To the Student Who Insists You’re Not ‘That Stressed’

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It’s currently the week before finals. I have two papers to write and three finals to prepare for over the next five days. But this shouldn’t be a problem, right? I should be used to it by now. Besides, hundreds of thousands of college kids around the world are probably facing the same things I am.

Right?

In the past year, I had progressively experienced worse and worse symptoms of anxiety both from sleep anxiety and personal stresses. I have become somewhat of an insomniac on many nights. I didn’t think much of it during the first six months or so, and I didn’t think I would possibly need any medical attention. But that was almost a year ago.

wrist with hospital band Last night, I recklessly self-diagnosed myself as having a stroke. I asked my roommates to rush me to the emergency room. Some of my symptoms included extreme rapid heartbeat, chest pain, nausea and dizziness, difficulty breathing, the constant feeling of needing to faint, numbness in my left arm and uncontrollable crying (and when I say crying, I mean crying). For me, this was all extremely out of the ordinary – these aren’t things that normally happen to me, ever, and for an episode as such to occur forced me to critically reevaluate how serious this matter has become.

In general, I’ve always held the philosophy that out of the 7 billion+ people in this world, I could not be having it nearly as bad as even half of them. Because of this, I’d conditioned myself to believe I do not ever get stressed and had always subsequently dismissed any signs of stress.

Sitting here now after recovering from what turned out to be an anxiety attack, I realize I can’t neglect those feelings anymore. Thus, I am writing this article — not only to update those who care about me but also for the purpose of sharing the following message:

If you’re feeling stressed, don’t be afraid to admit it. Seek your friends and family members when you need to. You might feel at times that you may be burdening them with your own worries when they already have their own, but if they are truly your support system, they will care about what you have to say and will be more than happy to be there for you. You are equally as important as anyone else who walks this planet, and as such, you should take good care of yourself — and that includes your mental wellness. Otherwise, how will you be able to take care of those you care about?

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. This story is based on an individual’s experience. 

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s a question you wish someone asked you about your mental illness? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post [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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The Perfect Way My Psychologist Explained Anxiety

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Fifteen years ago, my life was a dark, scary place I just could not escape. 

I was paralyzed with fear, could not leave my home, was afraid to be alone. Every day, all day, I thought I was having a heart attack. I was sure of it. I was sweating, dizzy, chest pains, short of breath. After many trips to the emergency room, doctors appointments, stress tests, heart sonograms, I found out my heart was absolutely healthy. My family doctor finally said I was experiencing panic attacks. I had never even heard of a panic attack! She referred me to a psychologist. After spending many hours with the psychologist, I started to learn so much about anxiety, panic attacks and myself! 

I was put on medication for anxiety and depression, and to this day, still take it. Medication helps me manage the anxiety and panic attacks, but learning about myself and why I was experiencing these issues helped me more than anything. My psychologist explained anxiety like this to help me understand it a little better:

Imagine you’re cleaning up around the house because you have company coming soon. You pick up an object and don’t really know where to put it, so you shove it in your closet and shut the door. You just need it out of sight for the moment. Throughout your life, you keep doing this, shoving something in your closet for the moment, intending on taking care of it later when you have more time. Eventually your closet is going to fill up. At one point, you will open the door to try to put one more thing in, but your closet is so full, everything comes falling out at once and you are buried in all the items you’ve been keeping in there. Anxiety is our body and mind’s way of saying, “Hey! This closet is getting pretty full! You better start cleaning soon!” And when we ignore the warning to start cleaning, and our closet is finally full, a panic attack is our body and minds way of saying, “I told you!”   

Needless to say, my closet was exploding! I had a husband who had been out of work due to a back injury and major surgery, two children who needed me and, two days after my husband’s back surgery, our 5-year-old son had a bicycle accident that ended up with him in a coma for a week at a children’s hospital an hour and a half away from the hospital my husband was recovering in. I was being pulled in so many directions, all while trying to be the “rock” that kept our family going. That alone needed a closet the size of bank vault!  

After several sessions, tears, heartache, I started to slowly get better, and was able to manage my anxiety and panic attacks. It has been 15 years, and I still have the anxiety and panic attacks, but 99 percent of the time I can manage them on my own. I learned to look at life differently. For years I held on to anger, pain, disappointment and it was eating away at my soul. I started to realize every bad thing that ever happened, happened for a reason — I just never took the time to try to see it differently. The issues from my adolescent years helped me be a better parent to my children. The issues from my parent’s marriage made me work harder to have a better marriage for myself and my family. The loss of loved ones made me appreciate those I still had in my life even more.

