When I Realized ANXIETY Was Not a Made-up Thing…

For the longest, I always thought that having “anxiety” was just a made-up thing. Any time I met someone who told me they suffered from anxiety, I would snicker on the inside and roll my eyes (on the inside too–of course).

There is no such thing.

Why are people always inventing these terms?

I remember when I first became an English instructor at a local university and met a colleague– who soon became my best buddy there.

He explained to me that he suffered from really bad anxiety and explained how bad it was. This was the first time I took the time to actually listen to what this whole anxiety thing was all about.  He was so convinced that it was a real condition and I just sat there confused.

Maybe it was a thing? I still wasn’t convinced.

See, the culture I grew up in, anxiety or depression are made-up things. They aren’t real conditions. That’s what we grew up thinking and believing. By my culture, I mean Africans in general or even the Black community here in the states.

Mental health issues have always been looked down upon or believed to be something that is not a “real condition.”

For example, in many African countries, they see depression as “white people’s made-up illness”.  Even over-religious “Christians” believe that depression is something you can just snap out of.

Unfortunately, our African countries/cultures are not well-educated when it comes to the importance of mental health and how it can/does affect people. There have been many people with mental health issues that were treated as witches because people think they’d lost their mind.

Or what about women after birth? In “white “America, you get treated for Postpartum-depression. In “black” America or African cultures, you are supposed to be able to hold it together. meaning, work, cook, clean, raise kids, be a chauffeur, AND pretend you can do it all without any help because you’re supposed to be this Strong Black Woman who lacks nothing. You’re supposed to be this superwoman who looks down on women with anxiety or Postpartum Depression because they are “weak.”

Unfortunately–culturally speaking, we have a long way to go in regards to how we deal with mental health.

When your mind is not at peace, nothing else is.

For me, it took having three kids to experience postpartum depression and anxiety. I have talked about how I dealt with depression in a different post, so today I am mainly focusing on anxiety.

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It may sound silly, but this is how I first realized I had anxiety.

It was one of my kid’s birthdays. Usually, I have help when it comes to planning and cooking because my mom always flies down for most of the kids’ birthdays. This time around, she couldn’t. So, I was planning everything by myself.  This was my first attempt at doing it all my myself ( I was still breastfeeding baby #3). My husband helped as much as he could as well, so I thought I had it all together.

The party was supposed to start at about 2pm, and for some reason, 2pm was here and almost nothing was ready. I still don’t understand where had time gone!

All my life, I have always been known to be well-organized, so having guests arrive before I was done cooking or prepping  or showering was a big deal! See, this may be a silly example, but in my mind, I was sure I had it all together. I failed to realize my mind and body were not in a good place to entertain or do it all by myself. Sometimes we are afraid to ask for help.

I remember running up to my bedroom and my heart was racing out of control. And I wondered : “Why am I freaking out over a freaking birthday party so much!?”

But I was. 

Nothing was ready and I had guests  downstairs waiting to eat.

Eventually, my guests (who were my friends) all noticed how much of a mess I was and all hopped in to help.

I didn’t know what was happening to me, but I had a hard time breathing. I thought I was having a heart attack.  I certainly did call my mother crying. Lol. Turns out to be an anxiety attack. Over a birthday party. I  was already fragile at the time, so I suppose the realization of failing or not being  ready  was enough to give me anxiety.

For the next few days, I still felt little twitches in my chest. It eventually went away. Since then, I still get anxious about things such as family issues, my career , my kids and etc.

It has gotten better over time, but sometimes it is to the point where I will sleep for only two hours at night if I am anxious about something very important.  A few things I have tried to do when I feel that anxious:

Pray.

It is not for nothing that the Word of God says:

Be anxious about nothing, instead pray about everything.

Philippians 4:6
I try to allow God to bring me peace.

 Breathe.

I just stop whatever I’m doing and focus on breathing, deeply.

Avoid caffeine.

You guys know I love my coffee, but on days where I have something going on that I know might give me anxiety, I do not drink coffee or any caffeinated beverages–or else, it just makes everything worse.

Write.

Writing has always been therapeutic. Wherever I am, I try to find a quiet spot, get a pen and paper, and write whatever comes to mind. A few minutes later, my nerves are calmer and my heart is beating back to normal.

Stop overthinking.

I am the queen of overthinking, exaggerating, over-planning, and making up scenarios in my head (why I’m a writer), but boy oh boy, most of the time, it’s all in my head.

Moral of the story here is that anxiety is real. Once you accept it and apply methods to help your anxiety,  things might get better. Also accept that you simply cannot control everything.

Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.

How have you dealt with anxiety?

Disclaimer: I am only talking about methods that have worked for me. Some of these methods may not work for everyone depending on how severe your anxiety is.