By Kirby Trahan
I went to therapy a few days ago. I hadn’t been since November. I’ve dealt with pretty high anxiety the last few years including the occasional oh-so-fun panic attack. A few months back, my anxiety tapered off. I was good. Or I thought I was. Then, last week, as I was walking through Home Depot, out of nowhere I couldn’t breathe. I knew the signs. Slow inhales, Kirby. Just make it out of the store. Focus on one thing. Find your breath.
I can’t imagine how my inability to speak was mistaken for rudeness as I passed the nice employees in orange aprons asking me if I needed help. Focus. Breathe. As I finally walked through the automatic doors to the parking lot (which felt like it took days to get to), I felt the fresh air on my face and took my first regular exhale. It took another 20 minutes to return to normal.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, some 40 million American adults — roughly 18 percent of the population — have an anxiety disorder. On top of that, only 36.9 percent of those people suffering seek treatment with a mental health professional. And make no mistake, suffering is an accurate word to describe dealing with anxiety.
Treatment can look different for everyone. Whether it be yoga or meditation, long walks, talking to a therapist or taking medication, anxiety will not suppress on its own and go away without help. The stigma around mental health has decreased, thankfully; however, millions of people still live with crippling anxiety — a lot of times due to fear of judgment preventing them from speaking out or seeking treatment.
Life events can bring on anxiety: work stress, lack of sleep, a job change, raising kids, increased alcohol intake, etc. Or, it can simply be due to brain chemistry and genetics. Anxiety does not discriminate. Like anything in life, we cannot always control what happens, but we can control how we react and handle the cards we are dealt.
I know I will suffer from some level of anxiety the rest of my life. Hopefully, I will never hit my rock bottom again: pulling my car over on the side of U.S.1, causing me to be late to work because I knew it was not safe to drive when I couldn’t breathe, spending days at a time feeling like I couldn’t peel myself out of bed, just lying there wishing I could rip off layers of my skin.
For me, therapy helps. Talking to my best friends and my mom helps. You may need more than that. You may need less. You may just need some fresh air. Don’t be afraid to explore whatever you may need to ease your pain.
If therapy is something you’d like to try, my best piece of advice is don’t give up if you don’t love the first therapist you try. This is a very intimate relationship, so treat it like one. If you don’t feel completely transparent with this person, and don’t speak your truth inside his or her office, it won’t work.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Listen to your body, and don’t ignore it simply because you don’t want to admit what’s happening to it. It’s okay. We all have our sh*t. And sh*t is known to stink.