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How I Found My Self-Worth After Battling Chronic Pain, Anxiety and Panic Attacks

“I remember being floored with a horrible throat infection, and I was just crying. I was done suffering, I couldn’t do it anymore, I was really broken down. That was about 2 years ago now, and it shifted something in my brain. Instead of going down the drain – and keeping that negativity going – it suddenly hit me that I’m the only one responsible for how I feel.”

Hello! Who are you?

Hi there, I’m Simone! I live in the Netherlands, where I was born and raised. I still literally live in the home where I was born (mom opted for a home birth). Pretty cool if I say so myself! 

I’m in my 20’s (27 years old, to be specific) and graduated with my Bachelor’s in Human Resource Management in 2019. My first jobs were in HR, but after a burnout, I decided to follow my passion and become an entrepreneur. 

I’m a beauty lover and a personal growth enthusiast. I always loved Psychology as a subject during my Bachelor’s degree. I also got a certification for Coaching, as I love to help people become the best versions of themselves. 

Last but not least, I adore animals (except spiders, sorry, not sorry), and my biggest love is my Shih-Tzu Bailey. She’s 11 years old already and has been my rock—besides my parentsduring difficult times. I’m happily single and working on myself before I want to start actively dating. Who knows, I may come across the love of my life now that I’m not specifically searching for someone.     

Compared to where I was a few years ago, I definitely am happier. Still not as happy as I want to be or once used to be, but that is okay. I’m getting better every day, and I’m sure one day, I’ll feel the happiest I’ve ever been. 

simone with dog bailey interview picture

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What is your struggle and when did it start?

Humor has always been an important part of my life and to get me through difficulties, so my first response to this question is, “What struggle don’t I have?!” But if I sum up what I’ve gone through the last 15 years, you’ll understand why I make this joke—because it is somewhat true.

In the last 15 years, I have struggled with: 

  • Chronic pain (ACNES: Anterior Cutaneous Nerve Entrapment Syndrome): A trapped nerve in my stomach had me in pain all day, every day. When I move (working out, walking but even tying my shoes or lifting things), the pain only gets worse.  
  • Anxiety and panic attacks: I had the “basic” symptoms of anxiety, such as having heart palpitations, sweating, shaking, nausea, and trouble sleeping. My anxiety got me to a point where I barely wanted to leave the house. 
  • Emotionally unhealthy relationship (at a young age, from my 14th to 20th): By making me feel unworthy, always getting mad when I felt anxious, not supporting me, wanting to leave me, etc. I lost all my confidence and gained a fear of failure and not being enough.
  • Burnout (x2): One burnout was 100% related to my anxiety and the unhealthy relationship I was in; the other was work-related due to unforeseen circumstances. 
  • Long COVID: I sadly got COVID at the end of 2020, when there wasn’t a vaccine yet. I wasn’t that sick during the contamination, but to this day, I still don’t have my complete smell and taste back, and it is still causing brain fog, concentration problems, exhaustion, etc.
  • Unhealthy weight gain because of emotional eating: Food gives me temporarily happiness, so, during the last 4 years, I have been eating a lot to reduce the sadness causing me to gain weight. 

I mean, that’s quite a long list if I say so myself. I probably don’t have to share that this has a huge impact on your (mental) health – especially because it happened in my teenage years. I don’t want to bother you with extremely long stories ( I’m sorry, this is going to be on the longer side), but I’ll go over the starting points, what caused it, and how it developed over time as I hope some of you reading this may relate. 

The chronic pain started when I was just 12 years old, and even at my young age, I was mentally strong enough to just go on with life, even though I experienced pain every day – at that time, doctors just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me so I had no other choice than to keep going. It was hard, as it did impact my life in several ways, but I never wanted to be seen as a victim or someone you should be sorry for. 

Then, I got a boyfriend at the very young age of 14. The first 3 years were incredible; we were best friends. After that, it slowly started to become mentally impactful. 

It wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I finally found out what was causing my stomach pain. It is called ACNES (Anterior Cutaneous Nerve Entrapment Syndrome), and even though it was (and still is) an unknown chronic illness, they had seen some first results when using an injection with numbing medicine. I got that, and – like a miracle, the pain was 95% gone. 

Not long after I had that injection, I went Christmas shopping in Rotterdam with my boyfriend, and I got sick all of a sudden. He got mad and wanted to leave me alone in the middle of a big city while I was feeling like I was going to puke, faint, or both. 

Hello, anxiety disorder! Even though I didn’t know this yet, it was the start of several panic attacks every time I had to leave the house, especially when my boyfriend was with me. Only a few months later, through doctor visits and a therapist referral, I found out it was panic attacks and that I had a severe anxiety disorder. 

I’ve had therapy to help me deal with the anxiety and panic attacks, which definitely helped me in some way. However, having my boyfriend still around, who always got extremely mad if I felt anxious, only made it worse. 

I then started my Bachelor’s degree, and my anxiety became worse and worse. I tried to survive school, and on the weekends, I had to do my best to keep my boyfriend happy. It was an actual hell – but I never thought about leaving him. 

