31 Days And Counting: Continuing My Fight With Anxiety

As a child, I had a dream. Every time I looked up at the really tall buildings in Vancouver, I imagined myself swinging from one to another, making my way through the city as its awe-struck citizens looked up at me--they feel safe with me around. I wanted to be Spider-Man. And I still do. He's spectacular, he's sensational, and he's amazing. But he wasn't always that way.

For the past month, I've taken on a challenge to better myself. I did this through working out, eating healthy, and making positive changes in my life. I have my reasons for kicking this whole new way of life off, and I want to share my story.

I've dealt with anxiety and depression for many years now, and earlier this year, I wrote about how I started to get ahead of it. Well, as I said then, it's a lifelong fight for me, and unfortunately, my problems got back up after getting knocked down. I was back to checking windows multiple times before bed, washing my hands a dozen times before breakfast, and dealing with the severe difficulty of shopping for groceries. These things aren't supposed to be hard, but once again, they were for me. And I felt terrible.

On top of that, I was disappointed with the shape I was in. I wasn't happy with my body or appearance any more. This resulted in me only going further down this hole, one where I was jealous of pretty much every guy who wasn't me for one reason or another. Frankly, it sucked. As much as I could feign it, I wasn't the confident person that so many knew me as. This was a dramatic drop from where I was in February. I needed to make some changes, and I needed to make them fast.

At the start of August, I was pretty depressed. I met with a friend, who I hung out with for a bit before we decided to play some tennis. I hadn't been on the court in years, but my passion for it held strong--I still remember falling in love with the sport through Mario Tennis on the Nintendo 64. We warmed up with some volleys and moved on to a couple games. Man, did we suck, playing with vaguely remembered rules. But I was rejuvenated: my melancholy turned into exuberance. Right there, I decided to pull out my phone, smile, and take a selfie. 

It was a complete coincidence that it was August 1. I didn't plan to do this month of betterment for more than five minutes before snapping that picture and posting it to Instagram. I'm glad I thought of it, though. It was an amazing month full of taking in knowledge, working hard, and feeling good. And I was able to do it in most part because I posted those selfies. That daily routine kept me accountable for actually exercising every day and staying on track--if I didn't post one, people would know I quit and failed; I wasn't about to do that.

Motivation doesn't come easy. It's often so hard to build and utilize it for something positive, and it's not something you can always ask advice for--everyone's different. My motivation was simple: I want to be the best person I can be. So many relationships, opportunities, and experiences have been lost because I didn't focus on my mental health. On top of that, motivation came in the form of all the comments I received along the way. Friends telling me they started exercising because of my challenge was likely the best, but even the simple "Keep it up!" was enough to get me psyched for my run that day.

For me, there's nothing better for my mental health than a combination of exercise and medication. Back in February, I felt like I was keeping a steady pace ahead of my problems. Now, I look back, and I can barely see them. It's true that I still have a few things I need to work out, but I know I can get past these issues--this confidence is likely what surprises me most. This new-found credence in myself has seeped into the rest of my life, too. I'm not ashamed of my appearance any more. I'm not afraid of nonexistent dangers created by myself. I'm not losing my fight for better mental health. And I feel like I can do anything.

I'm also not quite Spider-Man yet. The past month was tough, and it's going to continue that way. I'll still look up at buildings and fantasize about swinging from them, but every day, I'll feel more like I can make that a reality. It's fair to say that August was only the launching point. Because I'm just getting started.

Behind Blue Frames: A Look at My Fight with Anxiety

I didn't always wear glasses. The world past a certain point was once a blur, and that's how I thought it was supposed to be. I didn't realize that people could probably read those big green highway signs until I put on a pair of frames for the very first time--they were blue because I wanted to look as cool as possible. I was eight when I first saw the world the way it was meant to be seen. It was a clear world that I could not wait to grow up and be a part of.

Fast forward to adulthood. It's time for bed. I better check to see if the door's locked first.

Alright, door's locked. I should brush my teeth now.

Alright, all clean. Hmm… better check to make sure the door is still locked.

Alright, it's locked… wait, was that sound from me checking the door knob, or did something unlock? Might as well check again.

