I was 18 when I was first diagnosed with anxiety and depression.  It was after Christmas break, my freshman year of college. After a night of partying, I woke up hungover, depressed and at my wit’s end. My parents came out that day to check on me after I called and cried into the phone. They drove the two hours to see me. They took me out to lunch at a popular restaurant in town.

And I had a breakdown right in the middle of the restaurant. I was 18, sobbing in my mother’s lap like a child, admitting that something was wrong. I went home from about a week and endured therapy, appointments and medications to get myself on the healing road.

Little I did I know that the road to healing wasn’t going to be a short one.

I battled it all through college. Few people knew. Just my closest friends and my family. I was ashamed of it. There was such a stigma around mental illness and I didn’t want to be known as one of those people. I hid it. I hid my emotions. I hid when I was upset, angry, depressed, until it would explode. I would find myself screaming at my roommate for no other reason to pick a fight, or I would find myself hyperventilating in my dorm room because I felt like the walls were closing in and I was alone (which obviously wasn’t the case.)

It was debilitating.  I was on and off medications for 5 years. I knew I needed them, and they made me feel better, but I didn’t like the way they made me feel. I felt like a zombie. I was a creative person, and I felt like the medications had shut my creative switch off. But when I was off of them, my mental state gradually declined. Until after I graduated college.

At 22, when I met my now fiancé, I was off of them. For the first time in a long time, I felt stable. I was happy. I was finally figuring out my path. Life was good.

I was open with him about my mental illness from the start. It was the first time in my life that I realized that I needed to be honest about my struggles, and not hide them.  It was hard because I had people in college that I thought would be there for me, suddenly pushing away when they found out about my battles. I’ve since realized it’s because they didn’t care enough about me to want to help.

He understood. He listened. He was there for me. He loved me for me.

A few years after being together, I realized I needed to see a therapist again. And get back on my medication. The depression had healed over time, but the anxiety had only gotten worse.

The medication helped, again. I’ve been on and off it a few times since.

Instead of hiding from it, I opened up. I began to realize that this was part of who I was. I didn’t, and still don’t, let it define me, but it’s a portion of my identity. It’s not like I was walking up to complete strangers and saying “Hi, I’m Eryn and I have anxiety. What’s your name?” That would be pretty weird if I did that, but if someone asked, I didn’t say no. Or if something came up in conversation about mental health, I’d offer up the information about my own battles.

The shame I once felt disappeared over time. I’d like to say it happened overnight, but it didn’t. Having a strong support system really helped. As did my horseback riding. But one thing that really helped?

Writing. A passion I’ve had since I was a small child. The same thing I used to do in college when I was suffering. Instead of writing to turn my mind off, I began writing about what I was feeling, struggling with, and how I wouldn’t let it stop me. I found my voice, and discovered a love for advocating for mental health, and used my writing to stop feeling ashamed of having severe anxiety. I began to tell my story. And others began to tell me theirs.

Having a mental illness shouldn’t define anyone; it’s just a small piece of who someone is.  And it’s just a small piece of me. I’m not defined by my anxiety. Nor am I ashamed. I’m proud to be one of the millions who suffer from it.

Eryn is a twenty-something social media obsessed compulsive dreamer who loves a good book. She was diagnosed with severe anxiety at age 18, and writes often about her own adventures with anxiety. She can usually be seen taking pictures (whether with her iPhone or her Nikon), spending time with her fiance (soon to be husband) and contemplating her next blog post.

Eryn can be found on her website, Facebook, and Twitter

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