In the age of social media, we have the power to curate our lives in the way that we’d like them to be seen. While social media is supposed to keep us closer than ever, we really only share the highlight reel of our lives. “Look, I have so many friends!”, “Look, I’m traveling to a new destination!”, “Look at all the amazing food I’m eating!” We’ve accepted that we don’t talk or post about our darker days — the days of disappointment, or the days when you’re struggling with an issue. And recently, I began to notice that when I was supposed to be feeling the most connected to my friends, my peers, and the people I admired, I actually felt the most alone and disconnected. Was everyone really having the best day of their lives every single day? To me, it seemed like it.
I felt some brief relief when people in the public eye shared truthful, personal stories, or opened up about a struggle or spoke passionately about a raw experience. When I heard Selena Gomez talk about her struggle to accept herself or Kristen Bell discuss depression or Lena Dunham reveal her battle with endometriosis, I suddenly felt like these were real people that I could actually relate to. No one’s life could possibly be so perfect all the time. It was a breath of fresh air.
I began to question my own authenticity. Was I guilty of sugar-coating my own life experiences? Was there something in my own life that I could share to help connect with people on a deeper level? The harsh truth: absolutely.
I do not believe that we are obliged to share our innermost secrets with the public. But I did feel that there was something I was ready to share with the world.
Not only were my palms sweaty, my heart would pound.
So here’s my truth: I have anxiety. There, I said it. If you check my Instagram or Twitter, you will quickly notice that I am an ambassador for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. I post frequently about changing the narrative around mental illness and have vowed to be stigma-free. These posts are about acceptance, awareness, and inclusion. However, I never mention my own personal battle with anxiety. I realized that I had the same fear of judgment and stigma that I was pledging against. So in honor of deepening my pledge to NAMI and being my most authentic self with you all, I’m going to share my story.
At 14 years old, I noticed in my 9th grade English class that my hands were getting increasingly sweaty. Not only were my palms sweaty, my heart would pound. I often felt like I wanted to run out of the door and never come back. At first, I didn’t think much of it. I shrugged it off for a few months, but it soon became so bad that I didn’t want to go to English class at all. There was a huge fear of even walking into the classroom. I didn’t want my grades to suffer from whatever was happening to me, so I reached out to my parents and told them what was going on. It was the best decision I ever made. They found someone, a mental health professional, for me to talk to and together we discovered that I had an anxiety disorder.
From that moment on, I became a fighter. I was never going to let my anxiety stop me from doing the things that I wanted to do. I began to collect “tools for my toolbox.” That toolbox is a collection of methods of treatment that work for me when I’m feeling anxious. I’ve tried acupuncture, journaling, meditation, CBT therapy, exercise, hypnotherapy, deep breathing relaxation, visualization, and just about every other method of treatment available for anxiety. It’s been 9 years of trial and error, but I’ve figured out what works best for me. I have about 4-5 different methods at my disposal at any time. Those tools give me the confidence to walk through life and know that whenever my anxiety strikes, I know how to handle it.
If you'd told my 14-year-old, scared-of-going-to-English-class self that I would someday graduate college, start my own company, have healthy, positive relationships. and be an overall happy person, I wouldn’t have believed you. At the beginning, it really felt impossible to ever recover or find a place of calm within myself. Even now, I have moments when my anxiety tells me, “You’ll never win this fight.” While I may have anxiety for the rest of my life, every day that I push myself (even if it’s just stepping outside for the day), I’m winning.
I truly believe that everything happens for a reason. My struggle with anxiety has allowed me to become an ambassador for NAMI and to become a voice for those who feel like they’re struggling in silence. If you’re struggling right now, I want you to know that you are not alone. My days are not easy either. I push and fight every day, just like you — something you don’t see on social media.
We are warriors because the struggle we go through is often not seen or understood. But if I’ve learned anything over the past 9 years, it’s that there is always hope. If you feel anxious, depressed, stressed, or out of control, you do not have to stay that way. You can build your own tool kit for taking care of your mental health. It all starts with taking that first step towards recovery. While that may seem impossible or scary, know that you are absolutely supported and not in this fight alone.
For more information about mental health — and for resources for dealing with anxiety — visit NAMI.ORG.