The world we live in is a roller coaster of rush hour traffic, to-do lists, and climbing proverbial ladders, with personal commitments like kids, pets, and spouses being squeezed in here and there amongst the twists and turns of the rat race. Often times one’s adult life is a constant juggling act with balls, bowling pins, flaming chainsaws, and all other manner of carnival fare tossed up in the air while walking a line as thin as a tightrope between “having it all” and “off the deep end”.
The problem is, what happens when one too many flaming chainsaws is added to your juggling routine?
The answer for most of us is somewhat bleak: everything spirals out of control and your carefully-orchestrated circus act ends up in a jumble of stumbling that would deter even the clowns to get back up and try again.
Of all the advancements and strides our world has made in this 21st century, one area we are lacking in even still is that of support for mental health.
I myself have always known I had anxiety. When I was a small child, as far back as I can remember, I had horrible, vivid nightmares where I worried about the perils of everything from house fires to driving on the freeway. As soon as I hit puberty, I began to develop uncontrollable anxiety around “that time of the month”, and severe cramping and nausea that became debilitating and daunting for a 12-year-old to deal with. I started hormonal birth control as an attempt to alleviate the severity of my symptoms each month, and tried to control my worrying by telling myself that I just needed to get a grip and stop being a baby. I felt like I became a different person each month, fighting with my parents and crying uncontrollably for no recognizable reason, and it would last about 2 weeks or so before subsiding into a more manageable state.
From there, life went on through high school to college, and my anxiety got worse, along with my self-esteem. The deaths of several close loved ones and my own health struggles compounded with a failed relationship that almost broke me. I didn’t know how to articulate that I needed help. It was instead a blame game within my own mind of “Why can’t you get along with you roommates? Why are you so needy in relationships? Why do you push people away? How can you be an engineer if you can’t do simple math? Why do I struggle with exams when they used to be so easy?”. I sought out guidance at stress management workshops held by my school, and talked to career counselors about my difficulties taking exams under time constraints, but people didn’t seem to take me seriously or provide any solution that didn’t make me feel ashamed for having “something wrong with me” or being “different”.
Well, despite feeling on the edge of a mental breakdown for the majority of my college career, I managed to graduate with a good GPA, a post-grad job offer, and a future husband. I was proud that I had overcome (or so I thought) that which had previously sought to destroy me. I truly thought that I had outsmarted my anxiety and life would all be alright now that it had proved it could work out for the best.
Boy, was I so wrong. After the excitement of shifting life phases began to subside, I realized all of the anxiety I had never dealt with in a positive way, and had put a metaphorical bandaid on for countless years. Unbeknownst to me, it grew in the shadows and culminated in a weird, out-of-nowhere, out-of-body panic attack that happened as my husband and I were heading home from a day of photoshoots in the SoCal desert. It was without a doubt the strangest, scariest thing that had ever happened to me.
After that, I started seeing a therapist and was prescribed medication for my chronic anxiety. After many, many sessions and trying to find a good fit for treatment, I finally feel heard and understood after all this time, and I’ve come to realize a lot of things.
First, I’ve realized that my debilitating PMS (now diagnosed as PMDD) was nothing to be ashamed of or judged for; in fact, validating this as a medical condition that can be treated instead of a taboo topic makes all the difference in my self-esteem. Second, I know that having anxiety is a very real thing that exists because of a chemical imbalance in the brain, not just because I can’t “deal with” life. Third, mental health struggles are not something you just “get over”; they take time to work out and process in a healthy way.
Amidst all these tough realizations, I’ll admit that my juggling act of a high-stress job, part-time blogger, and full-time wife and fur mama has fallen down quite a lot. Some days, I just don’t know why I can’t manage to cook dinner or clean the house. Sometimes focusing at work is natural, but often times it makes me feel drained physically and emotionally. I don’t want to show my struggles and have them be seen as an excuse, but there are some days where I feel like it’s so hard to keep my eyes open after constantly waking up at night worrying.
The thing is, most of us aren’t celebrities whose careers and finances wouldn’t suffer very much if we were to check ourselves into a months-long posh rehab facility to allow ourselves to heal from our troubles. The reality is that we have to muddle along and fit in our therapy sessions, doctor’s appointments, and fatigue in between the rest of our non-negotiable responsibilities. (Ah the joys of being an adult…)
But, there is some good news in all this that I’m telling you: it does get better. Believe it or not, and I know it’s hard to, it does.
Where I am today is 1000 times better than where I was. Yes, I have gone backwards in some ways, but I am here, I have been successful in my career, and I have found a partner who loves my flaws as much as my assets. My struggles, though still disheartening at times, are less than when I first had that meltdown. It’s all a process of healing, and here’s what really helps me along the way:
1 | Surround yourself with a team of support.
I can’t stress this enough. If you’re going through mental health struggles, you need to cut out/reduce the influence of the toxic people in your life a much as you can and give your energy to those who lift you up, empower you, and love you without judgement. This could be unfollowing people on social media who make you question your worth, avoiding opening up to certain friends or family members, or even turning off the news. Find out who you can really trust, and invite them to be your support. Make sure you make time to show them how much you really appreciate them , too.
2 | Feel empowered in your choices.
You have a say in your treatment plan when it comes to your medical and counseling teams, so don’t be afraid to speak up if something isn’t working for you or if you have a question. Trust me, managing through severe medication side effects because you feel like you have to just isn’t productive for anyone. Your team should be here to help you and make you feel understood and respected, but they also need your help to help you too.
3 | Cut out what you can.
Have an honest conversation with your employers, family, and yourself, if possible, and try to reduce the amount of pressure both externally and internally. I know that this isn’t always the easiest, or even feasible, but bing honest about what you’re going through helps. Even if you just put less pressure on yourself to be perfect (like not feeling guilty if you don’t cook dinner every night), cutting out this extra weight from your load can go a long way.
4 | Find out what truly makes you happy for you.
Is there a hobby that brings you joy? Does taking a bath bring you ease? I once read that, instead of pinning your happiness on all these lofty, down-the-road goals, just simply ask yourself “What would make me happy in this moment?” and do it (within reason of course; a Chanel handbag would certainly make me happy in just about any moment, but let’s be honest, that’s not really possible unfortunately…).
5 | Have the courage to stretch your old ways of thinking.
The greatest lesson I’ve been learning through all of this is that you will never get where you’ve never been and want to go in life by solely doing what you always have done. Talking to a counselor has helped me come to realizations about myself and my tendencies that I never would’ve had otherwise. But, it’s one thing for counselors to lead you to water; you have to learn to drink for yourself. With a little time, dedication, and support, you have the power to break old negative habits and change your life for the better.
Despite the fact that mental health struggles and mental illness are both still looked at as being a negative, scary thing that makes it impossible for one to succeed in life or relationships, it’s something that many of us struggle with without even really realizing it. It’s true that life doesn’t stop just because you are having a hard time, and the balancing act can get more than a little heavy sometimes. But, there are things you can do to prioritize yourself and your needs so that you can go on riding that tightrope. I don’t know if anyone can truly “do it all”, and “having it all” is subjective. It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s okay to admit you are a human being who needs help. What matters most is believing that you’re worthy of love, no matter what. No one is perfect, and we all struggle with different things at different times in our lives. Besides, even though it’s scary to juggle all those flaming chainsaws, you’ve gotta admit that it’s a pretty fun time.