Before I get into what I wanted to write about, I wanted to say that I wasn't planning on writing a post this week. I am getting ready to travel to four different states over the next week and that means travel blog posts. But tonight I watched an interview with Kristen Bell where she discussed her struggles with anxiety and depression, and a spark was lit inside me.
I don't know a whole lot about Kristen Bell. I have seen her in a few movies, and I have always thought she was talented. But I hadn't really done any research on her. Today there was post going viral on y newsfeed about her struggles with anxiety and depression. I didn't realize how much of it would resonate with me. So here's my story:
I personally have a hard time admitting that my anxiety has had a massive impact on my life. And most people wouldn't think I struggled with anxiety. For the most part, I'm a very bubbly animated and optimistic girl. I think anything is possible, and that everything is beautiful. Honestly for a large portion of my life I had no idea that I was struggling with anxiety. I thought it was a made up disease, thanks to my family's views on emotions and struggles. "Someone else always has it worse than you do." and "This isn't something to be upset about." So from a very young age, I didn't let myself deal with emotions properly. I wanted to be an adult who held it together and didn't let anything bother me. I was strong like mr grand parents and great grandparents. But I wasn't healthy.
I guess the first real signs of my anxiety were when members of my family passed away. When I was about four or five my great grandmother had passed away. I didn't believe it had happened. I literally had to be carried down to her open casket and see her before I believed it had happened. The problem was this idea continued on. The worst case being when my grandfather passed away while I was in 8th grade. He had progressively gotten sicker and sicker each week for about eight months to a year. Every day I would walk into the hospital room and the nurses would tell me "How much better he was now that I was there. Look his heart rate and breathing are perfect." The day before we took him off of life support I was in a room with my entire family. Everyone upset and releasing emotion. I couldn't. I couldn't cry. I couldn't admit it was the end. And I had to be a ray of hope for everyone that he would be okay. To me, I wanted to fix everything that made them upset. I continued that mentality for nearly four months after his death. I didn't cry, I didn't grieve.. I wasn't supposed to. I had to be a strong person to help everyone else in the family heal. I was even put on suicide watch because I was in denial of everything. I had my first anxiety attack in the middle of my health class because of it.
However the first diagnosis of my anxiety problem wasn't until I was in my freshman year of college. All through school I had been a little different. I started kindergarten a year early, and a year later was put in the AIG (Academically and Intelligently Gifted) program. I was younger than most of my peers and only in class with about two to eight people for my early development. I didn't take naps, and I read and studied things far beyond my classmates. While I am grateful for those things, it severely stunted my understanding of peer relationships and social norms. I didn't know how to talk to people, and I didn't know how to fit in with people. I was also, like Kristen Bell, terrified of people hating me. And also just like her, I "became" different versions of myself, and changed myself to get people to like me. It didn't really become a problem however until high school. All of a sudden it was very apparent that no one liked me. I was a weird theatre kid. I was annoying. I was too smart for my own good. I was weird. My best friends had ditched me to pursue other things. And I felt pretty alone. I asked if I could transfer every day so I could "Start over". I didn't end up transferring to a private school, but to cope and make people like me, I completely changed myself to fit back in with my "best friends". This pattern of behavior and fear followed me to college. Where my freshman year I ended up with a roommate who hated me, no real close friends, and and a feeling of not belonging in even my department. Those feelings as well as a fresh fight with my at the time boyfriend sent me into the worst panic attack I have had to date. I stared at my ceiling all night feeling sick to my stomach, with tight chest pains, my whole body locked up, and afraid to move for fear I would die. The next day I went to student health and they said I had an anxiety disorder and that they could prescribe me pills to get through the rest the school year.
I didn't take the medication. Instead I made a promise to myself that I would either transfer or "change" to get through it all. When I was accepted into the Professional Acting program I made the decision to stay and change. So even though I knew I had an anxiety problem, I still didn't know how it was effecting my life. I wanted to badly for people to like me, and to fit in, I was still not being myself. I was being the person I thought people wanted me to be. The funny thing is, this behavior had the opposite effect I wanted it to. It made people hate me. They didn't know who I was. And honestly I didn't know who I was. It ended up costing me a lot of friendships, and a double major. And the resonating voice of my Meisner professor saying, "I don't know who you are. And you don't know who you are".
My senior year I jumped ship. I started doubting my career choice, and started taking physics classes. I didn't hang out in the theatre department anymore, and I focused on my music training. I even stopped taking voice lessons to try and get away. I suddenly realized that I had let my fears of acceptance dictate my entire life.
I thought I was fully on the up and up after that realization. I took a ob that changed my life and restarted my passion for acting and creating. I fell in love. I met some of my best friends in my entire life. Then it happened again. I had made someone hate me because I wanted to change for them to love me. But this time it was the person I was in love with. I crashed and hit rock bottom. I realized that I used social media, and other things to find approval of myself. I needed other people to like me and approve of me to like and approve myself. And the next day while on crazy journey across the country (that no one wanted me to do or approved of me doing) I deleted my social media footprint and went on a journey to find myself.
I am officially four weeks away from a year anniversary of that journey. It was one that changed my life. I learned to cope with my fears and my anxiety. I learned that it is ok for people to reject you. What's not ok is rejecting yourself. I wish I could say I am fully out of the woods. I'm not. To this day I still am terrified about someone else's hating or disliking me. There are moments I catch myself trying to still change myself to be a person that person will like and love. I have to check in with myself. I have to ask myself, are you doing this for you or are you doing this for them. But it also pushes me forward each and every day to help people, and to show kindness and love to everyone. It pushes me to follow my dreams, not fulfill other's dreams for me.
I personally do not consider myself a "survivor" of my struggle. I also think there are plenty of people who have struggled more than I, and with more than I. The important thing is to open the dialogue about mental illnesses and help people understand that they are normal, and ok.
This being mother's day, I would like to say thank you to my own mother who every day has been a reminder of that for me. This woman has sat with me at two in the morning, when I am terrified of disappointing people, of failing in life, and of the world ending; and told me that each off those fears were normal. And that just because I felt them more strongly and they scared me in ways I couldn't control that that didn't make them any less normal. This woman has supported me through every change and phase I have gone through in life. So here is to her. Happy Mother's Day mom.
Videos of the week/Inspiration for this week's post: