THIS IS A STORY ABOUT ANXIETY. ACTUALLY, IT'S MORE A STORY ABOUT HOW MY ANXIETY FUELED PROFESSIONAL AND PERSONAL CHANGE.
Each time, it began as a normal day off work with my usual plans to take the 15-minute walk to the beach and end up at a nearby park sometime in the afternoon. But on three occasions, I lost control of my body. Racing heart, paralysis, cold and hot flashes, uncontrollable weeping. And I’m in public places—hoping that no one walks by and asks me what’s wrong. Because I don’t know what’s wrong, just that nothing is right.
Eventually, I’d find an answer to my questions: anxiety attacks. I’ve come to realize that this is what happens when I get wrapped up in the workload and internalize things I can’t change. It was this physical manifestation of my fears (which I began to experience at the beach and would experience increasingly over the following three weeks) that led me on a plane ride from my new life in Australia into a therapist’s office in Nebraska. Ultimately, my slew of mental breakdowns in Sydney would lead me to where I am today. They had a significant impact on my professional life and altered its course—for the better.
REBUILDING MYSELF THROUGH BUILDING COMMUNITY
I’ll spare you the intimate details of my introspection and just say that I feel as if I’m encountering myself for the very first time. Once I discovered a name for what I’d experienced, for the first time in my life, I felt the need to talk openly and publicly. Typically disengaged from the social media world, I decided to be open myself up to vulnerability as I worked toward recovery: I started a conversation about my mental wellness with my Facebook community. I wanted to inspire others to further explore this often-neglected realm of health. It was worth the exposure.
Once I discovered a name for what I’d experienced [anxiety attacks], I felt the need to talk openly and publicly.
As a total introvert, the opportunity to tell my story, teach others, and alleviate my sense of "solo struggling" helped me to better navigate the professional world. Actually, reaching out to others and starting a true dialog meant that I had to learn to practice empathy, ask hard-hitting questions, and challenge others’ thinking and personal goals. The result was that I became more comfortable networking both on- and off-line. Instead of avoiding it, I now use social media to proactively champion what matters to me: I spotlight other women striving to love themselves better, learn from others’ professional experiences, and connect with some of the women who inspire me and have achieved success in areas that interest me. Making the decision to open up publicly has led me to getting my foot in the door.
CONFIDENCE IN MYSELF
Of course, with all this came confidence—although, honestly, I’m not sure whether the confidence came before or after the vulnerability. In any case, after feeling unstable in Australia, and lost when I returned to the States, I was forced to take inventory. I started asking myself hard questions. As someone who never knew her “dream career”—and with only an inkling of how I’d like my future to look—I began to assess my talents, take note of my interests, and review my past work and personal life experiences.
I also read countless articles and completed many activities on mental health, self-esteem, and just generally coping with the awkward stages of 20-something life. After gaining a sense of clarity about my skill set, experiences, and the ways I best dealt with my stressors, I was able to better connect the dots. I was able to align my strengths toward the goals I’d like to achieve, and assess the types of environments where I knew I’d thrive best. It took all of that work to rediscover myself and to recognize that I’m not incompetent or unworthy, despite my previous attitude about my circumstances, which suggested I would never get out of my rut.
PRODUCTIVITY WHILE TRANSITIONING
But my confidence hasn’t just been a state of mind—I’ve been able to put it into action. When I assessed my skills and interests, I realized that all of my hobbies were inherently introverted. Most of the outlets I pursued involved making work that I kept to myself. I suppose I’m one of those people who you’d say has “hidden talents” because, other than sharing my projects occasionally in playwriting courses or in my online journalism career, I have very little to show for my hard work.
As a total introvert, the opportunity to tell my story, teach others, and alleviate my sense of "solo struggling" helped me to better navigate the professional world.
Because I took time off to address my mental wellness, I’ve naturally wound up in a state of professional transition, meaning I’m able to spend my time not only applying for more professional work but also investing many hours in reading and creating content. Doing more equals more experience, and ultimately more confidence. Only now am I becoming more comfortable seeking feedback, putting my work on display, and collaborating on projects.
Sure, it might have taken me 23 years to even start finding my way, but the journey has been worth it. In taking inventory of my life, I was reminded of all the times when my hard work didn’t seem to pay off and I felt as if I was fumbling through life alone. This is exactly why I’ve begun to leverage my time, talents, and experiences to positively influence others.
My own mental health journey has led me to discover an interest in helping young people face the same issues I dealt with—I want to be an advocate and advisor for youths lacking in mentorship and self-confidence. If I can help foster healthy self-esteem in girls so they can find themselves sooner than I did—simply because they had someone in their corner recognizing their potential and building them up—then I’m all for it.
It was only in my struggle that I discovered my direction and, in a small way, a legacy: leveraging the lessons I’ve learned through navigating my mind, mistakes, and misfortunes to encourage and mentor others. I now see that I have stories that need to be told, experiences that can teach others, and a mission to inspire.
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What have you discovered about your own mental health these days? How are you choosing to prioritize your mental wellness? Tell us below.