Lived experience is something that I have only recently begun to acknowledge and appreciate. My lived experience with anxiety has not been something that I have wanted to share.
Hiding from my lived experience has been a way that I could protect myself from the trauma that comes from living with anxiety/depression.
What Does Lived Experience Mean?
“A representation of the experiences and choices of a given person, and the knowledge that they gain from these experiences and choices..”
That is just one definition of what "lived experience" means. Before I really started to deep dive into what it means to have a lived experience, I only focused on experiences and choices of my own and others. I never really carried it any further. Knowledge gained from my lived experience was mostly disregarded and forgotten.
Embracing My Lived Experience
When I began my journey towards fat acceptance and body liberation, talk about acknowledging the lived experiences of others was a common thread. I was actually pretty embarrassed that I had not ever given those words much thought. Once I was able to see the importance of a person's lived experience, I was then able to apply that to my own lived experiences regarding internalized fat phobia and body image. So it was only natural that I should extend this to my mental health.
Depression was always the biggest mental illness that I have had to deal with. I was diagnosed with clinical depression in my early 20's. I have taken medication for it, I have tried to meditate and pray it away, I became a Reiki practitioner to help cure myself and I have been in therapy for it. Aside from the therapy, none of the other things have worked for me. In the Fall of 2019, I went to the doctor because I knew that I needed to do something different so that I would not experience the deep depression that usually came to me in the winter months. I was still not willing to go down the medication route again, so we landed on a combination of SAD light therapy and taking a vitamin D supplement. After a few months of doing this, I could count on one hand the number of days that I felt like depression was winning. I was feeling hopeful for what felt like the first time in my life. The darkness of Winter did not bring me to that crippling deep depression of years past.
Then The Pandemic Hit
When the pandemic took over our world and life started to feel pretty chaotic, my anxiety then began to take over my world. I have always had issues with anxiety and I have never sought any sort of help with it from a medical standpoint. I have always felt like it was something that I could manage on my own.
I could not.
I knew that the chaos of Covid-19 was contributing to my anxiety. I knew that I needed to be careful and not try to handle this on my own, if it got too bad. Then I started wondering if I would know when it got too bad. What is too bad? I mean, I really didn't mind the staying at home thing. Being an introvert, I actually enjoyed my time at home with my family and no outside distractions. However, the first time I went to the grocery store, I knew that this anxiety was not my usual anxiety. I was feeling very real fear about having to leave the comfort and security of my own home. I didn't want to be in any place that might have more than a few people there.
Fast forward to today. A very real pandemic and racial tensions in this world are definitely taking their toll on me. For several days this week, I have been extremely anxious about going to a family wedding. After having a very tear-filled conversation with my Mr. Man, we determined together that it would be best if I just didn't go. This is where I am now, I have to give myself permission to step back and not put myself in situations that feel overwhelming to me.
Does that mean that I'm giving up? Does that mean that I am letting anxiety win? I don't think so, I think that for so long I would not give myself permission to step back. I would force myself, for the "good" of myself or others, to do things that I really just didn't want to do. Will I never go to another family gathering again? Of course I will go. When I'm ready. When I know that I can be there and not feel intense fear and anxiety and shame.
Embracing My Lived Experience
My anxiety is a part of my lived experience and whenever I try to erase it, talk myself out of it or attach shame or embarrassment to it, it gets worse and becomes bigger than me.
I feel so much of what is happening in our world right now. I feel it in the depths of my soul.
Anxiety is my reminder that things are getting bigger than me, that it is time to focus on my mental health. I don't have to force myself to do things that I can't handle right now. I get to choose what I do or don't do on any given day. I get to decide that maybe its time to get some help in the form of medication or therapy.
And I can look to my lived experience and embrace it and say, "Here I am again. Feeling the struggle. No shame, no blame, no embarrassment. I have walked here before and I have always walked out on the other side."
100% of the time.
If you would like to share some of your experience with our Facebook group Embracing Your Voice Community, feel free to come on over!