So in a weird way, being diagnosed with severe generalized anxiety made my life better. It made me deal with things I didn’t even know I needed to deal with. It made me see life differently, which in turn made me a better person, parent and wife. It still is hard at times, but it is manageable!  My hope is for anyone suffering from anxiety and panic attacks, talk to your doctor, ask about a psychologist, clean your closet out so that you can start loving life again!

The Mighty is asking the following: How would you describe your disability, disease or mental illness to a child? If you’ve done this before, tell us about that moment and the child’s reaction. 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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How I Define Success as a Person Living With Anxiety

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Success isn’t a word I keep in my personal vocabulary; it seems to be quite contradictory to define what success is when I haven’t made it applicable to my own life.

Success has always revealed itself to me as cliché, stale and ordinary. And it’s because of this view of success that I find statements such as, “Working really hard is what successful people do,” from Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Outliers,” to be extremely off-putting.

Hard work shouldn’t be done solely for success as the purpose; hard work should be done because it reveals a person’s character and work ethic. Success is so much more than a single-minded “hard work” POV. Success can come from some of the worst things in our lives.

In April 2015, my father lost all memory of the first three weeks of that month due to a rare ruptured brain aneurysm. My father had to learn how to properly walk again by getting his strength back and managing his thought process.

Emma Welling

At the same time, I had to learn how to become independent since both of my parents were more than half an hour away in the ICU of a hospital for 21 days. I had to let myself unload the burden of nearly losing a family member, which eventually translated into being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

I know what it’s like to face adversity and feel like there’s no hope. I was half an hour away when I received the phone call that I needed to get to the hospital as fast as possible because my dad was in critical condition with blood pooling in his brain. I know what it’s like to think you aren’t going to make it. I was certain my dad wouldn’t be alive when I finally arrived at the hospital.

And only four weeks after that, I found myself lying on the floor of a classroom experiencing my first ever panic attack. I know what it’s like to feel as if you’ve reached the end. I was certain I was going to die on that classroom floor when nearly an hour had passed by and I still felt the weight of the world on my chest.

It was in the midst of these moments — seeing my dad unconscious in the ER with a drain in his head and panicking in a classroom — that I realized there were things that happen in this world that aren’t in my control.

If success is truly based off of how hard I work at something, I’m afraid I’ll be a failure my whole life. No matter how hard I try, I can’t change how the neurotransmitters release or how the synapses fire in my brain. There’s nothing in my power that will eliminate this disorder; I may very well have anxiety for the rest of my life. However, that doesn’t constitute me as unsuccessful. I consider myself strong and courageous, and I refuse to let those words be only synonymous with success.

Success isn’t one size fits all. As an individual with anxiety, I sometimes feel like I have to prove and justify my success because society views mental illnesses as a disadvantage that demerits success. When I find myself thinking this way, I quickly remind myself that anxiety is a setback only if I view it that way. Success is possible for anyone no matter what his or her situation is.

Personally, my success comes from waking up and taking my first conscious breath of the morning, knowing I have another day to do something with my life. My success comes from making those around me more aware of the truths about mental illnesses and my anxiety disorder. My success comes from making it through an anxious situation or an anxiety attack. My success comes from being who I am and not letting anything hold me back from expressing who I am — even if that means having more anxiety than an average person.

You can spend your whole life trying to create a perfect and burden-free life, but that will never lead to a prosperous and successful one. The only way we grow is through the trying situations in life. I’ve learned more about myself and life since my dad had his near death experience and I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Success is what you want it to be — it’s malleable and changeable. It doesn’t come from hard work or perfect health. It comes from resilience and hope that life will go on. There is no need to try hard or impress others, just simply be and success will follow.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us one thing your loved ones might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. What would you say to teach them? 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 Your Secret Is the Invisible, Physical Pain of Anxiety

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I have never been able to find the words to explain the pain I experience in my chest during times of fear, or anxiety, or anger, or hopelessness. It’s not like a paper cut, or falling on pavement. Those are a burning, stinging, throbbing kind of pain. A pain that I have experienced many times throughout my childhood, one that is familiar. That is something I can handle. It will go away soon, it will heal, it will disappear and I will not even remember it a year later.

