Did you know that the most common mental health problem in the US is anxiety?
There are over 40 MILLION people in the US that are living with an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety is actually something that everyone experiences here and there in small doses. We can get nervous before giving a presentation, before taking a test, or when we are in a stressful situation. This type of anxiety is simply our body’s response to that situation, so that it can get prepped to better handle it (I’m sure you have heard about the fight-or-flight system).
But when the anxiety is so strong that you are constantly worrying and you have an overwhelming sense of fear over things that you should not be fearful of, then it’s a problem. That is when it becomes debilitating and can affect your daily life.
I’ve struggled with having overwhelming and debilitating anxiety since I was in middle school. Then on top of it, a lot of the time my “anxiety” would hit up it’s best friend “depression” so that they can link up and fuck with me even more.
Throughout my journey, I’ve had times where I felt like I had won the battle and cured the disease, and then times where I felt like I could not live like this any longer.
I had so many beautiful, amazing experiences: traveling the world, and meeting great people.
But, on the other hand, I also experienced extreme darkness in a countless number of nervous breakdowns, where I stopped eating and sleeping. I couldn’t even leave my room, let alone the house. I had regular panic attacks, hyperventilating to the point where I thought I was dying. I would be so obsessively stuck inside my head that I couldn’t focus on anything else, spending hours just pacing. And thinking. And pacing. And thinking.
The battle that I had with my anxiety is still one that I fight every single day. I still feel some overwhelming physical symptoms of anxiety when I worry, ie. the shortness of breath, headaches, sweating. I even have this weird anxious tic where I pick at my thumbs cuticles (therefore I can never become a hand model).
But I can honestly, happily and proudly say that it is a battle that is way easier than it used to be. I am much better at calming my mind and body when I worry, and I am always able to carry on and tackle the day like the boss bitch I am.
I learned so much through my experience, got the right professional medical help, and simply learned how to be BIGGER than my disease.
Looking back at all of it, I lost so much during this time. The battle against my mental health had a lot of casualties and took so much away from me. But there is beauty in the struggle. There’s a light in the darkness. A burst of love in all the pain. Even though I did lose so much, I realize that in reality, I gained so much more in return.
There is beauty in the struggle. There’s a light in the darkness. A burst of love in all the pain.
My anxiety definitely did it’s damage to many, many, many of the interpersonal relationships in my life. It has tore apart my romantic relationships, made me lose touch with a lot of good friends, and kept me from developing potential relationships.
I engaged in serious self-sabotage because of all of the negative thoughts and beliefs I held thanks to Anxiety featuring Depression. In other words, if things were going well with someone, I would always, without a doubt, find a way to make sure I mess it up simply because I did not believe for myself that I deserved anything good.
Many of my “breakdowns” were triggered by something related to a relationship. It always went like this:
- Things are going fine. Great, even. Perfect.
- My brain said “nah, this ain’t it.”
- Something would happen that would trigger my anxiety and I would use it to reaffirm my negative thoughts.
- I would react horribly. Like seriously horribly and insanely. I would act upon the increasing anxiety, losing control of myself, becoming a person that I couldn’t even recognize afterwards.
- I would feel overwhelming guilt about it afterwards, concluding that “I ruined everything, I always ruin everything.”
- I would shut myself out and shut down.
- And I would stay shut down until the situation resolved itself.
It was stressful for me, and it was stressful for whoever I was dealing with. It put such a big strain on those relationships to the point where it did severe damage to them. I made a lot of mistakes in my relationships too because I couldn’t control myself the way I should have.
Then because of my breakdowns, I would go completely antisocial and MIA from the support system of friends that I had. And because this was happening so often, I eventually lost touch with many of them.
And THEN because of how messed up I believed myself to be, I was too afraid of getting close to anyone new. I kept my distance. Shrugged off several really good guys that could have been really good for me or friendships that could have been beneficial and supporting.
Overall, I became great at pushing the people who were close to me away and then keeping others from coming close.
Despite how much I pushed others away, through my struggle I actually became very close with some people who, today, I consider my best friends. My support system. My rocks. My people.
As an extroverted person, I like to talk a lot. I like to talk to people and I need to talk out my feelings. So when I was just going through it (not when I shut down), I just wanted someone to talk to.
For some of my friends, it was overwhelming and they didn’t get it, so they weren’t really helping me much. And then for some, they were the reason I was so upset, so talking to them was definitely not the move. Also, talking to my parents made me feel worse because they didn’t get it either. They didn’t understand the notion of mental health, depression, or anxiety, because in our culture it just wasn’t a “thing.”
