College graduation, a time filled with excitement, freedom, and chasing dreams, was anything but that for me.
At 21 years old, a few months after my graduation, I was spending every moment in my bedroom at my parent’s house, in the dark. It was the only place I felt safe. I couldn’t get myself to leave the house, my room, let alone my bed. Everything in the outside world paralyzed me with uncontrollable fear.
The only meal I would eat in a day was dinner, and it was always Pad Thai from my favorite Thai restaurant. It was the only food that brought me comfort and made me feel the desire to eat. But even these dinners I would eat in my room, on my bed, alone.
I didn’t want anyone around me. I avoided all my friends and most of my family members, at the time. The only people I trusted with the way I was feeling, and the only people I felt could bring me even the slightest sense of relief, were my mom and my boyfriend. I lost a lot of weight, missed out on fun opportunities, had zero energy or motivation, and felt like my body was in a constant state of panic.
Clearly, I couldn’t continue to live like this.
I needed help, and luckily, I understood that. I was receptive to anyone who could give me the knowledge, therapy, tools, pills—whatever it may be—to get me out of my debilitating state and get me back to living the fun, carefree, social life I had before.
After seeing a psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with major depressive and anxiety disorder—something I never thought would affect me—and was given a prescription for Citalopram. I was ashamed then, but now I’m no longer ashamed to need medication for my mental health.
After three months of trapping myself in my room, I finally started to see the light at the end of the tunnel, slowly ventured out of my room, and believed that everything would be okay.
Fast forward 16 years since my first depressive episode, and I still have panic attacks and days, weeks, and months where my anxiety and depression spike.
I have not been able to fully alleviate these feelings, but what I have been able to do is learn from the moments that I am struggling with my mental health, understand why I am feeling the way I am, try my best to grow and move forward from them, and open my eyes to the beautiful world around me.
I am clearly not a psychiatrist or a psychologist and don’t at all claim to be one, but having spent many hours in offices of mental health professionals, I am no stranger to emotions—the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, and everything in between. I have real-life personal experience, which, in my opinion, can be much more valuable and relatable.
I come from the mindset that when people say, “Don’t worry, it will be okay,” I know it will be okay, but I also feel like I have every reason to worry.
When people say, “Don’t stress about it,” I can’t help but stress about it.
When people say, “Just breathe” or “Relax,” my anxiety goes through the roof.
Do you see what I’m getting at here?
Sometimes, we can’t help but feel a certain way even when we know better, and that’s okay. The key comes from recognizing exactly how and why we feel the way we do, allowing ourselves to feel that way, releasing the feeling, and growing from it.
Of course, it’s great to feel happy, excited, confident, and loved, and though it may not feel great to be sad, lonely, or overwhelmed, what I have learned in life, through my own experiences and struggles, are the following:
>> All emotions exist for a reason.
>> Feeling a certain way is different than being a certain way.
>> Personal growth comes from embracing all emotions, and all emotions motivate us to improve our lives—for example, a positive emotion may expand our mind and let us be more open to new opportunities, whereas a negative emotion may make us realize that we need to confront something or someone, thus improving our lives in the long run.
>> True self-worth comes from a place of accepting our full range of emotions.
>> When we reject emotions and refuse to listen to them, they appear louder and more intense.
So often we hear about physical fitness and the positive impact it can have on our daily lives and overall health, as it builds our strength, agility, endurance, and flexibility. What we don’t hear about enough is mental fitness and how it is just as important, if not more important, for living a healthy, happy, fulfilled, and balanced life.
Mental fitness focuses on self-esteem, self-acceptance, resilience, awareness, the ability to manage strong emotions, and being able to pick yourself up and thrive when life knocks you down.
People who are emotionally healthy tend to be in control of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. They are often able to cope with life’s challenges, can keep problems in perspective, and bounce back from setbacks. As your mind, heart, and body are interconnected, it helps to put some focus on the way your brain processes, manages, and accepts your emotions.
Remember to embrace all emotions. Welcome them with kindness, allow yourself to feel them, and ultimately move forward from them.
So, the next time we are feeling some type of way, we aren’t afraid to say, “Hi sadness” or, “What’s up fear?”
By doing so, we will come to see the importance of being present, living in the moment, the beauty of personal growth, and that all emotions are our friends.