The fear in my heart

Let’s get this out in the open right away. For years, I have suffered with anxiety and depression. It’s been a very tough and enlightening journey for me.

I know a lot of people might be tired of hearing about these mental issues and might find them annoying or trivial, but it’s a very real problem. I think ignoring the fact that there are a lot of us who suffer from these conditions is problematic.

I’d like to talk about my personal battle and allow others to relate and know they’re not alone in their struggle. I’d also like to offer some advice to those who might be starting their battle or who don’t have any methods of getting through it.

My first brush with severe anxiety was at the age of 14, just before my sophomore year of high school. It began when I had a pinched nerve just behind my left shoulder. A pinched nerve to an anxiety-ridden hypochondriac is not a pinched nerve. It’s every type of ailment that exists, from Lyme disease to bone cancer.

Yes, I know how silly that sounds. It even sounds silly to me now that it has been several years, but the anxiety in the moment is terrifying. I lost a lot of sleep. I was constantly drained, both physically and mentally.

The same type of hypochondriac anxiety gripped me just before my freshman year of college. My anxiety got so bad that I developed Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, otherwise known as GERD, and I also lost around 20 pounds. A lot of people don’t realize that anxiety can manifest itself physically, which is why a lot of anxious people are jittery and tend to have shaky hands.

Sadly, anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand. If you have problems with anxiety, it’s likely you have problems with depression too. At least, that’s how it went for me.

My biggest bout with depression started when I was 19—just a few years ago. It was definitely sudden. I had never dealt with anything so painful before, and it took its toll on me.

It’s a battle in and of itself to get out of bed, or to convince yourself to go to class. Even talking to people can be a struggle. I won’t make light of it. It’s a lot of tears, a lot of panic, a lot of hopelessness and a lot of wondering if life is still worth living. Depression is a darkness that a simple light can’t get rid of. It’s hard to deal with, but it is doable. Hopefully the methods that help me get through my problems can be helpful for you as well.

One of the reasons I love writing is because it’s incredibly therapeutic. Writing about your problems can help put them into perspective. Journaling is great for anxiety. But you don’t have to restrict it to just what you’re dealing with. Write about the positive things that happen during your day. Write about things that you want to do. Really, write about anything you want. Don’t hesitate to express yourself.

I see a counselor fairly regularly. If you have the means and the health insurance to do so, you should. Talking to someone who is completely detached from your personal life allows you to get advice from someone viewing you from the outside. This means that their advice is objective rather than subjective—something that can be immensely helpful, since the advice is built with logic rather than emotion. It has been very beneficial for me, and I have no doubt that it can be beneficial for others.

Now this one is iffy, and it’s the one option that usually makes people a little uncomfortable. I’ve been on medication for a few years now. If you have considered trying medication, you have to realize that these are not miracle pills. Taking an antidepressant does not make you instantly happy. However, they help to calm you down so that you can use other methods to cope with your problems. They toned down my anxiety enough for me to put other methods in place so that I could start dealing with my problems in a healthy way. If you are uncomfortable with the idea of taking medication, don’t force yourself. It’s a big decision and one that is left entirely up to you. Regardless of what side you’re on, talk to your doctor anyway. You may learn something new.

Do I even need to explain this one? Music is a beautiful thing. When you’re feeling down, play something you love. Put your headphones on and tune out if you need to. It may sound backwards, but listening to sad music when you’re depressed can actually be quite helpful. Maybe you just need something to relate to. Maybe you want something to cry to, and that’s perfectly okay. Hey, it might even make you sick of all the mopey stuff!

This one is crucial. My doctor explained anxiety to me in a very understandable way. Humans have lost a lot of their original animal instinct. Because we usually aren’t living in environments where our fight-or-flight responses are constantly triggered, most of our energy goes unused. This becomes a problem when we have anxiety. It’s basically like having too much adrenaline in our systems with no outlet. Exercise allows us to use up energy that’s sitting inside of us. Working out isn’t just for physical health. It does wonders for mental health too.

This one is self-explanatory. Just stop what you’re doing, stop thinking and breathe. Fill your lungs to their capacity slowly and exhale slowly. Concentrate on nothing but the breath. You’ll be surprised how much it can help calm you down.