Self esteem story of a woman’s journey out of the chaos of anxiety
I have probably had anxiety my entire life. I’ve always been an incredibly shy person who tended to avoid crowds and stuck to hanging out with a small group of friends. I didn’t really become aware of the fact I had anxiety until my senior year at university. I had packed my schedule and piled on tons of responsibility between 27 hours of school and 40 hours of work each week. I pushed myself so hard that I finally broke.
One day I woke up and just couldn’t handle things anymore. I became paranoid. I’d go to class and see people laughing across the hall or in the classroom and I’d be sure they were laughing at me. I became anxious about what people thought of me. So much so that as the days went by my anxiety grew to the point it was hard to breathe and I felt like running from class screaming. So I began skipping classes, making excuses to myself that I was sick or tired or just plain didn’t need to go unless it was a test.
Instead of relieving the anxiety, these actions seemed to make things worse. Suddenly, I also became anxious and paranoid at work. I was certain my boss hated me. It prompted me to apply for a transfer to a different office that was an hour away from my home when my current commute was only five minutes. It should have been a signal to me that something was very wrong. Instead, I juggled things like this for months. Eventually the company I worked for ended up sending me back because my original office was understaffed. By the time I came back, the office had a new boss. I was so sure that she was out to get me and/or on the verge of firing me that the feeling to run came back. I had a pain in my chest and couldn’t breathe. I pushed through to my lunch break and then walked out. I’m ashamed to say that I never went back. My anxiety didn’t let me.
I rationalized this behavior by blaming my new boss. She became this evil and unbearable presence in my work life. My friends and family seemed to understand and accept my justification. Looking back, I wonder why they couldn’t see how badly I needed help.
I went back to an old job waiting tables for about a third of the pay I received at the office job. Now my income depended on me being able to provide excellent customer service to strangers, usually in a crowded dining room. My paranoia continued. I was so sure I was doing a bad job and yet again that my boss hated me. During one shift, in the middle of the dinner rush, I found myself unable to breathe. My heartbeat rang in my ears. I could barely move and began hyperventilating. It felt like I was going crazy. That was my first panic attack and to stop it, I walked out, again never to return.
I ended up relying on my boyfriend to support me. For the next year, I spent most of my time indoors avoiding my friends, my family, and the outside world. Anytime someone came over, I’d be thrown into panic mode and end up crying on the floor. I had no idea what was going on and neither did my boyfriend. He would yell at me to stop and tell me to get a grip, which only made me feel worse. I was free-falling into a deep depression.
I lived this way for what felt like decades. In reality, it was about two years. Somewhere in those two years I came to realize that I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I became aware of how irrational I was during those moments of panic and began to wonder what I could do about it. Then one day, while lying in bed I decided I can beat this; I can get myself back to ‘nomral’! I had to, because my existence was not really living.
I began mulling over how I would go about fixing myself. I remembered hearing somewhere that the colors we wear often reflect our mood. I looked at my closet. It was mostly black which repulsed me. I decided that if happy people wear color, I was going to fake it. I went shopping for the first time in years and was so focused on finding color that I wasn’t even nervous. It was such a freeing feeling. I bought myself (or rather my boyfriend bought me) a whole new wardrobe. The whole time focusing on the phrase, “happy people wear color.”
Did wearing color ‘fix’ me? Of course not. But it was a step in the right direction. That day shopping I discovered that I had a choice. I could live in fear and let anxiety control me, or take action to manage it.
Wearing color was my first step. I felt enlightened. I had a choice! I ordered a book on cognitive behavior therapy and read it cover to cover in a matter of days. I searched the internet and read everything I could on managing anxiety. I learned how to reprogram my thought processes and do breathing exercises to slow down or stop the physical reaction my body had in certain situations.
Slowly I started exposing myself to situations that made me feel anxious. First it was grocery shopping. Then as time went on, visiting family and later reconnecting with friends and attending events with large crowds. Over time, my anxiety subsided. Did it go away completely? Well…no, I still feel anxious more than I should. I still find myself thinking irrational thoughts. The difference though, is that I am aware of it. I can now recognize when something is irrational and bring myself back to a rational thought about the issue. I can tell when my body is starting to react and slow my breathing to prevent a full-blown attack. Sometimes, those strategies work, and other times I still have a panic attack. But I’m okay with that. I feel that my anxiety is well-managed. I’ll take one or two panic attacks a year over panicking daily.
I now sit in a place where I can look at my condition and say: this is just a part of me. It doesn’t change the core of who I am. I still have something to give to the world. It doesn’t define me or stop me from doing what I want.
I used to feel like my anxiety was something to be ashamed of, something to hide from the world because it wasn’t ‘normal.’ It made me feel unworthy, stupid, and like no one would ever want to be around me again.
With my anxiety under control, I look back and see that I always had a choice. It took me awhile to become aware of it, but the power to choose was always there. Being able to exercise that choice is a powerful thing. I made many decisions on my road to recovery. I decided I didn’t want to feel anxious anymore. I made the choice to wear color and seek out help. I made the choice to reconnect with the world. Those decisions added to my sense of self worth over time.
I eventually realized that I AM worthy. I am worthy of self-love, self-respect, and the love and respect of others. Making the decision to believe these things lead to a sense of confidence. I now proudly wear my anxiety and depression as a badge of honor. I made it through before and when it rears its ugly head I’ll push through again. I share my story as often as I can because I want to help others like me realize their own self worth. I want more than anything to help people in similar situations come to the conclusion that we don’t have to be prisoners in our own homes or in our bodies—we have a choice. There are ways to get help, to retrain our brain and come out the other side. You can become whole again. It starts with digging deep and making the choice that you deserve better. We really do!