My Encounter With Anxiety And Depression
I sat down in the waiting room of my GP, my leg nervously jumping.
I was restless because I didn’t bring any work with me and my mind was racing. I had so much to do today, this week, this month – if it was not for this doctor’s appointment I would not be here…sitting aimlessly. Time is money!I started to scan the walls of the room to preoccupy my mind. My eyes landed on the word free. My borough was offering free mental health therapy. I took a pic of the poster for future reference, thinking it may come in handy one day.
Fast forward a couple of weeks later. I’m at my desk, despite being exhausted, I’m forcing myself to smash my daily goals. My arms were hurting, my eyes were tired but I thought that to be a ‘good entrepreneur’ (whatever that means), I had to push through and accomplish my daily goals. What happened next, I can only describe as hearing a loud ‘bang’ – but it was inside my head and I was the only one in the coworking space. I froze for 10 seconds trying to figure out what just happened but I thought this must be a sign so I packed my bags and went home. On my commute, my arms would not stop shaking and I felt like my body wanted to sleep for 2 weeks straight. I felt horrible because I had betrayed my body. When I got home, I fell into my bed and contemplated on when did it get like this. When did I allow it to get like this?! If I was working for someone I knew when to stop but as it was my startup, my dream, my baby, I never switched off. It wasn’t just my physical body, it was my everything – I was always switched on in every facet of my life. I knew better but didn’t do better. I called the number for the mental health clinic and self-referred myself. After doing their assessment, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression.
Never in my life would I have thought it would happen to me. I’m the happy girl. The one who journals and practices self-love. I don’t do yoga or drink green juices but I got my act together – right? Wrong. After 6 weeks of CBT, I realised that I was fortunate to be diagnosed with a mild case of anxiety and depression but if I didn’t nip it in the bud… I shudder to think what would have happened to me. I started explaining to people that I was sick without fully explaining what was wrong. This was because I thought that unlike other illnesses, even if you are cured of mental sickness, ANYTHING that you may do afterward that seems unusual will be thought to be linked to your previous issue. I was afraid of the stigma. I did tell loved ones that I was doing treatment and I got more love than I expected, but I definitely got the odd responses too.
“Don’t claim it – you have to declare that you have the mind of Christ!”
“But you’re always happy!”
“You have a roof over head and food in your belly, what are you sad about?”
“You’re young and successful, what are you worried about?”
“But you’re blessed and highly favored!”
And on and on the Christian-ese narrative went. Not that I am ungrateful for the mercies of God in my life, but despite ‘having the mind of Christ’ I still got sick. Not because of any fault of God, but because of my mismanagement of myself. In pursuing my passions, I never practiced recharging. In all my travels I brought work with me. I never really took a break. I always brought a book to read, or my laptop and tried to do work. Always. The saying ‘do what you love’ can ruin you. All my hobbies and interests were my work. That’s why I was always switched on, afraid that I may miss an opportunity or a life lesson.
The truth is, anxiety and depression are not uncommon ailments for entrepreneurs. This was the side of entrepreneurship no one had told me about. I was told about the late nights and the hustle, not the RSI or mental problems that came with it. A good friend of mine sent me this article to read and it scared me into better self-care. It felt like they were talking about me. There were some fears I had that I didn’t tell God – a fear of actually saying them, and so acknowledging them or that God might tell someone. Because I consult for cosmetic entrepreneurs, I now ask potential clients if they are ready. Before we start on a project, I need to know and I want them to think deeply about the journey they are about to embark on. When friends ask me questions on entrepreneurship, freelancing and becoming a digital nomad, I am honest with them and let them know, you need to have the emotional grit for the 21st Century Career.
I know that entrepreneurship is for me, so I’m not giving it up. Thanks to CBT, I now know how to manage when stressors that can get me down and worried occur. Although the journaling, positive thoughts and general self-love practices that I already did were a part of the recipe, they are only one part of (what I call) the Personal Management Project ™. Self-awareness, self-forgiveness and being honest with yourself are a part of the Personal Management Project™. All of this takes time to identify and acknowledge, let alone to master.
A summary of what I learned from CBT and the things that I have and/or plan to implement into my life are:
- It is important for me to live my life with a purpose. Living passively with no goals or having goals that are unclear can actually open the door to anxiety. I know that I can design my life and live each day with the intention of achieving my ideal lifestyle. So now I must look critically at things that are happening in my life and seeing what I can reduce, introduce or cut out completely to manage my stress levels.
- Exercising for my life. This is another one of those things that I knew but didn’t do. The benefits of exercise are constantly being mentioned in the media, and yet I chose to complete work over doing even 5 minutes of exercise. This has to change.
- Eating a proper diet is imperative. I hate to be a resounding gong, but it’s true that diet is important. If we don’t drink enough water, it can be difficult to concentrate. Protein helps to regulate your blood sugar levels. Your gut uses many of the same chemicals that your brain uses so if your gut is not happy, your brain won’t be happy and neither will you. Eating widely from a ‘rainbow’ diet (your plate should be colourful with different foods) and drinking lots of water helps. Every. Little. Change. Helps.
- Don’t underestimate the power of a good sleep cycle. I never really had a good relationship with sleeping. I love taking naps (that Sunday afternoon nap is a must) but going to bed at night time is a struggle. I used to give myself excuses such as ‘I work better at night’. No more. I need to sleep and to sleep well. If I was living in the bush or a cave, I wouldn’t be going to farm at night. Sleeping at night and taking breaks when I’m tired affects my mood so I’m going to keep this habit up. This also means monitoring my caffeine intake because it too is a culprit since it is a stimulant.
- Keeping doing what I was doing before. The journalling, the personal movie nights, indulging in tea and even getting my nails done. Looking after me is such a mood lifter and I need to stop making excuses or feeling guilty when I have me-time. Me-time is always a good time.
- I need to be aware. I am responsible for me. How I spend my time, how I eat, how I sleep and how I feel. I need to learn how to say no for things that I don’t want. I have to know what are my triggers and identify how they affect me. Being this responsible for myself can feel overwhelming but I have to be strong enough to even acknowledge my vices. I have to be willing to give up bad habits. I have to want to be better. I have to want to create a new life. No one can do it for me, only me.
This experience has humbled me and given me the grace to ‘stay in my own lane’. I do have dreams (that are valid) but I want to live life and to live it right. I want to live my life – healthy, wealthy and wise. Yes I love to laugh and I do see the glass as half full, but anxiety and depression still happened to me. No one is exempt or excluded from the things that life throws at us. It’s how we handle those things that determine the life we live. Regardless of what life throws at me, from now on, I’m not going to neglect my temple. Whether I am rich or poor, single or married, happy or sad, I’m going to love me good and take care of myself. I promise to make myself a priority and love myself to the most loved Shari that has ever lived. I promise that I’m going to do right by me.