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When the idea for this blog arose a couple of days ago, I felt a bit tentative about it. Anxiety, and its loathsome sidekick depression, are sensitive issues and experiencing them, or witnessing someone we care about in depths of these rampant destructors, is traumatic, soul-destroying and deeply personal.

Nevertheless, after reading the thoughts of Chris Nicholas in his blog about mental illness and the need for us to do more (see Introspection and Loss), I felt compelled to share my story in the hope that perhaps, by sharing my own experiences, it might help one another person to navigate their own journey more safely and easily.

Anxiety was my very frequent and unwelcome companion throughout high school. It stalked me at every turn and manifested in a unique propensity to cry at the drop of a hat. I cried all the time. Whenever I was faced with new experiences I usually felt overwhelmed and the tears would start. Fear would turn on the taps and the salt water would pour forth. I can remember starting my first ever clarinet lesson in Grade 8 and crying because I felt so out of my depth. I had barely started and the newness of the experience and the unfamiliarity of the teacher was all too much. I lasted three lessons then never returned.

By Grade 12 I was crying less but inside I was still a mess. I was the lead in the school musical, secretary of the student council and had a diverse and large group of friends. But in my room at night I struggled and often felt like I was climbing the walls. My parents had done their best to get me help over the years with counselors but none of it seemed to work and I guess, as a highly-strung and chronic perfectionist, I became good at hiding my inner torment. On the outside I was an above-average, successful student. On the inside I was a basket-case.

By 23, I was on anti-depressants. Over the following 10 years I’d regularly visit a psychiatrist and numerous counselors as I sought to vanquish my anxious and depressive demons. The demons wreaked havoc in my gut and the medication messed with my weight. But every time I eased back or off the medication entirely, the symptoms would return within months. However, throughout all this time, I was a success on the surface with a good husband and a growing public relations career. I was also a highly judgmental young woman and had a view of the world that was strictly black and white. It wasn’t until much later that I’d realise those harsh judgements of others were the direct result of my own cruel judgement of myself.

Fortunately for me, life began to change in my early 30s and it was this shift that would ultimately help me force that anxiety and occasional depression back into the box where they belonged. Looking back now, I can put these changes down to a journey where I would finally uncover my self-worth and ultimately become a far more grounded human being.

Like a lot of people, I’d never really been shown how to value myself and trust my own judgement first, above all others. As young people we seek the advice of those older than us and, if we are insecure (like I was), we will often think others (even our peers) know best or more than us because we have no faith in ourselves whatsoever. Self-reliance and encouragement to go within for our answers is not frequently taught. Perhaps this is because it would encourage a little too much free-thinking in certain situations and this would disruptive?

Taking steps to connect more fully to who I am, and valuing myself and my capacity to make good decisions for me, has been an integral part in managing my anxiety and depression. But it’s not the full story.

The second component has involved learning to live in my head less and in my heart and body more. As a strongly energetic being (a psychic channel, no less), I am susceptible to picking up the energies of other people. This coupled with a mind that is strongly molded in the Western traditions of rationality and logic, has created numerous conflicts within me. My mind wants to reason everything through and weigh everything up (I am a Libran after all) while my intuitive self and my heart know there is often a very good reason to turn down reason and instead listen to the messages the Universe sends to help me on my journey. In hindsight, I wonder how often I was picking up the energies of others while I was growing up without knowing it. I also wonder if this fed my anxiety and twisted my mind into finding ways to reason through emotions, impressions and my own responses that simply had no rational cause.

Living in your head all the time also means you’re frequently not feeling connected to your body and that equals ungroundedness – a feeling of not being connected to the earth and not being present in the moment. It’s taken me a very long time to know what being grounded feels like and it’s an ongoing practice that I’m still seeking to perfect. But, I have to tell you, being grounded makes managing myself and the daily stresses of life a whole lot easier.

Thankfully, I left the anti-depressants behind in my early 30s. And these days I manage my rare bouts of anxiety with strategies ranging from acupuncture to meditation, exercise and natural remedies. Occasionally I will also see a counselor to talk through and release the thoughts scurrying through my mind.

Will I need medication again in the future? Who knows. If life throws me some unforeseen, painful or traumatic event then maybe I will. And that will okay too.

Do I think my process is a magical cure for everyone. No. I don’t. Everyone’s body is different and some people may always need medical assistance to manage their anxiety and depression. Others may take medication for a while, get better for a while, then regress. That’s the sometimes unpredictable nature of mental health and for everyone it is a unique and very personal journey.

However, I firmly believe that my lack of self-worth and being ungrounded were strong contributors to my personal experiences of anxiety and depression. I also believe that people are happier and more balanced if they are strongly connected to their inner selves, have strong self-worth and are grounded in their bodies.

Perhaps if we can teach our young people how to access these feelings and connections they will be less stressed-out and able to live their individual purpose on this planet with more ease and grace. And if my story can help just one other teenager avoid my less than ideal experiences, then that would be a true blessing indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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