How I Overcame My Anxiety and Depression: The Mental Health Journey of a Dietitian
Hi there! My name is Terri and I live with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic disorder, and mild depression. For nearly 15 years I have fought with the symptoms my mental health conditions to regain control of my life. Today I have successfully reclaimed my joy and potential and am back in the drivers seat. This is my story of how I got there.
I was diagnosed in 2007, which also happened to be my senior year in high school. Though I can’t pinpoint exactly when it started, I remember vividly sitting in my family doctor’s office crying and desperately pleading for him for help me after months of experiencing frequent panic attacks (some of which drove me to the emergency room), deep self-loathing, and the inability to drag myself out of bed. I was embarrassed, self conscious, and felt hopeless about my future.
My doctor asked me a series of questions regarding my stress levels and promptly prescribed me medication.
It took a little bit of trial and error, but eventually found a medication that worked for me with minimal negative side effects. I was finally able to get out of bed and deal with everyday life. My depression waned, and the panic attacks stopped; however, I was left feeling tired and spaced out, like I was in a fog. Some days I felt emotionless, other days my emotions were in overdrive. I still over analyzed everything and was super self conscious about how my persona came off to others.
I remained on medication for 6 years. By the time I completed my undergraduate studies, I decided I was in a good place to start weaning off my anti-anxiety medication, and my doctor agreed. Besides the uncomfortable ‘brain zap’ sensations I experienced as the medication left my system, I successfully weaned off the medication and remained medication free for a little over a year, with little to no anxiety relapse.
That fall I began completing application packages for internships and master’s programs across the country. Apparently, the stress I experienced during this process was a trigger, because the panic attacks and anxiety came back with a vengeance.
The symptoms seemed worse than before my diagnosis and affected me both physically and mentally. My stomach was constantly upset, I had tension headaches, an occasional burning sensation that would run from the base of my neck to the top of my head, rapid heartbeat, numbness and tingling sensations in my fingers and toes, hot flashes, and uncontrollable sweating. My psychological symptoms wavered between two extremes; I was either restless and constantly on edge, or completely exhausted, unmotivated, and unable to focus.
I didn’t want to go back on medication, but the symptoms were debilitating and were having a huge impact on my quality of life - from controlling my decision-making and social interactions to interfering with relationships and career advancement. Something had to be done.
Eventually, I went back to my family doctor, and we discussed my predicament. At the end of the appointment, we had come to an agreement; we agreed that I would half the medication dosage I was originally taking and avoid the emergency “panic pills” all together. Instead, I would concurrently commit to a self-management regimen.
It took me nearly a decade, but after reviewing the research and experimenting with many self-management techniques for my anxiety and depression, I finally found balance and relief. For me, the recipe for good mental health includes:
A low dosage of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) medication
Breathing exercises when feeling overwhelmed
Practicing mindfulness to re-centre my thoughts
Participating in joyful movement regularly
Changing my eating habits and healing my relationship with food.
Fast-forward to today and I am now medication-free, have earned both a Bachelor and Master of Science degree in Human Nutrition, completed a one-year internship practicum program, defended my master's thesis, written the most important national examination of my career, opened my own private practice, and am engaged to be married this fall (September 2021) to my best friend and personal cheerleader.
"...good mental health is a journey, not a destination."
Getting to where I am today was not without its hurdles. In fact, the biggest and most important lesson I've learned throughout this process is that good mental health is a journey, not a destination. However, having the right tools, resources, and supports for that journey makes the trip much more enjoyable.
I recognize that my story is unique to me and will differ from the experiences of others; however, I believe there are 4 things our narratives all have in common:
There is a way out.
We are not alone.
We deserve to be happy and experience joy in our lives.
We deserve to live authentically and to reach our full potential.