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What It's Like to Be a 20-Something Living With Depression and Anxiety

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“These are the best years of your life!”

“Enjoy it while you can, it goes by fast!”

“Try to live in the present!”

I’m sure those of you with depression, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder (my three official diagnoses) have heard all these before. While it’s easy enough to spew out these positive statements when you’re not dealing with any mental illness, imagine hearing them over and over again when you are diagnosed. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), action and commitment therapy (ACT), eating healthy, medication, exercise, meditation, religion. Here’s a laundry list of skills thrown at you when you face a mental illness. All of these solutions have their ups and downs, but when they’re all constantly being pushed and pushed on you, it can be hard not to just curl up in bed with a box of cookies and try to run away from your illness.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. You can’t outrun, out-sleep, out-eat or outsmart your illness. It’s there for life. However, over the past few months, I’ve learned it comes in waves.

As a 20-something young girl, I should be ”living my best life,” as they say. From the outside looking in, I am. I hang out with my friends, do yoga, go to therapy, work hard on my Bachelor’s degree and maintain a steady job. Though this is leaps and bounds from where I was even just last year (extremely suicidal, self-injuring on the daily, medically withdrawing from school, struggling to get to work and even struggling to get to therapy), I’m far from full recovery.

Which makes me question, is full recovery even real? Will I ever be free of the urge to self-injure? (260 days clean while writing this article!) Will I ever not have the passive and on particularly bad days, active suicidal thoughts? Will I ever not feel “flat” and unhopeful? Will these disorders ever not control my life?

That’s a question no one can answer. (Trust me, I’ve scoured the internet and people I know for recovery stories.)

Though I don’t know if full recovery exists, I can confidently say I’m in a better place now than I was at this time last year. I feel as though I’m on a good regime of medications, and I don’t wake up every day wishing I hadn’t.

I read a quote online recently: “When people say ‘recovery,’ you typically think of returning to how you were before your illness. But there is no going back. You do not merely recover, but reinvent yourself. You become something completely different from what you were before.”

I couldn’t agree more. I’ll never be the person I was before these illnesses completely derailed my life. I’ll never be the “old Paige.” And while this may sound sad or depressing, I see it as a good thing. I’m a flower that died over the winter, but is beginning to peek its way back through the soil as spring arrives. I can be whoever I want to be, I can make my life whatever I want it to be. And the possibilities of that are what keep me going.

Though I’ll always live with depression and anxiety, I’m constantly reinventing and creating myself. The new me. The one who rises above my diagnosis and lives a fulfilling, adventurous life.

You’re done controlling me — anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal and self-injury thoughts, depression. I control me now. And though I know there will be setbacks, as is the nature of mental illness, I hope it stays that way.

Getty Images photo via MistakeAnn

Originally published: March 28, 2018
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