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When I Stopped Letting My Anxiety Boss Me Around

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Before going to residential treatment for my mental illness, I was absolutely miserable. I let my obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression rule every decision I made.

If something made me anxious, like going to a crowded mall, I wouldn’t go. If touching a shopping cart in the grocery store made my OCD flare, I’d carry all my groceries with my two hands instead of using the cart. I wouldn’t go to school for months on end because school made me Earth shatteringly anxious. I was in and out of school since sixth grade, only went for a couple hours and had completed a bare minimum of the courses needed.

Anything that made me anxious I would avoid.

Every time my depression hit just a little harder, I’d let it hit me to the ground. I’d isolate and not get back up. The day came when I was tired of feeling like this, letting my illness rule me, letting my illness drive me down a deep dark hole I felt I couldn’t get out of. I decided to stop making excuses.

With residential treatment, I learned not to avoid. If something made me anxious, like that crowded mall, I was going to go “expose” myself to that anxiety until it got better. That meant going to a crowded mall every other day and just walking around it until my anxiety eventually went down. That shopping with all the germs covering it — I touched and I used every time I went grocery shopping. If I felt depressed, I would go call a friend, go for a walk, something other than sleep and isolate myself in my room. I was going to do what I wanted; anxiety wasn’t going to get in the way of that. I told myself my mental illness can’t tell me what to do or when to do it or where to do it. If I wanted to go to the mall, I was going to go to the mall. If I wanted to go out with my friends, I wasn’t going to let my depression tell me otherwise. I knew I would be anxious while doing it, and it was going to be a overwhelming, but the more I went to the mall or used that “germy” shopping the easier it would be.

I’m no longer going by the phrase, “I can’t because it makes me anxious.” My new motto is: “I will do this because I want to do this. It will be hard and I will be uncomfortable, but it’ll get easier and it is worth it.” 

I know better than anyone standing up to your anxiety is easier said then done. It takes small steps. Treatment helps. So do support groups. Any small step is getting you closer to a you who’s in control of anxiety — not the other way around. Recovery is an option, I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is so worth it in the end.

Editor’s note: The following is based on one person’s experience and should not be taken as medical advice.

Originally published: March 10, 2016
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