Anxiety pushes many of us to keep our guard up at all times. It makes trusting others and ourselves difficult. It convinces us to believe and listen to our fears instead of confronting them.
Without any sort of treatment, anxiety can make you feel like a prisoner to your own thoughts.
I’ve been there. My anxiety reached an all-time high during my college years and was the absolute worst during my senior year in 2015. Everyone thought I was thriving because I was losing weight, meanwhile I couldn’t go one day without panicking about class, friendships, my identity, my body, or whatever else made my heart race. It was a painful existence.
Shortly after graduation, my circle convinced me to find my first therapist. Once I began to trust my therapist, I began to talk about my true thoughts, fears, and feelings to her. This is when I learned that one of the most effective ways to confront anxiety is by opening up about it. I began to be more vulnerable with my close friends and family as a result. My life drastically improved thanks to the lessons I gained in therapy.
Flash forward to mid-March 2018 when my relationship with my ex-fiancee ended and my wedding was cancelled. Engagement life had been pretty good, so the trauma of this event blindsided me and hit hard. I had never experienced this kind of heartbreak before.
I was particularly devastated when my ex posted a too-casual status on Facebook about the ordeal, announcing our break-up publicly without my consent. Many of my friends and family members found out by reading the status, and some of them reached out to me with screenshots attached. It was extremely upsetting. My power was taken away from me and it felt like there wasn’t much I could do.
Having to do the post-break-up social media clean-up (untagging photos, new profile pictures, relationship status adjustment) was expected, but I had no intention of writing anything about it on a public forum. I desperately wanted my pain to be private, but my ex made that impossible once the status was posted.
Anxiety quickly overtook my sadness: What would people think of me based on that status? What did this failed engagement say about me? The sense of control I had thought I had achieved in my life was gone and anxiety took its’ place.
After wracking my brain for a while and talking about it with my closest friends, I decided to post my own status and take my power back. My voice deserved to be in the mix, and it wouldn’t be unless I myself spoke up. I wrote with true vulnerability behind my words, and my status was honest and raw.
Once it was posted, I felt relieved to have my feelings out in the open. I wasn’t hiding. I was very-much still in the throes of heartbreak (and I honestly will be for some time) but writing candidly about it made it feel less shameful. Those who hadn’t seen the other status flooded my comments with words of support, and that helped too. I flew to Paris a few days later and tried to walk with my head held high.
Since then, I’ve strived to be more vulnerable on a regular basis as a way to cope with the anxiety this break-up reignited in me. I’ve also aimed to expand the range of my vulnerability. My first round of therapy helped me open up to close friends and some family, but that was pretty much the extent of my openness. Now I’m trying to be even more vulnerable on both a private and public level. A few recent examples:
Talking to a stranger in Paris about the break-up a week after it happened
Working through a panic attack with my parents present and making a plan together
Speaking to other LGBTQ+ folks at queer events about identity and dating struggles
Opening up about body-shaming in the past (see Instagram post below)
Admitting fitness fears to my personal trainer and then conquering them together
Starting and maintaining this blog
Each act of vulnerability has helped me feel less anxious in general. Speaking about what scares me helps me accept each fear a little more. This in turn gives the anxiety less power. I am better able to recognize that an anxious thought popping into my head is usually a distortion: Just because I think it doesn’t mean it is true or that I have to be dictated by it.
Unlocking the door and throwing away the key is ultimately bringing me more peace because I have no secrets to burden me. The pressure to be perfect is slowly but surely disappearing. Fear used to impact my decisions, but now love and kindness act as my primary guides.
I’m sure some people disagree with being as vulnerable as I have been as of late, but most of my circle has expressed positive feedback. I typically find that anyone listening is sympathetic rather than judgmental. The judgement I’m afraid of tends to be a product of my own imagination. We are all in our own heads all the time and are often too busy worrying about ourselves to judge others.
Many people have told me they relate to what I’m feeling, and that helps normalize my feelings and mental health issues in general. It’s essential to remember that we are all fighting our own battles regardless of if we are sharing our battles with others. Choosing to be open about these battles can and will help others.
Does the notion of opening up terrify you? Consider trying therapy first, as it is a way to receive an unbiased response.
If you want to be more vulnerable with your inner circle, start with something small, something with low stakes so you won’t be too intimidated. Maybe tell an embarrassing story to a friend or let yourself cry in front of someone you trust.
