To the Little Boy at Waffle House Who Brought Me Out of an Anxiety Attack

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author wearing waffle house uniform You could not have been more than 4 years old.

Maybe even younger.

I think you were too young to understand what you did. You probably thought you were just giving a random stranger a quick hug. You weren’t tall enough to do any more than wrap your little arm around my leg.

For me, you did so much more than just give a hug.

I was stuck in an anxiety attack that was pushing 15 minutes by the time you changed it. It only took you five seconds to put me at ease. You said something, and I couldn’t understand what it was, but your mother was with you and said, “How sweet.”

I don’t think she knew why you did what you did. She smiled and politely ushered you out the door of the Waffle House where you had just had breakfast. I didn’t seat you and didn’t really see you until that moment.

You may forget this if you already haven’t.

Either way I want to say thank you.

Thank you for doing in five seconds what very well may have taken me the rest of my shift to do.

Thank you for ending an anxiety attack for me and letting me know there are still great people in this world.

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Kudos to you, little one, and kudos to your parents for raising such a sweet boy.

Lead photo via Waffle House Facebook.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. 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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30 Things About Anxiety Nobody Talks About

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There’s a lot about anxiety on the Internet right now. A lot. But with all this content, what issues are we still not addressing? We asked people in our Mighty community who live with anxiety to tell what’s still missing from all the anxiety chatter.

Let’s start a conversation. Here’s what we still need to talk about: 

1. “It can come out of nowhere, even without a trigger, and overwhelm you at any given time. It’s very powerful and scary. Feels like a heart attack, a dizzy spell and a punch in the gut all at once.”

2. “A lot of people with anxiety disorders are in a constant state of anxiety. It’s not something that comes and goes. It’s a 24/7 thing that can’t be turned off or turned down no matter how hard you try.”

3. “‘Anxiety’ is a term used very loosely. It’s not often that people acknowledge just how debilitating it is.”

4. “It’s hard to have a relationship when you have anxiety… anxiety causes low self-esteem and low self-worth and sometimes we push people away because of it.”

5. “Hypervigilance — some of us are super aware of things going on in our surroundings, whether we’re conscious of it or not. This makes some of us easy targets to scare, and it can take a while to calm down from something like being tapped on the shoulder.”

6. “It’s exhausting. Being tense and on edge is physically and mentally draining. It is so much more than just the mind. It affects appetite, behavior, emotions — everything.”

7. “People with anxiety can feel helpless and suicidal. These thoughts are not only associated with other ‘more severe’ mental illnesses.”

8. “The physical issues that come with it. Constipation. The runs. Puking and much more. All the ‘gross’ stuff that no one wants to openly admit.”

9.Violent and tragic intrusive thoughts, like not being able to stop imagining family or friends you care deeply about dying horribly and painfully.”

10. “A panic attack looks different for different people. I’m good at masking them in public, pretending to be part of the conversation, nodding strategically because I can’t even speak.”

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11. “Sometimes, once you have it under control, you feel a little less like yourself. It’s so all-consuming that when it’s gone you almost don’t know what to. This little devil sits on your shoulder, and when you’re able to brush him off, you miss the company.”

12. “It’s common for young children to be labeled as ‘bad’ because people don’t understand anxiety disorders in children.”

13. “Nobody talks about how everyone experiences anxiety differently. While I may need space, cold water and a tune to hum when I’m feeling especially anxious, others might need a shoulder to lean on and a peaceful distraction. This lack of conversation is particularly harmful because I and many others often have our experiences with anxiety invalidated when we tell someone that we experience anxiety in a way they may be unfamiliar with.”

14. “The guilt is there even when I’m feeling better. I feel such shame and guilt for all of the broken promises, dropped commitments, jobs I had to quit and events I missed. My anxiety is the thief, but I still feel like I’m at fault.”

15. “The physical part, the rapid heartbeats, the numbness, tunnel vision, being completely fatigued and physically worn out after an episode.”

16. “It gets boring. I have the same obsessive thoughts and worries over and over. I replay situations in my head for hours. I write lists to try to get things out of my head, over and over. I turn molehills into mountains until I can’t think of anything else. I get hung up on one detail and it’s all I can see for days. It’s boring, it’s repetitive and it’s overwhelming.”

