beyond my gender, beyond the fact that I do struggle with anxiety, which sometimes can be an “easy excuse” for many doctors. That doctor saw a person struggling and she decided to look past the files, and go the extra mile to help me.

After getting that diagnosis, I was stuck in an emotional paradox. I was relieved to find out I wasn’t “crazy” and my body was in fact struggling, but I was angry and afraid of the new life I was about to live, a journey I didn’t know how to travel. I was angry at myself, at the world, at life for being so unjust. How can I be “the perfect” mother now? How can I even parent when I struggle so hard both physically and mentally?

I decided to use my vulnerability to fight, to pick myself up every time I fell. I realized I was only hurting myself and my family by not bending with the wind, and my mindset needed an adjustment. So, I practiced empathy and compassion toward myself. In a world that applauds fatigue, busyness and fake images, I decided to fight back by talking openly about simplicity, self-care and imperfectionism.

My mental health goes haywire when I start accepting things I don’t like to do, when I try to “fit in” instead of just choosing to opt out. And for me, I decided to be true to myself first and foremost, because this is what matters the most. Mothers tend to feel guilty for the slightest thing, and add to the mix having anxiety or depression or a chronic illness, and you often find that guilt is multiplied by a thousand.

It took me a long time to realize how much guilt I felt when I was a perfectionist, when I thought I should be a certain way or I should do more. One of the huge issues many of us deal with is the fear of missing out, or better known as “FOMO,” and I have to admit, many days I do struggle with that. But to be honest, you can’t do everything or go everywhere. Pick your battles. And maybe for many, a superhero is someone who fights villains, but for me, every person struggling with a mental health issue or a physical issue who still gets up after a fall, after a setback, and fights, is a superhero.

Not all heroes wear capes, some wear their PJs all day, but still manage to smile.

Unsplash image by Nick Karvounis

Originally published: May 6, 2020
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