Hey Friends! I had been meaning to get to the part 2 version of my anxiety post up (part one here) because mental health is so extremely important to me but life just caught up. I had also planned on doing a video but I am super sick today and while I sit on my booty I thought I would type it out for ya. Here are some questions I received weeks back as well as my experience as a now un-medicated 23 year old lady!
Question: What are my past mental health issues? What’s my story? (ps reading this is going to be a long one because they developed with several events)
So I was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa around 8th grade. To be honest a lot of those times are blurred because of how much focus I put on food and how much I left off for the rest of life. I’m sure those of you who have had eating disorders can relate. In that time I believe I developed a little anxiety but it wasn’t diagnosed yet. That time was more focused on how little calories I could survive on and I overexercised like no other. After treatment with a RD (no therapist yet) I was pretty good to go for the rest of high school. Little did I know that I just suppressed those thoughts deep into my brain to later resurface at the most stressful times in college. I like to joke and say I peaked in high school because I really had it all. I had a really awesome group of friends, I went to proms, broke a school track record, was on the senior dance company, was a debutant, and was on the school’s retreat leading team all while getting pretty good grades among several other extra-curricular activities!
College brought up a whole freaking new can of worms because I had never left my little sheltered bubble of privileged children. I moved to Chicago were yes, I did have my family, but not one friend at DePaul with me. I was starting from legit scratch and that scared the shit out of me. Life got much better as I became a Delta Zeta and was surrounded by people who weirdly adored me. That sentence wasn’t meant to be cocky, that’s just how being in a sorority goes. You literally are showered with praise and gifts and love and it’s weird but great. In DZ I met some of my best friends and all was good.
Life took a sharp turn when weeks later I got a call in the middle of my biology practical followed by a text from my sister which I peered down into my lab coat to see that it said “Otta is dying”. In that moment I knew my life would never be the same because I had to face death, which from everything I had seen before was absolutely horrible. Minutes later after asking to leave the practical early I sprinted to my dorm room to sob. In the hours following I had to say goodbye to my Otta on the phone which was held to his ear while he was in his induced coma with my entire family surrounding him in California while I was alone in Chicago. The support I received from my friends, Chicago fam, and sorority in that moment will be something I never forget because at a time of such loss I felt so much love. Here is video of him- it always makes me laugh and then cry a little.
The death of my grandfather spiraled me into horrible anxiety and depression after seeing how much my family had changed. 5 Years later, family holidays were finally getting a little normal but we just lost my Otta’s brother, my Uncle Roland whit year, which threw us all for another loop because he was my second Otta. Without going into too much detail, the death of my Otta had me march into the DePaul counseling center so I could get some grief therapy to find ways to cope for the drastic changes that my family had just experienced.
ps. here is dad’s side of the family- uncle Roland is there in the back tall one!
A year later I began the chemistry series at DePaul which was the beginning of my anxiety diagnosis. I know you are thinking chemistry? What the hell Connie it’s just a class. Well yeah, it was just a class but it was the first class I had ever failed an exam in. Chem from then on out was horrible for me- organic included. I was tutored every week in addition to library hours for other classes and SI instructor sessions at DePaul. I worked harder than I ever had and in that low time I also felt a lot of other pressures as a 20 year old woman. I had never had a boyfriend, I studied more than I saw my friends, going out made me nervous because they had raided the bars around school recently, and I was homesick. It just felt like a pile of stuff was always weighing me down and I felt inadequate. I sort of channeled the stress unknowingly into how I ate. I ate super veggie centered and didn’t realize I wasn’t truly enjoying food because I was spending all my mental energy on anxiety so I lost quite a big of weight here. I look ok in this photo but I was teeny!
Spring break was fast approaching my junior year where my best friends were coming to LA with me! I was so excited but this was also my lowest point in my anxiety. I specifically remember 3 days where I woke up in tears and faked being happy just so people wouldn’t ask me what was wrong. After calling my parents almost every day and bursting into tears my dad without asking me just made me a psychiatrist appointment for when I was home and told me I would be there- I had no choice and I really appreciated that.