Mental pain is a completely different story. You cannot put a bandage over it, or have it X-rayed, or show it to people so that they comprehend why and how you are hurting. The pain I feel in my chest is a numbing soreness…a tenderness, an aching that eases in and out but never seems to fully go away. The kind of pain involved with a loose tooth, where it will hurt to pull it out, but in the meantime has that strange numbing pain that instinctively causes you to twist and turn it and hear it snap free from your gums little by little. You endure the hurt, because continuing to twist and pull is the only thing that will eventually bring relief. And no after-affect from yanking out the tooth could ever be as bad as keeping it in.

I wish I could do that with my chest. I feel this odd urge to stab at it, reach in and pull out the pain, push on it until my breathing is affected by the force on my chest. But you can’t. You can only wait. Try to keep your face straight, try to not think about it; because thinking about it only makes it 10 times worse.

…Thinking about it only makes it 10 times worse…So is this all in my head? Am I doing this to myself? Does that even matter? Does it make the situation any less real? The agony any less excruciating? My condition any less sympathetic?

“It’s all in your head”.

I hate those five words. So. Much.

My mind feels content, my mind thinks of joyful moments and scripture and peace. My mind repeats calming music over and over again, knowing that everything is going to be OK.

But my body does not care.

I feel happy, I really do. I had an amazing day (comparatively); everything is going well. Everything is beautiful. Why doesn’t my body understand that? I feel relaxed but I struggle to hold back tears in the middle of class. The tears are my biggest concern; the nausea, dry mouth and pounding headaches are secrets. Only I know about them. But crying is outward. Crying let’s other people in on the secret. And my pitiful side convinces me that they can’t understand the secret.

For a minute, I forget about my chest. Until the sensation hits me like knife to the torso. Well, it was nice while it lasted.

I napped all day, but I’m still exhausted. Does mental exhaustion begin to take the form of physical exhaustion when it is too overwhelming? That would make me feel better — to know that something I was experiencing was natural, something that was supposed to happen to people.

It does not matter how much I try to focus on the terms coming out of the professor’s mouth, or analyze the words and numbers and colors being projected onto the board. I cannot hear a word. He sounds muffled — but the whispering voices that surround me are impossible to ignore. So clear, so distressing. I wish those were muffled, too. Because I can feel my whole body tensing. I swear if I hear one more person talk…..

When I focus back in, I’m greeted by yet another hammering headache. I try to pick up my pencil, to direct my attention to something else, maybe get some notes down, but my fingers tremble and the pencil viciously shakes back and forth. If that doesn’t give away that I’m “crazy.” I don’t know what will…I guess I will just try to listen.

But those murmurs. The whispers are now accompanied by soft giggles as one girl laughs because the other girl asks her if she has a Facebook. Who cares!? Is that seriously all you have to worry about?

How can they be so at ease? Don’t they feel the anguish? How can anyone go through life and not feel the pain?

But that’s the worst thing about mental illness, mental pain, internal conflicts manipulated by your mind; they are on the inside, unseen and unable to observe or verify. You can cover it and try to mend it as many times as you want, but you will not unwrap it a week later to see that it has healed. It will still be there, maybe not visible, but as deep as ever.

I cling to that thought…”maybe not visible”.

I’m wondering how others sit there, so happy and care-free, averting the dull ache.

But do they look at me and wonder the same thing?

Follow this journey on Pen to Paper.

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In the Mind of a Person With Anxiety on a Friday Night

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It’s Friday night, and I am having the same battle I have every night. I am so mentally exhausted that I want to crawl under a rock and sleep for a week. A month even. But my brain won’t switch off. I watch the television mindlessly, trying to ignore the noise in my head.

As with every night, I am fighting a losing battle. I start worrying about every conversation I have had that day. Did I offend anyone? Did I handle that situation correctly? Was that person really annoyed with me or is my imagination going into overdrive again?

I start worrying about my beautiful children. I worry I am not doing the best I possibly can to cater for their additional needs. Can we fit a fourth therapy session in this fortnight? Where will I find the money to pay for it? What’s going to happen if my child continues to lose weight and becomes a skeletal version of his gorgeous, cheeky self? How many extra appointments will that require per week?

