As I’m sitting in the airport awaiting to board my flight to embark on a European adventure, I stumble upon an Instagram post highlighting a quote from Lao Tzu – “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” I quickly share it to my story and write “I’m working on it…” It was coincidental because I then realize the tightness in my chest and the slight urge to cry. Why am I anxious right now? Yeah, I’m excited to be traveling to Europe, but I’m not feeling pumped; I am feeling down. My anxiety is consuming me because I’m focused on how much I’m going to miss my boyfriend James, my friends, and my life in San Diego for the next 10 days. In other words, I’m thinking about the negatives of my future and not the positives of my present. I let this sink in for a little and begin thinking about my experience with anxiety and depression.
In July 2018, after living in New York for the first 22 and a half years of my life, I decided to pack all of my belongings into my 1998 Toyota Rav 4, grab my sister, and drive 4 days to move to San Diego. Throughout my life I never struggled with anxiety or depression. I was always the positive, upbeat, and down for anything at any time type of person. You couldn’t stop me from going out or doing something during my free time. I was always confident in what I was doing and never really doubted myself. Even while settling into my new California life, I felt like I was on top of the world. However, I began to feel a 180° shift in how I felt in my soul.
Now, before I continue, I feel like I have to explain why I decided to pick up my life and move to the opposite side of the country. Throughout college, I planned on moving to Brooklyn and getting a 9-to-5 job in New York City. It was essentially down the block and something I knew; however, after visiting Colorado before my senior year, I started dabbling with the idea of leaving New York to experience something new. From there, I began realizing that the “New York State of Mind,” or attitude, didn’t really coincide with who I felt I was as a person. I began noticing the coldness of the people around me. Cashiers wouldn’t even look up to say, “Hi.” Drivers honked for no fucking reason. Everyone around me was so focused on themselves and couldn’t care less about how they treated each other. I didn’t want to live surrounded by this attitude anymore, therefore, I decided to give San Diego a shot. It was a risk that definitely paid off and I was quickly more than happy I moved to there to say the least.
I graduated from college shortly before moving, so I had to begin building my career the second I parked my car at my new home. I have a Marketing degree and had previously began building a personal freelance Social Media Marketing and Management company to sustain my life. Building this type of career is slow and somewhat lonely; I spent 6 hours per day working on my laptop at home by myself. At this point, I really only had a handful of friends, so I decided to try to get a job coaching gymnastics. I had 8.5 years of experience prior to moving and knew it wouldn’t be too difficult to find a job in that field. I was right and quickly hired to coach at SD United Training Center. I was so grateful how close I got to my coworkers and, before I knew it, obtained a solid group of friends. One of whom is a guy named James, who instantly changed my world and perspective on life.
I told myself when I moved I wasn’t going to get start dating anyone until I had more of a solid life for myself. But, as you all probably know, when you meet someone and feel a special connection with, you can’t really help it. We spent all of our free time together from basically the second we hung out outside of work. He quickly became my best friend and someone I could confide in. Everyone I knew previously was over 3,000 miles away, which only influenced me to get attached pretty quickly. Once our relationship transitioned from best friends to something a little more, I began to open up more about how I felt, not just who I am.
One night at the end of September, I was at work-related function with James and my new group of friends. As the night progressed, I began feeling this urge to leave. It was a foreign feeling to me and I wasn’t really sure what I was feeling. I usually enjoy being around groups of people, but this was one of the first times I felt the need to be alone (well, to be alone with James). I stuck it out, but on the car ride back to James’s place, I opened up about how I was feeling a tightness in my chest and tense throughout. The conversation played out a bit more as we analyzed what was going on and I vividly remember saying, “It feels like I have to cry but I don’t.” I basically jinxed myself and that’s when I entered a half-year stage of intense anxiety and depression.
For months, I broke down at least once a week. The littlest of things would trigger my anxiety and I would be flooded with an overwhelming feeling of sadness and discontent with myself. My confidence flew out the window and I constantly put myself down. I’m broken. Something’s wrong with me. I hate this feeling. I don’t want to feel like this anymore. Thoughts raced through my head and the more I tried to control it, the more often and intense my episodes became. This put me in a constant state of analysis of my emotions and trying to make sure I didn’t start crying spontaneously.
This put me in a constant battle with myself. I didn’t want to do anything but lay in bed – I was mentally and emotionally exhausted all the time. I became more introverted than extroverted. There’s nothing more draining than not feeling yourself, especially for months at a time.
Recently, I’ve come to the realization that my guarded approach to everything has prevented me from establishing deeper relationships with others. With friends, I have always felt like being the listener, not the talker. I was the go-to for anyone who needed practical advice. Opening up was never something I ever felt necessary. People look up to me for my positivity, and that’s what drove me in the past. I now can no longer live life that way. I want to develop intense connections with others; something I can’t do unless I let my guard down.
These feelings I believe began because my guard got stronger as my emotions for James grew. The closer I got to loving James, the further away I got from loving myself. As a result, I was so worried about him cheating on me or taking advantage of the trust I instilled with him that I closed myself off from everyone over the past months. Taking a step back from my relationship with James and looking at the big picture, I’ve concluded that I push people away when the relationship/friendship gets too close. I’m always on guard that someone is going to take advantage of my trust, therefore I haven’t really trusted anyone, not even myself. It is easier to take the high road than to take the risk and actually love someone (romantically or not). I have been preventing myself from loving with my whole heart my entire life and I didn’t even realize it. As a result, it wasn’t until I figured this out that I started to feel like myself again, if not even better.
I didn’t write this to throw myself a pity party. I don’t have any intentions of gaining attention from talking about this, nor do I want that. The only attention I want from this post is that even the happiest people in this world are facing a battle you probably know nothing about. I know for myself, if I asked anyone if they thought I had struggled with anxiety or depression, they’d probably laugh in my face (besides James because he’s been helping me through it for half a year now). I also wrote this because I never really understood anxiety and depression until I struggled with it myself. It’s not something you can “turn off” and “calm down” from when you’re having trouble dealing with it. I believe everyone has anxiety, but there is definitely a tremendous amount of people who mask it and pretend like it’s not a problem when it actually is. I tried to cover it up and tell myself I was okay. Like I said, the more I tried to control it, the more anxious I became. With that being said, if you feel like you’re struggling to control your anxiety, stop. The second I stopped and faced it was when I was able to grow and deal with it.
I still have a long way to go, but I’ve already come so far. My anxiety attacks and crying episodes used to last an hour or 2, and then I would need about 24 hours to bounce back and feel “normal.” Now, when they come, they last maybe 15 minutes and I can bounce back and tackle the rest of my day after taking some time to relax once it’s over.
Lao Tzu once said that peace lies within the moment. I would have anxiety attacks as a result of worrying about potential, nonexistent problems in my future. This led to my depression as I tried to reflect on what has happened to me in the past to cause these intense emotions. Today, I’m able to be honest with myself, speak my mind freely, and be more in the moment, which ultimately has allowed me to be the best version of myself I’ve ever been. If you’re dealing with anything, take a moment to appreciate what you have right NOW and focus on that. It’s ridiculously hard, but with practice comes perfection. Never give up on yourself and learn to trust yourself. It’s not going to happen overnight. Be patient. Love yourself. Stay as positive as you can.