In honour of World Mental Health Day on the 10th and October being Emotional Wellness Month, I thought it important to share my story of mental illness to wellness (this has been adapted from yesterdays social post)
I have a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder.
After years of struggling to keep it all “together”, I found myself breaking down in my doctors office to the question “Do you feel content?”.
In that moment I couldn’t think of any time that I could say I felt truly “content”. Looking back, it wasn’t exactly true but the memories were definitely few and far between.
The diagnosis came with a mixed bag of emotions, relief, embarrassment, sadness, and defeat to name a few. It was hard for me to comprehend and I was scared to go on medication because to me that meant failure, like I couldn’t handle life. I remember saying to my doctor “but I’m very successful” and she replied “Stephanie, I have CEO’s who also have this diagnosis and are on medication.”
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a disorder characterized by excessive or unrealistic anxiety about two or more aspects of life (work, social relationships, financial matters, etc.), often accompanied by symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath, or dizziness, according to the oxford dictionary.
For me it meant a constant state of worry, my mind was rarely free from it. I could turn any situation into impending doom and what would seem like small things to others, would mean a big deal to me. It meant that I tried to control every tiny detail of my life and if anything deviated from my plan, I felt high levels of frustration. Agitation was my most familiar feeling. I’ve even experienced panic attacks, the most recent in January of this year (though I denied it, EVEN after the paramedic told me that’s why my heart was racing)
That’s what happens when you have a mental illness, you eventually feel it in your body, you’re fight, flight, freeze response goes into over drive and because our bodies aren’t meant to be in that state all of the time, it results in physical illness, eventually. Stress is a silent killer and is linked to an estimated 90% of illness!!! 90% 🤯
I believe that everything that happens to us in life actually happens for us and the same goes with this diagnosis. In the days and weeks that followed, I wondered how I could ever transition into a career of Life Coaching when I have a mental illness. The beauty of this is that it sent me down the road of “contentment”, I realized that in order for me to be the best version of myself, and the best coach, I had to focus on feeling better, not being better.
You see part of what led me to that diagnosis was the fact that I was trying to achieve excellence in every area of my life, I had to be a top performer in everything I did and this meant years of personal development trainings and courses, entering multiple competitions, getting on stage in front of hundreds of people, anything that would prove I was worthy. It was so much pressure!
I have no regrets about my journey because the destination, where I am today, is a beautiful place to be and the lessons from those nearly two decades of suffering have been profound and are what make me the coach I am today.
I’m happy to report that I’m no longer medicated and I experience “Normal” amounts of anxiety. I live with much more ease and joy and my diagnosis does not rule my life. I have experimented with many forms of CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy), mindfulness, Reiki, physical exercise and healthier eating (still working on this one..) to help ease the symptoms and it’s been working wonders for me.
I want to add that I don’t think I would have got there without those months of medication which helped my brain to “restart” and gave me the ability to focus on healing like I’d never been able to do before. So for anyone reading this, trust your physician and your gut, if medication feels right for you, please try not to feel the shame I once felt because there is a purpose for it and there can be a life after It.
If I could pinpoint one habit change that made the most difference to my life that I could leave you with, it would be disengaging from my thoughts. The ability to observe my worrying, without getting caught up in it, has made the most profound difference in my mental and physical health.
You can do this too, it starts with being aware that your mind is telling a story that makes you feel bad and is unhelpful. Next you think to yourself “I’m having the thought that…”. This automatically puts you in observer mode instead of engaging in the thought itself. It’s simple and very effective and comes from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. I hope you try it, mental illness or not, as it’s great to stop stress before it has a chance to happen.
Not all of us will be diagnosed with a mental illness but we all feel ill from time to time, it’s those “bad days” we have, and they are normal. If you aren’t sure where you stand or if you ever would like to talk to a peer about your mental health, I’m here. And, although I would like to see better mental health care here in NL (we need better), you don’t have to go it alone and there are also many resources available all through the Canadian Mental Health Association NL and https://wellnesstogether.ca/en-CA?gclid=Cj0KCQjwnoqLBhD4ARIsAL5JedJXcqfN9AysGzFwG1w-anZPFitnvM5r5iS3LhCsRI-y_qPOi5l3FxAaAkqfEALw_wcB