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For as long as I can remember, anxiety has been a part of my day-to-day life.
As a young kiddo, my parents would go to dinner and a movie every Saturday night. They had “date night” way before it was hip.
An afternoon of hot rollers topped with dad’s Old Spice would set the stage for an anxiety-filled evening.
I would lay on their bed and cry for the fear of them never coming home. Being a daddy’s girl at heart, the lingering smell of cordwood on his flannel shirt and imagining a life with only my siblings was alarming. Week after week, the panic never seemed to lessen.
I wondered for most of my life if I was born with this fear and anxiety in my bones or if it was a product of my environment. One of six children with two distinct generations led to some family dysfunction.
Parents, seemingly exhausted, trying to keep a tight ship gave way to lack of guidance and discipline. It felt like if we didn’t scream from the rooftops, no one was listening. Being a shy kid didn’t help me find my voice and probably hurt me in the long run.
My anxiety would present itself in the smallest of tasks. What I would wear to school, which seat I would grab on the bus—just about everything had a tinge of bad vibes.
I kept a strict schedule for myself as to try and relieve the unforeseen events that could bring on worry and dread. Before mentioning a seamless, carefree story, I would anticipate the person’s responses and retreat to the solace of my room instead. This fear crept into my soul as a young girl, and there it remained.
Why on this particular morning in my 30s during a routine physical was I brave enough to mention my anguish? My physician simply asked how I was feeling. I opened up like a river that had been held back with mental debris for decades. I explained how simply peering out a window could trigger my OCD. Counting panes of glass took over anything beautiful I may see beyond the square opening. Avoiding the windows altogether was a strategy to avoid the repetitive behavior. Speaking my truth released me like I had only dreamt about.
Will I regret being so vulnerable? There is no going back now.
Being anxious is often a normal feeling during many of life’s experiences. A new job, taking a class, or stepping out of our comfort zone all can trigger quicker heartbeats and sweaty palms. Our anxiety is only categorized as a mental health disorder when the symptoms we feel are heightened and interfere with our day-to-day life. Unlike many other illnesses, anxiety and depression are not commonly discussed openly. When we suffer in silence, we can experience its burdens as mental and physical pains.
Having an open dialogue with close friends and frequent check-ins with my doctor reassured me I didn’t have to hide or feel ashamed. Feelings of uneasiness and worry began to lose their grip and power over me in time.
A proper diet, good night’s sleep, and exercise are the first of many steps we can try to find some relief. I was overjoyed when these simple tasks helped. Walking had become and is still my nightly ritual. Having my lab Dixie waiting at the door gives me that push on days I begin to forget the importance of it. She has become, in a sense, my therapy dog.
I am the proud mom of two great kids. Given my early experiences, I made sure to speak openly with them about mental health at an early age. How you feel about yourself and how others make you feel is a big part of growing up. Different from a cough or bruise, you can look perfectly healthy and still be hurting.
There are millions of people just like us who suffer from anxiety and depression. It doesn’t have an age limit or a certain demographic. We can experience its symptoms in all walks of life. We need to work to bring mental health to the front pages of our society and release the stigma and shame often associated with it.
Early education is key to helping our youth navigate and feel comfortable speaking about mental health. We as parents, teachers, coaches, and friends need an open dialogue to cultivate compassionate relationships. A strong sense of community can support a lifetime of mental stability.
Simply asking how someone is feeling can hand them the courage to share the load they may be secretly carrying.