There you go. Hmmm… checking one more time won't hurt anything.

Alright, it's locked. Everything's fine. No one can get in. Time to go to sleep.

Mmm… this bed is comfortable. Wait, where's my jacket?

Oh, I left it in my living room. I'll go grab it.

Hey, if I forgot my jacket then maybe I forgot to lock the door?

I've already checked it several times, but I should probably check it again.

Alright, it's locked.


But why can't I accept that?

This was my life for a really long time. I'd go through this cycle of checking my door a dozen times (literally) and then go to bed still anxious that my door was unlocked. And I'd apply this same anxiety-fueled cycle to nearly every aspect of life. Grocery shopping was particularly tough, sometimes taking me an hour to buy two or three items. Why? I needed to find cans and boxes that looked perfect, so I knew there was no way any could have been tampered with.

I'm sure plenty of my friends and family noticed things like this. Little quirks in the way I did things. The vast majority of them were to prevent myself from getting anxious. I would make sure nothing could go wrong, and this would help keep the anxiety away. I'd wash my hands a million times because if they were definitely clean, then there was no way I'd inadvertently poison myself.

It never seemed bad until I said it out loud. I had become obsessive-compulsive in my attempts to beat anxiety. Throw depression on top of that, and you've got yourself one heck of a psychological sundae. Things got rough when I started living on my own. There were times before this when I was scared I was going to lose control over my body and commit suicide, but those last 4 months of 2015 were me at my worst. Never have I felt so helpless, so trapped, so scared to live in my own body. I was slowly falling apart.

I had previously come up with healthy ways to battle anxiety. Exercise, mindfulness, and meditation were three that worked well for a time. I still practice them as much as possible, though I'm sure I could be doing more. However, sometimes these methods aren't enough. And that was definitely the case for me; I was losing to anxiety by a significant margin, and I needed help.

The first time medication was suggested to me was in 2010. I said no--and I'd say no several dozen times over the next six years. Drugs have always scared me--I didn't take a single painkiller after having my wisdom teeth pulled out of fear of overdosing. I'd seen people I love get seriously hurt and even killed by drugs--and I've always had a difficult time swallowing pills. The inner conflict of knowing these drugs would help me and just being too damn scared to take them was torture. At one point, I felt like I knew the medication would help me, though I was afraid it would change me, and I'd come out a different person. Like musicians with drugs, I thought the anxiety helped make me the talented, funny person I am.

I eventually met with a psychiatrist who, after hearing my life story, was the next person to propose medication. My heart sank. I was going to have to take drugs. That didn't stop me from dragging my heels for the next few weeks, though. Certain side effects made me think it wasn't worth risking; additionally, I thought that maybe if I applied myself twice as much, I could stop my obsessive behavior and lower the anxiety, drug free. Not even I was convincing myself anymore. I got my prescription, got the medication, and got started.

It's a month later, and I honestly can't remember a time where I felt better than I do right now. 

I wish I'd started in 2010.

This past month reminds me of the clarity I was granted with my first pair of glasses. The world isn't blurred by anxiety and self-made fears anymore. I can lie in bed at night and not worry about my door. I'm not inspecting every item I get at the grocery store. And the number of times I wash my hands? It's down by a lot. I feel free. I'll do something that would have made me anxious (like touch my sink's tap) and say "Whoops, time to feel anxious…"

But then I won't. In fact, I don't even think about it. My mind doesn't get glued to things that made me feel awful. Thinking about past relationships doesn't tear me apart anymore--they're in the past, and I'm looking to the future. I'm so blown away by the way I'm reacting to everything now. It's incredible.

However, I'm not cured. I never will be. The moment I think I've won is the moment I've lost. I need to work at this my entire life. I exercise because it makes me feel good, but it also helps keep anxiety at bay. I meditate because it helps me clear my head and focus on what matters. I practice mindfulness because living in the now helps me realize everything's okay. And the medication is what gave me a fighting chance. Like taking off my glasses, the minute I stop doing these things is when I stop experiencing the world for what it really is.

Medication did change me. For the first time in a long time, I am truly me. And I am so happy to be a part of this world.