But luckily, I found support – the most loving and caring support – in my siblings. To this day, they are literally my favorite people in the whole wide world who I would do absolutely anything for because they were always, always, ALWAYS there for me.
I am the baby in the family, and am so fortunate to have two amazing older brothers. Then, to add onto it, they both got married, so now I have two amazing sister-in-laws!
When I first started severely struggling, I started to confide in my oldest brother and sister-in-law, who listened with empathy, spoke to me with kind and loving words, and encouraged me to seek out professional medical help. Before that, I always thought that seeking out help meant that I was weak and crazy, but they helped me understand that what I was going through was a medical condition and did NOT mean that I was crazy or abnormal.
If they got word that I was struggling, I would in no doubt get a phone call from either one of them to check up on me.
They always welcomed me in their home with loving arms, no matter what. I can call up my sister-in-law at 9pm crying and she’ll have me come over. Even more recently, when I was feeling down one day, they stopped by my house to drop off some Italian pastries, and invited me over because “they did not want me to be alone while I’m upset.”
My other brother was also always there for me, in a different but still impactful way. On multiple occasions when things were really hard for me, he literally picked me up from my house, took me to his house, set up the air mattress, and kept me there for days, simply because he did not want me to be alone while I was breaking down.
He drove me to therapy when I was too messed up to drive. He made food for me even though I did not feel like eating. He took me for a walk.
Then he got married also and then my support system grew bigger. One time when I was really going through it, she even came to my house, packed up my things for me, and took me back to their place. This was probably just a few months after they got married, so it just meant so much to me how quick she filled into the big sister role.
Even though I really felt like it at times, they never once acted like I was a burden to them. They were always there, always listening, always encouraging. They were my rocks.
The times I felt the loneliest, I received an abundance of love, making me realize that I wasn’t actually ever alone.
And because of this, I became closer than ever to each of my brothers and sister-in-laws. They are truly some of my best friends and I trust them with my life. So despite the relationships I lost, I gained unconditionally loving relationships with my brothers and sister-in-laws – relationships that will last a lifetime.
And I am so, so, SO grateful for each one of them.
Loss: Brain cells
Haha, okay now this is kind of figuratively speaking (but honestly probably literally too but who knows).
Suffering with mental health is not only an emotional experience, but it also manifests itself in physical symptoms. This includes loss of appetite, sleep problems, stomach issues, nausea, shortness of breath, increased heart rate – and those are just the short term effects.
Prolonged stress also causes a lot of damage to your long-term health. For instance, your heart health can be compromised due to how during a panic attack or a breakdown such as the ones I had, your blood pressure goes up significantly. So, for the few days I was having my breakdown, I was constantly hypertensive – of course this did some permanent damage to my blood vessels and heart.
Some people with anxiety can also suffer from long-term effects on their digestive health or develop chronic pain. Your immune system is also compromised and broken down. I remember getting sick at least once a month.
And then there’s the cognitive issues that develop. Your brain is going through so much shit that during that time that you lose the ability to think or focus.
I have found that although I have better control over my anxiety now, and have not had breakdowns like that for a long time, I still can’t think like I used to. I still can’t focus as well. It takes me longer to read stuff and understand it. I am also just really tired all the time. A lot of this is also due to the medications I have to take to control my anxiety.
Remember that during my breakdowns, I would not sleep or eat for DAYS. So of course this affected my physical and cognitive health. My brain and entire body were getting beat up over and over again. It was going through severe trauma.
Gain: Learning and prioritizing physical self-care
But the amazing thing about the body and the brain is that it has the ability to repair itself too. No, it cannot repair absolutely everything but it does repair itself enough to help you feel healthier and more like yourself again.
I learned how to help my body repair itself. I learned how to be so kind to my body at times where I don’t feel good, so that the physical symptoms would not build up and do damage to me again. I learned how damn important self-care is to someone who is prone to anxiety.
And the crazy thing is… practicing self-care really does help your physical health. I’ve done it and I’ve seen it for myself. Facts.
I successfully went from having an immune system of a 2-year-old to having an immune system of a normal, healthy woman in her mid-20s.
I completely defeated those week long mental breakdowns where I don’t eat or sleep. I can proudly say that I haven’t had a breakdown that severe in a really long time.
I am capable of taking symptoms of increased heart rate and shortness of breath during a stressful time and calming it down completely.
When I am feeling down, I let myself simply feel my feelings. I let myself check out for a little while, nap, and cry if I need to. Get it all out of my system instead of trying to fight it, so that in a couple hours I can get myself up and do a self-care night. If I don’t feel like eating, I still make sure to fill my tummy with protein shakes, just to make sure I am getting nutrients.
