After I recently spoke out about my personal battles with anxiety, so many of you reached out and sent me your stories. All I could think of when I was reading them was, “it’s so comforting to know I’m not alone” and “I wish everyone could read these messages”. So with the permission of many of you who sent through your struggles, I bring to you this post, aptly titled Anxiety Anonymous, in the hope that you find some of the same strength in solidarity. You are normal, you are strong, you are not being dramatic or oversensitive and your anxiety is valid.
For those of you who don’t know much about anxiety and/or depression, I’d say there are two very important things to keep in mind more than anything else. The first is that they are medically recognised as actual illnesses. The same way you can have an illness in your respiratory system, your brain is an organ too and can behave differently based on that illness. In my personal experience, the “episodes” in which anxiety can manifest may be brought on through a trigger or completely spontaneously. As a condition, it can worsen over time, and the physical side effects can be tremendous. The irony of it all though is that this condition can cause sufferers to be successful in other areas (initially I was annoyed by Kanye West calling his Bipolar disorder a “superpower” but at the same time, I get it; my anxiety has driven me to overachieve many, many times, and I’m assuming that was his experience too).
The second thing to keep in mind about mental illnesses like anxiety and depression is that they are totally normal, deserved to be normalised, are incredibly common and they are treatable with medication and professional help. The latter should not be confused with lighting some candles or getting a massage – it’s not the same thing. Haniyyah, a mental health therapist from the US, responded to my Instagram stories about anxiety and depression, saying the following: “One thing I love sharing with people is that anxiety is the most common and therefore the most researched mental health disorder, so there are tons of treatments for it. If someone is suffering from anxiety or depression, they should know there’s a lot of help out there!”
I have found the South African Depression and Anxiety Group particularly helpful, and on their home page they feature a list of condition-specific toll-free hotlines, and also a list of condition-specific questionaires so you can test your own mental health (I currently feel like I’m in a great space in my own life, but I still hit a score that said I have high anxiety).
So here are a few excerpts of the stories I was sent. From the bad cases to the success stories, I hope they bring you some clarity, comfort and if you’re new to learning about anxiety and depression, some understanding (I like to think of it as a little online support group). But most of all, I hope that those of you suffering from a mental illness are inspired to get the help that you need, because you deserve to live your life as best as you can.
“I usually become anxious when I think about the future. It can either be long term or even for the week that’s coming. I also experience anxiety when people expect too much from me, or when I need help and nobody will help me, or before I have to ask someone something important. If my house is untidy I feel the most anxious, I need a sense of order in my life so being organised really helps. I plan things waaaay ahead of time, ALWAYS. This helps me feel secure in the days to come and gives me a sense of relief. Sometimes I have bouts of depression when nobody understands what I’m going through or when they think I’m being dramatic and that I’m stressing for no reason.
When I feel the anxiety or bouts of depression coming on I sit down and I breathe. Sometimes I really need to breathe hard because I struggle to catch my breath. It feels as if I’m suffocating even though I’m surrounded by fresh air. I usually take a calming tablet (brazepam really helps me). Some days I throw up if I really can’t handle anything, but I always pitch up and I always go to work and I always complete my tasks to the best of my ability. I believe this is my strength because even when I’m feeling sick I can still finish the important things. I get anxiety when I’m driving, too. So I usually pull over, convince myself that everything is okay and that I’m just overwhelmed by the traffic.” – Thaaneyah
“I grew up in a somewhat broken family with an immense amount of emotional abuse and, in some instances, physical abuse (I’ve mainly only witnessed the physical abuse, but I’ve been recently informed that there were a few instances where I was subject to physical abuse as a toddler). I’ve blocked out much of my childhood so I can’t say for sure. There are times where I get flashbacks of terrible things, but I try not to look into them. As a result of all that and knowing what I know now, I can say depression and anxiety has followed me my whole life. Panic attacks would come and go in the same way my stomach grumbles during the fast. I was under so much pressure to not be morbid, or to be social or to perform optimally all the while fighting this dark cloud over my head. My OCD would control my day-to-day life in so sneaky ways that I never picked up on but since practicing to overcome them, it made a huge difference it my performance. There were just so many things that would trigger me, that still do, sometimes even breathing is a trigger.
