I hurled the brush at the mirror, satisfied when it made a loud sound. My face was red, and the crying had started five minutes before that moment. Staring at my reflection, I felt ugly.
I was 7 years old.
Many struggles with self-esteem began at a young age for me. Nothing seemed
right. My face wasn’t the right shape, and my nose was too big. My smile before braces was an orthodontist’s financial dream waiting to happen. To
top it off, I was shorter than most of my peers.
Surrounded by family and friends all of the time, I was not socially isolated. I had good friends who I laughed and played with.
Not many knew how I felt about myself. Most of the time, I was ashamed to say it out loud, preferring instead to beat myself up over my insecurities.
This outlook had an impact on a lot of aspects of my life that would stay with me for many years. Picture-taking was an absolute nightmare for someone with this kind of anxiety and low self confidence. I avoided looking at the camera whenever possible.
Sometimes people would say, “That’s OK. We didn’t want you in the picture anyway.”
It wouldn’t change my mind, even if that was what they were trying to do. How could I say out loud — that I didn’t want to be the one to ruin the photo?
Magical moments popped up every so often when I did feel beautiful. Happiness had a way of taking over. I would smile and say, “Cheese” loudly with my arms around my friends… not a care about how I looked.
Until I saw the picture. The doubt would creep back in like tiny voices that just Would. Not. Give. Up.
Looking back, it breaks my heart. I hope my children never feel that way about themselves.
Through the years of growing up and surrounding myself with different people and experiences, my self esteem grew and took on a more positive role in my life. I began to look back at old pictures and think they weren’t so bad after all. The self-doubt is still there, but I fight harder to be mentally stronger. I have kids now, and my son likes to grab my phone and take pictures. He thinks his mom is beautiful so I smile and just say…”Cheese.”
One day, I want him to look back on it and remember how beautiful we both were.
For me, I don’t need to see the picture. I know it’s perfect.
The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences.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.
Anxiety is something everyone feels every once in a while, which is why it’s easy to think it’s “no big deal” when someone has an anxiety disorder. But anxiety disorders can be daunting, and for the people who have them, they’re very real.
So, we asked our readers who live with anxiety to take us into their head for a day — to describe what anxiety is really like. They’re haunting descriptions, and prove that although some anxiety is normal, it’s hard to know what it’s really like to live with an anxiety disorder unless you’ve been there.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “Anxiety keeps me awake at night; it keeps me as a prisoner in my home. Anxiety makes me feel like a failure; it has taken away my self-worth. Anxiety makes me feel uncomfortable and nervous. Anxiety has taken away friends, family, opportunities, my life.”
2. “Anxiety is like having new tabs opening very quickly [on your computer] one after another and not being able to close them or stop new ones from opening — but in your head. It happens while working, taking care of kids, driving, answering questions, and a million other things that people do in a day.”
3. “Anxiety is like an adrenaline rush without the actual roller coaster! Heart races, palms sweat, knees get weak. You have all the physical symptoms of a thrill ride but your brain has no actual event to tie the symptoms to.”
4. “It’s like you have no control; it’s feeling constantly uncomfortable in your own skin. It is isolating, lonely, and it’s soul-destroying.”
5. “My anxiety takes over my body. My breathing is irregular, my heart is racing despite minimal activity, and my muscles are tense unless I consciously relax them. My mind doesn’t shut off. I think about things that could go wrong, things that went wrong in the past, and things I have absolutely no control over. Despite having the knowledge that I cannot control everything that happens, I struggle with these consuming symptoms on a daily basis.”
6. “It’s like not realizing you’ve been holding your breath so you have to constantly remind yourself to breathe.”
7. “Anxiety takes you to a place where you’re outside of your body and cannot determine fantasy from reality. It’s debilitating, scary and downright gut-wrenching.”
8. “Picture a bunch of people loudly talking to you about everything you don’t want to hear — that’s how it feels in my head. Some days are better than others, but it feels like pure chaos on bad days, and it’s exhausting.”
9. “Anxiety feels like being the passenger of a race car driver while pleading to be let out. I close my eyes and take deep breaths at every endless turn.”
