I’m never quite sure when it’s going to happen. You would think after all these years, I would have some kind of warning sign before it starts. The situations are different. The settings and people change, but the feeling is always the same.

I was probably 8 years old when I first realized it was there. My older brothers were watching the original “Friday the 13th” movie. I snuck downstairs and watched from the steps. I didn’t quite understand it was fiction. I started having thoughts about someone doing that to me — killing me. Later that night, I woke up in a cold sweat. It seemed to start from inside. My stomach was in knots, my pulse was racing and I found it hard to breathe. I tried to call out for my mom and dad, but I found it difficult to move any part of my body. I was paralyzed with fear.

I had no idea at age 8 I was having my first anxiety attack.

Anxiety has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. Earthquakes were my first major trigger. I used to lie in bed going over my escape plan in case one hit during the night. I was told they sound like a train before the shaking starts. Any noise I heard made me activate my plan.

The rational part of my brain knew there was not an earthquake, but my fear and anxiety always won out.

As I got older, the anxiety became more debilitating. Car crashes, planes veering off runways, home invasions, my parents dying, mass shootings — anything that provokes fear in people, I perseverated on.

Social anxiety, general anxiety, test anxiety, compulsive behaviors, fear, worry, apprehension, nervousness. I’m not sure which one came first. Daily tasks are challenging because I view them through a lens of worry. It takes me longer to get things done. I process more. Spend extra time going over plans — verbalizing them out loud so I don’t miss anything. Repeating myself often, because for some reason, I find comfort in hearing things more than once.

Then it happened. I was finally able to say the three words that seem so difficult to say.

I need help.

I was 40 years old.

I knew she had to ask all the questions. Go over the list of signs and symptoms and check the boxes I answered “yes” to. My eyes traveled down the page and I noticed that most of the “yes” boxes were marked with an X.

I know anxiety has always been something I live with, but sitting in my doctor’s office that day was the first time I saw it on a piece of paper. The first time I realized maybe it has taken over my life.

After she completed the questions, she looked up and asked me to describe what it feels like — how it impacts my life. I found myself stumbling. I couldn’t answer why I have anxiety. I wanted to shout at her, “Have you seen my fingernails?” There’s nothing left of them. Sometimes the energy in my body is so intense the only way I can relieve it — even the smallest amount — is to pick and chew my nails until there is nothing left.

I couldn’t come up with a complete thought — one that made sense after it left my mouth. How do I explain these suffocating thoughts and feelings that occupy so much of my life?

I finally just told her that my anxiety is debilitating — I’m scared. I hate it and I’m not sure it will ever leave me.

She tried to reassure me that with the right treatment plan, I can gain control over this. Control. Isn’t that what anxiety is? Trying to control situations I am afraid of. Control. Something I try to do too much — too often.

Maybe the right treatment plan is to control less.

I know I worry about doesn’t makes sense. Irrational, illogical, emotional, crazy. Those words describe the thoughts in my head.

Sometimes I just wish I could hit the pause button.

I know I need to be reassured constantly. There are many times I want to apologize to the people in my life. Tell them that I’m sorry I need to be told over and over again that it is going to be OK.

I can imagine living with me is difficult, and I’m sure loving me is even harder.

I know what I say and do sometimes is irrational, but it is very real to me.

Sometimes it is just downright exhausting and my body screams relax, but I can’t sleep.

I’m not sure if it will ever leave me. If I will wake up one day and be free of the pressure — the weight. What I do know is that there are days when it doesn’t take over.

I find on those days there is one common theme. I choose to live with hope. My heart wins out.

When I lead with my heart, I find that my body slows down. It’s easier to breathe. My thoughts are clear, my smile is genuine, and my life feels full.

I have learned over the years that my journey can and will be filled with hope. I do not have to let anxiety define who I am.


tara thompson with the author
Here we are with Tara Thompson, who opened for Jennifer Nettles. She’s amazing and so funny! And moments after this picture was taken, she signed my purse.

Chad and I just returned from a much needed weekend away. We came back refreshed and rejuvenated… or “rejuveshed.”

