To My Past Self, Who Feels Alone in Social Anxiety

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My battle with severe anxiety and social phobia has been a long-term issue. In fact, I’ve suffered from some version of anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder since I was 8 years old. No one seemed to understand why a child so young could experience so much anxiety. That lack of understanding is why I’m writing this blog.

I’m hoping to reach a younger me…or maybe I’m just writing to myself. I’m not sure yet, but over the years, I’ve learned a little bit of uncertainty is OK. But that price of wisdom has not come easy.

Today, I’m reaching out to the girl on the school bus, the girl who hangs her head, crosses her arms and hopes and prays nobody will speak to her on the ride home. You’ll soon meet your best friend, one who’ll stick with you through it all, and she will change your life. She becomes the confidant you’ve always needed, the peanut butter to your jelly; she’s just as “strange” as you think you are, and she’s here to stay. (Remind me to thank her for that!)

I’m speaking to the 12-year-old who wept so hard at night because all she wanted more than anything was to stop being too afraid to join the soccer team. To you I say, soccer games happen wherever there is grass, play your heart out!

I speak to the 16-year-old who has run away from home, and feels she has no one to turn to To you I say, please take a walk, sit by some water and listen to the birds. This will help you realize, no matter what, the Earth is always listening. Scream your heart out, throw rocks in the ocean and rock out to your favorite song. You can and will get through this.

It can be so frustrating living in a world that at times seems to cast you away as the outcast, but you’re not alone. Not by a long shot. Please, take your time. I, of all people, know new situations can be terrifying.

Yes, I speak to you.

And I carry an important message…

There really are people in this world who understand what you’re up against. They see and understand the demons you’re facing, and although it seems impossible for you to ask for a helping hand, you’ll soon find it’s OK.

The days will get easier as you get older (even though you’ll never believe this now). You’ve learned some coping skills over the years, and of vast importance, you’ve learned to give yourself a break. For all the reasons you could’ve given up — the abuse, the fear, the shame — you’re still standing. And there’s a reason for that. You are a tough cookie and you’re pretty amazing. Today can be your best day ever. Just put one foot in front of the other, and the rest will fall into place. Breathe, drink some tea and pat yourself on the back. You deserve it.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to yourself on the day of the diagnosis. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] 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.

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When You Have to Call Out of Work Because of Your Anxiety

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I work in a 24-hour residential treatment facility, which means I am a required employee and must try to get to work and possibly stay mandatory overtime even when State of Emergencies are put in place by government officials. When Winter Storm Jonas blew through, I was working my 3-11 p.m. shift, and I already knew I would be spending the night.

I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and as simple and down-played as I can make it, I’m a worrier. I have come to accept it and understand the impact it will have on my day-to-day life. Because of this, I went to my supervisor as soon as I clocked in and asked how likely it would be that I’d be spending the night. She replied by asking if I would be willing to work overnight. I agreed and gave myself the next eight hours to prep my mind for being at work overnight. For the first time. In a blizzard.

It wasn’t easy, but by the time 11 p.m. rolled around, I was actually kind of excited for this new little venture. I had gone over every possible detail I could think of, and I was confident going into the overnight knowing I would be working with a fellow 3-11 shift co-worker who was also going to be stuck at work through the blizzard.

The night went incredibly smoothly. Probably because I was so prepared (anxiety will do that to you). It wasn’t until around 5 a.m. that I started to feel the internal unrest from being awake for so long. I clocked out over two hours late, but I was determined, and I made it home so I could sleep for a few sweet hours in my own bed before heading back to work.

I woke up just after 1 p.m. I was surprisingly refreshed — until I stood up. The world began to spin. I had to call out of work. 

Thoughts begin to race in my head:

This was not part of my blizzard weekend plans. The plan was not to call out of work. The plan was to be a reliable employee. The plan was to be a liked employee. The plan was to not get fired. I’m going to get fired. No one is going to be there to work because of the storm. They’re going to hate me. I’m going to get fired. This was not part of my blizzard weekend plans!

This type of anxiety “spiral” is typical for me, and believe me, it’s frustrating — sometimes even debilitating. But it isn’t my first spiral, and it certainly won’t be my last. As a young adult just entering the workforce, I’ve recently come to terms with the fact that I’m allowed to miss work for my health (the spinning was actually a case of benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) caused by a pre-existing neurological condition, and I missed three more days of work), and that I won’t be fired or disliked by my co-workers for doing so.

To some, my anxiety may seem unwarranted. But for me, facing and conquering my anxieties is important in order for me to grow as a co-worker, friend, wife and all-around person. As frustrating and unplanned as it was, I wouldn’t change my blizzard weekend, because I am a better, more understanding person because of it.  

