this week, i’ve been thinking a lot about anxiety and depression, and how to normalize it, how to own it. these conditions, these afflictions, they are REAL, and they are something that so, so many people struggle with, and hide, and feel ashamed of.
i’m done feeling this way.
guys, i have anxiety.
and i want to share my story with you all today, in hopes that it will be a light in the often dark, dark world of mental illness.
when Jord and i first moved to Vermillion, we were newly married (barely one month into our marriage!), and we were both embarking on new adventures: i was attending graduate school in English literature and teaching at the local university, and Jord accepted (literally a week or so before our wedding!) a new position in athletic development for the fundraising body for the university. we were living in a new city, an hour away from our families and friends, and we were navigating newlywed life together.
once graduate school began and the academic year ramped up, my perfectionist tendencies – that i was able to keep in check (for the most part) in my undergraduate years – heightened considerably. with each novel or reading that was assigned, and with each student essay that hit my grading pile, i lost more and more of my ability to endure what felt like (to me) falling short.
if i didn’t underline or annotate or seek to fully understand each sentence of each novel or critical reading that i was assigned in my graduate courses, i felt like i wasn’t qualified to seek a master’s degree. if i didn’t circle every grammatical error or imprecise topic sentence in my students’ essays, i felt like i wasn’t trying hard enough or doing enough to help my students to succeed.
as you can guess, these feelings – of failure, of doubt, of constantly seeking to do more, to be more – took a toll.
Jord was a first-hand witness to all of these feelings. he was the ear to which i confessed all of my stress, the shoulder on which i leaned, the face to whom i looked to for support, for comfort, for safety.
but i felt like i was failing him, too.
here we were – newlyweds! – and i couldn’t even muster enough energy at the end of the day to stay awake during a movie, to hold his hand in mine as we munched on popcorn.
my anxiety finally reached a breaking point in February of 2011, when, in the midst of teaching a new course and taking my own classes with seemingly even higher demands, i remember feeling helpless, like i didn’t possess any skills whatsoever to cope with my new reality – my teaching assistantship, my graduate coursework, my marriage. and in that moment, i remember Jord taking my hands in his and recommending that i seek therapy.
Jord came with me to that first appointment, and he held my hands as i cried to the therapist at our local hospital about the way that i had been feeling, and the toll that these feelings were taking on my life. i truly feel that seeking help was the first step in managing my anxiety, for without my weekly therapy appointments, which i participated in faithfully until the end of 2012, i’m not sure that i would have been able to find the light in the dark tunnel that i was trapped inside.
the other tool that helped me then, and that still aids me now, is medication.
i take a little blue pill every morning, before i guzzle my coffee, and i’ve done this every morning since 2011.
in the early weeks and months after i began my weekly therapy sessions, i also had what my therapist called my “emergency medication,” which was fast-acting and effective in quickly calming my anxious tendencies. i remember carrying this medication with me in my purse everywhere i went, and i remember reaching for this pill a few times, when often unexplainable feelings of overwhelm or failure would bubble up.
after a while, my emotions began to even out, and i felt comfortable and confident moving forward in my graduate studies, my teaching assistantship, my marriage – my life – without the emergency medication in my purse. Jord and i began to seriously discuss starting a family, and shortly after that, we were expecting our Lionel.
i took medication for my anxiety during both of my pregnancies, with Lionel and with Quincy. while my doctors placed me on a different brand of medication during these time periods of pregnancy and breastfeeding, i faithfully took my low-dose anxiety medication each morning of both of my sons’ entire existence, both on the inside and in the outside world. and i’ll do it again, should we decide to have another child eventually.
even in light of the emotion-ridden and utterly painful guilt of the doctor’s misdiagnosis for the reasoning for Quincy’s brief NICU stay, i know that the medication that i take each morning saved me many times over.
it allowed me to complete my graduate studies. it allowed me to re-engage in my marriage. it allowed me to even consider becoming a mother. it allowed me to cope with the guilt that i unnecessarily felt for Quincy’s short stint in the NICU. and it allows me, still today, to be the mother and the wife and the Sara that i want to be.
anxiety is something that may have brought me to my knees time and again in my adult life, but it’s also something that i manage on a daily basis. i do so with the support of my family and friends, my colleagues, my faith, and yes, my medication. my anxiety is not shameful – it’s a point of strength for me, for if i didn’t endure such struggle, i wouldn’t feel such triumph.