“I Didn’t Realize My Anxiety Was So Bad Until It Made Me Physically Sick” by Holly Underhill

When I first got involved with Shattering Stigmas, I had just started my own mental health recovery and found an outlet to talk about my journey in this blogging event. Since then, Shattering Stigmas has become an important part of my life. I’m always so happy to welcome Holly back to my blog for Shattering Stigmas to talk mental health and really love this post in particular. You can find Holly on Twitter and her website. She has an upcoming novella out in 2021 titled The Bone Way.

cw: vomiting

I think I always knew I had anxiety. But it wasn’t until I started studying psychology in college that I could actually put a name to my feelings. That was when I learned I also had depression. It always seemed worse than the anxiety back then, and those depressive spirals were hard to see when I was in them, and even harder to force my way through. My anxiety was definitely mostly social-related, except when it came to driving. So I thought the depression was more of an issue. Depression with anxiety sprinkles, to steal a quote from one of my close friends. But then 2019 happened, and I realized my anxiety was a bigger problem than I’d originally believed. Maybe I’m not even a depressive with anxiety sprinkles anymore. Maybe it was always anxiety first, depression second. Or the two of them working in tandem to destroy my life? Whatever the case, my mental health took a very sharp turn last year that I’m still recovering from.

The change was so gradual I didn’t even notice it for a long time. My job had gotten worse for me by summer 2019; many of my coworkers were awful, my supervisor wasn’t doing his job, and my two friends there were getting angrier and losing their patience. I felt stressed and overwhelmed and anxious all the time; it felt like nothing I did was ever good enough. One of my friends had pulled something with me that I’ve come to realize is a boundary of mine, and it felt like our relationship was strained after that. People left and new people started and the upper management wasn’t doing anything about the problems on the shift. But it wasn’t until one guy decided he HAD to be friends with me that it took a turn for the worse.

This guy was a boundary-pusher, someone who liked making others uncomfortable and poking at them to reveal their secrets and who refused to listen when I told him to stop. Fall came, and he left thankfully. But it didn’t matter because there were so many other things about this job that upset me. Before I knew it, I kept calling off work because I’d wake up sick, sometimes almost forcing myself to vomit if it wasn’t coming because it made me feel better afterward. I didn’t know what was happening until I’d talked to a friend about it. She was like, what if it’s anxiety-related? It clicked for me, but I didn’t really know how to make it better. Because by the time 2020 started, it hadn’t gotten better. That guy came back, there was a lot of home stress, and I received a message on Facebook from my uncle’s wife.

I carpool with my uncle to work. He was the one who got me this job and he lives about six minutes away, so it has always been convenient to stay here because of that. But his wife sent a scathing message about how I was making him look bad for all the work I missed, how I needed to just grow up, that this wasn’t school and I needed to stop being lazy. How I would’ve been fired at a different job already. I immediately blocked her from messaging me again, and I talked it over with my uncle, but her words linger. Every time I have to call off now for being sick, I feel like I shouldn’t. I feel like it’s not enough. I feel like I have to prove that it’s acceptable to take a day off. I had a conversation with the head supervisor of our department about it, and she’d had no problem with how often I’d missed. She was concerned by it. I received more kindness from my boss than I got from a family member. Isn’t that awful?

The anxiety was still related to people and social situations. But this time, it was affecting my physical health too. I had *never* been this anxious before in my life. When I realized it WAS because of the anxiety, things in the past started to make more sense. The nervous nausea I’d feel whenever I had to get up in front of a classroom and present a topic. The amount of mornings I’d feel sick and throw up on the bus because I hated school. Part of it was because I didn’t eat breakfast, but that just seemed to make me MORE nauseous and it was so, so early in the morning for food. Yet, now that I have this knowledge, I know it wasn’t simply a lack of breakfast. And the reason I hated school too? It wasn’t the classes, the homework, the tests. It was the group projects, the presentations, the friend drama. It was feeling like I didn’t ever really fit in anywhere and second-guessing every social interaction because I had no confidence and low self-esteem.

I’m still not that confident, though my self-esteem has definitely improved, but I’ve made some good friends over the years. I started a book blog and found the book community on Twitter. I second-guessed a lot of interactions on social media (and still do sometimes), but it seemed as if I’d finally found my people. The anxiety wasn’t so… openly bad. And while now it’s worse, I also know myself better. I’ve learned my boundaries and started cutting out toxic friends. I’m more willing to say hey no I’m not okay with this. But it’s incredibly difficult because I don’t like upsetting people, even if they upset me first, especially when I’m just constantly invalidated for how I feel. From the aunt I will never talk to again making an assumption about me without care or thought to all the I swear that wasn’t intentionals. And my personal favorite, I’m sorry I didn’t mean that after a particularly cruel joke. Can’t even count how often I got that one over the years.

Human beings are complicated and every relationship is different and I wish it got easier. I really did. Maybe it wouldn’t feel like such A Big Deal when awful things happen. If I could stop spiraling over every interaction that feels off (because sometimes it’s just my depression brain at fault!) in ways I can’t always explain. If I could just simply confront someone right away instead of letting hurt fester. If I was better with my words. But I’m not super good at it yet, and that’s something I hope therapy will help me with. September 2019 through April 2020 were some of the worst eight months of my entire life. It was so bad I actually reached out to a therapist for the first time. I still haven’t gone for a few reasons, but the fact that I even asked for an appointment was a huge step in the right direction. It was me saying: hey I’m really not okay right now and I need help. Being honest about how debilitating my anxiety is has helped a lot but I still can’t let go of the stigma that taking time off for it isn’t necessary.

I really wish the ways in which mental illness can affect one’s physical health were talked about more often. Because it can, and it shouldn’t have taken me throwing up months on end to realize it. I wish employers were more understanding about mental health days (although I have currently gotten incredibly lucky in that regard). I should not be fearful that I’ll lose my job over missing a day because my anxiety is so bad I can’t come in. I wish people were more understanding about mental illness in general. It’s gotten a little better, but we’re still loads off from where we should be. So don’t let people invalidate your feelings and remember that self-care is so, so important. Because you deserve to make yourself a priority and you shouldn’t have to prove you’re “sick enough” to be taken seriously. And I hope my story helps anyone who’s struggling with their physical health and doesn’t know what the root of the problem is yet. ❤

Remember to enter our giveaway for three chances to win a mental health read of YOUR choice!

Holly J. Underhill was born into a family of writers and readers, so stories have always been a part of her life. She spends most of her time spinning tales about angry girls, queer acceptance, and mental health. She received a B.S. in psychology from Central Michigan University before she realized she wanted to be an author more than anything else. When not writing she enjoys finding new TV shows and books to fall in love with, nerding out over history, and going on adventures. She currently resides in Michigan with her family, one dog, and an abundance of rescue cats. THE BONE WAY will be her first published work.

One thought on ““I Didn’t Realize My Anxiety Was So Bad Until It Made Me Physically Sick” by Holly Underhill

  1. Thank you for sharing so much! Last year became really tough for me after a big move and feeling really isolated (pre-pandemic) and was the first time I reached out to a therapist too. Definitely a big step forward for me


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