As far as I can remember, I'd always been a very anxious child. I always had a million worries on my mind and overthought until I was so tightly trapped in my own mental webs I could no longer breathe. Perhaps this caused my chronic depression or only exacerbated it when I was left unable to enjoy the things I loved.
I remember the anxiety reached its pinnacle when I was studying abroad in Paris. On trains, in classrooms or even in movie theaters, I would have several uncontrollable panic attacks a day. A victim of my own body and mind, I wanted so badly to escape.
In retrospect, maybe it was the novel environment that triggered it and also the worries built up from knowing I was graduating in one semester. Surely you can relate. There's never a more pressing time than knowing you're going to graduate and have no idea what you want to do in this struggling economy. Reading countless articles about how hard it is for millennials to find employment didn't help.
Admittedly, during my most desperate times I tried out many ways of dealing with my mental illness through antidepressants to more holistic approaches like yoga and acupuncture. It's sad to say that none of it worked. The antidepressants heightened my symptoms at first before dulling them, and consequentially, dulling my capacity for life. The holistic approaches weren't immediate enough and often sent me into worse panic attacks while I had to hold positions for a long period of time, or spent an hour alone in darkness with needles covering my body.
Where had this fear of life come from? I tried therapists, hypnotherapists, meditation instructors and yet, their solutions never worked for me.
Each time I started experiencing negative side effects of antidepressants like apathy and my psychiatrist would switch me to yet another kind which would begin again the initial side effects of the medication. The two times I went off completely, all of the anxiety and depression I had swept under the rug attacked me all at once.
I was left completely hopeless.
Howard Liddell referred to anxiety as the shadow of intelligence. Anxiety is extremely adaptive vigilance to threat and chaos. Freud saw it as a psychic reaction to a dangerous situation that potentially renders the victim helpless. Either way, it was maladaptive to me as I often found myself only able to spend time locked in my room.
The next few years after I faced my fear of graduating and found myself at all times, during all scary milestones, absolutely fine, I started to confront the anxiety and depression unassisted. As I grew in my own strength as a person, I started to realize that the source of my mental drain was my fear of not being true to myself. It came from a pessimism that life couldn't be the way I wanted it to be.
Growing up as a Chinese immigrant in a conservative Chinese home, I found it hard to rectify my personal values influenced by Western cultures of self discovery with those instilled by my culture and family. China places importance on structure and perseverance. Most Chinese kids spend all day and night studying for a future of stability in respected industries of medicine, law and business. I suffered an enormous amount of guilt and confusion because everything I "should" do I hated, while everything I wanted to do I was afraid would steer me off track.
Finding myself in my mid twenties took me a while to get right. I took many risks that at the time seemed impulsive, such as quitting my job, but later revealed a brand new road. I'm now completely self-employed, about to go back to school for a masters in a subject I'm so passionate about but never allowed myself to delve in so deeply into for fear it wouldn't lead to a practical career, and even have the flexibility to start running, pilates, and writing.
The vitality I developed in listening to myself, learning to cultivate self care and self respect all led to a sense of accomplishment and and inner liberation that broke through the confines of my anxiety and depression.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is to really know what your body and mind are trying to tell you. We're all here for our own individual purpose, and if you don't listen to it and only treat these signs as symptoms of a disease that you treat purely through external remedies, you'll have lost yourself in the process.
I encourage you all to be free and do the things you want to do, not the things you think you should do. Life can be even more beautiful than you can ever imagine, and you owe it to yourself to experience that.