A little over 15 years ago, I gripped the sink in my dorm room bathroom and pulled myself up off of the floor. My face was still damp from the tears, my vision was fuzzy and there was a bruised egg forming on my forehead above my right eyebrow from where my face hit the doorknob, when I passed out from another vicious panic attack.
I can still feel what it felt like to be in that bathroom. I can still feel the desperation, horror, and rage in my veins as I looked at my reflection and was terrified of what was looking back at me. For years, I asked myself, “Who are you? How did you end up so weak? What is wrong with you?” It was the loneliest place I have ever been.
There isn’t a word to describe how much your soul hurts when you are in the worst part of your battle with mental illness. I have been writing about it and publicly speaking about it for almost a decade and I still come up short. Battling an invisible illness takes so much from you, isolates you, and lies to you. It makes you question your worth and purpose. It makes you question your ability to endure.
I was just 19 years old when I was officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder. Now looking back, I can see how much I was struggling the two years prior to my diagnosis. During my senior year of high school, a few different people suggested that I see a therapist and that maybe I was struggling with anxiety. I was humiliated by the accusation. The stigma surrounding mental health was so strong when I was young that the fact that someone even suggested that I was struggling mentally made me want to curl up into a ball and disappear. So, I refused help. I swept it under the rug. All of that embarrassment, stubbornness, and ignorance led me to that bathroom floor — sick, afraid, and lost.
It took me way longer than I wish it did to ask for the help I desperately needed. It took me three different tries to get the right therapist at my college health center, but once I did she unlocked everything for me. Nothing was “wrong” with me. My brain was different from others. I wasn’t weak. I was battling something awful that no one could see and I was still showing up everyday — living, enduring, trying. If anything, I was stronger than I ever thought possible. I learned how things in my past impacted my life and how I was wired. I learned about stigma and coping techniques and what my body was trying to tell me when my anxiety took over. I learned to control my panic attacks– something I never thought would be possible. I learned about myself. I became an expert in my illness. I regained my confidence and, more importantly, my health. I started to become the woman I am now…and I like her so much.
It took me a long time to get to where I am today. It was messy, scary, defeating, lonely, ugly, sometimes funny, ultimately triumphant, and so worth it. I, quite literally, still work at it and heal every day. I prioritize my mental health every single day. I plan. I outline my coping techniques. I give myself the love I deserve. When I stumble, I pause and show myself grace and kindness. It took years of practice and it is so exhausting but I feel like I made it…and I am so grateful. For the past 7+ years, I have been running a mental health organization called Listen, Lucy. I host workshops, talks, and assemblies for schools and organizations. I share my story in hopes to end the stigma, normalize asking for help, and spread acceptance around the world. Through the years, I have been lucky enough to share my experience with tens of thousands of people. I have found out that when I share my story it gives others permission to do the same. My mental illness is something I have. It is not something I am. It has given me the worst days of my life, but has also given me the opportunity to create something so beautiful.
So, use your voice. Trust yourself. Celebrate when things are good and fight as hard as you can when things are bad. Ask for help. Breathe. Say something nice about yourself every single day. Know that this is temporary and that you can overcome your obstacles. Show yourself grace and kindness. And, most importantly, never ever ever give up on yourself. I promise you, your day is coming.