📷: Alex Jones
“Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.” – Victor Hugo
By: Alyssa Daniels
My mind wanders into consciousness and I feel like I’ve just woken up from a really bad dream that I don’t entirely remember. My body feels heavy and stiff, like it’s an inseparable part of the mattress I’m laying on. I feel like I’m stuck and unable to move — but wait…I am.
I can’t move.
Panic. Panic. Panic starts to set in.
Why is it so hard for me to open my eyes? Oh my God, I can’t breathe.
What’s on my face?!
I’m trying to scream but nothing is coming out. Silence. Just silence.
Am I still dreaming? Is this part of my nightmare?! I’m finally able to force my eyes open, and my nightmare is confirmed. Only it’s not a nightmare, it’s real.
My eyes scan the room, and my body. There are tubes coming out of my nose. My arms are strapped tightly to the bedrail. I’m all alone.
Panic. Panic. Panic sets in.
How did I get here!? I can’t breathe — I, I, I’m hyperventilating.
My destabilized breathing sets off an alarm, and a team of nurses run in. They inject something into my IV and a freezing sensation runs up and down my left arm. Everything fades to black.
When I open my eyes again, I’m surrounded by people. It feels like days have passed, but I’m told it’s only been a few minutes. Everything is faded and foggy. Someone tries to talk to me, but I don’t know what they’re saying.
Where’s my mom? I just want to see her. We haven’t been getting along at all lately but I need to see her right now. My eyes begin to water and fill with tears. I’m afraid. Someone asks me what my name is, and I say, “Alyssa,” except it doesn’t sound like me. Why does my voice sound so foreign?
The nurse explains to me that my voice may be sore because of the tubes that were in my throat to ensure I was breathing properly. I don’t care. I just want to go home. I want to see my mom. I want to be free. This is all just a big misunderstanding, a huge mistake.
“Alyssa, why did you try to kill yourself?” A stranger in white asks.
“I don’t know,” I reply. And I really don’t know. I feel sick. I didn’t plan this. It just happened.
That conversation was my last memory until I got to inpatient care — I don’t even remember how I got there. The next memory I have is sitting with an intake nurse and watching her take the drawstrings out of my sweatpants and hoodies so I couldn’t use them to hang myself. Then she handed me a toothbrush, a bar of soap and a pair of hospital socks before leading me down a hallway to meet my new roommate for the week.
I was 17-years-old when I tried to take my life, and the only thing I know for sure is that deep down inside I didn’t want to die.
And even though I knew I didn’t want to die, my awakening wasn’t so simplistic. For the next five years I found myself in and out of different therapies — both inpatient and outpatient. I can’t even count how many different medications I was on during that time, nor how many therapists I spoke with and specialists I saw.
I felt damaged. Unfixable. Broken.
Looking back now, I know I was depressed and battling severe anxiety. And my life revolved around those narratives. Everything I did, everything I thought, everything I felt — all of it came back to identifying with depression and anxiety. I kept waking up waiting for someone to cure me. If I could just meet the right doctor. Take the right medicine. Talk to the right therapist — then all of my issues would go away.
But, that was the problem. You see, I was waiting for SOMEONE or SOMETHING outside of myself to come and save me. And, if all of my symptoms, thoughts, and feelings were really just due to a chemical imbalance, then why was I still feeling depressed and anxious even ON medication?
According to the ADAA, 16.1 million adults in the United States alone suffer from depression. Assuming this statistic represents only those who are officially diagnosed and therefore in treatment and/or taking medication, then why is one person dying every 13 minutes from suicide?
If chemical imbalance alone is the cause of mental illness, then why are people who are and have been in treatment still taking their own lives? Depression and anxiety are more than chemical imbalances, they’re also habits that are reinforced by pharmaceutical companies, doctors, advertisements and society at large.
In my situation, I realized I wasn’t depressed due to a chemical imbalance alone, instead I was depressed because I had adopted the habit of BEING depressed. I also didn’t suffer from anxiety, I adopted the habit of BEING anxious. And the chemical imbalance alone (if I even had an imbalance) wasn’t the root cause of me thinking and feeling the way I did, instead, it was the habits I had adopted overtime which became my beliefs about myself and the world. And once I realized this personal truth, I was able to heal myself and recover for good. And if I can do it, you can do it too!
I want to share my secret sauce for recovery, in the hopes that it will inspire you to find yours. As a note, I am not a doctor and am sharing MY personal experience with you so you feel inspired to find a positive and healthy solution that works for you. Do your research, keep your head up and don’t lose hope — there’s always a way! (Also, please don’t stop taking any medication you’re prescribed without first consulting your doctor).
