‘Humans of New York’ Features Man Who Thought Anxiety Wasn’t ‘Real’

You never know when life will turn the tables on you.

Today, Humans of New York, the wildly popular photo-based Facebook page, posted the story of a man who made fun of a woman with anxiety in high school. What he learned since then made him give her a call.

“I knew a girl in high school that always complained about having anxiety. I used to make fun of her a little bit. It...

Posted by Humans of New York on Wednesday, February 17, 2016


The entire post reads:

I knew a girl in high school that always complained about having anxiety. I used to make fun of her a little bit. It looked like nothing to me. So I assumed it was nothing. And I dealt with it by trying to convince her that it was nothing. I called her recently to apologize. I’ve had really bad anxiety ever since my father died. And it’s definitely not nothing. It’s the indescribable fear of nothing.

Perhaps it’s never too late to grow and make amends.


When I’m Worried I Don’t Pray Enough When Life Gets Chaotic

My first thoughts in the year 2016 centered around prayer, mostly that I don’t do enough of it. My paths are paved with the best intentions. Each season of the year I dutifully pick up the accompanying prayer book from church and imagine my family gathered around the dinner table, opening up to the daily prayer and reading it together.

Then life happens. Dinner is chaotic, we are in a rush and the seasonal prayer book remains unopened in the drawer.

Attending church feels more tense than prayerful. At present, our family is usually separated with Dad and our youngest in the cry room (and my son Kyle at the respite center) while I sit in church with the older two: listening to their whispered questions, handing them tissues, urging them to stand or kneel at the appropriate times, trying to prevent them fighting, attempting to diffuse their tiffs without making any noise, or sitting in my seat quietly fuming, embarrassed or exhausted. Aside from my insistence on singing and reading along with the readings in the book, the experience doesn’t often leave room in my mind for quiet reflection or deep prayers.

Most nights by the time I force myself into bed, I am too tired to remember to pray. My brain only stays conscious for moments before drifting off. In those moments if I do remember prayer, it is in thanks for all of my many blessings and quick prayers of protection for my family. If my prayers go further than that, I often get wrapped up in anxiety of all the “what-ifs.” In the past when I prayed for my children at night, I would pray for them to avoid specific ailments and harm. Those thoughts would spiral into detailed imaginings of the harm, leaving me in a fit of worry. As a person prone to anxiety, this is not a good way to begin a sleep cycle.

Like most people, I start out the year thinking of ways I would like to change for the better. Praying more is a great way to start that process. But prayer doesn’t have to be scripted. My second thought in the new year: love is a prayer. Even though I don’t voice the words in my head, each time I embrace my children and feel love surging through me, it is a prayer of thanks to God for my blessings. I don’t doubt that He hears it.

The First Time Anxiety Convinced Me I Was Breaking

The first time I experienced acute anxiety I was 20 years old and sitting on the couch watching television. The storm of anxiety snuck up on me, and I was suddenly in its eyeball, my body lifted up from the cushions and whirled frantically around like a rag doll in a cyclone. There were people just next door in the kitchen, but I was all alone. I was helpless (or so I was convinced) before a force of such intense physical power I felt like the only way to escape would be to run with all my might.

Except, as I said, I was sitting, on the couch, watching TV.

My friend rang to talk and I asked her if we could go out. Maybe, I thought over the frantic beating of my own heart, a change of scenery would help. She took me to the beach. The drive only made things worse. The windy roads took on a surrealist, nightmare quality. My seatbelt felt like a chain tying me down. Maybe a walk would help, I hoped on arrival at the tourist-beloved waterside. So we walked, of all places, to the icecream parlour on the boulevard. And as those around us laughed and took in the summer night breeze with ease all I could think was: I need to go to the hospital, I need to go now. I was sure I was either going “crazy,” or having a heart attack.

That’s the first time the Big A convinced me I was breaking, not in two, but in a million little pieces, dispersed to the beach wind, flying unbound like grains of sand over the great depths of the ocean. And, what was worst of all, I thought that I was the only one in the world to feel like this.

What I didn’t have yet was information. I’ve since learned much more about what was happening to me. And understanding has been one of the major keys to learning to live in the wake, and sometimes still the presence, of the Big A.

I’ve learned that rather than a unique experience, my feelings were sadly common.

I still remember the pamphlet my general practitioner gave me when I took my walking-fear into him. It was one of those medical cartoon type depictions made to educate the everyman about biological processes. It had this figure of a man, and all these arrows coming out from different parts of his body. At the tip of each arrow was a bodily description, and as I read through the labels I ticked them off in my mind: racing heart, nausea, sweating, inability to concentrate, stomach pains, feelings of loss of control, weak legs. And then, at the top of the man, like a banner over his head, were the words that were to speak the title of a major category of my life from then on: Symptoms of a Panic Attack.