During my third year of the Bachelor’s degree, where I was required to work an 8-month internship, I broke down. I burned out at 19/20 years old. The commitment to 40 hours of work, doing school assignments, being anxious 95% of the time, and having an unhealthy relationship on the weekends was too much. 

I had to quit my internship, which also meant I had to redo the year as I didn’t complete it. This was a really tough moment for me, as I felt like a failure. It also meant that all my friends were on to year 4 while I had to redo year 3. I felt even more alone, sad, and anxious. 

The times I thought about quitting… I can’t even count them. My parents and I still make jokes that the only three things that came out of my mouth during that time were “What am I doing to myself?”, “I don’t know if I can do this anymore,” and “I’m actually stupid for doing this to myself.” I can laugh about it now, but you can imagine that it wasn’t so funny during that time.

But for some reason, I always kept going. I could’ve easily quit the Bachelor every day that I wanted to. I had no debt or any reason other than the degree itself to keep going. However, I did. I was determined to pursue that degree. Even though I was anxious all day, I still enjoyed school, especially the subjects. 

So, back to when I had to quit my internship. I was at my worst, and I never got any emotional or loving support from my boyfriend. That was the moment I became numb; I had cried enough, and I couldn’t really care. We broke up and I never felt more relieved in my entire life. 

Eventually, I ended up getting antidepressants – I was against medication for all these years, but I wanted to feel a day where I didn’t have anxiety. This was actually an amazing decision because the anxiety reduced by a lot. I would never say that medication is the only way to recovery – it was the right decision for me at the time. 

What happened next? I graduated, was happy, got a nice HR job, etc. Boom. ACNES came back and was in full force. I couldn’t do anything for 2 years. Literally. I couldn’t work, workout, see friends, do fun things, nothing. I started emotional eating, gained lots of weight due to it (and the no movement), and took a hit mentally as well. As if it wasn’t enough, I also got Long-Covid on top of it. Fun! 

I got surgery, and this helped a lot with feeling better. I could do more things slowly, so I started picking up my life again. I found a new, fun HR job that looked perfect, but then the next shit thing happened: my manager got sick, and after 3 weeks in the business, I had to take over all her work on top of mine, as well as things that I’ve never done. 

I’m not blaming my colleague, of course; she didn’t want to be sick either. It only fast-forwarded me into working very long days to get all the work done, working on my free days, etc. While I loved the work, it was way too much work for just me. 

You may feel it coming: insert my second burnout. As I was single and still living with my parents, I saved quite a bit so I could afford to quit immediately and become a full-time entrepreneur. 

ACNES, anxiety, and Long-COVID are sadly still part of my life, and I’m still working on losing the gained weight. However, I’ve found ways that help me stay positive, take steps forward, and still improve on a daily base, which I’ll share later!  

How did this struggle make you feel at your worst moments?

Strangely, ACNES didn’t really impact my happiness during my teen years. I was busy being a normal teen as much as I could, even though the daily pain. I got used to it. 

Lots of people had to know about ACNES, as I literally couldn’t go to school and had partial homeschooling for half a year. But the moment I went back to school, I always tried to be normal. I didn’t want to be different or treated differently because I had pain. To be honest, I think most people even forgot I had chronic pain a year or so later. I was the best at hiding it.

During my anxiety and panic attack times, I felt absolutely horrible. It completely removed any happiness from my life, to be honest. Yes, I still had things to be happy about – I had (and still have, thank god) the most loving parents, I was doing well at school even though I suffered, I bought my own car at one point, etc. But I just couldn’t be happy about it. 

I don’t think most of the people around me, except for my parents, knew how much I was struggling. When I went to a doctor or a therapist, and they would ask me how I felt, I automatically said, “I’m fine, and you?” but obviously, I wasn’t fine. Not even close to being fine.

Eventually, when I met my best friend and another really good friend around the same time, I started opening up more. 

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Was there a moment when you started to turn things around?

I remember being floored with a horrible throat infection, and I was just crying. I was done suffering, I couldn’t do it anymore, I was really broken down. That was about 2 years ago now, and it shifted something in my brain. Instead of going down the drain – and keeping that negativity going – it suddenly hit me that I’m the only one responsible for how I feel.

Obviously, I can’t control getting sick, but I realized I actually am in control of how I feel, what I do to make myself feel good, what I eat, how I think, how I respond, etc. This sparked a new interest in mindset & habit change in me, and I started reading more self-help books about these subjects. 

I even decided to ask for help and got a therapist a few months later, who I still speak to every month. My therapist helps me realize even more how I am responsible for how I feel, and if I want to change, I need to take action. I made quite a lot of progress since seeing my therapist – and like she always says, “You do it for yourself, not for me.” 

I would say that my circumstances (me getting sick, what felt like “not ágain”) got the ball rolling – then my actions took control. If I had to quantify this in percentages, I would say 20% of the improvement was a result of my circumstances and 80% of my own actions. 

