It was a Sunday night around 7pm. I was curled up tightly in a ball in the corner of the couch, underneath my blanket, holding a golden lock of hair in my right hand. Strand by strand I pulled off each split end as my thoughts raced quickly through my head. It seemed like hours when I overheard a voice. “Babe. Shelby. Are you okay? What are you thinking about?” His voice pulled me away from my hair. Away from my thoughts.
“I don’t know. I’m just so worried.” But I couldn’t describe what I was worried about. My brain was hurting, but I didn’t know why.
Ever since I was twelve years old I only accepted perfection from myself: my grades, my body, my makeup, my hair, my strength. Absolutely everything had to be perfect. I was terrified of a single hair being out of place or making anything less than a 90 on a homework assignment.
This extreme type A personality was exhausting. It would put me in funks I had no idea how to get out of. I would spend hours thinking about how I said something to someone. What did they think of me? They probably thought I was so weird.
I found a tick my freshman year of high school: picking off my split ends. I would consume myself with these split ends. From fourteen years old I would use these split ends as my way to get lost from racing thoughts. To hide from them, to hide from the world, to hide from fear of imperfection.
At twenty-five years old, sitting in the corner of that couch, I had everything I could ask for in the palm of my hand: An incredible job with a new promotion, a perfect husband, a ton of best friends, an adorable five-pound Yorkie, a bright red sports car, and a huge new house. I had it all. A picture perfect life. And every single day I was miserable. Hiding under my blanket. Tears streaming down my face.
How could a life be so happy on the outside and so painful on the inside? Was I just this spoiled, entitled millennial who wasn’t happy with all I had been given? Was I not thankful? Why was my brain not clicking with reality?
At this prime age, there was a breakthrough. I realized I was living with a mental illness and had been since I was twelve years old. For thirteen years I was suffering from anxiety and had absolutely zero idea. I thought it was normal. I thought everyone over-analyzed minute details. I thought everyone balled up in the corner of their couch, hiding away from the world, underneath their blanket.
For years I would go to sleep thinking if I could just not wake up this time then all the fear of imperfection would go away. I would be driving at night and look to the closest tree, closest bridge. Just one sharp turn and you won’t have to deal with this worry and stress anymore.
Little did I know there were healthy ways to make this feeling go away. Little did I know mental illness was much more prominent. Little did I know I had a mental illness that was actually manageable.
It took a while to accept that having anxiety was okay. My entire life, there was this huge stigma around mental illness. For years I was told I worry too much, to quit stressing, to calm down and quit controlling. And while all of those seemed fine and dandy in words, putting those words into action seemed nothing short of impossible.
I thought I was this broken vase that should be shunned from holding beautiful sunflowers.
I spent years seeking healthier coping mechanisms. I tried working out, stuffing my face with carbs, painting, doing yoga, meditating, napping. Each had the same effect: while I was doing them I felt fine. No worries. But the moment they stopped, the moment I stopped, anxiety would rush back in. Reality would hit.
So. I set up an appointment with a regular physician. Panicking like it was a job interview, I walked in and word vomited, explaining to her everything I had felt since I was a young child. She set me up with some medicine.
I started off small and increased and adjusted over several months. Eventually my mind got to a point I don’t think I had ever felt before. Peace. I could finally breathe again with confidence. No matter how many hairs were out of place. Breathe. Just with a little help from some medicine.
I am still new to treating my anxiety and I plan to set up an appointment with a psychotherapist to discuss my medication and ways of coping. I still have these moments of brief panic, but I am slowly finding my feet.
I write this blog for those who may feel similar. Last year, I read a blog from a friend that changed my mindset and made me brave enough to get help. Now I want to do the same for you.
And for everyone else who may not have a mental illness, stop telling people they worry too much. Stop telling people to quit stressing, to “lighten up.” IT DOESN’T WORK.
Instead of these cheery sayings, we should start enlightening ourselves on mental illness and ways we can help others that may be struggling. This stigma, this mindset that you have to be perfect in this difficult world, has got to go. It is killing people. It is hurting people.
Open your mind to what is around you. Realize anyone can show happiness on the outside; we need to help people find their joy on the inside.