This post is being shared from We’re All A Little Crazy, who recently published an article featuring Core CEO & Founder, Sarah McDevitt, as their #SameHere Hero. WAALC shares real stories focused on mental health and have been a dedicated and powerful advocate in that space – check them out for more stories from many different individuals.
Without further ado, we’re so excited to share Sarah’s story. She explains her experiences with anxiety, how she was vulnerable in her relationships about her struggles, and how this journey has helped her become who she is today.
This article has been shortened for brevity and clarity.
In my mid-20s, I was loving life by all accounts – I was building my career at Microsoft, in a relationship, and overall, doing well. Then, I made a decision to go to grad school, which was really exciting. I knew it was the right decision for me, but anxiety hit me suddenly – I was quitting this very secure job, making a huge financial decision, moving to another state, and ending my relationship. I wanted to go forward into this new phase of life, but still, all these changes were looming in the not-so-distant future. This panic set a lot of events into motion.
Later in life, when I gained more self-awareness and understanding of stress, I was able to recognize past instances where I definitely had anxiety. I played basketball in college at NYU – it was an experience made up of some very amazing times, but also some very difficult times. I would fly home during basketball season, across the country from New York to Seattle for a holiday. There were multiple times on the return flight to school when I’d throw up repeatedly. I’ve never had a problem with flying – I love flying. At the time, I had no explanation for it, but now I recognize it as stress and anxiety. My body physically reacted to these feelings by vomiting all the way back to New York. These feelings were shoved so far down and I was solely focused on trying to just perform and be better, stronger. For some reason, I refused to recognize the signal.
I remember one day I was at work at Microsoft, in my office, and I was staring at my computer screen. I could not see. I felt like the walls were closing in and I could barely breathe, couldn’t process what was on my screen that I was staring at. Suddenly, I just had to leave. It was the middle of the day and I sprinted to the parking garage. I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving because I just couldn’t communicate, couldn’t form the words. I sped away in my car, somehow got home, and as I understand it, it was a panic attack.
I’ve always had a clear identity for myself, slotted myself into specific categories. I was a “high-performer”, a successful woman, and an athlete. I was supposed to be strong and be able to perform at anytime. Anyone who meets me, sees me as very even-keeled and chill, not dramatically emotional, so reconciling the persona of someone with anxiety and what I thought was my identity was hard. I couldn’t quite make sense of how I could be this confident, calm person, and also at the same time, have this crippling anxiety. I didn’t see how I could still be me.
I didn’t see how I could still be me.
In learning about anxiety, I figured out that having anxiety didn’t invalidate all of the things that I thought about myself or was confident about myself in. It was also a part of me, but didn’t have to define who I am. Back then, I had a difficult time reconciling traits that didn’t fit in with this character I had created for myself, and also felt heavy pressure in my relationship at the time, where I felt like I was being compared to a lot of other people. I thought I had to be the best and have it all together all the time. I was trying to portray that identity so constantly, even in a close relationship, which was exhausting. I didn’t think I could share this struggle with anyone. It didn’t fit with the picture of the successful, confident, stable person that I was supposed to be portraying.
My thought process in this made me realize that thinking of my anxiety as “weak” was the wrong mindset. I still needed to work through my own self-awareness of how this experience would fit into my overall identity and how I could still have very high confidence in myself, while knowing I had anxiety. I had to really own and believe that the process of building that self-awareness and self-understanding was really a tough process, but worth it.
That moment actually driving home from my panic attack in my office, when I was white-knuckling the steering wheel, I remember thinking, “This is fucking anxiety.” That was my lightbulb moment. I think that was why, within a few days, I knew I needed to get help – this wasn’t just regular stress. It was the realization that I don’t want to feel like this, and if I don’t figure it out, it will happen again.
“This is fucking anxiety.”
I went to a naturopathic clinic and it was really fascinating, because their intake “meeting” with me was 90-minutes (whereas a doctor might be 20-minutes). They asked so many questions about what was going on and gave me some concrete things to do, which included meditation and breathing exercises. I started using those techniques and I also read a book on meditation called the Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. The main thing that clicked for me from the book was the concept that when thoughts are going through our minds, they are usually about the future or the past. It really clicked – the amount of time and negative energy I was spending either worrying about the future or upset about the past was completely under my control. It was a huge release to learn to notice that and label it, and I was able to start reconnecting with the present moment.
When I experienced anxiety, I got an immediate negative reaction from my then-boyfriend, which definitely influenced me to shut up about it for longer. I didn’t tell anyone else, except my parents. I feel like I have those certain friendships and relationships where I can share those things, often because that other person shares with me. I’ve learned that when I do share a vulnerability, it allows the other person to share, too. I don’t always have to wait for the other person to be the instigator of that – I can take the lead in sharing and being vulnerable, and that allows other people to feel comfortable opening up with me.
Ironically, my relationship back then was a relatively seriously one, but it wasn’t until I felt like I had it under control – like I had to solve it – that I could tell the story, even to my boyfriend. So, I waited a month or two until I felt I was out of it or at least, solving it, before telling him. The reaction from him was that I was weak. That caused me a lot of struggle. Consciously, I felt that it was wrong on his part, but at the same time it affected me. It took time for me to get to the point where I could view that vulnerability as strength, rather than weakness. My behavior in the relationship was clearly affected by anxiety. I was stressing about things that I had never stressed about before, and I was suddenly inputting all of this really anxious energy into the relationship.
I’m at a place where I want to share my story, but would like to say that I think with both mental health, and other movements like #MeToo, there’s so much pressure to share your story along with everyone else. I think the purpose of these movements is really about your own agency – owning your story. You get to tell it how, when, and to whom you want. And when you do tell it, we need to listen, as a society. Telling these stories shouldn’t be forced out of people, but I’m grateful to be able to share mine in a way that feels right to me.
Have a story on your own experience with anxiety? Tell us!