I also made it a routine to take weekly self-care days. This could mean a bubble bath, solo movie night, unplug from social media. Sometimes I do a self spa day with facials and body scrubs and nice smelling body butters. Sometimes I check out and read an inspiring book. Sometimes, I let myself nap with no regrets.
On my self-care day, I’ll even order in some of my favorite foods to reward myself. I’ll eat a yummy dessert. I will just do things that make my body happy, because when my body is happy, I am happy.
All of this really did help me get stronger. It taught me that taking care of myself physically is the first step in being bigger than my anxiety. And I just feel healthier and happier overall.
And honestly, I do not think I would have realized the importance of it if I had not gone through what I have gone through.
Loss: Career path and education
Since I was 5 years old, I decided that I was going to be a doctor when I grow up. Looking back, I’m not sure how much of it was my true belief or how much of it was pressure from my parents, but regardless, this was what I was training to be. So this is what I went to school for.
However, college was the peak of my anxiety and depression, starting from about sophomore year up until my very last semester. So needless to say, when things got so bad that I couldn’t leave the house or think about anything else, I became unable to even do school anymore.
My grades suffered. I became satisfied with getting C’s and just passing (and I used to be a straight A student). I had to repeat two different classes. One semester, I had to get a letter from my psychiatrist so that I could get my shit together, turn in assignments late, and try to pass the class.
One semester, I lost all motivation to the point where I completely disregarded a class. I just didn’t care. I didn’t even know what day it the final was supposed to be on, and only showed up because I was hanging out with a friend whose roommate just so happened to also be in the class and he said “yeah, the final is tomorrow.” I was like “well shit. I guess I should show up.”
I signed up for the MCAT (which is the medical school version of the SAT) twice. TWICE. That’s like $300 bucks each. But ended up not going because I didn’t even have the focus or energy to study for it, and I decided too late to get my money back. I was just too overwhelmed.
I was involved in a lot of stuff where I had certain responsibilities, kind of like having a job position, but I slacked off on them. I just stopped showing up – mentally and physically.
- I had multiple no call no shows at my job as a manager of a gym.
- I stopped coming to shifts for my internship.
- I had to quit my job as a tutor.
Then I had to have the awkward talks with all my supervisors, letting them know whats going on.
Gain: Finding out my true passion
Looking back at it, I truly believe that part of the reason I would get so anxious and depressed was because I was on the wrong path in life. Somewhere in me, I knew that this was not for me, but I struggled with the conflicting belief that this was what I HAD to be in order to be successful.
I genuinely believed that if I could not do it, then I would have failed at life. So the more I kept failing at school and in my career path, the shittier I felt.
But looking back, maybe that was what I needed the whole time. Maybe I needed to fail so that I could pave the way to become who I was meant to be. Maybe I needed to struggle so I can muster up the strength to find my success.
I am a strong believer in that you are always exactly where you need to be in life. Everything really does happen for a reason. I needed to get pushed off the tracks of becoming what I THOUGHT I needed to become, so that I can find the track I was MEANT to ride on.
The most important thing I learned was that my life is on MY TERMS. I am not living on this planet to please anyone – not my parents, not my friends, not my romantic partners. I am here to please myself and only myself.
I took the time to learn about who I really am, not who I was being molded to become by everyone and everything around me. And I learned to always prioritize myself – I learned to put myself first.
I want to make a difference in the world. And I want to share my story. I want to encourage other people to be the best version of themselves, because I know there are a million women who are confused and stuck, just like I used to be.
I want to be financially and emotionally independent, and not rely on anyone else but myself. I want to be free to travel and explore the world on my own terms, not restricted in my 2 weeks paid time off. I want to make an impact while making an income, all while simply being myself.
All of these things put together is what led me to starting this blog and pursuing this as my full time business.
And I love it. I love what I do.
I love writing about my experiences, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful. I love being raw and transparent about my weaknesses, just so I can contrast it with the strengths I achieved by overcoming them. And I love sharing all that I have learned and the steps I took to grow as a boss lady myself.
I found my happy spot and I’m not going anywhere now. But I do thank all of it to the terrible, dark experience I had battling my anxiety and depression.
I don’t want you to read this article and feel pity for me, for the things I lost, for how much pain and hurt I have been through. No. There is absolutely nothing to feel sorry for – hell, I don’t even feel sorry for myself anymore.
The truth is… I gained more than I could possibly imagine, and the gains I had outweighs the losses.
The struggle I went through is what made me who I am today, the strong, bad-ass boss lady bitch that I call Alisa.
This is my world. This is my story. And I hope that I can use my voice inspire and empower women to also find their boss lady calling.