Battling Invisible Illnesses: Kaili’s Anxiety
I so wish that we didn’t need to battle invisible illnesses (or any illness for that matter). Life is hard enough without crippling anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or whatever illness you may be dealing with every day.
And it is an illness, and you shouldn’t feel ashamed of that. Illness, by definition, is a disease or period of sickness affecting the body or the mind (and oftentimes both).
I’ve struggled with anxiety my entire life. It’s never been told to me that way and maybe I never fully recognized it, but in hindsight, it was always there. And most people would never have known it either. It wasn’t something I talked about or expressed openly.
From the time I was a small child attending primary (Sunday school for children in my church) or going into kindergarten, first grade, or a new school (which happened for me a lot too), up through being almost 28 years old with a husband, job I love, and financial security, I’ve struggled with anxiety.
As a child, I was very shy. To most people shyness might seem pretty normal, but in church I couldn’t go to classes with other kids my age all the time (sometimes I managed). And up through about 3rd grade...I don’t know if I could count the number of times I wet my pants at school because I was too scared to interrupt the teacher and ask if I could go to the bathroom. It may have been only a couple of times but it was mortifying enough to put a lasting impression on my memory. And I may question sharing it now...moving on.
Eventually, I grew out of my shyness a little, and my anxiety wasn’t as bad growing up. Sure, it would make appearances here and there where I would agonize over little conversations that could have gone better or something embarrassing I wish I hadn’t done, but it wasn’t an ever-growing presence, for which I’m grateful. I know that others aren’t as fortunate.
But in past years, I’ve definitely been experiencing it more and more. In fact, just these past 24 hours have been no walk in the park. Every now and then I’ll become so anxious about something that will take place in the near future or something that I said or did or about life in general that it becomes debilitating–to the point where I cannot focus on anything else. Sometimes I have to take sick time away from work and just lie in bed or do something else until it passes.
And it’s not always just a mental worry or fear. Oftentimes it manifests as physical pain or illness too. Sometimes I’ll have sharp pains in my chest (in fact I have a little just thinking about it now), and other times I may get a stomach ache or have digestive problems. And whenever I’m having an anxiety-related episode, my mind is not in a “normal” state. During these times it’s very difficult to think rationally and I often just cry because I can’t hold in all these feelings that I’m experiencing. Crying it out is often how I deal with it.
And I know I don’t have it as bad as others. I go through these kinds of experiences maybe several times a year, but I know there are so many others of you out there who face this constant battle Every. Single. Day.
Fortunately, today I was able to think clearly enough to breathe and clear my mind so that I could take action and do something to help with my anxiety. I got up early, wrote out my feelings in my journal (and now here), and exercised while listening to a spiritual talk. And I’m feeling better.
And I’ll work through my struggles and things will get better and someday in the future something will trigger my anxiety and I’ll try to work through it all over again. That’s my experience. It’s this neverending cycle that I guarantee I’ll be working on throughout my life.
So, why am I sharing this on a public platform for a bunch of people who barely know me to view? (Plus my awesome friends and family who read the things I share - thank you!)
Despite the awesome strides that have been made in mental health awareness and treatment options, it’s still a very taboo subject, especially among my generation and older. Many people don’t recognize in themselves that they have a mental illness and just see it as a weakness that they are ashamed to admit to. Some people might think they are just overworked and stressed and that in time it’ll pass, which could be true, but even that is important to recognize and work through. And worse yet, some people who do try to talk out about it to friends or family and seek out help are just brushed aside and told it’s not a big deal.
But your health is a big deal. Whether you get a cut on your knee, are dealing with cancer or autoimmune disorders, or have a mental health disorder, your health matters.
I’ve found ways to help cope with my anxiety. I have a loving support system, I meditate, I exercise, I practice self-care, and if I feel that it gets to the point where I need to start taking medication again, I will. And I know that it is not easy to take those steps to do the things that you need to for your mental health. Sometimes you know exactly what you need to do, but the drive, the motivation, is completely gone. Some days (or most days for many people) it’s hard enough to find the will to get out of bed, let alone take care of yourself in the ways that other people are telling you to.
If you find that you are in that situation, start small. Talk to someone you trust. If you don’t have someone to talk to, find an online support group or telehealth provider that you can text or call if you’re up to it.
I know this blog might feel a little all over the place, but I really just want to share my story and to encourage others to share theirs so that you know you aren’t alone. When you reach out about the problems that you are dealing with every day–and it doesn’t just have to be related to mental health–you’ll find that there is a community out there that understands what you are going through.
Take that first step. Just talk to someone. Because your health matters. You are loved, and you matter.