Do you have a story about your experience with disability or disease? Maybe a moment that made a big impact on you? Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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4 Things I Want You to Know About Lists Like ‘24 Things People With Anxiety Want You to Know'

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I’ve seen a lot of lists lately on various websites describing the experiences of people with mental health conditions to those who have not experienced them. While the basic idea of these lists is well intentioned, the more I read, the more I dislike them. While this is a step in the right direction, and of course it’s always positive for people to speak openly about their experiences, I also feel there are some issues with these lists that need to be addressed.

I’ll focus on lists describing experiences of anxiety, as it’s what I can personally speak to, but there are also these types of lists for other specific mental health conditions and for mental health in general. Here is what I want you know and keep in mind when reading these types of lists:

1. There are different types of anxiety.

Many of these lists are labelled as about anxiety in general, but actually address many different kinds of anxiety including panic attacks, social anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, etc. While there are commonalities between the experiences of these different kinds of anxiety, there are also a lot of differences. This means all the points on the list are likely not representative of all experiences of anxiety. As I read through these lists I think, “Yes, number seven is so true!” but then I read number eight which appears to describe social anxiety. Then I think, “Nope, not for me, but I don’t have that condition.” I think this is problematic because a general reader who has no knowledge or understanding may misunderstand and confuse different conditions which can lead to wrong assumptions and further stigmatization.

2. Individual experiences of mental health conditions vary from person to person, even within two people diagnosed with the same disorder.

In order to meet criteria for diagnosis, you usually only need to have a certain number of symptoms out of a varied list. That means that one person’s experience with something such as a panic attack can be very different from another’s, but they both technically have a panic attack. On some of these lists, I’ve read descriptions of panic attacks which are not in line with my own experience. That doesn’t mean that person’s experience is not legitimate, but it’s important to acknowledge it only applies to the person who wrote it and may or may not be true for others.

3. Be careful with what you do with the information.

Just because you’ve read the list doesn’t mean you now know and completely understand what someone is going through. Certainly you have an insight into how someone with the condition may feel, but that doesn’t mean you’re an authority on it. The only way you’ll ever truly know is if you go through it yourself someday. This may sound harsh, but it’s important to use this information to show empathy for others rather than to inform others of how they “should” be feeling.

4. Don’t apply the points to people you know.

These types of articles are usually created from responses submitted from individuals about their personal experiences, and that’s all they are — a collection of experiences of individuals. If you really want to know what it’s like for someone you know or love living with a mental health condition, ask them! If they’re open to it, asking them will probably mean a lot. It also lets them know you’re a safe person to talk to when they need support.

This post originally appeared on Media Insanity.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. It can be lighthearted and funny or more serious — whatever inspires you. Be sure to include at least one intro paragraph for your list. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] 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.

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12 Things People Do in the A.M. to Relieve Anxiety

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Morning aren’t always the easiest. This can be especially true for people with anxiety. The stress, worry and angst can greet them with the morning sun. So we asked our Mighty readers who experience anxiety what they do in the morning to help. For the person with anxiety, or anyone who is struggling to get a good start to their day, these ideas might come in handy

1.I tell myself why I’m grateful to have woken up.” — Amanda Keehn

2.I lace up my sneakers and run. On days I don’t run, my anxiety level is topped out.” — Jennifer Peterson

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3. “I watch my daughter sleeping. The most peaceful thing in the world.” —Bailey Sonday

4.I have a warm bath in the mornings, sometimes with bubbles or epsom salts. It helps start the day off a bit calmer.” —Chriss Tate

5.Read. A chapter of a good book calms my mind beautifully.” —Michelle B. Landers

Woman in library reading book with text "Read. A chapter of a good book calms my mind beautifully." Michelle B Landers

6. “Cuddles with my cat or bunnies; even if I don’t want to get out of bed, they need me, and it’s nice to start the day with a success.” —Faith Merryn

7. “I listen to music. Most the time if I’m out the house I have headphones in. Sometimes it helps calm me a little.” —Katie Louise Krzyanowski

8. “Deep breathing.” —Andrea Kaminski

Woman in the woods closing her eyes contentedly with text "Deep breathing." Andrea Kaminski

9. “Five extra minutes in bed because my bed is my first love, and maybe a hot shower, which is comforting if I have to wake up extra early!” —Eudora Chuah

10.I take meds. Also, breathing and tapping exercises!” —Deborah Valentine

11.Yoga!” —Arielle Smith

12.I eat a healthy breakfast.” —Anique Brito

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If you have anxiety, what are some things you do to relieve your anxiety in the morning? Let us know in the comments below.

