So here I go, diving back into my past, for you. Three very long dark years to be exact. I don’t even know how it began. It just kind of crept up on me. But a certain event triggered it big time. I was thrown into a performance (singing) situation last minute when I was not ready. Literally. It had been organised with me to be the day after, but the night of, I got an urgent phone call saying that I should already be at the venue sound checking and that people were about to arrive to see me perform. WHAAAAAAAT!!!!??? I had just come off two 12-14 hour days at work in a row, and was in the studio recording, trying to stay awake when I got the call. The pressure of scrambling to get to the gig on time (after I had a complete melt down) caused my brain to shut down half way through my set. My girlfriend sat in the front row and looked at me funny, and I realised that for the last 10-15 secs of the song I was singing, I had been slurring my words and not even realised. It’s like my brain shut down and I blacked out….but I was on stage singing. I laughed it off when I realised, and my audience laughed with me. The night finished well, all things considered. I had survived. But that event, threw me into a season of incredible anxiety.
All of a sudden I found myself really edgy. Overly sensitive, very snappy and yet very withdrawn. I could not communicate with my family, and we would end up fighting all the time because there was so much going on in my head, I simply expected them to keep up with me. I expected them to know what I was sensitive to and I expected them to always say the right things. Thank goodness my family loves me and never gave up on me coz quite frankly….I was hideous to live with.
I would wake up every morning with a heaviness in my heart, a heaviness in my soul. It hurt my chest and felt like my boyfriend broke up with me all over again… the pain did not go away. It hurt, I wanted to cry but the tears would not flow. At night, the anxiety attacks would kick in. My self-talk was incredibly negative, it was self hatred, always focusing on everything that was wrong in my life and what I wish I had but didn’t have. I would remind myself of all my “failures” and how I had let people down. I used to sobb myself to sleep every night. Not cry. Sobb…like someone died. Perhaps it was because anxiety was slowly killing my soul. It was so incredibly, aweful. I hated the feeling of it but I didn’t know how to change it. It almost became comfortable and the idea of fighting for my freedom was thrown into the “too hard” basket. I became very hard on myself. The expectation to do everything perfectly was insane.
The smallest things would set off an attack. I remember I had to renew my passport and I was RUSHING to get it in on time, so I would not have to pay a small late fee. Like really, in the whole scheme of things…..so what? I wasn’t even going on an overseas trip anytime soon. But I drove around the eastern suburbs of Melbourne to try and renew my passport, and I realized that I had overlooked some details and I just was not going to get in on time without a late fee. My sister happened to call me and she found me sobbing my eyes out on the side of some random road, hating myself something fierce…all because I didn’t get my passport renewal in on time. I remember her saying, “Vita, it’s ok. It’s not a big deal. You don’t need to get so upset about it. Stop punishing yourself over something that won’t stop the world from spinning”. But in my head, the voices kept saying “ You idiot. You idiot. What the heck is wrong with you? You can’t even do this and now you have to pay to renew your passport! What a waste of money! Your fault! You’re such an idiot”. And seriously…the fee…was nothing. It really was not a lot of money. The whole situation was ridiculous.
Why do I share this story with you? Because this is only one of many. Anxiety was crippling for me. It stopped me being able to function properly. I didn’t go out and socialize anymore. I was so afraid that I would not be able to contribute anything of great substance to a conversation, I was terrified of failing. I look back now and think WAAAAAAAAA? That’s just crazy. I turned into a lonely, broken, sad and terrified human being, who preferred to lock herself away in a room, on her own. Wow.
So what did I do about it? Fortunately, there has always been a little spark in me. Even when it’s barely there, there has always been a spark. And that tiny little spark told me that I needed to get help. And that’s what I did. I called up a counsellor and had a brief chat. She wanted me to get on some pretty heavy anti depressants. Fortunately…..fortunately… our health system operates in a way that in order to get heavy drugs you need to see a GP. I’m thankful for our doctors. They are gate keepers to medication that can be so very harmful if not used correctly. I had a chat with my doctor and she quickly assessed that the medication suggested was going to be far too strong for me. So after talking to my doctor and to a close friend, it was decided that I would take herbal anti depressants. (Now this is my journey. The drugs were going to be too strong for me….maybe not for you, so make sure you speak to your doctor.)
It’s ok to get some medication (pharmaceutical or herbal) to help level out your emotions. I used to beat myself up about this. I didn’t want to be “sick” on pills. My perception of that is so different now. Doctors and medication are there to help you. Make sure you get professional help. I had a psychologist then and I have a psychologist now. I am so thankful for psychologists. Hahahaha…if anything, they are a safe place for me to unpack my thoughts. Especially since I have a public profile and the people in my world are also well known, it’s wise to have a confidential place to unpack information sensitive issues.