I’ve had my ups and downs throughout the years. Every time I thought that things would finally get better – and initially, they often were for a bit – only to have this happy moment get crushed again.

The overall struggle lasted 13 years if I also consider the chronic pain. However, I would say that my struggle really impacted me the most for about 5-6 years before I really found the strength to start that recovery journey to happiness and really felt a change, too. 

What steps did you take to overcome your struggle?

What really helped me was realizing my worth. This may sound easy, but it takes effort and patience. I had to remind myself through affirmations (“I’m worthy,” “I’m good enough”) on post-its. I also like to add them to mood boards and have these as my phone background (so I see them every day, multiple times a day!). 

I’m not here to advocate for medication when you experience anxiety, but also, don’t be as extremely stubborn as I was. Medication is not necessary for everyone, and if you don’t feel comfortable, then you don’t have to do it but don’t be against it from the get-go. Stay open to your options, do your research, and talk to a professional. Sometimes, medication is just that little relief you need to get better, and that’s fine, too. 

What helps me with long-COVID is taking breaks when I feel very tired or when I don’t have focus. I created a list of tasks that I can do when I don’t have any focus—these tasks are small and don’t require much focus, such as organizing a drawer, dusting a room, etc. 

Having a routine is also very helpful for anxiety, long-COVID, and recovery from burnout. I wake up at the same time every week, make my bed every morning, do my skincare and some makeup, and journal a little bit. In the evening, I like to watch some TV with my parents. Then, I wind down by making myself ready for bed (taking off makeup, doing a nice little skincare pamper moment, etc.), and I like to read a book before sleeping. 

This routine works for me, but I truly recommend reading Atomic Habits by James Clear if you want to change your routines by adjusting habits or implementing new habits. It also works great if you want to get rid of bad habits. This book really helped me with setting up a routine. 

Have you shared any of this with people around you in real life?

I feel comfortable talking about all my struggles with just my parents and my two best friends. Other than them, I usually feel not comfortable enough to share everything. Especially not mentally related, as I feel like there’s still a lot of negativity around mental health issues. 

However, the people I told about my mental health struggles never dropped me as a friend or treated me like I was unworthy, so the negativity is mostly in my head and not actual experience. 

I have to admit that I’ve never been a very open person, though; I always like to keep a lot to myself. I’m way more of a listener; I’m always there for everyone. They can always share their problems, struggles, or thoughts with me, and I will always try to help. 

However, in the last few years, I’ve become more open. This is also why I started my personal growth site, We Mind Growth. It is a place where I, at first anonymously, share my experiences and tips without feeling judged by people closer to me. I’m now slowly opening up more, sharing more of myself. 

There are way more people out there experiencing an unhealthy relationship, chronic pain, anxiety, fear of failure, panic attacks, burnout, etc. If I could help even just one person feel less alone or maybe even feel inspired to become better, then it is worth it. 

If you could give a single piece of advice to someone else that struggles, what would that be?

You have only one you. And you are obligated to take care of yourself properly. Some people in your life can help you and support you but there’s only one with full control, and that’s you.

Be kind to yourself, and don’t bring yourself down on every occasion you get. Take your (mental) health seriously; seek help if you think there’s something off or you need assistance. Love yourself, set boundaries, prioritize yourself. You are worth it!

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, YouTube channels, or other resources for you?

  • Atomic Habits by James Clear: Really helped me understand the importance of habits and how I could implement new habits to form a healthy morning and evening routine. 
  • Good Vibes, Good Life by Vex King: It made me realize that the way you think and act sends vibrations into the world, negative or positive. If you want positivity in your life, you have to send it out to the universe first. Basically, this book strengthens my belief that “you have control over how you feel, and you can change by taking action.”
  • 101 Essays That Change The Way You Think by Brianna Wiest: I love that this book comes with lots of thoughts, tips, and messages that really inspire you. Or at least, it inspired me and opened my eyes quite often. 
  • LenaLifts: Lena is a kind, energetic person to whom I relate. She once started unhappy, unhealthy, and routine-less. She inspires me to do better but in a fun and entertaining way. 
  • Tam Kaur: Tam is a bad b*tch in the most positive way! She is honest, she tells you the truth, and I often feel like she speaks to me directly. If you’re struggling with self-love, Tam is going to help you get your confidence back. 
  • Bria Jones: I feel like Bria is like a best friend, which is also kind of her “brand” – she’s also very honest, and I like that. She gives me the motivation to work on myself. 
  • Jules Acree: Jules is a soft, kind soul who makes me feel at peace while, at the same time, I love how she shares tips for productivity and helps me feel less overwhelmed as an entrepreneur. 

Where can we go to learn more about you?

I’m the founder of We Mind Growth, a site for young adults who are trying to become their best selves through personal growth, mindset, healthy habits, and more. 

I’ve created a free ebook inspired by the habits I added to my routine to improve my daily life, and I hope it will do the same for you. You can check out the ebook 30 Micro Habits For Mega Results here

You can read more about me here or find me on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter. Feel free to say hi or ask me any questions! 

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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