10. “My panic attacks make me feel numb and cold all over. I feel like I’m going crazy, about to die, my heart is beating too fast, and I can’t get air. I often have to get up and go outside to get fresh air.”
11. “It feels like being in fight-or-flight mode. Never being able to stop overthinking, overanalyzing, over worrying. It lets your thoughts run your life.”
12. “You feel like crying a lot because you have no control. Your life is not your own.”
13. “It feels like having absolutely no control of your emotions. Sometimes I feel like I’m watching myself work something up in my head, knowing I’m safe and fine, but not being able to control the panic creeping up my neck or the fear response. It’s horrible.”
14. “Your life is simply like a roller coaster ride. One moment it’s happy and fun, and then in a second whip around the corner, it’s instantly scary and overwhelming. It’s a 24/7 ride; the mind is always going, preparing for the worst, over analyzing things to the point where you learn to expect the worst. Anxiety consumes your life, especially when it affects someone you love dearly. Understanding it is truly difficult, but be patient. Reassuring they are loved and not alone is key!”
15. “I often thought of it as standing in a water tank. Sometimes you’re only in puddles, sometimes it’s knee level but still bearable, but there are days when the water level rises up too high and too fast and you’re struggling to stay afloat and breathe.”
16. “Anxiety is knowing however much you plan ahead, you still expect the worst to happen. Even if it doesn’t, you convince yourself it will next time; it’s a never-ending cycle.”
17. “It feels like your brain got switched from 40 mph to 140 mph and your body can’t keep up. You can’t breathe or think or run away.”
18. “Imagine being at the mall with your 3-year-old child but you turn around and they have disappeared. Imagine the level of panic you would experience. Some days every single thing feels like that. No rhyme or reason — it just does and you can’t turn it off.”
19. “It’s that battle-ready mode where you’re on high alert to literally everything around you, every worry and fear, but there’s a cage you just can’t get through. You just stand there frozen, mind racing, and your heart feels like it will explode out of your chest. In truth, it’s indescribable because everything just gets hazy and it’s hard enough just to remember where you are at times, let alone push past it. It’s the ultimate feeling of being alone.”
20. “It’s like walking through a field of land mines with one clear path, but with every step, the path changes and you have no idea when the mines will explode. Every step is uncertain; it makes you second guess everything in your life.”
21. “That split second before you trip when your breath gets caught up in your throat and you lose all control over what’s happening. That feeling right there, but it lasts sometimes for days.”
22. “I feel like I’m being drowned by waves and caught in a rip tide. I have to keep treading and swim diagonally towards the shore. You can’t get there directly.”
23. “It’s a knot in your chest that’s always there lurking waiting to creep in and put seeds of doubt and worry into every thought.”
24. “Like an out-of-control, out-of-body experience. You’re watching yourself and can’t do anything to control it.”
*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.
Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. These answers are based on individuals’ experiences.
To my daughter’s elementary school guidance counselor,
A few years ago you helped my daughter during a difficult time. She was struggling with some anxiety issues after a few small incidents happened. Incidents which seemed minor at the time, but became a big deal to her. She had trouble getting herself to school, and trouble concentrating on her school work.
Every day before school she felt fear, heart palpitations and difficulty breathing. As someone who deals with anxiety, I couldn’t bear to see her like that. I understood the horrible symptoms she was experiencing, but I did not know how to help her. I tried to hug her, I tried to help her take deep breaths. I tried to tell her I loved her no matter what, and that she would be OK.
But love was not enough. I was not enough. She need some extra help during that difficult time.
She needed you.
You let her sit in your office until she was ready to go to her classroom. You gave her some tools to slowly overcome her anxiety. You sat with her. You ate lunch with her. You listened.
You made yourself available when she needed you, even though you were busy helping so many others and had many other responsibilities to attend to. You answered our questions, and provided a referral for counseling in case we needed it.
You handled the situation perfectly, with the skill and professionalism that only a top rate school guidance counselor possesses. You were committed to helping my daughter, you never stopped trying.
I don’t think you realize how much you did for my daughter and our family. She was drifting into a sea of anxiety, and you provided a much needed life vest. She was able to go to school knowing you were there. We were able to relax a little because you were there.
