As I was finishing my second year of University in 2018, my dad was diagnosed with stomach cancer. My dad had been feeling sick for a few weeks before that, but the last thing I thought I would hear was that he was in for the battle of his life. Six days later he passed away. I was having a hard time processing the fact that he was really sick, but now I had to wrap my head around the fact that he was never coming home.
I never took any time off work to process my father’s death and take the time to go through the grieving process. Looking back I don’t think I wanted to come to terms with the fact that this was reality. I thought that if I kept myself busy and didn’t really think about it, that it would be easier for me to deal with. At first this did work, but once I started my third year of University in September of that same year, that’s when I noticed my mental health taking a downslide.
Midterm season is a stressful time for many students. As the stress of school kept becoming a heavier load, it took a bigger toll on my mental health. I couldn’t control my emotions and I was getting these anxious feelings. Soon these feelings started to affect my social life. I started isolating myself from my friends and the outside world, except for when I had to go to work or go to class. I found going out in public was very triggering, especially in large crowds of people. My heart would begin racing and I would feel lightheaded.
The nights were the hardest because that’s when my brain would flood with thoughts.There were many nights I laid listening to my brain ramble on about every aspect of my life, every detail of my days until the sun would rise. I felt like I was trapped inside my own thoughts with no way out. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not turn them off.
I knew I was getting to my breaking point but I thought I could figure it all out on my own.
I remember the first time I experienced an anxiety attack, it happened while I was waiting in line at Costco with my mom. It was a busy day and I could feel myself getting ancy. I began to feel my chest tightening, almost like I was suffocating on my own air. I knew I had to get outside away from all the people and breathe in fresh air. By the time my mom ran after me I started hyperventilating, and I could feel my heart beating out of my chest.
I was so scared because I didn’t know what was happening. She told me to focus on my breathing and finally after a few minutes I caught my breath. My mom also deals with anxiety and I was really glad that I was with someone who understood what was happening to me.
That was the day I realized that I had to ask for help. I told my mom what I had been experiencing and she put me in touch with a psychologist. I was nervous to go the very first time, I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t like the idea of talking about the way I was feeling with another person. But after the first session I was so thankful that she was there for me and I felt like a huge load had been lifted from my shoulders.
She explained that I was experiencing symptoms of anxiety and she believed that those had been brought on by delayed grief of the loss of my father. My psychologist helped me identify what the triggers were for my anxiety attacks and gave me breathing exercises to do that would help regulate my breathing when I felt one coming on.
She also had me complete a journal everyday. When I would wake up in the morning, I would set three goals for myself that I wanted to complete and three things that I’m thankful for. I found doing this really lifted my spirits and put the important things into perspective. I would see what I had accomplished that day and it made me really happy to see the progress I was making.
It hasn’t been an easy road until this point but I’m so happy to say it has been a year and one month since my last anxiety attack. I still have days where I experience anxiety symptoms but instead of pushing myself to the point I’m overwhelmed, I stop what I’m doing and focus on my breathing.
I continue to write down three goals I want to accomplish by the end of my day to keep myself on track and I find this really helps. Instead of thinking about the many things I have to do that day, I just focus on three things that I want to get done and I find this doesn’t overwhelm my brain.
This week May 4th until May 10th is Mental Health Awareness Week. I’m happy that mental health is beginning to be regarded as being as important as physical health, but I also believe that it needs to continue being discussed more. There is still a stigma around mental illnesses and that’s why so many of us dealing with mental illnesses don’t reach out for help.
You ARE important.
You are NOT broken.
You are NOT in this battle alone.
Make that first step by asking for help. It may be scary but I can promise you, you will feel so much better once you take that first step towards recovery. There will be mountains to move, everyday won’t be filled with smiles, but you will grow stronger and you will realize there are better days ahead.