In that meeting I told the doctor how chem developed these feelings of fear in me that I never knew were there. I told her how as the test was being passed around the room I got dizzy and almost passed out from hyperventilating. I told her how I thought I would be single forever and the feelings of inadequacy carried over into my personal life where I felt like every girl was prettier, smarter, and better than I. I told her how my family dynamic wasn’t the same and that I carried a lot of pressure on my shoulders trying to make everyone smile again instead of cry when were all together. I told her that I was sick of feeling like this because old Connie was HAPPY. I used to smile constantly (and still did in front of other people just not when I looked in the mirror) and that I wanted to feel confident again by myself.
(21st birthday was a great day for me- I was on meds and was beginning to sort of get a handle on things)
She prescribed me Lexapro and Xanax for emergencies and I was on my way. I started the meds right away and was on them since a few weeks ago. 2 and half years and I was finally ready to stop because I was back to me!
Let me tell you about what the meds let me do. They let me have what I call a “cushion” between anxiety Connie and calm Connie and it allowed me to choose which one I wanted to go with. They allowed me a little time to act rationally instead of anxiously. With those meds I also enrolled once more in therapy at DePaul for another 10 weeks (the previous 10 weeks was for grief). In therapy I learned that
- If I get a less than great grade on exam that does not mean I am less than.
- I CAN get an A because I study like a freaking champ and I need to stay calm in order to perform well.
- I am worthy of love. Just because I hadn’t seriously dated anyone doesn’t mean I won’t date or have a boyfriend/husband at some point.
- I am not responsible for my family’s happiness after death. I am responsible for my OWN happiness and I can lead by example.
- Life is FUN and I had been making it so damn hard. I began to learn to let go of what I couldn’t change.
In that time on meds I truly believe that I learned how to love myself. In that time on meds I worked as a TA for Human Anatomy and Physiology, a class that I got one of the highest grades in and had a blast. My professor was a big confidence booster for me because he was the only professor who knew I could do what I set my mind to and made sure I knew that. I finished out teaching as a fitness instructor for my Senior year and I stopped worrying what other people thought about my class (other fitness instructors I KNOW you know what I mean)- I just taught it. I studied for and took the GRE, got into grad school, began to unshackle myself from food rules, and smiled SO MUCH.
(The way I support my widowed Oma now is by seeing her as often as possible. We go to lunch or I make her dinner- anything to spend an hour or two smiling instead of sad talking)
(starting to look genuinely happy eh?!)
My senior year in Chicago was one of the sweetest years that I’ll never forget. I spent time with my Chicago family on the lake, had lots of tea parties and cubs games with my cousins, and had a lot of fun in classes. At that time I felt like the endorphins of graduation fast approaching would be enough to carry me through but I knew grad school would be scary so staying on meds would be beneficial.
(from left to right- Connie, Aunt Pat (guys she is a woman of many jello shots and hugs), Uncle Hubert (sweetest soul), and my cousin (I consider her my aunt and Chicago mom) Jocelyn)
(Connie, Jocelyn, Ella my buddy, and Jason)
Fast forward to after graduation, sad Chicago leaving tears, and then a lot of Chicago missing tears once I got home, I was at grad school. I just had this intense time of reflection but at the same time I had this massive thing ahead of me. I made it to GRAD SCHOOL. This was my dream. This was what I’ve always wanted and I was so proud.
(My grandparents, grandpa Joe- coolest man alive- Me, Oma, and Grandma!)
That summer June-August of 2016 was hard. I had to adjust to CSULA, make new friends, and get straight A’s because I knew I was capable. Guess what? I did all of that! I’m not gonna say it was all meds but I knew they had a lot to do with it. I still felt like my meds were helping me until Spring semester of this year 2017.
What changed Spring 2017 was that I felt confident and capable by myself. I started to forget to take my meds and I rarely had thoughts of inadequacy or anxiety because I had just adopted this CSULA mindset of “everything will happen in its own time”. If you go to school there you know everything takes 5 times longer than it should but I’m happy about it. It has really helped me just accept that time is important and that things take time. I still got all A’s with 1 A- in Medical Nutrition 2 because ok that final was HARD. I made it through 2.5 weeks of finals confidently- WHAT?! I am in a fully food freedom mindset and it feels so good. I wish I was like this all 4 years of Chicago instead of just 1 but again- I’m ok with knowing that things take time.
