The power of naming the struggle

The other day I set a timer for 45 minutes, trying desperately to bust through the sluggish place I've found myself in recently, especially when it comes to writing. I spent 30 minutes starting and stopping ideas, thoughts and sentences. 

Finally, I surrendered to honesty and wrote about everything that was on my mind.   

 The struggle is real people. 

The struggle is real people. 

And what was on my mind was everything. All at once. Split your television screen into 25 smaller screens. Play 25 different movies with 25 different themes.

This is my mind. 

I don’t talk often about the anxiety that accompanies my depression - but that's really what's been happening. I set a timer and forced myself to write, surrendering to whatever it is that came to my mind. This is my mind. 

Right now I am anxious. Constantly.

My first anxiety attack happened during my first semester of college. The onset was slow - I sat in with new friends, eating dinner in the cafeteria, talking about classes, professors, and weekend plans. My skin felt tingly and breathing was becoming difficult. 

We walked back to the dorm and I went to my room. I had no t.v., I had no computer, I had nothing but my stereo to distract me and it wasn’t working. I went downstairs to the lounge and turned on the t.v. There was an episode of Cagney and Lacy playing and I tried to follow the plot, to immerse myself in the story. 

The ice was pouring through my veins. Slow and cold and winding its frigid way through my body. Every breath was a struggle to catch and each time I was able to take a deep breath, I worried I wouldn’t catch the next. As my panic hit its peak, I finally knocked on the door of my resident advisor. 

“I don’t feel right,” I said.

Eventually, the “episode” was attributed to a medication I took for my heart arrhythmia - a side effect - and so the medication was changed. But when my dad called later that week to check on me, he did something that I hadn’t realized I needed. 

He named my experience.

“I had an anxiety attack once,” he said. “They’re no fun.” 

I don’t know what I said in that moment. But I know it was the first time, despite my having had times on and off throughout high school where I struggled to catch my breath, that I realized what was truly happening for me. I was battling anxiety. 

It might sound small - but what my dad really did for me that day (and the best thing I can tell you about my dad is that if you want to know how the moon got there, he hung it) was give me words for my struggle. And those words gave me some direction. 

While it took me years before I would really treat my struggle, my dad cracked the seed of my understanding a little bit that day. He gave me a name for what was going on, and that name alone made me feel a little less helpless. That name allowed me to say ok, this is what is going on. This is what I can do for myself. 

But even more so, in that conversation, my dad gave me an even great gift. He let me know that he shared my struggle.  

"I had an anxiety attack once."

Experiences like that are scary and unnerving and make you feel incredibly vulnerable - and alone. And sometimes, a gesture as small as naming the struggle, and knowing that you are not alone in your struggle, can be the first giant step towards healing. 

Be kind to yourself, today and always.