In the past I’d resort to cutting as a way to validate the pain I felt. I hardly ever let people close to me and I steer as far from relationships as I possible because I can’t even imagine anyone not walking out on me because I’m ‘too much’. A few years back things were getting to far out of hand and it was beyond what therapy could assist me with so I went to see a psychiatrist.
Two years ago I was then diagnosed with chronic depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, OCD and social anxiety. Since then I have been put on different types and dosages of medication to try to manage these disorders. I can’t emphasize enough just how much a diagnosis has help, before treatment even began. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulder because my entire life I felt as if my mind was just ‘being dramatic’ and I won’t lie, the closest people surrounding me also (unintentionally) made me feel as if you know, this is life and you just have to deal. So when I found out all these things about my mind, I felt better in the sense that, I knew what was wrong and that there are treatments out there to help me feel okay.
Since then, I can definitely say there has been improvements, even if it is small ones I am grateful. During tough times I keep thinking how much worse it could have gotten. And I am thankful for everyday that I manage to get myself up and busy with life.
There are, however, still times where my mind seems to beat my meds, or convinces me that I shouldn’t be on them, which is what I’m am currently trying to overcome. I see it as my version of ‘falling off the wagon’ and right now I am struggling to get back on. As long as my days are moving, I will continue fighting, if not for myself then as an example to others who are in a similar boat.” – Anonymous
“I just saw your insta story and want you to know I really appreciate
the awareness and safe space you’re creating for mental health
conditions. Anxiety is real but with the right help and support system in place,
it’s possible to emerge victoriously. I’ve recently been diagnosed
with anxiety and depression and by taking the steps in seeking help,
my quality of life has already and is still improving. Reading your story brought me comfort knowing I am not alone as it’s easy to feel completely isolated and misunderstood.” – Anonymous
“From another attempted high-jacking situation, (yes, it wasn’t a first for me), to an actual mugging to having my first ever car accident all in one week in December. And yes, I was okay, but it wasn’t a small one. Ever since these encounters, it’s been hard for me not to get on the same road (N2) every day, without having the exact same fear that was instilled when it took place. I felt like I was robbed. Not only of my personal belongings (when I was mugged my purse was taken and cash) but my independence was taken from me.
I used to pride myself in being ‘fearless’. A go-getter and being very committed to anything I set my mind to. After all of that, I was so afraid to even get in my car to go to a job or an event because of Fear. Fear that manifested itself as anxiety.
A night before a job or an event, when I’d know I’d have to get into my car and onto the N2, I’d struggle to sleep, my heart would beat unbelievably fast and sometimes struggle to breathe. The same scenarios would repeat itself over and over again in my brain and I’d remember how I felt IN that moment.
Things that I never struggled with before.
I slowly but surely trained my mind how to control my feelings, & even went as far as doing a NLP diploma coarse to re-programme my own mind and brain. I needed to learn certain breathing techniques to help me when and if it gets unbearable, and when it happens while o drive.
I still struggle, but it’s getting better. I never needed to go on any medication and I doubt I ever will, but I do know and have learned that it’s a process. My own process and I need to work through it as best as I possibly can. I won’t be robbed forever. And I know I’ll get through this. But my race, my pace.” – Mishka
“I’m currently in a clinic battling with depression and anxiety. I hate how this illness is not spoken about much in Islam. There is a stigma attahced to it with people saying “you are Muslim, how can you be depressed?!” The Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) went through an entire year of [sorrow] after his wife, Khadijah, passed. It is an illness from Allah like any other illness and no one would understand it unless they have lived it.” – Anonymous
“I have all of the symptoms you speak of and sometimes I find myself wanting to pass out. I start shaking when I speak and my hands and feet go ice cold. People say it’s because I over think and that I really need to get over it. Most people around me are supportive but they just don’t get it. I feel like it’s just getting worse and stopping me from living to my full potential.” – Anonymous
I hope this was useful, and if you’d like to see more posts about mental health, please let me know. If any of you want to share your own story about your battles with mental health, the times you overcame it or anything/anyone that helped you, the comment section is all yours.