The First and Last of the Dark Days

I learned from another blogger that May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I think many of us with mental health concerns find the stigma around it to be truly terrifying. It can push us inward and leave many of us feeling unwanted or hushed. Suffering in silence and alone is not healthy for anyone, including those around us. Today, I wanted to share with you a quick glimpse of my first darkest of days and my last. There have been many times in between, but consistently I pull myself through, and each time I do, the darkest days come less frequently, and are not as dark as the previous.

September 1996. The pressure to choose a major, before I returned for my third year of school, was being hammered upon me. The weight of this decision was unbearable. I saw many friends easily sticking with a major, planning out projects, collaborations, and internships. The feeling of not belonging created a snowball effect and caused me to fall into classic avoidance behavior.

On the first day I was late to class, probably not by accident. I can’t remember what class it was, but I do remember the feeling of standing outside the door, hearing the professor already speaking, that hallowed silence from the rest of the students, and I knew I couldn’t go inside. My first panic attack occurred outside of that room. I felt like a heavy blanket was thrown over me, I couldn’t breathe or concentrate. My legs felt weak, thoughts in my head were disjointed, and flight or fight kicked in. Flight won.

I dropped out of school that week. This was the beginning of the anxiety and panic attacks that I kept hidden from friends and family. I choose at that time to suffer in silence because I was confused, scared, and embarrassed. The darkest days turned into months and years, eventually it seemed I grew out of it, and was hopeful it was behind me for good. I think what occurred was I learned to avoid triggers and found confidence in areas I didn’t have before through life lessons and eventually returning to school.

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May 2017. The last time I felt this way was after my third child was born. By now I had learned some coping methods and found professional help on and off, though the feeling of shame still prevented me from being open with loved ones. I had this beautiful healthy baby, and I’d done this two times before. This should be easy. So, why was it so hard? Lack of sleep, constant breast feeding, and lack of overall care for myself, all played into my downward spiral. I was becoming very short tempered with everyone around me, I insisted on keeping my house spotless, and controlling every detail of the family. I believe I was on the borderline of OCD, accompanied with postpartum anxiety.

One day my parents and my sisters were being indecisive about something, what it was I can’t recall. I screamed at one of my sisters over the phone, something I never do. My blood pressure must have been through the roof, something rose up inside of me and clicked, I have a problem! This is not normal. I need help.

Being that it had been 20 years since my first panic attack, anxiety was not new to me. I recognized that I needed help ASAP and if I didn’t get it all of those around me would be feeling the brunt of my actions. It wasn’t fair to them. I found a new therapist through postpartum online hotline, one within my insurance network. I did research online to my symptoms, read articles about diet and supplements that would be helpful; I researched other medications as well, continued with acupuncture, started to be more physically active. Most importantly, I caught myself when my temper was rising. I knew it was due to anxiety, just knowing this helped me curb it.

The first of the darkest days was the hardest for me, it was so new and confusing. Over the years I have learned to overcome so much. The journey is ongoing. Anxiety is a part of me, but I fight it. It doesn’t control me like it used to, and I will take that as a WIN.