I’ve heard anxiety attacks described in a variety of ways. One of the best is that of the great imposter. If anxiety was an actor — it could win Grammys. A con-arist, it could make millions. Its power lies in its ability to convince that what is happening, all those bodily sensations, and the accompanying mind-images that follow, are actually real threats.

This is not to say the feelings themselves aren’t real. They are. Anyone who just says get over it, or think positive, has never been caught in the white of Big A’s iris. Feelings are powerful. Powerful enough to cause the body to react. But not powerful enough to do what they threaten. The feelings are just feelings, but they are nonetheless feelings keenly felt. Acute anxiety is not worry.

Acute anxiety has been my thorn in the flesh for more than 15 years now. Thanks to faithful friends, an amazingly empathetic and loving husband, and wise counsel, not to mention prayer, I have come a long way. Most days these days, my anxiety does not come knocking at all. But when it does, it is never polite.

I know I am not the only one who has had this most insatiable caller arrive at their door. Statistics, and years of conversations with others, tell me many many people have met this foe. Women, perfectionists, 20-somethings, artists, grievers, sufferers, high achievers, even athletes, anxiety is not overly-particular.

The Big A is both all-inclusive and intrusive, but it is not all-defeating. Despite everything it may have told me, anxiety has not stopped me living, loving, having children or completing goals. And the more I share my story the more I see how talking about it helps. The more it is exposed the less sneaky anxiety becomes, the more able to be dealt with, lived with and the less likely to catch by surprise.

This story originally appeared on Spilled Milk and Sunsets.

When Your Childhood Is the Elephant in the Room

In the first 25 years of my life, I suffered two mental breakdowns and countless bouts of depression and anxiety. It took me many therapy sessions to discover and come to terms with why I was so monumentally “messed up” as a young adult.

The beauty of the human mind is in its ability to block out trauma, but sweeping our troubles under the carpet in the hope they will disappear almost always leads to future heartache. It’s never easy or pleasant, but it’s high time we started openly talking about the elephant in the room.

My first breakdown came at the end of my first traveling expedition.

When I was 22, I was fortunate enough to take a three month sabbatical from my job, and travelled around Thailand and Australia for three months with some old flatmates. The Thai segment was largely spent lazing on beaches by day and boozing by night, with a large smattering of the readily available pharmaceutical drugs we took for fun chucked in for good measure.

We must have been the only travelers there who weren’t diving, which seems absurd now, but at the time it wasn’t a problem. I had convinced myself that I was living the dream, but in reality I was merely trying to escape the pain I was feeling by getting trashed. Being in Thailand simply meant having nicer surroundings and not going to work.

By the time I got to Sydney for the last few days of my trip, I was in all kinds of a mess. Although I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained, sensible was not my middle name. So I did what I always did and headed out to an all night party with the friends I was staying with.

A handful of us continued on to the after party, by which point I was absolutely wasted having taken a cocktail of uppers and drinking on top. I got chatting to a Thai girl in the toilets who had fled a few years previous, escaping a life of abuse, sex slavery and misery. Her story was compelling and had me in tears.

When the tears wouldn’t stop, I realized I wasn’t crying for her any more: I was crying for myself. 

At just 22 I already had a serious drinking problem and “recreational” drug habit. Soon after this incident I would start coming to terms with the reasons behind why I was so out of control. I would start to see I had been hiding the pain of a severely dysfunctional childhood. That the wounds I had been masking ran so deep it took getting completely obliterated every single weekend just to feel good about myself.

How could it have possibly been any other way after what I went through as a kid?

Sexual abuse. Check.

Emotional abuse. Check.

Bullying at school. Check.

Living in a constant state of anxiety caused by moving house every 6-12 months. Check.

Leaving home at 15 with no money or qualifications. Check.

The list could go on and on, but this article would be too long. The fact is that no-one escapes the psychological damage of a childhood like mine. 

When I returned home from that I trip I made one of the best decisions of my entire life and started seeing a counselor. She opened my eyes to how toxic my relationship with my family had become, and how I needed to redefine the rules if I were to continue having them in my life. She helped me see I deserved to be loved, and taught me if I didn’t respect myself I couldn’t expect anyone else to.

She helped me deal with my demons, and start the long journey of recovery. I began to face up to my past so I could truly make peace with it, and over time, it would eventually stop destroying my chances of future happiness.

