I haven’t talked about mental health publicly in a while and it’s for a couple of reasons. The first is actually pretty wonderful: this is the best I’ve felt mentally in years. I feel like after years of turbulence my life feels settled, stable and full of purpose. That’s not to say there aren’t moments or days when I feel anxious, but in general I feel a sense of “calm” that I haven’t felt in a very long time. Stability and routine helps a lot, having a set schedule every day with weekends off, a workout every day right after work – I had no idea how much that would help my mental health. I go to work every morning excited to do what I love and for the first time in a long time I feel appreciated – It’s been a game changer and sometimes I still can’t believe I’m living out the dream I’ve had for 12 years.
The other reason I haven’t talked a lot about it is because 6 months ago I was in the exact opposite position, easily the worst place mentally I’d been in in years.
Everything about my future I had planned for my personal and professional life were up in the air or just completely gone. I was preparing mentally and financially for the possibility of being unemployed or leaving television, couple that with the person I had been with all of quarantine walking out and I found myself suddenly not eating or sleeping. The nausea & lack of appetite is a pretty standard symptom of my anxiety, but the insomnia was absolutely brutal.
I had one whole week of no sleep and barely eating before the full meltdown settled in, right as I was in the middle of interviewing and being offered my dream job at Fox31. That was the most confusing part of the whole process, I remember angrily asking my therapist why when I was getting the thing I wanted most in this world was as I at my lowest?
She responded with a simple, ‘even good stress is still stress.’ And my body had had enough.
I tried to fight the anxiety with working out every day, twice a day, anything to get out the feeling of fire running through my veins. Being around people usually helped so I filled up my social calendar the best I could through a pandemic that was still dragging on. I would go out every night laughing and drinking with friends or dates until I had to go back home alone. I would fall asleep only to wake up two hours later and lay there, back in my own version of hell. I was constantly lightheaded, shaking and could barely think straight.
If it went on any longer, I knew I was going to end up in a hospital bed.
At this point I wasn’t sure I was going to get through this stretch and finally had a conversation with my doctor and therapist. Both agreed that a full time medication to help me through this life transition would be beneficial and also prescribed a benzo for the nights when I needed a reset.
I had avoided being constantly medicated for so long because I’m extremely sensitive to medication in general (Benadryl makes me unrecognizable, painkillers make me violently sick, I can’t even drink a cup of coffee without the caffeine making me nauseous and shaky.) The one medication that has been helpful is a beta blocker as needed for helping minimize some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, the breathing, the shaking – but these prescriptions were much stronger.
Looking at the orange pill bottles in front of me, I was finally honest with myself. Yes, I was doing all of my coping mechanisms – Working out, being social, reaching out for help, going to more therapy – but the lack of sleep, not eating and drinking every night was canceling out all of the work I was doing and making the anxiety worse. I was finally able to tell my therapist about all the unhealthy habits I hadn’t realized were being so detrimental and we agreed to give the coping mechanisms one more try.
I forced myself to eat, not because I was hungry but because I knew my body needed fuel. I didn’t look at food the way I normally do, it was no longer a happy passion, it was now a necessary part of my day in order to stay healthy and strong. Smoothies were a great way to find a happy medium of forcing food into a stomach that didn’t want anything and making sure I got the nutrients I needed. I used a sleeping medication to help me get a decent night’s sleep and then one of the biggest helps – I started meditating.
Meditating had always been recommended to me for anxiety, but the idea of sitting with my own thoughts sounded more like torture than anything I could imagine. But it was a last resort so I downloaded the Calm app and started the meditation course they had and I was amazed. My big physical symptom from anxiety is shaking and I would start a 10-minute session trembling and after only a few minutes feel my body relax. The breathing exercises I learned came in handy when I was in public and the anxiety took over, I could take a minute to breathe and focus and find some peace. Within a week of eating healthy, sleeping and meditating I was feeling better – not 100% by any means, but I was functioning again.
It wasn’t an immediate fix, it still took months to get through the worst of it. I knew the job transition was going to be a difficult one – I went on air at the beginning of May terrified I may make the ratings drop, that no one would care about me if I switched channels but it didn’t happen – in fact, the amount of support and message I received brought me to tears. Finally, by June I had settled into a routine and my daily anxiety was finally calming down. The routine is a huge part of it, waking up at the same time every day and my schedule not changing every week – I had no idea what a big role that played. I’m also able to work out every day at noon with this schedule, which I’ve learned is a non-negotiable for me. I have to be able to use my body every day to keep my anxiety at manageable levels, especially with the early wake ups.
I didn’t want to talk to publicly about mental health for a while because I felt guilty for doing so terrible while appearing so happy on air and social media, then felt guilty because I was doing well.
Last spring was a reminder that anxiety isn’t just something that comes up every now and then, it’s a diagnosis and will be with me my whole life and it’s about managing it, taking the steps to make sure I’m making healthy decisions on a daily basis.
I feel like a completely different person than I was 6 months ago, a year ago and I couldn’t be more grateful. I feel gratitude while knowing that at some point I’ll have an anxious period again but also armed with the knowlege that this time I have even more tools at my disposal to make it through. I also know that sometimes I may need to take a medication to keep the anxiety at bay and it’s totally fine. As of right now I’m not on a full time anti-anxiety, but that may change if my coping mechanisms ever stop working. I know that major life transitions, break-ups and job changes are big triggers for my anxiety so I can be better prepared for if or when there’s a next time. I learned a lot last spring and while I’m hoping it doesn’t get to that point again, if it does I’ll be ok – no matter how much my body tries to convince me otherwise.