My Experience With Anxiety + Depression: A Work In Progress

I’ll begin by introducing myself. Hello, my name is Aya, I am a Senior Instructor at SoulCycle — you may have taken my class — I’m pretty bubbly + upbeat, wearing a smile or laughing a lot of the time. I can get sassy in class, but it always comes from love. You may know that I love loud music + dancing, that I enjoy life, but what you may not know is that I am living with anxiety + depression.

I cannot stress this enough. I, like many others, grew up thinking that people with any type of mood disorders were unstable or troubled. This is really not due to any other reason besides not knowing. It wasn’t a conversation that came up in my family or something they taught us about in school in length. The only mental health conversation I remember from school was learning about depression + one of the signs is that someone may say that they want to go to sleep forever — what kid doesn’t? I digress.

I believe there is still a huge area of opportunity for our society to be more open to this conversation of mental health + what we choose to share + teach each other. We have made really great progress but there is still more to do. So, here I am, with an open heart ready to share a bit of my story in hopes that I can reach someone who might be dealing with similar issues not feel like they are alone or that they have to hide. Or maybe to someone else who is curious — this is my attempt to help break the stigma.

I have dealt with anxiety on + off for many years. I suffered from panic attacks when I was 18, + when they stopped I thought it was all over, but probably affected me more than I knew for a long time after that. Let’s fast forward to about a year ago.  I remember a lot of anxious thoughts, mind racing, + many days of feeling sad for no reason. I remember crying on my birthday. I remember feeling really removed from my friends + wanting to be alone because it was easier than being uncomfortable with people. Any social situations I was part of, I was in my head the whole time — my anxiety reaching an all time high around people.

Then, I would go home + my mind would race through all of my interactions + I would become paranoid. This was one of the things that shot a red flag for me. I’ve always been really social + thrive off of being with others. My social behaviors totally changed. When I was alone, it felt safe, but also sad + often times lonely. It was hard for me to show up + do my job a lot of days, which most people would never have been able to guess. I felt phony + irritated that I was feeling this way on the inside + having to show up as this happy, energetic version of myself several times per day. I wasn’t feeling good in my mind or my body + I knew I had to do something about this because it was becoming debilitating.

I tried everything from meditating to journaling, talking with the people closest to me, essential oils— really any remedy you could think of. Nothing made a big enough difference. I listened to podcasts + did some research on my own + one day stumbled upon the topic of hormone imbalance + how it effects women + mood disorders. I made the choice to stop taking birth control [in the form of an IUD] for the first time in over 10 years. Many women in my age range have been on birth control since we were teens, + I read that its a good idea to take breaks from time to time — to allow your body to reset its hormones naturally. While I don’t know for sure whether this was the actual cause of my anxiety increase, I did feel at ease when I went free of birth control. One step toward figuring out what was going on + finding a solution.

After seeing a naturopath + some other doctors, I decided I would give therapy another chance. I had gone to therapy when I was younger, but did not have a connection to my therapist + did not feel like it helped. I “shopped around” by first finding a therapist within my healthcare network, + knew it was at least a starting point. I was then given a recommendation from a friend, + this was the real pivoting point for me.

Every week for a few months, I would go to my appointments, answer questions, + share. It took several appointments to really feel like I could open up + trust, + from then on was when I really began seeing + feeling a difference. I cannot advocate for therapy enough. Regardless of what you are dealing with — I think every single person should have a therapist. There is something really valuable to having an unbiased person to speak to + share with. It was here, with my therapist who acknowledged my anxiety + depression + really listened to what was going on, that has allowed me to process where I am. For the first time in nearly a year, I feel like I have a handle on my mental health.

Please don’t get this confused with completely having my sh*t together because I definitely don’t. I am one hundred percent a work in progress, I still have bad days where nothing makes sense. What’s different now is my awareness for my thoughts + my emotions. I have tools that I’m using, + everyday is work. I am still experimenting with treatments + figuring out what I need, but I am seeing the benefit of my efforts + I feel really proud. I am proud of standing up for myself + knowing something wasn’t right with how I was feeling + loving myself at least enough to try to do something about it. I sit here in my apartment, worried about what people are going to think of me after reading this article. I’m feeling vulnerable for sharing this much of myself in such an honest way. But this is my journey — it’s the truth + I know there are so many people out there living in shame or silence with different stories + experiences.

I am still + will continue to be a work in progress. I have appointments to test my hormones, have been working with a nutrition coach, going to acupuncture – I have a whole army of help. Here’s the thing — I didn’t do this alone + I couldn’t have. One thing I want anyone reading this to take away, regardless of what you are dealing with, is that you know yourself best. If you know something feels off — say something about it. You have resources, use them! You do not have to suffer. I can say, with confidence today, that I am not suffering from anxiety + depression — I am thriving with it.

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