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Some Days I'm Drowning, but I'm Learning to Swim

How It Feels Living with Mental Illness

I let myself sink into the warm water, feeling it lap at my skin as I crouch into the claw-foot bathtub. But I barely feel the warmth. All I feel is a creeping numbness sweeping through me as I slosh the water over the side of the porcelain and onto the checkered tile. I lower my body to coat my hair in the water. Then I lower further, sinking beneath the surface and holding my breath. I count the seconds in my head...

10...

20...

30...

40...

Then I feel a vibrating hammer through the room and a low, muffled sound reaches my ears underwater. Like my name being called.

"Alice!" The voice is clearer as I jolt myself out from under the water, abandoning the thoughts racing through my mind.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm in here, what's up?"

"Hurry, before we're late!"

"Okay, yeah!"

I make the decision then to hasten my process of getting ready. I really don't want to go out tonight, but I don't want to let anyone down.

I don't want to be alone, but I don't want to be around anyone else, either.

I don't want to try to socialize and be stuck with nothing to say.

But I go because I don't want to let them down.

I go to stop myself from wanting to drown. 

Sound familiar? Well, it isn't a real story, but the feelings within the last lines are feelings that I have struggled with before.

For years, I have been struggling with anxiety and depression. I never knew what it was at first, and I remember being told that what I was experiencing was all in my head or that I was creating something from nothing and a wide array of similar phrases that people tell you in the hope that you'll stop "being this way."  For years, I've been told many variants of "You're freaking out over nothing," and "Try to be happy." I've been told that I should just breathe and that I will be fine.

However, there are many days that I face in which I feel like I can't get enough air into my lungs. There are times in which I have sudden panic attacks and I feel as though I could die, but I just ride it out and let the attack come and go. Sometimes, it's a crying fit in my room or in public. Other times, it's hyperventilating and my body seizing up to where I can't move without pain. And every day I ask myself, "Why am I going through this?"

It wasn't until I started my first real year at university that I realized that I was struggling with depression and anxiety. I did many things to avoid my problems and responsibilities, such as skipping classes to get high and forget my feelings for a while. My self-esteem suffered as I did many things I wasn't proud of and favored staying up late, drinking, and smoking over getting good sleep, eating properly, and doing homework. It wasn't until my second year of university that I decided to seek help for these issues by going to counseling on campus. I learned that many of my issues that caused me to associate with these mental illnesses stemmed from childhood. I will not go into grave detail on this, but there were times in my life where, like many others, I was bullied, neglected, felt unheard, etc.

The hardest parts have gone now, and I am learning to cope in healthier ways. One of the ways that I cope is actually coming out and saying that I suffer. At the age of 24 years old, I no longer suffer in silence. There are still many days where I look back on my past and the things I've done and I harshly criticize myself. But, through discussing my past with trusted friends in my life, I am learning to accept the past for what it is and was and I am moving further away from the person I used to be. I have gained confidence in speaking about myself, which is something that I never used to have. While it can still sometimes be very difficult and I still feel as though I fall into some old habits at times or recurring negative thought patterns, I am learning how to bring myself further away from these negative cycles every day.

One of the ways in which I cope is by accepting myself as I am. I have flaws, I have faults, and I am not perfect. The more that I realize this, the easier it is to deal with the world around me and interact with the people in my life. I've also learned to accept situations for what they are. Yes, as a person struggling with anxiety, this is very difficult to do most days, and it is still easier said than done. However, I am learning to accept that there are certain things I can control, and there are other things that I strictly cannot and should not even attempt to exert my energy into. It is often a painful endeavor, as I often find myself wishing to fix things and people, but it is something I have needed to learn for years.

Another way in which I cope is by being open and vulnerable with my friends, even if they sometimes aren't listening. Being open to vulnerability and showing my weaknesses is one of the most challenging parts of my growth as of late because I still have mental scars from others in my past telling me not to be a certain way or telling me that I'm not good enough, etc. I still at times find myself apologizing for nothing or apologizing simply for being myself and having the emotions and responses that I have. But, I have learned to do something that I have never done before: I have learned to accept that when someone says that I am fine and doing nothing wrong, it is their truth. I may still feel a certain way about myself, but if another person sees that I am okay and tells me that they believe me to be okay (or that I WILL be okay, no matter what), I have learned to believe this as truth. And to those friends that I have done that with and have taught me to get past this barrier, I will be forever grateful.

I leave you with this final thought: Even when you feel like you are drowning, learn to breathe and float. Then, learn to swim. It gets easier the more you practice, I promise.

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Some Days I'm Drowning, but I'm Learning to Swim
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