You are a constant, reassuring presence to many children at the school. You are very involved, you are loved.
You continued to guide and help my daughter after she was doing much better. You regularly teach her and her class many valuable lessons. You are helping them to prepare for the upcoming transition to middle school. You answer all of their questions. You go out of your way to bring in things to help them such as combination locks, which so many of them are worried about learning how to use.
I don’t think school guidance counselors get enough credit. We take the fact that you are there for granted, we don’t realize all you do on a daily basis. But, when our children need you, you are always there.
Thanks to you my daughter got through her crisis and is excelling in school. She is getting top grades and has a renewed confidence in herself.
You deserve the award you are being considered for and so much more. Your guidance is invaluable, you are helping steer so many children in the right direction, you are making a big difference in so many lives.
My daughter will take all you have shown her wherever she goes. She is getting ready to move on from elementary school, but she will always have a place for you in her heart.
I am responsible, respectful and ready to learn,
I have finished elementary school, and now it’s my turn,
I will take all you’ve shown me, wherever I go,
I will always be grateful, and I want you to know,
that elementary school will always mean the world to me,
I’m ready to move on now, but I’m forever a Husky!
The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Write a thank you letter to someone you realize you don’t thank enough.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.
Erica just got engaged. “Oh, that’s just great, another person is getting married.” Marcus just got a promotion. “I guess I am happy for him.” Brittany got a new job with a salary increase and she’s expecting her first child. Rachel is traveling to Italy. Another black person killed by a police officer. “So you mean to tell me another one of my childhood friends was shot and killed?”
These are the thoughts that run through my mind as I scroll down my news feed on Facebook. I start sweating, my mind starts racing and I feel a mixture of emotions. I begin to ask myself question after question. “What can I do to protect my brothers against police brutality in this country? What can I do in my community to help? Why does everything appear to be so perfect in everyone else’s life? Is something wrong with me? Why is their life moving and mine isn’t?” I tell myself “Wait, Joy. Shut up, stop thinking.” But I can’t, it’s too hard to turn my mind off once it starts racing.
Of course, I know what I see on social media is only a small portion of someone’s everyday life. Most people only share their good news with the exception of the senseless killings in my community and the world. So yes, I know there is a such thing as a filter on social media. I have a filter on social media, but that doesn’t change the fact that I immediately start comparing myself to my peers and discrediting all of my accomplishments. This empty feeling comes over me for a moment and then I get angry. I wish this was only an occasional inconvenience, but I find myself feeling this way multiple times a day on social media. So you may ask, “How many hours do you spend on social media?” Honestly, I have no idea, but I tend to scroll through my feed at work, at home on the couch, in church, when I am hanging out with friends and in the middle of the night when I wake up. I enjoy posting selfies, sharing the highlights of my life, encouraging others through words of affirmation and scrolling through my news feed to see what’s going on in the world and among my peers. Most importantly I use it to escape my depression.
As I sit in group therapy while we discuss triggers, the therapist tells us that a trigger can be a person, place or thing that brings you back to a mentality where you can risk having a relapse. She also talked about how to recognize them and ways to cope. She gave us a worksheet with questions that forced me to sit and think about what things make my depression and anxiety worse. I immediately thought of my mother’s abusive boyfriend and my financial hardship, but as I begin writing, the words social media popped into my head. I did not want to believe it. I can identify a few of my triggers but I did not want to believe that something like social media was a trigger.
But after being off it for five months, I noticed I did not have the desire to go back on social media. Recently, I decided to get on Facebook and the empty feeling did not come back. Maybe because I could not get myself to scroll through my news feed. Three days later, I deactivated my account because I knew I was not ready. Considering that I attempted suicide a month ago, I was not mentally strong enough and then I immediately thought “Will I ever be?”.
