Be Authentically You

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Be Authentically YouAnxiety. It means something different to everyone. Everyone experiences it in a different way and at different levels. My journey with anxiety has been long and for the most part a source of shame for me.

When did mental health become so taboo?

I was first diagnosed with anxiety in middle school. I felt like something was wrong with me. I thought I was broken. I was put on medication and once we found the right thing, it helped. The panic feelings subsided, but it was still something I felt I needed to hide. It was an inner battle for me; when on the medicine I was better, but my hate of being on medicine made me obsess about the one thing I couldn’t change: taking the medicine. I saw it as something to be ashamed of. I was so much better on the medicine, but I hated that I had to take it.

That mindset stuck with me all these years.

It wasn’t something I was told; it was just how society seemed to look at it. “Oh, you have anxiety? You should just exercise more.” “If you prayed more, it wouldn’t be an issue.” “If you meditated daily, you wouldn’t be so anxious.” “You should do yoga, it would fix your anxiety.” “You just have too much time on your hands.” I have heard all of these at one time or another. All of the people meant well; they only wanted to help, but the fact was that these statements made me feel even more like I had something wrong with me.

At one point, my goal was to just be “normal” and in my mind, that meant being off anxiety medicine and free of anxiety. I tried it all; anything that said it would “cure” my anxiety, I tried. I did yoga and hated every minute of it. I meditated only to stress the entire time that I was doing it wrong. I filled my free time so full that I hardly had time to breathe. I joined the gym. My faith was tested. I went off my medication and I found myself having panic attacks, waking up in the middle of the night unable to breathe, shaking and no clue why it was happening to me. I couldn’t function, let alone be myself. I was drowning in a chaos that I had created for myself all in the name of being something that I’m not.

My journey to rid myself of anxiety had only made my anxiety worse. So defeated, I called up my doctor and said I needed to be put back on my medication. I felt like an even bigger failure. I felt like anxiety had won. It took time for the multiple panic attacks a day to lessen and for my anxiety to get back under control, but in time, I found myself happier, calmer, and back to myself. Yet I still saw it as me not being “normal.”

This mindset was there just a few months ago when I was talking to a doctor about how anxious my daughter was. I made the comment that I didn’t want her to be like me and depend on medicine to be normal. She looked at me and asked what I meant. I told her I had come off of my medicine many times before, but the panic attacks were too much and nothing seemed to help them except for medicine, but that I hated to depend on it to be normal. She said something that I will never forget: “You are looking at it all wrong. When a person has a serotonin imbalance, their brain is missing necessary pieces of a puzzle. It CAN’T work properly. So when you take the medicine, it fills in the missing pieces. For you, your ‘normal’ is with the medication. Without it, you aren’t you.”

Why hadn’t I looked at it that way before?

I had been searching and trying to find myself, when all along, I was there, hidden behind the shame and doubt. I was lost in the search for becoming something I could never be; I wanted to achieve something that wasn’t achievable for me. It was all an ideal that wasn’t real. Just being authentically me was all I needed. Permission to be myself was all I really needed.
It took me thirty-one years to have this realization. For so many years, I lived feeling like something was wrong with me, ashamed that I was on medicine for anxiety. I felt like this made me less than. When all along, when I was on it, I felt better, lived life better, and was myself. The shame of that pill made me forget all the good, turning my focus on the bad.

Don’t be like me. Don’t live life striving to be some version of “normal” that doesn’t actually exist. It is okay to be authentically you.

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