by Christy Gualtieri
It never really goes away, you know. I think that’s what I want to tell you the most.
Have you ever seen those pharmaceutical commercials where the person (usually cartoon-animated) has a chronic illness, and that illness is personified somehow? Like it’s a creature in the shape of a bladder or an elephant or a cloud. And it suffocates the person, or sits on their chest so they can’t breathe, or they’re pulling the person endlessly toward the bathroom (that would be the cartoon bladder). After the person gets fed up and takes whatever medicine the commercial is promoting, the chronic issue is still there. It might be smaller, or have a smiley face, or is now led around on a leash (that would be the elephant), but it’s always still there.
Anxiety always is, too. I don’t know what my anxiety would look like, if you asked me to personify it. But it comes and goes, too – it’s not that special. It’s like any other chronic illness. When things are going well and I’m on top of my self-care game, then it hangs back. But when I’m angry or tired or something stressful occurs, it’s like it’s gotten the signal from the coach to jump back in the game, stronger than ever. And the feelings are the same: near panic. Aching body. Shorter breaths. Quicker tears.
It is better now that I know what it is. Before I knew I had anxiety, it would scare me, not being able to control it. I’d despair because I’d put the work in – I’d go to sessions, I’d try changing up my diet and exercising and drinking more water, I’d take deeper breaths and stay off my phone more – but it wasn’t going away.
But that’s the secret. It doesn’t ever go away.
When I realized that, I felt free.
When my mother passed away, I read somewhere that grief “never stops hurting. Over time, it hurts with the same intensity, just less frequently.” And so it is with my anxiety, too. I know the signs. I have strategies ready for when it gets really bad. And when it does, I rely on grace, those strategies, and the love of my family and friends to get through the days. And I get through to the other side.
That’s the other secret. There is another side. Maybe you don’t think there is one. Maybe you think it’s going to be like this forever. And I understand that; anxiety and depression can trick you into thinking it’s always going to be terrible, that you’ll never see the light. But you will. There is another side. There is a way out. It’s going to take work, but most things that are worth anything do. Is it fair? No. Is it your fault? No. But it’s reality, just like it’s a reality that you can and will get through it.
We’re wrapping up Mental Health Awareness month, and if you’ve been looking for a good time to reach out to someone to get you back on solid ground again, I really encourage you to try. If you’ve been in therapy for a while, keep going – keep pushing, keep talking, keep striving. Drink that water. Get that sunlight. Create those strategies, and pull them out when you need them. No shame.
When you’re feeling better, encourage others. Shine your light on them. When you’re in darkness, rely on others to pull you through, and accept their light. And know that we are with you, every step of the way! Thanks for reading and being a light to me, too.
Until next time, be well!