As I begin to do some research on major depressive disorder and social media, I discovered an article on Everyday Health. In the piece, psychologist Stephanie Mihalas, PHD, says spending too much time on social media can create a negative cycle of thoughts, and social media can actually become a root of unhealthy emotions because of that. In addition, Natascha M. Santos, PsyD, says it can lead you to process information with a negative bias and have dysfunctional beliefs. It can even cause you to minimize the positives of your own relationships by comparing them to others. The photos and status updates are carefully crafted, and often put a depressed person in a place where he/she begins to compare his or her entire life to someone else’s highlights. I said to myself, “Yes, that is me.” I am not sure when I will be ready considering that I need social media to market my start-up. How will I do that if social media is one of my triggers? “Maybe I will have to hire and train someone?” Even thinking about it is enough to make my anxiety kick in.
I don’t know when I will be ready to be on social media full-time, especially since I am in recovery. I have started making steps to get myself into a healthier head space when I am active on social media. Now I set myself a time limit for Facebook. Hopefully I can gradually learn to use social media in a healthy way and avoid being triggered. I would encourage those dealing with depression, anxiety or any mental illness to learn your triggers and healthy ways to cope. This may include seeing a therapist, talking to love ones, deep breathing, listening to music and a variety of other things.
Anxiety and depression can often go hand-in-hand. What a lot of (healthy) people often don’t realize is how much they aggravate each other. This is a glimpse of what every morning is like for me as I struggle with anxiety and depression.
*Scene: Lying in bed, immediately after waking up in the morning.*
It’s not like you have anything worth getting up for this morning,”
Anxiety: “Wait, you have stuff going on today! You have math class! You know, the one where everyone hates you and you always get terrible grades. You remember, right? That last test totally crashed your GPA. You don’t even have a chance of passing now.”
Me: “C’mon, homies, can you guys please at least let me get breakfast before you start with this again?
Anxiety: “But the freaking sky is falling today, you need to know!”
Depression: “I just thought you should know there’s no point in anything before you get up and have to put forth so much effort in getting ready because there’s really no reason for you to go through so much trouble.”
Me: “Guys, please… I, I, I need to get up. I can do this. Let me at least try, OK?”
Depression: “No, no really… you’ve done enough already. All you ever do is mess things up anyway. There’s no point in trying.”
Anxiety: “Guys? Did you hear me? The world is going to end! Everything is doomed!”
Depression: “Yeah, listen to that guy, he’s right… nothing ever works out well for you.”
Me: “No, no… I’m not listening to you guys. I had a hard time with that last test, but if I make it to class and study I’ll at least have a chance at passing… I’m going to class… I’m getting up now.”
Depression: “Do what you want… I just thought you should know. You’re horrible at this stuff. Your grades are always going to stink.”
Anxiety: “You’re going to fail out of this class. Next comes failing out of high school, which means you’ll never get into college, so you won’t be able to get a good job and you have no chance at a future.”
Me: “OK, OK, I heard you guys… but I have to try this one more time… I’m going to do it.”
*In class, later that day…*
Teacher: “x = negative b plus or minus the square root of b squared minus 4ac over 2a…”
Anxiety: What in the world are all those letters for? This is math class. It’s supposed to be numbers, not letters. I told you. Look. What is this world coming to?
Me: “I’m not sure what she’s talking about… I should raise my hand and ask her…”
Depression: “Dude… why? It’s not like you have any chance at understanding this better… There’s no point in trying. The only thing you’ll accomplish by putting your hand up is giving all those other kids another thing to use to laugh at you. You’re never going to have any friends or pass this class.”
Anxiety: “Your life is over.”
Me: “OK, OK… I’ll just look at the book when I get home… I don’t need anything else to deal with in this class…. I’m trying to find some friends…”
Depression: “Why’d you come anyway you idiot? You got up and spent all that time getting ready, never mind the waste of gas money driving over here. You’re a waste of everything, space, time, energy, money, oxygen…. You’re worthless.”
Anxiety: “Your life is so doomed. You never had a chance.”
Depression: “Why do you even bother trying? The world would be better off without you.”
Me: “I… I… I’m just…”
Anxiety: “Just doomed… You’re just doomed.”
Depression: “Don’t forget worthless.”
Me: “Can you guys please just give me a break already?”
Depression and anxiety (in sync): “Sure! You’ll just feel nothing for a couple hours. Complete emotional numbness. You can feel like an empty piece of skin.”
