When I first wanted to learn more about mental health, I turned to articles written in the lifestyle sections of news sources like Refinery29 and Man Repeller so I could hear a first-hand account of symptoms individuals experienced and how they dealt with them. What I often saw in these articles was an individual who had undergone a rocky period concerning their mental health and who, by the end of the article, found themselves in a better place; they had been healed from their ailment.
This perception of being sick versus being well was what I had when I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and OCD features. My focus centered on “getting better” which meant doing everything I could think of and what was recommended to me to “heal.” It’s the same way you’re told to drink more fluids when you have a cold, only I would go on runs more, or cover pages of a journal with my thoughts and feelings, since it was supposed to help ease my anxiety symptoms and OCD compulsions.
It’s the same way you’re told to drink more fluids when you have a cold, only I would go on runs more, or cover pages of a journal with my thoughts and feelings
While some suggestions have helped, I still have days where I’m over come with nausea, shakiness, a rapid heart beat and where my compulsions become an hours long fixation. Sometimes there is a clear reason and other times these symptoms seem to arise as if from nowhere. These are the days where I struggle to figure out how some moments I can feel genuinely happy and carefree and others I feel discouraged and anxious about every aspect of my life. How can I reconcile both of these genuine but different emotions within one person?
There existed, in my mind, a dichotomy of sad and happy people, so because I was often bubbly and positive around others, I thought I must belong to the happy category. My first response was to fix the sad, anxious person that also existed. Make her run, make her journal, make her talk about her feelings– force her to fix herself! When I realized that no matter how much I journaled or ran or talked about my feelings that I would still have days “in the depths of despair” as my high school self used to refer to them, I had to rethink what I thought being a happy or sad person really meant.
I thought I must belong to the happy category. My first response was to fix the sad, anxious person that also existed.
One of the problems is that I often think I’m a fraud, swaying from thinking my happiness is frivolous to thinking that I’m making a bigger deal out of my anxiety than what it is. If I were really so happy some moments than I couldn’t be so sad other moments, I thought, it just isn’t possible to have these two extremes so closely mingled together.
I’ve had to learn that one emotion does not cancel out the other. I try to remember in the happy moments what it was that made me happy to remind myself that the emotion is not only real but that I also deserve to be happy. I also have to remember that just because I’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness doesn’t mean I’ve been sentenced to only a life of sadness and anxiety.
I also started the practice of recognizing my emotions as outside of myself. Instead of saying “I’m anxious” I say “okay here’s that anxious feeling again, but it’s just a feeling.” It implies that what I’m feeling isn’t eternal and that it will pass and it helps it from becoming all consuming. The same concept works when I have anxious thoughts, instead of saying “I think my friend is mad at me and I hate that and what if they hate me forever…” and cue spiral, I say instead to that thought “okay that’s a thought that’s all it is, its an anxious thought and not the truth.” This aids in breaking down the dichotomy and seeing myself less as my emotions.
Instead of saying “I’m anxious” I say “okay here’s that anxious feeling again, but it’s just a feeling.”
When I felt genuinely happy again, after years of feeling inadequate, I started to fear that it was only my circumstances that made me happy and that I hadn’t really achieved any real progress myself. Amidst the highs there was a fear of the lows that I’m still coming to terms with in order to reconcile the happy and sad within and being okay with all of it.
So I’m not saying I’m “healed,” for me I think there isn’t a specific destination of healed but an ever-winding path of getting better, having setbacks and getting better again. I don’t need to label myself as “healed and happy,” I just need to take each emotion one at a time, recognizing the importance of each, why they’re there and where I can take it moving forward.
I’ve tried to stop telling the anxious person within me to obsessively run, journal and talk about my feelings to hopefully avoid the lows. I’ve instead tried to ask her how she’s doing, feeling and how we can live harmoniously together. It’s an effort to have less of a happy versus sad person war within me and instead remind myself that this is a part of what makes up a whole person.