As inspired by Mental Illness Awareness Week earlier this month, I am sharing my story of recovery.
I am a therapist. I am a wife. I am a mother. I am a daughter. I am a sister. I am a friend. I am a person in recovery from mental health issues. What this means is that I experience mental health symptoms but have found healthy coping skills to use so that anxiety no longer interferes in my life in any significant way. Here’s my story.
Symptoms of anxiety have always been part of my life. My earliest memories include situations in which I felt anxious or scared. As a young child, I remember hiding behind my parents when being introduced to someone new. I cried on the first day of school every year until 3rd grade. As I got older, my fears focused on being accepted by my peers. For example, in 7th grade, I agonized for days about buying the right birthday gift for a friend due to fear that she wouldn’t like me anymore if she didn’t like the gift. Although these situations felt terrible in the moment, overall, I enjoyed my childhood.
As I got older, the anxiety had a bigger impact on my life. In college and my early 20‘s, I worried about something almost every day and this worry got in the way of me enjoying everyday things. Over the years, the content of my anxious thoughts changed based on what was happening in my life but the fearful thoughts always took the form of “what if” with me fearing the worst-case scenario. I tried yoga, self-help books, support groups and therapy. Initially, it felt like nothing helped but eventually, I could see the benefits. Anxious thoughts that got stuck in my head were able to be transformed by the techniques I learned.
These days, I use mindfulness to bring me back to the present moment when my thoughts try to suck me into a nightmarish daydream of how things will go wrong. I challenge anxious thoughts by looking for evidence against each thought, which brings me back to reality. I remind myself of the things I am grateful for, I reach out to supports, and I breathe. As a therapist, I have opportunities to learn new techniques to help the people I work with and I often use these techniques for myself.
Nowadays, when I worry about finances or that something bad is going to happen to a loved one or even that there will be negative consequences to sharing my story publicly, I use the coping skills that I’ve found to be helpful. Don’t get me wrong. There are days in which my anxiety takes hold and I don’t do anything to try to feel better because it just feels easier to feel bad. Fortunately, on most days, I can refocus on the present moment and what feels most important to me.
I chose to become a therapist because I wanted to help others in the ways that I have been helped. I am grateful to be able to give back. I love teaching others some of the same skills that were taught to me and on a bad day, as I am helping someone I am working with, I am reminded of the skills that I can use to help me feel better. I love the work that I do and love how my experiences with mental health issues led to a career that I love, helping others.