17. “It can cause you to snap at people when they’re doing something that triggers you. Then later, when you try to apologize or explain, they don’t understand.”

18. “Even if I take medication, it doesn’t mean I’m suddenly free of panic attacks and anxiety.”

19. “Anxiety can make you jump to a wrong conclusion really fast.”

20. “For me, sex/relationship difficulties stem from anxiety.”

21. “It’s just like depression in the sense that there isn’t necessarily an answer to the question ‘what are you depressed about?’ Depression is an illness. It’s ‘about’ an illness. ‘What are you anxious about?’ Who knows?! I just am. The end.”

22. “Anger can come with the anxiety. I show irritability when my anxiety is high and it makes me seem like an unhappy person. I’m not, I’m just spinning out of control in my own mind.”

23. “It affects every facet of my life. The constant tension, irritability and fear seeps into every part of your daily existence. Snapping at the people you love because they’re doing something making you more tense, sleeping so lightly that every noise wakes you up. Anxiety shapes your day.”

24. “Anxiety is such a powerful emotion. It’s hard to explain how it really truly frightens you to the point where is controls your life. It feels like being in an emotionally abusive relationship with the negative thoughts in your head. No escape.”

25. “Anxiety isn’t always people freaking out externally or imagining the worst case scenarios, blubbering out loud about it. It’s more than that. Anxiety can be silent, unheard and internal. You’re freaking out internally and panicking and sometimes, keeping it all in will result in those moments when we just break down.”

26. “The paralyzing self doubt that comes along with anxiety can manifest itself is procrastination when it comes to doing things with your life or certain tasks. It makes you seem lazy.”

27. “There actually is a level of healthy anxiety that helps us to perform well on tests, in athletics, in school plays or similar. The issue is when it starts affecting your everyday life and stops you from doing the things you love or stops you from being successful.”

28. “We constantly swap and wear masks to hide how we really feel. We are human chameleons and masters of disguise, so other people don’t see our panic and pain.”

29. “It’s a nightmare to find the best course of treatment. Medications can help, but they also have side effects. On the other hand, natural remedies don’t always work the same for everyone. Be patient with us while we are trying to figure out what is best for us.”

30. “The fear of anxiety can also cause it.”

*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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What I Want My Loved Ones to Know, From Someone With Anxiety

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I always want to say sorry.

When someone you know or love has a mental illness, it can be really hard on both of you. I am well aware of this, because I know my anxiety can make other people stressed, as if it’s infectious. Depression is the same – if I am sad and full of pessimism, it can influence those around me in the same way. Sometimes, all I can think to say is that I’m sorry.

When an individual is affected by a mental illness, they are often the ones to receive attention; they are the ones to be pitied. But how often do we, people living with mental illness, think about the people in our lives who become our rocks when everything else is crumbling to pieces?

Here are some things that I want to say to those around me, who may not understand what I’m going through, but who love me unconditionally in spite of this piece of my mind.

1. I’m sorry  I don’t always make sense, that I can’t always articulate how I’m feeling, how I’ve cancelled our plans and ruined our day, how I am cripplingly insecure, how I push you away, how I can’t understand myself— I’m sorry.

2. Thank you – for being there during good times and bad times.

3. You are important too. If you need me, I’ll be here.

4. You are so strong – never underestimate yourself.

5. I know my thoughts aren’t always logical, you don’t have to tell me that.

6. Please be patient with me.

7. I’m not crazy.

8. Try not to change plans at the last minute.

9. Please don’t be angry if I change plans at the last minute.

10. It is an illness, it isn’t “all in my head.”

11. Be honest with me.

12. Be prepared for what to do if I have a panic attack. It’s not pretty.

13. Be prepared for a hundred ‘to-do’ lists.

14. Talk to me – this can’t be an elephant in the room.

15. Forgive me.

16. Research as much as you can about what I’m dealing with.

17. Listen to me.

18. I love you.

There are a hundred other things I want to say to you, to ask of you, but this is enough for today. One day at a time, we can get through this. I am so passionate; I am able to feel emotions so incredibly strongly. This means the bad times are awful but the good times are amazing. Yes, I feel hurt and pain and insecurity and fear, but I also feel passion and love and loyalty. These emotions are the ones I’m proud of, and I want to use them as fuel to make our relationship a good one.