Here are my 4 big takeaways from my experience:
1.) Habits Are Created By Beliefs
A habit is defined as, “a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”
Have you ever heard the quote, “You become what you think about the most?” This was so true in my situation. Over time, my negative thinking about myself and the world started to dominate my belief system. These thoughts made me feel anxious, and once my nerves were triggered every little thing was made worse and magnified until it erupted into a full blown panic attack.
My days were characterized by negativity, sadness and anxious thoughts. It was debilitating, exhausting and miserable. And for years after I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, I was told that MY anxiety and depression (as though they belonged to me, and with me) were caused by factors outside of my control, like chemical and hormonal imbalances. I believed what I was told, and thought the only way to cope with these conditions was to learn how to live WITH them, rather than without them.
I felt anxious about my anxiety! I felt depressed about my depression! These beliefs kept me trapped in a vicious cycle, and I truly believed I was broken.
2.) Habits Can Be Broken
It takes 21 days to break a habit — that’s it. And that doesn’t mean habits are easy to break, nor is the process instant, but it can be done.
Think about it, people break bad habits everyday. Maybe this means no more nail biting. Or no more smoking. Or no more drinking. Or no more unhealthy eating. Or maybe, as in my case, it means taking control of your negative thoughts and redirecting them to positive thoughts thereby eliminating sadness, negativity and anxious thinking.
When I realized I had control over my bad habits, I knew I could break them. I didn’t need to be fixed because I wasn’t broken. (Now, I want to be very clear about something — categorizing anxiety and depression as habits does not take away from the severity of living with their symptoms. I know from my experience, what I lived, felt and thought was VERY real, VERY intense and all-encompassing. However, by calling it a habit, I was able to empower myself to take control of these conditions and FREE myself from them.)
3.) Choose Your Thoughts Wisely
📷: Caleb Frith
I met a doctor who was instrumental in my recovery process. She was well-educated on the nervous system, and how the brain works and functions. She knew about brain plasticity, and how the mind can be trained to rewire itself.
She took me through the steps of habit breaking, and showed me how I could slowly break through my anxiety and depression by adapting slightly better thoughts, feelings and ideas.
Slowly but surely as I talked through my thoughts, emotions and feelings with her, we would pick out the ones that weren’t serving me, the ones that were contributing to my habits of anxiety and depression and we would write them down. I would then physically cross them out one by one and replace them with thoughts and feelings that better served me. In the beginning of the process, writing them down was crucial to my success. Remember, these thoughts are habits, which means they are going to keep coming back, so I needed to be prepared for that. Writing them down gave me a tool so that when that thought came back, I had ammunition ready to go to fight it. I would not have to sit and come up with a thought to replace it, I already had one ready to go.
At first this process felt forced because I didn’t believe the things I was writing down, but I did them anyways because nothing else had worked up until that point. I couldn’t stand the medication I was on, and felt like I had nothing to lose.
Then, about a month in I realized the replacement thoughts I was writing down were actually replacing the negative thoughts I had been thinking subconsciously! It was incredible. I stopped just going through the motions of what she was teaching me and started living it! From that point on, I took responsibility for my thoughts, and that’s what enable me to change them long-term and heal myself for good!
4.) Believe in Yourself
When I realized that my anxiety and depression were bad habits instead of a living, breathing part of ME, I also realized I could finally be my true self without the negative thoughts and emotions standing in my way.
This realization freed me because it allowed me to see I had a choice! And my choice boiled down to me becoming empowered, taking control and believing in MYSELF and my ability to change my life for the better.
When you put yourself in the driver’s seat and allow yourself to make one choice that will improve your entire life, you won’t regret it. In fact, you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
Understanding these four things, and applying them to my life, has allowed me to live a happy and fulfilled life without medication! And everything in my life has changed for the better — my relationships with myself and others are good, I have a great career, I’m financially stable and I’m creating and living a life I love, and you can do the same!
Remember, you are NOT broken. You don’t need to be fixed. There is nothing is wrong with you. You just have some bad habits that need to be broken. And once you break them, you’ll still be YOU — just the BEST version of you there is!
About Alyssa Daniels: Alyssa is a health and happiness coach dedicated to helping people overcome their fears, limiting self-beliefs and gain control of their bad habits. You can follow her on Instagram at @alyssadanfitness, Facebook or reach out to her via email to learn more!