Jan. 22, 2019 - In college, I prided myself on doing well in my classes, being well-liked by my professors, and presenting a perfect façade to my fellow classmates. Little did they know, I was experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety on a daily basis. Sitting in class, my hands became clammy, my heartbeat would begin to feel strange, and my head would get foggy. I would fidget around, adjusting myself in my seat.
I always assumed I must have looked as miserable as I felt, but to my surprise, no one ever seemed to suspect anything was out of the ordinary.
My anxiety symptoms also often presented themselves at night. While my roommate slept, I lay awake in bed, my thoughts racing, and anxious energy running through my body.
After I told my roommate about my symptoms she was the first person to recommend to me, in a supportive way, that I should consider taking antidepressant medication.
Initially, I dismissed her advice. I barely took Advil without worrying about potential side effects. The conversation we had, though, inspired me to make an appointment with the campus counseling center. I was mortified by the fact that it was located in the same building as a number of other student activities, but I pushed myself to go anyway.
During my appointment, I found myself presenting the same façade I had mastered. The counselor remarked that he felt I was “doing really well.” Eager not to dig any deeper, I agreed.
My first job after college involved traveling, which made me feel nervous. I told myself I should be able to do the job without a problem, but the stress I experienced created a difficult roadblock. I spiraled downward into anxiety and depression, and ultimately, I resigned.
Soon after that, a romantic relationship ended on the same day my grandfather passed away. The combination of these two events made me feel so physically ill that I was unable to eat. I felt like I wanted to die. I fantasized about someone or something taking me away from the pain.
My appetite continued to be affected. The worst part was how many people complimented me on my body as I unhealthily lost weight. I realized I needed help.
I was in graduate school at the time, and there was a free counseling center on campus. This time, I was even more embarrassed to go, because the building stood off by itself.
But once again, I pushed myself to go.
The psychiatrist I met with recommended an antidepressant, and spent an hour describing how it could help. He even drew me a visual graph. He also discussed potential side effects in a realistic way that didn’t feel overwhelming. As I always had, I felt anxiety about possible side effects. But after making it through the first few weeks, my appetite came back, and I started to feel like myself again.
A few years later, I met my husband. When we first got together, I stopped taking medication, because I didn’t want him to know I needed it. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Discuss with your doctor before changing or stopping medication.] But after feeling my mental health symptoms return, I caved and told him my secret. I explained that I experienced anxiety and depression, and needed to take daily medication.
I was fully convinced he would tell me I was crazy, and dump me on the spot.
Instead, he was understanding and supportive.
After our wedding, I was on a newlywed high. My husband and I wanted to start a family, and as such, I made the decision to taper off medication, a decision my psychiatrist did not support. But as my anxiety and depressive thoughts worsened – and I started to feel like they were running my life again – I decided to go back to therapy, and attended weekly appointments after work.
One evening prior to a therapy appointment, I felt mentally and spiritually void, and wandered aimlessly outside. I sat down on a patch of grass and prayed. I looked up to see a small rainbow that had formed directly in front of me. I felt that the rainbow was God’s way of saying to me, “There is hope, and I’m here for you.” That was the first of three rainbows to present themselves to me over the course of the next month.
Still, my struggles with anxiety and suicidal thoughts persisted over the next year and a half, progressively getting worse, until I walked into a crisis check-in at a mental health facility.
As part of my outpatient treatment, I attended groups in which we’d talk about our feelings, and I met with a psychiatrist who prescribed me an antidepressant. I was then referred to an outpatient behavioral health clinic, and to a therapist in my area. Ultimately, I sought out my own psychiatrist, whom I now see. Through advocating for my needs to incorporate spirituality into my recovery, I was eventually referred to a Spiritual Mentor, who was pivotal in my recovery.
For the first time feel I have found a professional I truly respect in my psychiatrist, and I listen to her advice rather than overriding it. She knows my husband and I want to start a family. I feel confident she will be a tremendous support for me during that process.
I’ve found that having a stronger relationship with myself through therapy and spiritual direction has also benefitted the other relationships in my life. My marriage and family relationships are stronger than ever. I am much more aware of my own occasionally unhealthy thought patterns, and actively work with my doctor to manage them. While I still have highs and lows, I feel confident that I have the proper support in place to deal with them.
I’ll never forget the rainbows God sent me a few years ago, and I still smile every time I see one.