Follow this author’s journey on Piece of Mind

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5 Ways to Love Someone Who Is Struggling With Anxiety

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I felt like the worst mother in the world and I yearned for the days when an Arthur Band-Aid and a kiss would heal any hurt. This kind of pain, this kind of struggle made me feel helpless. Although we were getting help, the progress was slow and laborious. Surely there was something left in my mama bag of tricks I hadn’t yet tried, if only I could think of it.

Since my daughter Brooke and I have been open about her battle with anxiety, she’s had the privilege to walk with a number of friends who are experiencing similar kinds of problems. As we were talking yesterday about the kinds of conversations she has had with friends who are hurting, I asked her what she told them. How did she help? She offered these profound words:

I just remember what I wanted to hear.

So I asked her, Tell me. What did you want to hear when you were struggling?

Here are five loving messages she shared with me that might help you with someone you love who is struggling with anxiety: 

1. “I understand what you are saying.” 

Be present and listen. Listen with your whole self. Practice active listening skills by responding with words and phrases which indicate you hear what they’re saying and understand. While there may be a time for figuring out solutions, the most loving response initially is to listen without trying to fix the problem. If what they say is difficult to hear, be brave and try not to react in a way which might shut down the sharing. Some phrases which indicate you are listening might include:

  • “Tell me more about that.”
  • “I’m listening.”
  • “It sounds like you feel…”
  • “That must be hard/scary/difficult.”
  • “What is the hardest part of this for you?”
  • “What would make this easier?”
  • “How can I help?”

2. “You aren’t losing your mind and you won’t always feel this way.” 

When we feel intensely painful feelings, sometimes our greatest fear is that we will get stuck in this awful place and be lost there forever. Part of learning to manage difficult feelings is understanding that feelings are not forever. Feelings always pass. Feelings come in waves and sometimes it seems as if we are drowning in them. Knowing and understanding the temporary nature of feelings gives us courage to keep our head above water and continue fighting our way back to dry land.

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3. “I’m here, no matter how bad it gets.” 

When Brooke was so miserable and sick, we continually told her we were in this together. However long it took, we would get through it as a family. The fight wasn’t just her battle, it was our battle. We wanted her to know there would never be a point when we would give up and walk away. As a parent, this seemed so obvious we shouldn’t have to say the words out loud. Yet, for the person who is struggling, these reassurances from friends or family are a lifeline of hope. Everyone, at some point in their life, desperately needs to hear the words “you are not alone.”

4. “This isn’t your fault.”

People who are struggling with emotional issues or mental illness often believe what they’re experiencing is a sign of weakness of character. If they were just strong enough, they could snap out of it. For many people of faith, this sense of guilt and responsibility runs even deeper. If I only had enough faith, if I only prayed more, if only I was a better person, I wouldn’t feel this way. Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues are illnesses which require treatment. Helping your loved one understand they are not to blame for their illness is a gift of love.

5. “I love you, so don’t give up.” 

Lost in hopelessness and despair, a person who is struggling may begin to wonder if it is worth fighting. Thoughts of ending the pain become tempting. If this is the life I am destined to live, why even bother? My family and friends will be better off without me. While we may be hesitant to broach such an incredibly difficult topic, if there is any question at all, it is always better to ask to make sure our loved one is safe. Suicidal or self-harming thoughts are sometimes a symptom of depression, and we want to take every opportunity to reassure our friend or family member how much we care about their safety. They need to know their lives are valuable and worthy of the battle. They need to hear us say we love them and we are willing to fight by their side to help them find their way to the other side.

The messages above were Brooke’s five very wise and loving suggestions. Here is one more from me.

“I see your hard work to get better. I know how hard you are trying. You are so brave and I am so proud of you.”

Kelly and her daughter, Brooke, embrace
Kelly and her daughter, Brooke.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Follow this journey on Grace Notes.

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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What Anxiety Makes Me

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Dear anxiety:

You make me feel like a hollow shell of who I really am.

You make me feel like less of a person.

You make me feel isolated and alone.

