I turned 25 this year, and I actually struggled with that age a lot. However, on my actual birthday, I went out and bought my first tube of red lipstick, so I obviously know how to ring in being a full-fledged adult woman.

My biggest pressure for it (besides the fact that I know I don’t look or feel the age that I am), was that my mom and my mother-in-law both had their first child at the age of 25, and I was kind of freaking out about that timeline. Husband and I are nowhere near ready for kids yet, but I felt like if I didn’t get pregnant or have a child by 25, I was too late. My mother, ever the saving grace, said to me, “If I lived my life by my mom's timeline, I would have had to have my first child at 19.” And, just like that, I stopped freaking out - although, I do still feel panicky about having children in general. This holiday season, we’ve had SO MANY people start in on the, "So, when are you having kids?” or “What, no children yet?" I'm pretty sure people were expecting us to make a pregnancy announcement. Our biggest reservations are, of course, that I still haven’t been able to find full-time work, nor are we anywhere financially in a place that it could make sense for us to bring a child into our world. I know you’re “never going to be ready for kids,” but I feel like we are SUPER not even close to it being a good idea right now! Someday, but not today!

My biggest success in reaching 25, however, is that it marks FIVE YEARS since I had my nervous breakdown. On the morning of my 20th birthday, my world felt like it was falling apart. It’s been five years since I almost died (literally, because I had stopped eating and sleeping and talking for three weeks). I probably should have gone to the hospital, but I was so terrified that they’d tell me it was all in my head and put me in the psychiatric ward that I couldn’t do it - turns out, it was mental AND physical. Five years since my husband (then boyfriend) was faced with either deciding to stay with me and fight my battle beside me, or leave because he didn’t have to deal with it. Of course, he stayed. I never asked him to, but he never thought otherwise. Those three weeks, especially, proved what kind of man I am with, what kind of husband he’d become (and is!) and that I never have to fear for our love. Five years since my mother had to watch her child suffer for - then - unknown reasons and have no idea what to do.

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There were a million things that went through my head about what could have been causing me all of that pain during those weeks - everything from actually and literally losing my mind, to having a miscarriage, and anything in between those two. Although I was never suicidal or had depression, I did get to a place during those three weeks where I thought that death had to hurt less than the kind of pain that I was suffering. In all honesty, what started the journey of healing was my OB-GYN. I somehow managed to get myself out of the house for my appointment with him, three weeks after I'd broken down. He knew immediately something was wrong and asked if I'd gone to my primary doctor. iItold him I tried but they couldn’t get me in for months, so my OB-GYN called my doctor personally and demanded that he see me immediately. I went the next day, was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disney and Panic Disorder (which answered so many questions about so much of my childhood, teenage, and adult life). I also have Social Anxiety and some O.C.D...but, thankfully, not depression which I had also been tested for. My primary doctor actually said to me, “Well, you’re the happiest anxious person I've ever met...”. I then immediately went to see a gastroenterologist, and that’s when they diagnosed me with Peptic Ulcer Disease (on top of having Acid Reflux, I.B.S., and G.E.R.D.). They had found NINE ulcers in my stomach. After all of that was revealed, my primary doctor, who I'd been going to since I was a baby, apologized to me for not believing me all those years that I had been complaining about the exact things that wound up almost killing me. Everything had come crashing down on me and, to be honest...my OB-GYN saved my life (ironically, he’s actually the same man that helped my mom deliver me when I was born).

I went on medicine for my stomach (which I still have to take daily, but it’s a lower dosage now - I will probably be on medicine for it for the rest of my life) but I didn’t want anything for my anxiety*. I told my primary doctor that I had to learn how to handle this the natural way, and not just “solve” the problem by taking any kind of personality-altering, addictive drug that is so often the first answer to problems of this sort. I immediately went to therapy (which I had been going to off and on my whole life - but going to counseling as an adult is completely different than going as a child). My therapist officially confirmed what we had all suspected - that I had had a textbook definition of a nervous breakdown. I went to counseling for almost two years, and it COMPLETELY changed my life...my husband and my mom even went with me to a few meetings, too. It started out with me going every single week, then asIi got better, it was a few times a month. On my very last visit, my counselor (who looked like Bill Nye The Science Guy), said, “Well, I think you’ve made it. You don’t need me anymore.” It's a glorious day, and those were brilliant words to hear and happened two months before husband and I got married. I've always said that everyone needs to go to therapy at least once, even if they think there’s nothing wrong...but after my latest experience, I believe it even more. It not only saved my life, but it also changed everything about my life. I never thought I'd be who I am today, at 25 years old, when I was suffering so much, mentally, physically, and emotionally at 20 years old.