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Before I Knew It Was Anxiety, I Thought I Was Dying

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I went to class today with a stomach ache, deep in my gut. A stomach ache I recognized from countless nights and mornings before. Times of nervousness. Times of change. A stomach ache, that no matter how much I try, I can’t seem to ignore. While it goes away at times, it likes to hang around for entire days at a time. Today was one of those days. That pain in the core of my stomach has a name. It’s not the flu. It’s not digestive problems.

That stomach ache is called anxiety.

My earliest memories of this pain are from third grade. Almost every single night I experienced some sort of stomach pain. The pain made it difficult to sleep, and I woke up exhausted almost every morning. At the time, I thought I was sick. I thought I had some sort of terrible illness that was slowly killing me. I couldn’t figure out why I felt sick all the time. This continued intermittently through elementary and middle school.

Two years ago, it was awful. Stress doesn’t always cause anxiety, but it certainly makes it worse. And junior year, I was under a lot of stress. I got those same stomach aches as the earlier years of my life. But I didn’t know what they were. I thought that coffee was eroding my stomach lining (I used to drink up to 4 cups a day). I tried to think of physical excuses for the daily stomach aches that plagued me constantly. I knew I was stressed, but I had no idea that anxiety could cause physical symptoms. Even panic attacks, when I felt like my heart was exploding out of my chest and I couldn’t breathe; when all of my regrets and responsibilities flooded my mind without ceasing. Even with these, which I experienced several times a week, I had no idea I had anxiety.

Now, I know. Sometime in the past year, I started learning about anxiety. I started reading about it. The increased heart rate, the sweating, the stomach pains, the exhaustion at the end of every day: it all sounded familiar to me. Now, with a doctor’s diagnosis under my belt and regular counseling, I’m starting to learn to deal with my anxiety. I’ve been able to control a lot of it recently. I’ve become skilled at stopping panic attacks in their tracks. I’ve learned coping mechanisms to work through my general anxiety. And I’ve gotten a lot better.

But some days, like today, I feel it all again. I feel the pain deep in my gut, my heart beats faster and harder than usual, and by the end of the school day I’m completely exhausted. I can’t tell you what brought on my anxiety today. But I can tell you that after a nap after classes and avoiding people at all costs, I’m feeling a lot better. I can’t tell you how I’ll feel tomorrow. But I can tell you that I’ll survive.

So what does anxiety look like? It looks like a girl. A girl who probably looks pretty normal on the outside. A girl who attends school, gets her work done, and survives. But to her, it looks like pain, fear and self-hatred. And sometimes, it looks like hopelessness. Because all she can do is live day to day, and hope and pray anxiety doesn’t attack again.

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To the Entrepreneur or Business Owner Living With Anxiety

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You are not alone. You can be successful.

If you’ve just started your journey running your own business, don’t panic when the honeymoon stage is over. You’ve created a website and started emailing companies you think need your help. You’ve inhaled every business book and blog in the market.

Then, suddenly, everything feels like it’s falling apart.

No one is replying to your emails.

No one is following you on social media, and you’ve practically shouted from your e-rooftops who you are.

Needing some inspiration, you dig around the web and become bombarded with business coaches and gurus who say:

Accept rejection and move on. To you that means, you’ll have to somehow stop your brain from ruminating about what went wrong, if something could have been done better or if you could be better.

Be mentally tough to make it as a business owner. Now you start to roll your eyes. You click around from site to site, seeing the same well-dressed and perfectly manicured gurus saying to be strong.

Ha — I’m sure it’s pretty simple for you to stay strong when you don’t have to take a sedative every night just to fall asleep.

And the toughie: You finally make your mental fragility known — you tell a colleague or mentor. They tell you: Never talk about anxiety or any kind of mental illness when you’re an entrepreneur online. Potential clients could read it and decide not to work with you.

As a black woman with an unusual name, chances are people will click away from my website with bigoted and negative assumptions about my work ethic, attitude and intellect. I certainly can’t hide those parts of me.

So why should I hide my story?

Not to say you need to have “Freelance Writer With Anxiety For Hire” written on your business cards, but the beauty of entrepreneurship is that you don’t have to explain your bad days with a supervisor. You can have them and keep pushing forward. I’m open about my anxiety (and I’m actually writing a book about entrepreneurs with anxiety) because placing this mental illness within something tangible makes me feel as though I’m owning it. I’m not letting it get in the way of my dreams as a writer and virtual assistant.

Having anxiety is one part of who you are. It doesn’t lessen your business savvy or creativity. Everything the average entrepreneur possess for success, you have it, too.

You may have to overcome some larger hills because of your condition, but the destination is the same as everyone else. Looking backward, you can congratulate yourself even more for what you’ve accomplished. What you’ve been through will seem extraordinary.

You are not alone. And you are successful.

Follow this journey on Nerdy Thirty Something.

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 [email protected] 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.

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