I’ve suffered from anxiety and depression pretty badly in the past, but now, I don’t suffer, I “experience” it.
At it’s worst, I was unable to get out of bed or even answer questions from people. I’d had counseling on and off for a few years, so I knew that I needed to get some help. It was at my lowest point that I saw my GP and chose to use a combination of medication and counseling to address the problems. The medication helped to level out the symptoms so I could get to the point where I could visit my psychologist and do the work I needed to do with them.
It all came to a head in the most unlikely of places – a sun-drenched tropical island in beautiful Northern Queensland.
I’d been off the medication for a few months when I landed a music gig in Northern Queensland. After a couple of days, I completely fell apart. I was out of my routine and out of my comfort zone. I felt isolated and alone. Every day I’d wake up with my stomach in a huge black, matted knot. I could clearly visualize it. I felt panicked, overwhelmed and paralyzed by anxiety. I couldn’t move to get out of bed.
After about four days of waking up the same way (in what felt like Groundhog day), I knew things had to change.
I couldn’t make the physical feelings go away, so I decided to take control of what I could. I could move, so I decided to take my body for a walk. I put my iPod on and started to explore the island. I found a dirt track and walked…. for a long time. As I wandered further into the dense forest, I realized that I was surrounded by a multitude of beautiful butterflies. It was a total changing point for me. I just stood there and let them fly around me and even land on me. It was right at that point that I started my gratitude practice. I suddenly realised that it’s impossible to be overwhelmed, angry or anxious at the same time as feeling grateful. The feeling of gratitude erases those negative feelings.
I kept walking. I felt a strange feeling and knew that I wasn’t ready to go back to my room. It was like I was about to have another panic attack. Something kept be from going back to the resort though; something was incomplete.
I got to the edge of the dirt path and felt a huge wave of grief come over me. I started sobbing uncontrollably. At the same time, I remember thinking, “I’m not going to drop to my knees; I’m going to stand on my own two feet.” I stood bent over and sobbing – with snot and tears going everywhere while I let go of years of pent up ‘stuff.’ I don't know how long I was there like that for, but I finally stood upright, took some deep breaths and slowly walked back.
Years later, I still sometimes wake up with that anxious feeling, but I’ve learned that it’s energy – fuel I can use to propel myself forward. I’ve become friends with it.
I now practice breathing and (semi-regular) mediation, but the main thing that helps me is regular exercise. I couldn’t do without it. I’ve changed my vocabulary too – I now say that I ‘experience’ anxiety, not ‘suffer’ it.
Anxiety, or whatever the issue is that you’re facing – it’s all just part of the full catastrophe of life!
I’ve learned to embrace anxiety. Doing the work with my therapist over the years has shown me that once you’ve made friends with it, no one can take that away from you. It’s like learning to ride a bike by yourself for the first time – something you’ve accomplished by working hard, that you now have the confidence to handle. That’s why I firmly believe that therapy is such a valuable investment in yourself. If I had my way, it would be free for everyone.
I’ve been conscious of sharing this story in the past and haven’t done so because a voice in my head was saying that people might use it against me – think that I was telling my story to get attention, trying to build my audience or to get more people to buy my product. But now that we’re doing Mental Health Month for the month of May, it felt right. It’s my hope that anyone with similar experiences or issues might feel less alone when they hear this story; realise that it’s common thing and that there is support and help out there.
I’d love to hear any comments that you’re open to sharing your experiences. Let’s keep this conversation going.