Get to know my story - Living with an anxiety disorder
Every time I tell someone that I struggle with my mental health, it always leaves a weird feeling in the back of my mind because there has never been a logic explanation for it. I have a pretty normal life: a supporting family, a loving partner, a great social life and many accomplishments in my career. But still, the anxiety is there consuming a big part of my life.
But it wasn’t always like that. In fact, it started around 3 and a half years ago when I moved to the U.S. to finish my bachelor’s degree. At the time, I was going through many changes: moving away from home, a long-distance relationship, dealing with the stress of school, and just being completely alone in a new place. It was a lot to take in, and of course, it left serious repercussions in my mental health.
One time, while I was flying back to school from a holiday, I experienced what I believe was my first ever panic attack. All of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe, my fingers got numb and I became really nauseous. At that moment, I did not understand what was happening to me and I truly believed that I was going to die right there. Everything spiraled down after that moment; it unchained a series of events that put my life in a fragile state, physically and mentally.
One of the biggest effects that the anxiety caused was having trouble eating. I completely lost my appetite and every time I tried to eat, I would feel nauseous and disgusted by food. I would spend days eating only a small piece of toast and fruits because I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything else. And then the sleeping deprivation started. I had trouble falling and staying asleep, mostly because of excessive worries and racing thoughts. It was all too much and everything else started to fall apart. My performance in school deteriorated, I avoided participating in class activities, and stopped attending social events. In summary, my life became completely consumed by anxiety.
A month passed without understanding what was happening to me until my body couldn’t take it anymore and I ended up in the hospital. They ran several tests and they couldn’t find anything wrong in my results besides dehydration and iron deficiency. This was when a doctor told me that I should see a psychologist because my symptoms were consistent with an anxiety disorder. This was the first time that I finally had some explanation to what I was going through and took the decision to seek help and get treatment.
The subsequent two years had its ups and downs, but in the whole process I learned to cope with my anxiety and take better care of myself. I slowly began to feel like a normal person again even when I still had anxiety episodes once in a while. But then 2020 came, and the pandemic hit. I stopped going to therapy and taking medication which caused a big relapse.
At the same time, I was also starting grad school which was already a very overwhelming process by itself and things just got worse. This time I was not only suffering from the anxiety but I also started experiencing symptoms of depression. I didn’t have motivation to do anything and I felt like all the passion, the hopes and dreams that I had were sucked out of me. I began having intrusive thoughts of hopelessness, unworthiness and just an overall sense of not being good enough. Sometimes I couldn’t even get myself out of bed to do basic routines like brushing my teeth or showering.
In March of 2021 I hit an all-time low and for the first time since my mental health journey started, I began feeling like life was not worth living anymore and I just wanted to go to sleep and never wake up. I was never suicidal, I never wanted to purposely take my life. In truth, I was terrified of dying. But even then, I had these constant thoughts that if I died that day, it would have been okay. At the same time, I was scared to talk to anyone about this because I felt guilty and ashamed, like I had no reason to feel that way; I had family, friends, and a partner that loved me; I was exactly in the place where I wanted to be and where I worked so hard to be… And still, I felt empty.
At one point, one of my professors realized that I was two weeks late in one of my assignments and asked me what was happening. This was the first time that I had to admit to someone that I wasn’t doing okay, and that I didn’t know if I was able to continue. In all honesty, I owe so much to this professor because he was the one that put me back in the path to recovery. He took me to the hospital and made sure that I was back on track with my medication. I have been going to therapy regularly ever since and taking action to get better every day.
One year later I can see how much I’ve grown and how strong I’ve become. I look back and I only see small traces of the old Kayleen in me. It’s been a hard journey, there has been good days and bad days, but now I always have the certainty that it will pass; that whatever it is, it will get better.
In my recovery process I have resumed some of the activities that I once enjoyed and that I stopped doing because of my mental health issues. One of those things was drawing. I started taking a couple times a week to just draw whatever came to my mind and every time I would sit and draw, most of the things and ideas that came to my mind were related to my own struggles. Most of them were reminders to myself to help me keep going.
This is basically how Mindful Co. started. It began mostly like a therapy for myself, a way to cope with my own thoughts and feelings. And then I realized that, some time ago, I would have love to have someone that could tell me “It is okay”, “it will be okay”, and “you are not alone”. And that’s how I decided to start my own business, transforming my art and my ideas into positive affirmations and daily reminders to take care of your mental health.
Having this platform has helped me so much to be more open and vulnerable. It is not only about selling my products with my designs in it, but to send a message and to break the stigmatization surrounding mental health. It has made me want to get better because I don’t just do it for myself anymore, but for all the people that need some hope in their lives and are looking at my page. I put my energy, thoughts and feelings into my art so that people who like me, struggles with a mental health illness, can identify with it and not feel so alone. Mindful Co. is a platform where we all can be vulnerable together and not be ashamed of it.
If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or needs help finding crisis resources, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 888-628-9454