You make me doubt my faith.

You make me question everything.

You make me miss important life events.

You make my heart pound.

You make me feel faint.

You make my head hurt.

You make my stomach ache.

You make my body sick.

You make my spirit sick.

You make my life toxic.

You make me feel like less of a mother.

You make me feel like less of a wife.

You make me realize I need help.

You make me realize I don’t have to live this way.

You make me determined to overcome.

You make me determined today is the day.

You make me determined you will not win one more moment of
me.

The Mighty is asking the following: If you could write a letter to your disease, disability or mental illness, what would you say?  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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6 Things I Wish People Knew About Living With Social Anxiety Disorder

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Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) has held a tight grip on my life for as long as I can remember. Since I was young, social situations have filled me with a certain dread that pushed me to avoid anxiety-inducing activities like speaking in class or checking out at the store cashier or talking to a teacher because of the immense stress they put on my already-anxious mind.

In spite of this, I have always pushed myself to work to overcome my fears. Some things get easier, but social anxiety still permeates into all areas of my life and leaves me wondering if I’ll ever be able to achieve my career goals, make friends or fulfill lifelong dreams, especially when people tend to write me off as just a shy girl instead of
seeing my potential.

It still seems that very few people are aware of Social Anxiety Disorder and the crippling effect it can have on the lives of those who have it. I believe that SAD is keeping a lot of truly talented people from reaching their full potential and sharing their gifts with the world… or even from just leading a fulfilling, happy life.

Here are some things I wish more people knew about living with Social Anxiety Disorder:

1. We are not just shy. There are people in the world who are more hesitant to talk than others… this is shyness. Those of us with SAD experience physical symptoms of panic when exposed to social situations, leading us to dread and avoid them. This panic makes it difficult to speak to new people, look others in the eye, make conversation, etc. We obsess over saying the wrong thing, offending others, or embarrassing ourselves. SAD can take over your life and make it lonely and miserable.

2. We are more than “the quiet one.” I’ve gotten to know many shy and socially anxious people over the years, and I’ve come to find that they are some of the funniest, most intelligent, thoughtful and talented people. Because we don’t
talk much, people assume we are just meek people with little to say. People are
often shocked to find that behind those downcast eyes and blushing cheeks can
lie spunky spitfires and irreverent comedians. It is frustrating to not be able
to show others the real you because of your social anxiety.

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3. We are not trying to be rude. Sometimes people interpret my not making conversation, joining in groups or avoiding eye contact as me being rude or stuck-up. The truth is, I am terrified of offending people, but my social anxiety makes it hard to join or continue conversation because I can’t think of things to say or I’m too afraid to say them.

4. Social situations are very stressful for us, so please have some understanding. I have had people judge me over the years for cancelling on an event at the last minute. I understand their frustration, but imagine the panic and stress you feel in your body right before you go on a first date, give a presentation, do a job interview, or start your first day of work: your pulse raises, stomach churns, body shakes, mind races, and your mouth freezes up. This is what people with SAD often feel when they go to school or a meeting, the store or a lunch date (even with an old friend). Any situation can trigger these feelings of panic. Please be mindful that this might be the reason for someone not showing up for appointment, participating in class, etc.

5. We do have things to say, but it’s hard to get them out. Please be considerate in group settings of those who may have a hard time speaking up, especially if you are voicing strong opinions or making decisions that will affect the entire group.

6. We have a lot of potential. Most work and educational opportunities depend on one’s ability to communicate and the number of connections one has. Obviously, this presents a huge obstacle to those with SAD. I work very hard to keep pushing myself in spite of my disorder, but I still have a naturally quiet demeanor that can lead some employers, audition judges, etc. to dismiss me as a candidate in spite of my qualifications. I hope people will start to focus more on the ideas people share than the volume at which they speak them.

Every person with social anxiety is different and the disorder can affect people in different ways, but hopefully this gives a better idea of what it is like to live with Social Anxiety Disorder. It may seem like a weakness of character fueled by a lack of courage and petty fears, but SAD is a crippling disorder that requires a lot of courage to get through every day living with. All in all, I hope we can all have more understanding and consideration for the battles people we come across each day may be battling, offering compassion, not criticism.

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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