When you’re up against yourself – a writer’s mental health journey

This is a bit of a personal essay for me to other writers to read and identify with. I am writing to say that I am not out of this storm—I’m still in the middle of it. It’s just the winds have lessened and rain stings my skin a little less. I’ve got the help I’ve needed from professionals and I’m still working on it.

I think the most important thing for me to say to anyone that’s going through some kind of storm is to not give up. It’s easy to say, but harder to do when anxiety, or panic, or own feelings seem to say otherwise. 

I’ve always had underlying anxiety since I was young, according to my mother. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be a certain way and took on numerous projects/tasks in the attempt to do it all. When it came too much, whatever I was juggling would fall a part. I never took medication and didn’t see anyone for what was going on. I didn’t think there was anything wrong. Dance, writing and other school curricular were outlets I turned to and it helped keep the stress off.

It changed a bit when I got to college. One night I remember, I was studying for something and I got so frustrated and I started to beat myself up about it. The heel of my hand met my forehead many times. The tears were sprouting my eyes as my roommate and friend tried to console me. That issue was eventually solved but I never forgot about that night.

Another time was my senior year and I was doing way too much: I commuted between three different cities, planned to work as a copy editor for the school newspaper and writer for fashion magazine, an internship on top of my student desk job (where I was interrupted any time). What made it more fun was the fact that my classes were all writing related. (Why did I choose a writing minor with a magazine major?)

It got to the point where one of my teachers pulled me aside and told me I needed to drop things or suffer a breakdown. So I did. I dropped copy editing and my role as a writer for the magazine. (A role I had been wanting since the magazine’s launch.)

I didn’t have any major anxiety or panic attacks from then until sometime last year. I mean, I had my moments of intense anxiety. But I managed. I had to, like I had done many times before. It had to be a blip on my radar.

I reached my breaking point at the beginning of this year. My anxiety got so bad to where I started to loss weight, wasn’t sleeping, and getting through work was so hard. I was restless and paranoid. I had this intense sense of doom imbedded in me. I cracked.

My father drove three hours in the middle of the night to get me. I stayed in Ohio for about three months to recover, get on the right medication and adjust. I thought I was good until I went back to my home in Michigan. And boy, I was not as well as I thought I was. The feeling of doom intensified, my anxiety turned into panic attacks, sleeping was even harder, and my thoughts were racing. I eventually fallen into a depression.

The most things I could do on any given day was shower, pray, and sit in front of the TV. It was hard to do my hair. I started to understand why some people end up with matted hair when they are depressed. I barely had energy to do things. I would be winded by simple tasks like walking up the stairs.

My demeanor and speech were withdrawn. I had more emotional crying fits. I remember wanting peace but finding it was hard, even with praying.

I stopped writing. The thing I loved to do the most was not happening simply because of how much it takes to do it. I considered shelving my novel—a debate I still have with myself, even though I am determined to finish the rewrite. 

There are days when I don’t win — my depression or anxiety does. There are days when I feel hopeless and wonder if I will ever be the same me. There are days when I feel good, I have the energy to take care of myself. There are days when little things don’t trigger me and I can just move on.

But this kind of journey takes one day at a time. (A motto that serves as a reminder.) There are no quick fixes to get back to 100 percent as much as I wish there was. 

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