Being vulnerable about your anxiety won’t cure it, but doing so can certainly lift some weight of your shoulders. You are not alone in your thoughts and feelings, and sharing them with the world proves you are courageous and strong. I look forward to continuing to live with an open heart and spirit, and I hope doing so will help others as well.
I’ve been striving to be more vulnerable lately. My most recent act of true vulnerability was admitting to a stranger that my wedding was cancelled at a queer bar in Paris a week after it happened. It was painful to say it out loud, but doing so helped me accept it just a little bit more. And the stranger was really sweet about it. She simply told me I’d be okay. Hearing that from someone who wasn’t my parents made me believe it.
So I’m going to be vulnerable again now: I’m going back to therapy. My first session is tomorrow morning.
Why am I so terrified to admit that? Maybe it’s about wanting to appear strong in the face of defeat. Going back to therapy means I’m not strong enough to handle it on my own, right?
It could also be about not wanting to scare my family and friends. Going back to therapy implies that something is majorly wrong, that my last time with a therapist was a failure, and they’ll now have a reason to worry about me. I’ll be looked at differently.
Clearly the stigma that comes with mental health issues is alive and well. The unfortunate part is that these messed up ideas make their way into my brain and cause me to think negatively about my own mental health issues sometimes. Once I take a minute to tune out society’s omni-present judgement, I try to remind myself that there is nothing wrong with going back to therapy.
I repeat: there is nothing wrong with going to therapy! This is especially important to say in a time when our collective mental health (as a country, as a world) is suffering.
The truth of that matter is that going back to therapy is showing strength: I’m standing up for myself and getting the help I deserve. That takes courage. And sure, I probably wouldn’t be going back to therapy if everything in my life was fantastic right now, but there are plenty of reasons to see a therapist that don’t involve a big crisis. If anyone in my circle really views me differently for getting help, then they don’t belong in my circle anyway. And my last dabble into therapy was anything but a failure.
I first tried therapy at my college in 2011, but really committed to it in 2015 when I was at my lowest low after graduating. My anxiety was practically my best friend and depression was making it hard to get out of bed. My first therapist helped think about my thought processes for the first time and my life slowly but surely changed. I still use many of the techniques that I learned from that year of have therapy on a weekly basis.
So why am I going back now, three years later? I would like to talk through the details of my recent trauma with an unbiased person and try to understand what happened a little better. I want to understand how these events have fundamentally changed me. I also want to talk about how to move forward from all of this and think about what I want my new future (bright and shiny) to look like. I have a lot of concerns that are weighing on me: how (and who) do I go about dating again? What career moves do I want to make in the near future that will impact my long term future? A big goal is to learn from my past mistakes and not make the same ones again.
I’m not in crisis mode nor am I at my lowest low. In fact, my life isn’t as terrible as I thought it would be when the breakup first happened. Solo travel has brought me major happiness in bursts. Being a dog mom is pretty therapeutic and my pup has completely won my heart. I’m spending a lot of time in Westchester enjoying the trees and the company of my ridiculous parents, which has been a nice change from Manhattan. I get to see my friends now and then, and a select few of them are really amazing at checking in on me throughout all this. And hey, at least Miz Cracker made it to the top five on Drag Race!
My life is pretty good. All of the concerns that are nagging my soul are legitimate too. And I’m going back to therapy.
Sometimes your own advice is the advice you need to hear. I wrote an article a few weeks ago on finding your first therapist. Early this week, I signed up for PrideCounseling.com, a segment of Better Help’s online counseling services. I opted to try an online option to save money. I was quickly matched with a therapist who I’ve been messaging throughout the week. She’s already been understanding and has asked me some fascinating questions to ponder on. Our first video session is tomorrow morning. I’ll be sure to write about the experience of online counseling in the future.
Truth be told, I am a little bit nervous for my first session. I keep telling myself that it will be well worth it though. I deserve help, and so does anyone who is struggling with their mental state and lives. I’m not going to be secretive about it because that only adds to the stigma. Everyone should be able to access mental health care without feeling ashamed or embarrassed.
Note: I am very aware that therapy and mental health treatment is a privilege. This country makes it particularly difficult to access help if you’re not rich. If you want to try therapy but know your finances can’t support it, consider trying an online option. BetterHelp and PrideCounseling gave me a financial aid discount after I provided them with my financial details.