At the end of this semester I felt like my meds weren’t helping me anymore. The emotions I had were fleeting instead of being with me all day. Instead of being sad for 6 hours I was sad for 20 minutes, could cry, and move on. The most prevalent emotion I have is happiness and to me that was the sign that I’m ready for a meds break.
Question: How do you wean off meds?
The first thing I did was call my psychiatrist and tell her I’m ready to stop. After a conversation we decided on a dosage below what I was taking that was safe. I experienced some big headaches and feelings of lethargy but once those symptoms were done as we kept decreasing the dose I felt great. PLEASE- do not try and do this without your psychiatrist’s help.
I went in to see her in person and we decided I could stop them all together because everything I was struggling with when I first came to her was resolved! I am NOT saying I won’t be on meds ever again but for the time being I can be my own person.
I feel a little warm fuzzy in my tummy when I think about life right now. I’m confident in myself. I no longer judge my body by how it looks in the mirror- only how it feels in my clothes and in my own skin. For the first time in my life I’ve realized all those years I thought I wanted to date someone I was in no way ready to let another person into my life. How could I try and love someone else if I couldn’t love myself yet? I finally am open to the idea of a relationship. Yes, I’ve dated this year but I have had a mental block every time something somewhat serious starts to form and I knew that was telling me something. I’m feeling pretty unblocked as of now and I feels awesome. I can handle anxious thoughts and then push them away. I can also accept that life is important at this very moment instead of what life used to be or what life could be.
We have had a lot of loss this year and I’m not going to pretend the whole year (I’m talking year of grad school right now) has been perfect. What I am saying is that loss is a part of life- a horrible part of life but also an opportunity to think of all the wonderful things that person gave you and gave to the world. I’ve become a more intentional person through watching death but I have also become a person who lives a little more free. If there is one thing my Uncle Roland taught me it was to stop worrying and just be happy. He always had a joke for me or was always worried I was taking things too seriously, which for a lot of life I was. I wish he could see me right now- I know he is watching very proudly with my Otta in heaven. I also however live more intentionally now knowing that life isn’t forever and that you need to be intentional about important things.
Question: how to do deal with anxious thoughts now?
I take the situation for what it is and deal from there. When I think about how worked up I got about an exam in college I sort of laugh. I know it’s not funny to those of you who are experiencing it but honestly take it from someone who has overcome that. It is NOT the end of the world. Take those emotions and place them somewhere more useful like in how you love and care for other people. Take those emotions and fuel them to push towards your dream in a meaningful way rather than a destructive way. So it’s sort of taking yourself out of the the current situation and assessing it objevively. If it’s something that means a lot to you then yes you are allowed to feel anxious. Feel anxious, let those emotions come over you. Cry it out- scream- do whatever but then you get 5 minutes. After those 5 minutes you pull yourself together and smile and do the damn thing. If you can’t do this, you may need more help that you can give yourself. Medication, counseling, whatever it is.
Question: how to you cope now and keep your anxiety at bay?
I go to yoga at least once a week now to an instructor led class. I find that yoga on my own does me no good. I still have a hard time placing my immediate surrounding out of my head. I need to drive over to my Y, get in that dim room and let it all out there. I also exercise in a way that brings me happy emotions. If I’m not smiling while I exercise I nix that class. When you force yourself to workout in a way that doesn’t make you feel good your body is releasing more cortisol than it needs to. I also feel my emotions and I tell myself that it’s ok to feel them. I’ve accepted there’s an ebb and flow to life and some weeks I’m going to have all happy days, some weeks I’ll have a mix, but some weeks if something really is bothering me and I cry every day for that week then so be it. The point is to know that you are feeling what you are feeling. If you can’t pinpoint the reason you are feeling a certain emotion that to me is a signal you need some extra support.
So there you have it. You now know my anxiety was a whole freaking mix of school related stress, family death, and personal inadequacy. I’ve put in a lot of work on myself and I’m proud of it. My hopes are that you feel that it’s ok and its normal to not be perfect and it’s also ok to get help. Meds have been one of the best decisions I’ve made.
I would love to know if you have taken meds is they have had a positive effect on your life as well in the comments!