Liz McIlhenney – Unexpected Journey to Finding My Truth

If September 2017 Liz were to converse September 2018 Liz, I am convinced that she wouldn’t recognize her future self. So much has changed in the last year; because September 2017 was the beginning of the hardest year of my life.

I got engaged, developed severe generalized anxiety, and gained about fifteen pounds. Friend and living situations have changed. I have gone through so much joy and pain and healing in just one year, the writer inside of me can do nothing but reflect.

And, thankfully, I am right now the happiest I have been in a long time.

Looking Back

A year ago, I met my fiancé, and we fell in love quicker than I ever thought was possible. After just two weeks of dating, we were engaged. In that whole process, I learned about a side of myself I had never seen before. I discovered a passionate, spontaneous, and foolish part of me that, if you know me personally, didn’t fit in with my usual character description.

The Change

In just one month a year ago, my entire world changed. Looking back, I neglected friends to be with my new fiancé. I was entrenched in three of the hardest classes of my entire collegiate career, and was having difficulty balancing new love and scholarly work. I was also in charge (or partly in charge) of three student organizations on my campus. In other words, I bit off way, way, way more than I could chew. As one would expect, I could only juggle all these responsibilities to myself and other people for so long before things came to a chaotic, crashing halt.

My friends quickly came to resent me. My grades began to dip. I let people down, and they let me know. Not to mention, my family was struggling with the idea that their daughter was unexpectedly engaged to someone they had never met before. All of these factors folded together into a hot, stewing gumbo of anxieties that came to be too much.

By the time December came, went, and ushered in the new year, I was a different person. And not in a good way. Anxiety from the previous semester built up so much that I still count myself lucky I didn’t suffer a (worse) mental break. Last winter is a blur, comprised of uncontrollable anxiety that I had no idea how to identify or control. I have struggled with Body Dysmorphic Disorder my entire life, but I had never dealt with something like this. This crippling, debilitating, bring-you-to-your-knees anxiety.

Rock Bottom

Winter, Spring, and Summer passed me by. My moods and anxious periods seesawed violently. Finally, in the beginning of August, my fiancé confronted me about my anxiety. He wanted to help, but felt numb. He didn’t know how to handle me when I was at my worst, and he had been hurt one too many times by an anxiety-fueled lash-out.

This was my wake-up call. My come-to-Jesus moment. The fact that I had not just hurt someone I love so deeply, but made him numb, was a dope-slap to my metaphorical head. I knew something had to be done.

I called the counselor on my college campus the next day and set up an appointment for the first day of classes.

As I Am Now

Now, after a month of healing and peeling back the layers of a year’s worth of anxiety, I’ve learned so much about myself. My triggers. The fears that lie so deep within my subconscious I wasn’t aware of the before. The fact that I have been avoiding my truth of who I am as a human being. My truth, my purpose, who I am meant to be now and down the road.

Part of this process has been realizing that I needed to heal not just to save my relationships with my fiancé, family, and friends, but with myself as well. After an extended period of anxiety and questioning myself, the very foundation of who I thought I was as a person was torn apart. Healing meant rebuilding my soul and mind and spirituality, and knowing at the same time it is going to be a long process. It is learning true, valuable growth doesn’t happen overnight.

So, what will September 2019 Liz look like? I honestly have no idea. She’ll be a college graduate. She might have a new job. Maybe even an apartment of her very own. When she looks back at the woman who is writing this essay now, what will she think? I don’t know what each day in the coming year will hold. However, each day I work with intention to heal and harness my anxiety is another brick laid for her foundation.


Elizabeth McIlhenney is a senior English Literature major at a small liberal arts college in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She hopes to become a full-time freelance writer, but is also interested in content writing or becoming a librarian after she graduates. In her spare time, when she isn’t reading or writing, she’s watching Friends or Bob’s Burgers with her fiance and a cup of tea.

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