Me: “Not again… I don’t know why I keep trying… Maybe they’re right…”
This can be every moment of every day for me. It’s not a choice. There is help, but it can be hard to find, and when you’re having that much trouble already, it often can feel extremely overwhelming and hopeless.
So, if you’re reading this and you’re living with unmanaged anxiety and/or depression, I know it’s hard and I’m so sorry. But keep fighting and looking for help. I promise it is out there.
If you’re reading this because you know someone struggling with anxiety and/or depression, please encourage him or her to keep fighting and help them find the support they need. Without realizing it, you might just save a life.
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.
Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. This is one individual’s experience.
The Mighty is asking the following: Share a conversation you’ve had that changed the way you think about 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.
This is for those who are dealing with anxiety and emotional disorders, and still haven’t found their way of dealing it and with themselves.
Sometimes I feel like I’ll never be able to surpass my anxiety and fears. Whenever I’m going through one of my emotional turns, things tend to get complicated at all levels – as if all my life was based on an absolute Murphy’s Law which states, “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”
The truth is that after 24 years of living I can’t seem to understand who I am and what I’m dealing with.
Since I can remember, I’ve always felt this intense fear of almost everything, a profound sadness and/or nostalgia and melancholic feelings for anything that crosses my mind. People suffering from anxiety and emotional disorders have triggers, and I’m no exception. But no matter what I did, I could not make myself heard and understood. I tried to talk with people closest to me, like my mother and longtime boyfriend, but it didn’t work. Most of the time, I feel like no one can understand what I’m saying, and it often seems like others see me how they’d like me to be, not how I actually am.
Recently I had been surpassing some tougher times with a major loss of my dear grandmother. I was considering moving back to my hometown and starting all over, close to my family and loved ones. It was something I wanted – or I thought I did – for a long time: to be able to live close to those I love, and take a chance on a completely new life, with a new job, new people and experiences.
I started looking for a job, but because I couldn’t unplug my fear and anxiety, I ended up losing each opportunity just because “I can’t.” I wanted to fulfill an old dream of taking part on a specific collective work by a group of photographers I admired. I managed a way to be accepted into the project, and then I just froze and didn’t do it, because “I can’t.”
I stopped going away for more than a week maximum, because I never knew if it would be the last time I saw someone. Just the thought of that prevents me from going places, because “I can’t.”
And I can’t. I can’t sleep every night, and I can’t take all the meals without getting nauseated. And that’s all just because I can’t. Because my heart is jumping so hard every single time, I’m afraid it will unleash itself out of my body and disappear. Other times, disappearing is the most desirable thing I can get through my mind.
From my personal experience, other people feel like it’s always an excuse. It’s a way for weak people to keep themselves in a comfort zone instead of living. But let me tell you — I didn’t choose to be like this, and I don’t think anyone would if they actually knew what it is to live with intense anxiety every day of your life.
There is no simple way of explaining how we feel about everything, and how small we feel most of the time. But, we definitely want to be taken seriously, we want our friends and family to understand that sometimes we don’t know the reasons for our fears and insecurities. We really don’t know what it’s making us so depressed and angry. We want people to accept our differences, to accept that we might not be capable of being everything they think we should be, even when they say “it’s better for you.” I want help, yes. But mostly I want understanding. I don’t need others to go against me, telling me it’s all in my head. And believe me, I know it better than they do. I don’t need people to tell me a job, a hobby or something else would cure my insecurities and make me feel normal, but they forget to listen when I tell them the “I can’t” syndrome makes me anxious. Sometimes I can’t leave the house and accomplish things; Sometimes I can’t surpass pain and fear, like some other people do.
I love to read about other people’s experiences with anxiety. It’s a really important to raise awareness and knowledge about mental illness. It’s kind of inspiring to see people who found ways to overcome their emotional issues, but unfortunately I haven’t found a way of surpassing mine, and that’s a reality too. Not every story is motivational or inspiring, and mine is just confusing because “I can’t” figure myself out, so “I can’t” live in full. I’ve been trying to find some guidance by connecting with people like me. My reality is my own, and every story has its traces. But at the same time, I like to make myself believe that I’m not alone. So, I encourage everyone to share their story as well, just because that, at least, “we all can.”