Many of us have had bouts with anxiety and depression in the past, but 2020 and all its shortcomings has put our mental health to the test. In my own life, 2020 was the year I finally had to face the anxiety that had been brewing since last year. I aim to be authentic on this blog as well as my Instagram, so I am going to share my mental health struggles with you in the hope that they can encourage others to seek help as well.
Let’s rewind back to July of 2019. One afternoon I got the news that my mom had gone to the ER because of swelling in her tonsils and throat area. The ER doctor ran some tests and immediately suspected cancer. My mom was examined by an ENT a couple days later and her diagnosis was confirmed. However, the extent and spread of the cancer was not known and would require further testing at Emory, so we would have to wait for news.
Prior to this train of events, I had never really been an anxious person, but in the days and months following these events, I no longer felt like myself. I had heard the “c” word and found myself constantly worrying about the future and what would happen to my mom. There was a constant pit in my stomach, tension in my body, and my mind would run on overdrive thinking about the possible scenarios that could play out for my life.
Even when I got the good news that my mom’s cancer was stage 1 that had not spread and could be easily operated on, the anxiety didn’t stop. My mom had a successful surgery and was cancer free by Labor Day (yay!!!), but my anxiety continued to lurk under the surface and was worsened by stressful situations at work. I am extremely critical of myself and further criticism at work did not bode well for my self esteem.
The stressful times at work lasted through the end of the year and on into 2020, so my anxiety never took a break. In February, my anxiety reached an all time high and I broke down and cried in front of my coworkers. I found it increasingly difficult to focus on anything but my struggles at work. What else happened in February of 2020? COVID-19 spread quickly across the globe and more fear and anxiety set in about the unknown as I’m sure it did for you all as well. In March I saw a light at the end of the tunnel as I transitioned into a new team at work, but was dealt another blow when I had to have surgery to remove my gallbladder within a week of seeing a doctor about the pain it was causing me. I had surgery on a Friday in early March and on the following Monday, the world shut down.
I felt relief that my malfunctioning organ had been removed, but I struggled in the months following with other physical symptoms that stemmed from the removal. I also felt relieved that I was able to take a step back and spend some time with my parents, but I was also worried about the world and the toll that COVID-19 was taking on it. My physical symptoms worsened and by May I had lost 12 pounds. For someone of my size, that was deeply concerning to me. I saw multiple doctors to rule out anything sinister and only small malabsorption issues and food sensitivities were discovered. I was finally faced with the reality that a lot of the physical symptoms I had been experiencing were a result of my unrelenting anxiety. The stomach pit and muscle tension remained, but it was constantly accompanied by an upset stomach, fatigue, body aches/pains, and OCD tendencies. When I say OCD tendencies, I do not mean extensive cleaning and whatever the media may portray. I mean hyper focusing on the symptoms I was experiencing, which caused me to worry more. It was a vicious cycle. My gallbladder removal had caused gastrointestinal symptoms and my anxiety about the symptoms made the symptoms worse.
June was better for me because I was able to resume some normal summer activities like going to the beach, but I decided that I wanted to take control of the anxiety and decided it was time to see a therapist. I had my first appointment during the first week of July and things have been much better ever since. My therapist made me realize that the hyper focusing that I was doing was something I had probably been doing since childhood, but had never resulted in anxiety before. As a child I would hyper focus on whatever my new favorite movie or tv show was, but I was now doing it in relation to my health and symptoms. My therapist believes that the hyper focusing was causing anxiety at this point in my life because the chain of events that began in July 2019 had depleted my body’s sources of serotonin. Thus, I was experiencing an imbalance of chemicals in my brain and essentially running on empty when it came to chemicals that are supposed to make you happy. My therapist assisted in getting me a prescription for a small dose of Zoloft, which is a prescription drug that helps your body naturally produce more serotonin. Within two weeks of beginning my medicine, I felt like my old self again. There are still days and certain situations that produce anxiety for me, but ever since beginning my medicine I have been able to easily rationalize with myself and cast the negative anxious thoughts away.
I am so grateful that I was able to push myself to see a therapist because I am once again the person that I take pride in being. I know that this post has been a long one, but I hope that it goes to show you that despite all the smiles and highlights shown on my Instagram feed, I struggle just as much behind the scenes as everyone else. If you are reading this today and know that you are struggling with mental health issues, I encourage you to take that first step into a therapist’s office because that could be a step that changes your life for the better.
I am partnering with Ray of Hope Counseling Services on this post to spread awareness about mental health issues. If you or someone that you know needs help and you are in Georgia, Ray of Hope has multiple locations across the state. I am particularly partnering with their office that provides therapy in Peachtree City. They are also currently offering Telehealth appointments if you live out of state or are uncomfortable with going to the office during COVID-19.