Managing my anxiety issues, and sometimes struggling to do so, is nothing new for me.

It started when I wouldn’t talk in class from Senior Kindergarten until mid-Grade Two, when I had the confidence to speak up. Up until last year, I thought I was just being shy, but found out it was a form of childhood anxiety called selective mutism. I overcame that, but it wasn’t the end of the battle.

Anxiety creeps back into my life off and on, and has ever since I was 12. Stressful times in my life, including but absolutely not limited to, deaths in the family and exam seasons would trigger behaviors from anxious thoughts that won’t shut up to, on my worst days, practically sleepless nights and feeling hopeless.

In my last year of college, I was starting to feel insecure about a lot on my plate.

In addition to the anxiety that comes with graduating, looking for a job, and being a 20-something, I worried about everything from my family, to my friends’ opinions of me, to my long war with my body image.

Basically, I felt like I didn’t have my life together, I wasn’t sure if I would get my life together, and because I felt so anxious about those feelings, I felt depressed.

I decided enough was enough and I booked a therapy appointment. One of my 2017 goals was to take better care of myself, and I knew therapy would help me reach that goal.

I felt nervous at first. While I feel like opening up about mental health is more acceptable, to a degree, I feel like stigma still exists.

Slow and steady: What I learned from therapy. A drawing of a girl looking sad while planets orbit around her in space.
I drew this to best describe my anxiety. Sometimes, I feel like there’s so much orbiting around my head, it’s like I’m lost in space.

Because of the stigma, I was worried people would judge me, that they would see me as a weaker person, and that some would avoid me knowing I struggle with my mental health sometimes.

Also, thinking about anxiety gives me anxiety, which is never fun.

However, I knew it was for the best that I booked an appointment so I can come up with a plan to better manage my mental health.

After several appointments and almost a year later, I can say it has helped start my recovery from my anxiety issues, and I’ve learned a lot of lessons.

Sometimes, you underestimate how rough you are on yourself…

At best, I will pace around the room, stress-eat, and ramble on about current affairs to deflect my anxiety.

On my worst days, I felt consumed by my negative thoughts that were impossible to shut off until I genuinely felt relaxed. Sometimes, stress exhausted me so much that all I could do was sleep, and other times, I felt like I couldn’t sleep because I was so stressed. Some days, I try to stay as quiet and happy as I can to disguise my anxiety, and other days, I’m so anxious, I become irritable and overreactive.

Despite this, I thought I was fine. After I finished a final exam or essay and spent time with friends and family, I felt like I was back to my bubbly, smiley self.

I’d tell myself that it’s normal to feel stressed during stressful times, and that I’d feel better soon.

That is, until I decided I no longer wanted it to be my normal. I was tired of being tired after screaming thoughts of worst-case scenarios attacked me.

At my first appointment, my therapist said anxiety left me in a negative cycle, making it tough to express self-compassion.

Even though it made sense hearing it from someone else, it was hard for me to admit it. I advocate for self-love and being true to who you are, regardless of what people think, but it’s hard to admit you don’t practice what you preach.

Slow and steady: What I learned from therapy. "Furiously Happy" by Jenny Lawson, "The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion" by Christopher Germer, and "Big Magic" by Elizabeth Gilbert" stacked, in that order, on a coffee table nearby the windowsill.
Reading has always helped me cope during the rough times in my life. These are just a few books I read during my anxiety recovery journey.

Then again, that’s why I went to therapy; I needed guidance on how to reduce anxiety and live a positive life.

Most of your time spent focusing on your mental health is outside of the appointments.

The hour-long appointments can go by quickly. Sometimes, I run out of things to talk about. Other times, I couldn’t believe how quickly the hour flew by.

The way I look at it, going to a therapist for your mental health is similar to going to a physician for physical health. Of course, you want your questions answered, but you also want to talk about what you’ve changed to see if your results are different than your last appointment.

Before therapy, I was already walking, drinking tea, reading, colouring, drawing, listening to music and writing to cope with stress. After therapy, I realized that my stress-busters also play a part in relieving anxiety in between appointments.

Recovery is a slow and steady process.

Bad days still happen post-appointment. On the days my anxiety would consume me, I felt like I was taking steps backward after I had just made some big steps forward.

For example, I was feeling great about my body until I couldn’t fit into a pair of pants that usually fit. I shamed myself for gaining weight since they last fit properly and told myself I should feel bad that one less pair of pants fit me.

After I put on clothes that fit and flatter me, I felt better, but I still felt sad knowing it would be awhile before those pants fit again.

Slow and steady: What I learned from therapy. Emily Stewart dressed as Harley Quinn.
When I wear clothes that make me feel good, such as this Harley Quinn dress, I feel great about myself. However, there are many days where I struggle with maintaining a positive body image if I feel ashamed of my body.

On the days when my anxiety is at its worst, I feel defeated. I wonder when I’ll feel happy again, and why did I derail after finally feeling like I’m on track.

However, it’s, again, like dealing with physical health. I wouldn’t want to rush the six-week recovery period I had for jaw surgery, nor should I. Likewise, it’s going to take a while to recover from anxiety.

Bad days can happen to anyone with or without mental health issues, but the important thing is you recover.

It’s up to you to decide how much of your story you want to share with other people.

Anyone who knows me personally knows I tend to ramble on and that sometimes, I reveal a bit too much about myself.

It must be the writer in me. After all, both the creative writing and journalism classes I took encouraged us to give it all and never hold back.

Before my first appointment, I worried about my tendency to overshare, kind of like I am now. I was anxious about the thought of opening up about therapy, and what everyone, including the taxi driver, to my friends, to people I’m interviewing, would think.

Slow and steady: What I learned from therapy. A bracelet that says "My Story Isn't Over Yet."
Motivational mantras help me cope with my mental health. This semi-colon bracelet is a reminder that life goes on.

However, it’s easy for me to find other things to talk about. When I started opening up about it, I found most people were supportive or they just simply didn’t say anything else about it and we talked about something else.

I’m pretty open about what relieves my anxiety, but I’ve worried about how being transparent about that aspect of my life would affect my future career and relationships.

However, by opening up, I’ll shed some light and hopefully, erase a bit of stigma. If some people aren’t supportive, then all I can do is surround myself with people who are supportive on my journey.

If anyone is struggling, I want you to know that you are absolutely not alone and that it’s completely OK to ask for help. Below are some resources that can help you.

London and Region Mood Disorders Self-Help Group

London Middlesex Suicide Prevention Council: 1-844-360-8055

Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868

Canadian Mental Health Association Reach Out: 1-866-933-2023

Connex Ontario Mental Health Helpline: 1-866-531-2600

If you are in a serious life-threatening crisis, call 911.

All photos courtesy of Emily Stewart. 

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