MHAM Post #11: Corinne

This piece is written by someone that I’ve known during many stages of her life. Corinne has been a friend that I can honestly say I have grown with. I have known her since high school, and together we have experienced all of the ups and downs that come with your teens and 20s.

My favorite thing about our friendship, is that I can honestly say I’ve watched her learn and grow into herself over the years. She has become such a mature, self-aware person and it shows in her writing. 

I liked that, in a sense, her story contrasts the previous story, with regards to her opinions on medication. She also touches on her experience with therapy, and other coping mechanisms shes learned over the years. 

Read her experience here: 

It was my senior year of college. I came back to school after a summer that felt like an eternity of missing “The Promised Land” and mourning the breakup of a college relationship that, for some reason, shook me more than I ever imagined a short-lived relationship could. Going back to JMU after being at home for the summer was the best feeling in the whole world (I know all my Dookz can agree). It was then, upon the return to my favorite place, that I started experiencing what I would soon learn was my anxiety, something I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

I remember exactly what I was doing the first time I felt this then unfamiliar feeling, which I now know to be a panic attack. I was walking into the library, up to the front desk to check out a laptop. As I approached the front desk, I felt my heart begin to race. I became increasingly hot. The floor felt like it was moving below me, and I experienced an out-of-body feeling that I had never experienced before, for what seemed like no reason. I felt like I was crawling out of my skin. I felt like I needed to escape as soon as humanly possible, like I was in danger or something.  I thought it was weird, but ultimately I brushed it off.

It wasn’t until these feelings started to appear, not just in the library, but also on the bus going to class, while giving presentations, and while doing seemingly “relaxing” activities, like eating with my friends in the dining hall, that I started to become worried about what was happening to my body. (Side note: all of these were place I had previously THRIVED…I mean I AM a Leo SO you know…).

Krump was actually the first person who told me that what I was experiencing sounded like anxiety. I’ll never forget laying in my bed in Forest Hills googling “symptoms of anxiety” on WebMD, a website that, once I actually learned I had anxiety, I’d never visit ever again (hello hypochondria). I remember thinking, “holy shit, this is it, this is all of what I have been feeling”. And then I felt scared. What does this mean? Why do I feel this way? How do I make it stop?

Luckily in college, you’re surrounded by friends and LOTS of booze. So much so, that admitting to my roommate that the only time I didn’t feel anxious was when I was drunk, felt so casual to me. That fact didn’t actually scare me until I was out of college, and drinking until you can’t feel anything isn’t really a normal life coping method anymore.

Fast forward almost 5 years later and here I am, still learning new things about my anxiety and what comes along with it every single day. Sometimes I think I have it totally under control. I think that the 5th antidepressant/antianxiety medication I have tried and now take religiously, the seemingly healthy food I am putting into my body, the chamomile tea I drink both at night and during the day (I almost threw a fit when someone at work wanted to get rid of the sleepy time tea because “who needs that during work”.. umm hello anxious people do!), the 9 PM grandma bedtimes, my Himalayan salt lamp, my adult coloring book, my lavender candle, and the meditation, have somehow made my anxiety disappear. But then, BAM, I’m hit with a brain zap that comes with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness, fear, worry and my least favorite, the out-of-body feeling I referenced earlier.

That’s the sneaky thing about anxiety though…just when you think you have it under control, it’s there hiding in the darkness, just waiting to come out. It appears when I am at brunch, laughing and enjoying time with my friends. It appears when I am driving down the highway. It appears when I am alone at night. It appears when I am grocery shopping. It appears when I am watching TV. It appears at times I can’t always explain.

Now let’s get to the positive side of things! I have spent a lot of time thinking about the differences between the ways that I used to cope with my anxiety versus how I cope with it now, and I feel like I can finally pat myself on the back. The people closest to me always say I never give myself enough credit, so here I am. I’m working on it! For starters, less than a year ago, I also was petrified of medication. I had some of the worst days of my life while on antidepressants that were pushed on me in the past, and I didn’t think medicine was the answer for me. Turns out, once you find a doctor who truly listens to you and genuinely cares about your well-being, this can change. I take my anxiety medication two times a day, and I can genuinely say it has changed my life for the better. Of course, I still have my moments where my anxiety creeps up on me like I described before, and it still happens way more often than the average person, but believe it or not, the number of these instances have decreased significantly. I can actually breathe again.

Less than a year ago, I was constantly looking for life situations to blame my anxiety on and so did my ex-therapist.  She taught me to search for answers or reasons as to why I felt this way. Like maybe it was just my post-grad anxiety/depression (my doctor said she saw so many people for this, so it must be true right!?). Maybe it was the toxic two-year relationship I was in. Or maybe it was the aftermath of the breakup of that toxic relationship. Or maybe it was the fact that my physical health is all sorts of fucked up and that carries so many unknowns. Or maybe it’s because I was transitioning jobs, or my work environment wasn’t good… this list could go on forever. Telling her about an experience I had with sexual assault was like a goldmine for her, because she was convinced she had found the answer to all of my anxieties. In reality, this wasn’t the case at all (hence the “ex” in ex-therapist). She made me feel like anxiety was something you could “fix” but it’s not. It’s actually quite the opposite. While, of course, the experiences I shared with her do play a part in the state of my mental health, even when I can’t recognize it, addressing those experiences doesn’t mean they, or my anxieties as a result of those experiences, suddenly go away. I now know that my anxiety has always been with me, it just chose the year 2012 to come out in full force.

And finally after all this thinking (it’s what us anxious people do best right!?), the #1 thing my journey has taught me, is that despite anxiety being a part of me, I am not “anxious all day every day for no apparent reason at all” like I used to believe I was. In the past, I was convinced that every ounce of my body felt anxious at every second of every day. I used to only noticed the times when I wasn’t anxious, in the same way people who don’t have generalized anxiety disorder only notice the times that they are anxious.

Since then, I have grown to learn how my past and present experiences have shaped me as a person, and how they have shaped my anxiety. I have learned what many of my triggers are, and how to talk myself off the ledge when I feel myself ramping up. I have switched from having the mindset of blaming my anxiety, to accepting it. My anxiety will always be part of me. There will always be time when it hits me and I can’t explain it. And it will never be “fixed”, but I know one thing is for sure, my anxiety does not define me and yours does not define you either.

**Disclaimer: I still think that therapy is one of the best things a person can do for their mental health, despite my personal experiences thus far. I know my prefect therapist is out there somewhere, just gotta find him or her!