I’m pleased to say that I’m almost 2 years clear of extreme anxiety attacks. I still have my moments where I feel an attack bubbling under the surface, but I have discovered along the way how to manage it. I have a choice. I choose to rule over my emotions or I choose to let my emotions rule over me. The latter is not the ideal, let me assure you.
So if you battle with anxiety, here are some simple things to think about and action, in order to help you fight for your freedom:
1. ask for help.
Go to your doctor, chat with a close friend, see a counsellor or psychologist. Even when you are on your way to beating your anxiety or depression…keep talking. Keep going to your psychologist regularly. I still go regularly and my dark season was well over 2 years ago. You don’t want to relapse if you have busted through on the other side. So don’t pretend that you need to fight this on your own. Gather good friends who love you. My friends yanked me out for dinners and social coffees when all I wanted to do was hide. They fought for me when I couldn’t fight for myself. It’s ok to reach out for help. It doesn’t make you pathetic. Asking for help is a sign of strength. It means that you recognise that your freedom is worth fighting for!
2. find your safe place.
For me, it’s alone time. I LOVE going to the movies by myself. My brain can switch off and I can get lost in someone else’s creativity. However, because of my history with anxiety I choose my movies carefully. I don’t choose horrors, psychological thrillers or any other movie like that, which straight up look like it can trigger me and set off an anxiety attack. Anxiety causes an adrenaline rush. This is a natural reaction to either extreme happiness or your body telling you that you are under threat. Movies and situations that have the possibility of making me feel like I am under threat, I just won’t do. I also LOVE to run. Running or any form of exercise is great discipline for your mind. The more you are disciplined in your mind, the stronger you will be at over coming moments of anxiety. Trust me. My health is key for me now. I am also a huge introvert, so I give myself permission to be on my own. Just make sure you are not “hiding”.
3. surround yourself with the right people.
The blind cannot lead the blind. The depressed cannot properly help the depressed. Be careful that you don’t only surround yourself with like for like people who are battling with anxiety and not doing much about it. Repeat….WHO ARE NOT DOING MUCH ABOUT IT. There is nothing more powerful than surrounding yourself with imperfect people who are determined to be OVERCOMERS. C’mon now! Can I be real and just touch on self harming and cutting here? I know that there are girls that join Facebook sites for “self harmers” or those that have suicidal thoughts. These sites can be very helpful to verbalise how you feel in a space where you know people can relate to you and easily understand you. You feel validated and heard. However, be careful that you do not find your acceptance and identity in ONLY these spaces. Be careful that you don’t fall into self harming as a group & recreationally because you can collectively feel like crap… so “let’s feel like crap together”. Be careful. But rather surround yourself with OVERCOMERS. (There’s that word again). People who have walked a similar journey but have found success in beating it! C’mon! Your freedom is worth fighting for!! Don’t give up and be “ok” with where you are at, just because you get a bit more attention by being “needy”. Please hear my heart, I don’t say that to mock you. It’s not healthy to live off that sort of attention. You have the opportunity to be INSPIRATIONAL with your COURAGE and your FIGHTING SPIRIT!!!
4. listen to your body.
When you need to step out of a situation, step out. If you know that you are walking into a situation that WILL set off an anxiety attack, don’t go just so you can say you were there. Don’t be a people pleaser when inside it only hurts you. It’s ok to say no. Feed your body well. It amazes me how much diet and exercise go hand in hand with a sound mind and a sound body. Limit your coffee intake, limit you sugar intake, get off those hideous fizzy energy drinks. And if you’re feeling lethargic and tired, it’s amazing what some fresh air and a walk outside will do for your energy levels.
5. learn to be kind to yourself.
You know it’s interesting that even now as a motivational speaker, when I see my psychologist , I discover that I still have negative self talk and self hatred behaviour that my brain tends to default to. Wow! I fully thought I was over that. And I still need to choose the words I speak over myself. I still need to learn to take myself off the hook. I am still learning how to love myself. And let’s be honest. I don’t actually think we ever “make it”. We are always learning how to do this better, especially when we enter new seasons and new challenges in our lives. People will always disappoint you, because we are simply not perfect. So we need to learn to take each other and ourselves off the hook.
As I finish this blog, I want to emphasise to you, dear reader, that I am not perfect. I am still figuring this out, and I absolutely am not a therapist and not a doctor. So please don’t take my words as gospel. Every situation is different. Every person processes differently. I am not a expert on the subject, but I believe that I have come far enough out of my dark years to be able to share some of the wisdom that I have learnt along the way. I hope that this blog encourages to gather people around you, if you find yourself relating to some of my experiences. I hope this helps to open up conversations on the topic. I hope we learn to be more patient, gracious and forgiving with each other. And I hope that by sharing stories, we are placing down building blocks for a strong foundation of our sisterhood.
#iambold because I am an overcomer.
All my love,