* To clarify, I was prescribed some medicine, because I did wind up asking for it. However, it is strictly on the idea that it’s only something I take when my mind gets so far out of control that I can’t reign it back in. And, at that point, I only take half of the low dose pill I was prescribed. We jokingly call it my tranquilizer, because I'll take it when I could use some sense slapped into me, and it chills me out immediately. It slows my brain down to, what I assume is, “regular” people speed. But there’s no shame in taking medicine when you actually need it because that’s the point of having it. To be honest, I actually took half of one last night because my brain was going down a road I did not agree to travel on!

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I had to learn how to cut out a lot of the negativity in my life that, essentially, is what made me get so sick in the first place. I had gotten to a point in my life where so much evil energy was raining down on me, that I had stopped having feelings about it. That was the biggest take away from my therapy, to stop THINKING my feelings and actually start FEELING them. I had been told by so many people who had treated me badly that how I felt about it wasn’t right or wasn’t true, and it manifested itself into anxiety, stomach ulcers, and all the other health problems I was having. It was like a light went off in my head...these bad things that are trying to bring me down, ARE bringing me down. And I couldn’t let that kind of anger, jealousy, bitterness, hatred win. Not anymore - not when I almost let it kill me. So I had to make changes. First to myself, and then to my life. I changed how I treated myself and how I let others treat me. I had to take care of ME, I had to listen to ME, I had to fight for ME...and I am so proud of how far I've come and who I am. I wouldn’t have been able to make it through some of the bad things that have happened since my breakdown (like my grandma passing away or my husband being seriously ill), had I not changed. My brain before my nervous breakdown couldn’t have handled it and my brain now is so much stronger and powerful. The human brain is an amazing thing - it can make you or break you...it all depends on which one you feed (yes, like the wolf saying!).

However, all of this couldn’t have happened without my husband, my mom, and even my sweet kitty by my side. I might not have ever made it through the darkness to see the light if I didn't have people who thought I was worth fighting for just as hard as I was fighting. I can never repay them for what they did for me during my toughest times. I know I will never have to question their faithfulness, their compassion, their dedication, their strength, their love, ever. I have never met two people (and one kitty) that are so selfless than my husband and my mother. I can only hope to be half the people (and cat) they proved themselves to be in those weeks and months.

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My relationships are stronger because of my nervous breakdown. My life is better because of my nervous breakdown. My faith is stronger because of my nervous breakdown. I am better because of my nervous breakdown. I am so glad it happened when it did because it changed my life completely before I had a chance to get stuck into some bad habits. And I talk so openly and passionately about it all because we have to remove the stigma of mental health problems. People look at me all the time and are so judgmental because they say they don’t see anything wrong with me. Unlike my husband, who has a prosthetic leg that you can see...just because you don’t see my anxiety doesn’t mean it isn’t as real as my husband's amputation. WE have to fight for our mental health, because no one else will - especially those who are ignorant of it, those who deny it, and those who are scared by it.

I don’t have it all figured out, even if it sounds like I do. And some things are easier said than done - like cutting negativity out of your life (that’s going to be a lifelong time). There are many times when I take four steps forward and eight steps backward and feel like I've made no progress at all. Walking through life with anxiety is an every-single-day thing. There are no days off. But I know that I am worth it, that I am worth the battle and the journey, and no one else can take that away from me. No one will ever put me back in the place I was at when I have my nervous breakdown. There are some weeks when I never want to leave the house, there are some days when I actually don’t leave the house, there are some nights when I have to take my medicine, there are some times when I cry and cry and cry because I feel overwhelmed, like I'm drowning. But I see life through a different kind of lens than most people. I'm not regular, I'm not normal...I'm vulnerable - I feel things deeper, I understand things differently, I'm more in touch with the world than most people. And I'm okay with that. Because this life that God’s given me, it’s life that I choose to accept, and it’s a message I wanted to shout as loud as I can - through the good and the bad times.

I actually feared that every year on my birthday, the exact same thing would happen. That I'd constantly have nervous breakdowns and never get out of the hole.

But I broke the pattern. I broke the chain. I broke it all down.

Five years out, and it’s safe to say that I am doing okay.

My mental health and my physical health are daily things...but my life is wonderful, and I am blessed.

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P.S.: Walt Disney himself had two nervous breakdowns in his lifetime!