I have dealt with anxiety for most of my life; my earliest memory feeling particularly anxious was sometime in high school when I was enrolled in a stressful international baccalaureate program. For a teenager who didn’t know who she wanted to be or what she wanted to do with her life, it was a lot of coursework with no room for creativity (save for scheming to get out of school or extend deadlines). So you can imagine the anxiety that fit itself in between research papers and social awkwardness.
The first time I ever acknowledged it to other people, and actually said the word “anxiety” in relation to me, was to my coworker while I was working as a part-time waitress at a Japanese restaurant. She brought up that she doesn’t like answering the phone because it made her anxious and I told her that happens to me too. It was the first time I realized anxiety was a more common occurrence than just “whenever things got too stressful.”
But it wasn’t until late last year (I graduated high school nine years ago) that I realized I needed help. After a series of unfortunate, but totally unrelated and random events, I noticed getting into and staying in a car for a drive was difficult for me. My chest would tighten, I felt like my breaths got shorter and I kept imagining the worst things would happen to me while I was stuck in that car. For a while, I dreaded leaving my house to go anywhere. I never made excuses to stay in, but I would feel that dread every time. This happened for a week or two before I eventually got tired of it. Literally. I would feel physically exhausted from carrying that dread all day. When I noticed that the exhaustion was keeping me from what I wanted to do (that day or in life), I decided to find help.
Since this was the first time I ever decided to seriously seek counseling, I had to do a lot of research. A friend who worked with counseling elementary students recommended I find a licensed mental health counselor or LMHC, and to go through whatever database my insurance may have. I found a counselor whose office was nearby and had great recommendations, so I scheduled an appointment.
I started seeing this older male counselor in January and I stopped seeing him by March. I point out that he is an older male because I know now his life experiences hindered him from understanding my life experiences and giving advice accordingly. What he had to offer for help was appreciated, but after the third session, I knew there was no need to go back when his only advice was to “get a job.” He did, however, point out that I was mentally healthy because despite the dread of getting into a car, I managed to do it every day anyway.
I’ve gone more than half year without therapy and it has been quite an experience of mental back flips and cartwheels. I was too anxious to find another socially/culturally unaware counselor (he often told me he avoided the news and advised I should too) who would only make me doubt myself again and send me spiraling. Thanks to World Mental Health Day, I read a lot of articles published by a number of respectable publications that made me reassess the benefits of therapy and I’m happy to say I already reached out to a new counselor (a female one this time)!
I don’t feel dread getting into a car as frequently anymore; I’ve been good about meditating and practicing breathing techniques to help that. But I’m realizing that as I grow and learn more about the way my mind works, there are other things I have to unlearn – and that’s totally okay.
If you struggle with anxiety, depression or any other mental health symptoms, please don’t be afraid to speak about it and ask for help. Finding a counselor and going to a session might actually be the easiest part, telling my friends and my family was pretty difficult. I had some friends treat me like they would decide when I needed some self-control because they thought they knew me better than I knew myself. I had both my parents tell me they thought I was overreacting to a little stress (not surprising because this is how Filipino-Americans typically handle mental health). To this day, I suggest so many people – friends and family alike – seek therapy or counseling just to take some weight off their minds and shoulders, and I’m met with silence.
Mental health is a serious concern and should be met with sincerity. I share my story because I want people to know that yes, it is difficult to share struggles, but it is possible and it is healing. If you are met with indifference or denial, know that those are not your only options. If you need help, please feel free to ask and check out some interesting reads below (a lot are specific to me as a person, but it’s still great reading with a lot of great information):