I've struggled with anxiety for most of my life, but growing up, I never had an outlet to talk about my mental health. As a kid, I lived in small-town suburbia, where the pressure to be perfect didn't allow me to show my flaws. I constantly felt like I had to stuff away the conflicting emotions I was feeling. No one wanted to be the "crazy" girl, and it sure wasn't going to be me.
I didn't feel comfortable sharing the war that was being waged inside me for fear of judgment and ridicule. Not only was there a stigma around mental health, but simply being different could brand me for life, or so I thought at the time. To be honest, no one spoke about mental health as I was growing up, so I didn't even know what anxiety was until I left home and went off to college.
The more my anxiety went unchecked, the more intense it got. I would act out over small things when I felt overwhelmed, and I often suffered from panic attacks that I didn't know how to control. I was a tightly wound ball of nerves with no outlet to find release.
For all my parents knew, I was simply being a moody teenager, but it was so much more than that. I just thought I was different, and it was a problem I had to manage on my own. To cope, I learned to mask my emotions so I could blend seamlessly into the world, like nothing was wrong with me. I had this "fake it till you make it" mindset, and I thought it would get me through my anxiety.
Over the years, I've learned that you can't run from your anxiety, because it'll keep pace with you every step of the way. As I've learned more about mental health and the impact it can have on your relationships and your life, I've slowly started to undo the damage from those years I spent trying to hide how I was feeling.
It took me a long time to open up about my mental health and accept that, while my brain might not be "normal," I'm not crazy. Now, I've started implementing coping mechanisms to help me better manage my anxiety. And while I still struggle to talk about it at times, I've embraced that it has made me who I am today, and I wouldn't change it. That's all I could wish for someone else.