There was a point in my life where everything was a priority but me. I wasn't mindful or even noticing how I felt for a long time. Suddenly my mind and body gave up on me, and I wasn't able to leave my bed for two weeks. I thought I was sick, but there was nothing physically wrong with me other than feeling extreme fatigue, unwillingness to do anything, and loss of interest for the things I usually enjoy doing. There were times where I would feel so many strong emotions and times where I would feel numb. I was praying that I go back to feeling normal again. The thing was, I haven't felt normal for so long that I forgot what it was like to live a life without being stressed all the time. Running on adrenaline and never taking a break was not normal at all. But it took me some time to realize that, even after my horrific experience. I was juggling between work, school, side hustle, and family all the time. Every day I pushed myself harder, and when I didn’t cross a certain thing off my to-do list, I would be so mad at myself and feel like I've failed. I would say 'yes' to travel for work while my head was exploding with the pressure of how am I going to get everything done. My creative talent was deeply buried and forgotten and I didn't have an outlet to destress. I'm glad I cracked. That wasn't how I wanted to spend the rest of my life anyway. Once I decided that I will always put my mental and physical health first, everything changed. I started setting boundaries with people, and became comfortable saying 'no.' We are often being told that early in our career, we should do everything, never say no, put our heads down, and do our job. Look how far that got me! I kept thinking to myself: There's gotta be a different way to live, thrive, and enjoy the process of growing. No one deserves to suffer. I have not figured it all out yet. Even a year later, I am still looking for answers. Luckily I gained a core value during this process, and that is: I will always put my mental health first. Everything else is secondary.
For a while, I treated self-care as a fun project on Sundays, but it wasn't enough. I didn't take it seriously but instead treated it as a trend that is fun to share on my social media. It wasn't until later that I understood the deep meaning and purpose of self-care. Meditation, exercise, eating fresh and healthy foods, talking to family, and friends are all part of living a balanced life that leads to thriving. Now, could that be achieved in one Sunday? Of course not. Self-care is every day, in everything we do. Treating ourselves with kindness and respect as we treat other people is self-care.
Find someone who will listen and start talking. Don't expect people to understand fully. It's not about them; it's about you. I didn't believe in anxiety until I experienced it. I always heard stories and secretly judged, but boy was I wrong about it. Going through it helped me gain more empathy for others. Sharing your emotions in times of anxiety is the most powerful thing you can do to change the course of your thoughts and feelings. Holding it in creates confusion, suffering, and a vicious cycle of negative thoughts that could drive one crazy. One thing I am proud of doing without even knowing about the positive effects of it is talking about it with the people who I trust the most.
I would feel so uncomfortable standing still, trying to relax or take a nap during the day. I thought I could never put my mind to rest, and that's just who I was. I believed that I am incapable of relaxing and that I should constantly be doing something. I was a human doing for 25 years. Valuable lesson: Just Be! Not just physically but also mentally. Meditation helped me so much. I am so much better now when it comes to slowing down and finding peace, even when there is chaos around me.
I was always planning the next thing-living for tomorrow-for the future-looking at the past-forgetting about the present. I lost sense of who I was in the moment. I knew who I wanted to be in the future, in one year, in 10 years, but I had no idea who I was now. Being present was just out of the picture, and I was oblivious about the way my mind was working. Anxiety served me as a reminder that every time I felt uneasy, the only way to overcome that is to breathe into my body, notice the things around me, and activate all my senses to feel, smell, hear and see everything as is in the current moment.
For a while, I thought I had everything under control. I was too naive to believe that things won't change much. I was getting too comfortable with that notion, and I made myself stop progressing from fear that things will change. I was so wrong about it! Anxiety helped me learn to embrace the change and get comfortable with it. We all fear to change, consciously or subconsciously, and that's the reason why some of us get stuck with a job or, sadly, a life they don't like. Now I strive for change. I love to set myself up for challenges and to experience as many new things as possible. The thing is, I always remember myself for being that kind of person, but somewhere along the road I lost myself and started believing otherwise. I learned that it's ok to start over, and setbacks like these can help you realize who you truly are.
One day I was doing a 20-minute guided run outside. When I stopped, my heart was rising, and I felt like I was going to pass out. Then my virtual trainer started talking: ‘Take a deep breath in and slowly exhale to slow down your heart rate. You are doing this. You are controlling your body and mind.’ And in my head, it clicked. I was causing all my negative thoughts, I was creating my anxiety, I was causing my body aches and shaking in the middle of the night, and I can stop it. I truly started believing in that, and it has been one of the most powerful realizations that I've come to so far. I cannot control everything around me, but I can control how I feel. I can control how I react to other people who try to make me feel anything less than happy. I can choose to be kind to myself, and I can choose to love myself. You can do it too.