Nothing that is worth doing in life comes easily though. It will likely be a painful process, but as soon as we’re ready to face up to the skeletons in the cupboard, I believe we’re halfway to burying them.

Follow this journey on Mummy Tries

26 Assumptions You Shouldn't Make About Someone With Anxiety

For the millions of Americans living with anxiety disorders, there can be good days and bad days. Explaining this to others can be somewhat exasperating. Worse yet, when people who don’t have anxiety assume they know exactly what it’s like, debunking their definitions of the disorder is enough to give anyone a headache.

And while coping mechanisms can be mistaken for anti-social behavior (canceling plans again must mean you’re mad at your friends, right?), that isn’t always the truth.

We reached out to our Facebook communities and asked those living with anxiety to set the record straight.

Here are some assumptions you shouldn’t make about people with anxiety:

1. “I am antisocial or a bitch.” —Casey Coats


2. “I can just ‘turn off’ my anxiety. If that was the case, I would have done that already!” —Alexis Dorn

3. “You can control it.” —Mari Smith-Roerig

4. “People assume I’m just being dramatic on purpose!” —Julianne Ortiz

5. “I ‘didn’t take my meds because I’m having a bad day. Medication isn’t some sort of magic thing that just makes you not have anxiety, even with medication bad days happen.” —Becky Davidiet


6. “It is a choice.” —Christina Schulz

7. “I’m just being overly cautious when I check things over and over again. They don’t realize that the bully in my brain basically tells me the worst will happen if I don’t check my straighteners are off one more time before leaving the house. They assume it’s a personality trait, rather than an imbalance.” —Vicky Gage

8. “Bursts of calm social behavior mean I am cured.” —Ramona Rhae

9. “If I just got out and socialized more I wouldn’t be so anxious.” —Jennifer Peterson


10. “I don’t want to hang out with them.” —Patrick Dovah Bowden

11. “I’m negative all of the time.” —Morgan Rinck

12. “At some point I’ll just ‘get over it.’” —Sarah Martin


13. “I should know why I feel the way I do.” —Kristin Duncan

14. “My anxiety is just because I’m a woman and that it doesn’t interfere that much in my life.” —Grace Shockey

15. “I am flaky or rude for canceling plans at the last minute.” —Holly Cooper McNeal

16. “There must be something besides my brain that is making me anxious.” —Judith Reed Quander

17. “I just need to calm down and relax.” —Stephanie Williams Ewert


18. “I want pity because of my anxiety.” —Deanna Yourgans

19. “I’m not a social or extroverted person. I love going out, trying new things and meeting new people, but my anxiety likes to stop me from doing that.” —Monica Jean Cozadd

20. “I’m on the verge of suicide or a nervous breakdown.” —Cyrynda Goody Walker

21. “A panic attack is visible. You can’t see my thoughts normally, so why do you think you can tell from the outside when I’m having a panic attack?” —Sharon Fischer


22. “Because my anxiety disorder causes my hands to shake sometimes uncontrollably people think that I’m a drunk [and] coming off a bender.” —Mark Williams

23. “I’m controlling because I’m always trying to fix things or prevent things I see coming, particularly if I see them coming when nobody else does.” —Carol Stewart

24. “I make up my depression and anxiety attacks for attention!” —Brooke Stephens Rivera

25. “If I have a smile on my face, I’m OK.” —Sheri Little

26. “I just worry too much.” —Melissa J. King

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. These answers are based on individuals’ experiences.

*Some answers have been edited for brevity and clarity

To Anyone Who Still Struggles, Even in Recovery

I’ve been struggling recently. As much as I try to deny it and ignore it, I’m having a hard time. As someone who has dealt with cyclothymia, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety for years, this is nothing new. But it is difficult. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t.

Recently, my days have been getting longer and my thoughts have been getting darker. I have stress dreams which cause my sleep to be interrupted nearly every night. Some days my depressive and anxious symptoms keep me confined to my bed. Some days my thoughts wonder places I wish they’d never go.

The difference between where I am now and where I used to be is that now, I am actively working to recover. I want to get better. I want to graduate from college and fulfill the goals I have because I know I can. I focus on my recovery and take the steps needed to maintain progress. Even when the things happening in my mind seem unbearable, I know they will pass. I know I’ll have good days so long as I continue to move forward. I know I can get better because I have seen it happen.

To anyone who still struggles, even in recovery: you are doing a great job. You are still here, and that itself means you have survived the thick of it. We will get through this because we have the will and the drive to recover. There will be dark days, but those days will never blot out the sunshine from the bright ones.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a love letter to another person with your disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Real People. Real Stories.

150 Million

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.