Natalie Rodriguez
August 30, 2017 3:48 pm
Junru Bian / EyeEm

Last May, I turned 24. It had been a while since I’d gone out with my friends, and I got drunk. I was feeling good and content because everything had fallen into place — I had a business partner who was interested in my feature film idea. I was working on a short film. I was growing closer with new friends. I had reunited with a college classmate and fell hard for him — something that hadn’t happened to me in a very long time. I felt on top of the world.

Two weeks later, my stepdad — the man who had taken me under his wing — passed away unexpectedly. He had a heart attack while on vacation with my mother. He was 53 years old.

I was shocked, then angry, then livid. I spent the remaining summer trying to feel “okay,” pretending to be “okay,” and trying to “fit in” by doing what I thought a 24-year-old is supposed to do. Then, the meltdowns began. I cried hysterically. I cried in front of my friends, something I’d never done before, ever. That made me feel even worse.

Junru Bian / EyeEm

I began going to therapy on a weekly basis after my stepfather’s death. In the back of my mind, I understood that much of my anxiety was triggered by my grief. I loved my stepdad, and a part of me certainly felt pressured to hold it together, to stay strong for everyone else. But for the longest time, I was unaware that holding it together for others was only hurting me; I wasn’t exactly dealing with how I felt emotionally. I ignored the fact that, most of the time, I wanted to cry and scream.

Then, another loved one — a friend of my sister — passed suddenly, just hours after my stepfather’s funeral.

That was the first time I really understood what it meant to be in pain. It still devastates me to reflect upon these memories.

Weeks passed and my sorrow remained. As I slipped in and out of severe depression while I mourned these two losses, I was finishing up work on a painfully relevant film project of mine. The film told the story of three young adults and their histories with mental health disorders. It focused on the stigma and shame that comes with mental health battles due to the discouraging and unsupportive behavior of others.

Throughout my work on the film, I further researched mental health disorders and realized that I had symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder and High Functioning Anxiety.

The giveaway, for me, was the fact that I was always worrying; I was consistently overthinking everything. Sometimes I even purposely (or more like subconsciously) stayed busy only so that I wouldn’t have enough time on my hands to think. After all, if I thought about something, it would possibly lead to me having to deal with how I was truly feeling.

Benne Ochs/Getty Images

Most of the time, I was not okay.

My creative projects helped keep me moving forward as I felt like everything collapsed around me, but I was tempted to quit writing and filmmaking altogether. Close friends reminded me I had too many things I still needed to say. I ignored their advice at first — but then, eventually, I started to get fed up with feeling so sad and unmotivated. I began forcing myself to move on, no matter whether I was ready or not.

***

It has been a bit more than a year since my stepdad passed away, but I hadn’t realized something until a few days ago — I had to allow myself to feel the dark feelings I was experiencing.

I needed the perspective that a year brings to acknowledge that, when I became frustrated with my grief, I was being too hard on myself. I deserved to take time for myself. I deserved to not be okay.

It is never bad to admit that you need time for yourself, that you need professional guidance, or that you simply need a day off to self-care. I learned that, if I am going to overcome my own worries and fears, if I am going to survive my battles with anxiety and depression, I need to take a step back. I need to recognize that I deserve to take a step back.

It is always okay to not feel okay — that is my motto from here on out. I will continue to be a work-in-progress because I am always learning. There is never a deadline for practicing self-care and protecting my mental health.

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