I stress about things that happened weeks ago. Months ago. Years ago even. I feel myself start to shake. My head goes fuzzy, and I start to sweat. My chest hurts. I can’t breathe. I try taking deep breathes. I try to keep busy. I try telling myself I am being ridiculous. Nothing dulls the pain. I reach for my medication to stop the panic attack in its tracks. I worry about what my friends would think, what my family and colleagues would think, if would think I’m “weak” for relying on medication to stop the noise in my head from taking over my life.

Only then can I start to breathe. The clamor in my head gradually subsides until I can think clearly and logically. I lecture myself for being so irrational, but I know this won’t stop the same thing from happening time and time again.

I have anxiety. I have an illness so widely stigmatized that I feel like I cannot talk to anyone about it. On the outside I am a doting mother. On the outside I am someone who strives to do their best at her job. On the outside I appear happy, confident and successful.

On the inside I am drowning.

Mental illness is real. It is as debilitating as any physical illness can be. People with a mental illness can’t just “snap out if it,” just like a person with asthma can’t just magically open her airways. As a person who has suffered with anxiety for many, many years I am begging…

Break the stigma. Let people who suffer in silence know it’s OK to speak up. We need to be able to speak up without fear of judgment, unfounded opinions or isolation.

Sometimes all we need is a non-judgmental, listening ear.

I know I personally just don’t want to feel alone. The war in my head is a lonely place to be on a Friday night.

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7 Tips for Dating Someone With Anxiety, From People With Anxiety

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When you love someone who has anxiety, sometimes it’s hard to know what to do when anxiety has him or her in its clutches. Especially at the beginning of a relationship, when you’re just learning the ins and outs of each other, an anxiety disorder might feel like a foreign concept.

To dispel some concerns, we asked people in our community who live with anxiety to tell us tips for dating someone with anxiety.

Here’s their advice:

1. Understand if they need space. 

When situations get overwhelming, someone with anxiety might need their own space. If they head out of a social situation early — or need some time away from you — try to understand they just might need to recharge. And sometimes that involves being alone.

Sometimes the world is just too much. Alone time is necessary to think.” — Janice Cox

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2. It’s not always you (and most of the time, it’s probably not). 

Chances are, a person with anxiety has had anxiety long before you came along. Their reasons for being anxious (which may not even seems like “reasons” at all) most likely have nothing to do with you. Don’t take anxiety personally.

“Anxiety and depression cause negative and irrational thinking. If I’m sad, moody, angry or tearful, it’s my illness, not me. It’s not directed to you, don’t take it personally.” — Diana Pell

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3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. 

No two people with anxiety are the same, and there are different types of anxiety disorders. If you’re unfamiliar with anxiety, or even if you know a bit about it, don’t be afraid to ask questions to better understand their experience. That way, when anxiety comes to visit, you’ll be more prepared and have a little more understanding. Also, it’ll show it’s not something you’re afraid to talk about.

“Ask questions. Ask us questions about how it feels, what triggers it and what you can do to help. Show us you’re interested in understanding what we go through.— Kimberly Labine

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4. If you can, stay calm during moments of high anxiety. 

If the person you’re with is experiencing a moment of high anxiety or panic, try to keep calm. The less anxious energy in the room, the better.

If I’m feeling anxious, I need you to stay calm. I know it’s probably difficult since I’m clearly struggling, and I know you’re probably worried, but if you can stay relaxed, it’ll help bring me back to reality and make me realize I’m not in danger.” — Emily Waryck

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5. Be patient.

Being annoyed or angry with anxiety won’t make it go away either. Have patience, and don’t get frustrated if you can’t understand.

“Be patient with me. I know it sucks when my anxiety keeps us from making plans, seeing friends or going out. I hate it too. But I promise I’m trying my best, so try not to get overly frustrated with me.” — Hayley Lyvers

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6. Don’t try to fix it.

If love could cure anxiety, the world would be a much less anxious place. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. While support can mean everything to a loved one, you don’t have to be anyone’s therapist. Supporting someone isn’t the same thing as fixing them.

“You’re not supposed to fix it. Just be there!” — Wilma Peden

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7. Believe them.

Just because you don’t understand why a certain place or event could evoke anxiety, that doesn’t mean the fear and feeling isn’t real. Respect that what they’re going through is real — even if you think it defies logic. Believe what they tell you. And then listen.

Listen to the person when they tell you ways you can help or support them. Believe them when they tell you they aren’t OK.” — Kathleen Myre

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*Answers have been edited and shortened.

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

 

 

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