We had tickets to a Jennifer Nettles concert in Evansville, Indiana. She was headlining a concert of all women country performers. Chad bought tickets as a late Valentines Day gift.

I was anxious leading up to the concert, even though our tickets were on the lower level, because of my agoraphobia. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve had a fear of large open spaces. Large theaters, stadiums and auditoriums can send me into a full scale panic attack. As I’ve worked to overcome this, things have gotten nominally better, but the anxiety still remains at times.

I just wanted to enjoy the whole experience and I didn’t want to let Chad down. We didn’t have ear plugs, and we were to be seated close to the front of the stage. My fear of loud noises was also something I worried about.

But you know what? For the first time I can remember, I had absolutely zero anxiety, from the time I entered the venue to the end of the concert.


Even when they changed the lighting after the intermission… zero.

I couldn’t have been more excited about being able to enjoy an entire concert in a large arena without a lick of anxiety. To freely enjoy myself and the beauty of the music around me. With the love of my life by my side.

So today, I thought I’d give you some tips on enjoying a concert in a big venue if you have agoraphobia or any other anxiety disorder.

1. Nap, nap, nap: If at all possible a few hours before the concert, take a nap. One of my anxiety triggers is doing too much or too much going on at once. If I haven’t had sufficient rest during a long day and have a high-energy night, I’m more likely to go into a panic attack. I found that with a nap lasting at least an hour this weekend on the night of
the concert, I was able to enjoy myself without panicking.

2. If you aren’t familiar with the artist or band, do some research and play
some songs online before going to the concert. I find that if I don’t do this and don’t know the songs, the instruments can overwhelm the singer and I can’t hear the lyrics. When I can’t hear the lyrics and it’s just loud music with a heavy bass and drums, I get frustrated and can’t enjoy the performance.

3. I’ve used this tip as far back as I can remember: Chew some gum and have
something with you to occupy your hands, like a purse. Chewing gum can help calm your nerves and having something to do with your hands can help to ground you and take your mind off what is going on around you.

4. If you are able to, go to the venue before the event (like a few days before) and try and sit down in the seat you’ll have. Now, if you are extremely agoraphobic, you may need to try to do this as soon as you buy tickets for the event. Call the venue where the concert will be and ask if you can visit when the venue is empty. In living with agoraphobia, I’ve learned that venue managers can be extremely understanding and want to give their guests the most comfortable experience possible.

So there you have it. Having multi-faceted concert anxiety can be embarrassing and frustrating, but I hope you found these tips helpful. Remember you are never alone. Cheers!

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

Follow this journey on Be Anxious About Nothing.

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.

Returning to work after a mental health episode can be daunting. In 2014, I checked myself into a psychiatric ward for one week. Afterward, I spent another two weeks in the outpatient program. What I remember most about that episode was my constant anxiety over the thought of returning to my workplace. For some, this was more terrifying than being hospitalized. I kept thinking about how frustrated and resentful my colleagues must have felt during my absence.

Surprisingly, my first day back at work went smoothly. I received a warm welcome and understanding instead of hatred. My company also accommodated my needs accordingly, and to this day I have never experienced any type of criticism or discrimination.

Unfortunately, things do not work out this way for many people. About 65 percent of employers have stated that a mental illness diagnosis is a major factor in considering a new worker. Although many companies have adopted new models and resources for individuals who suffer from mental illness, many people still suffer from discrimination and stigma. Today, I’d like to share what worked for me.

1. Meet with your supervisor and human resources representative to go over your needs.

These may include workplace accomodations like different hours or clearer guidlelines for your tasks. Make sure to discuss how information about your absence will be shared with coworkers.

2. Make sure to check in with your supervisor or HR representative once in a while to make sure your needs are being met.

3. Try to create a thriving environment in your workplace.

This can include a structured schedule, positive reinforcement, peer support and help from leadership. It’s important to have a positive environment for all workers, especially those living with mental illness.

4. Having your psychologist in communication with your employers can be a huge help.

Many companies have adopted guidelines for assisting employees living with mental illness, but not all employers are that accommodating.

5. Be your own advocate.

A support system and accommodating employers are very important, but no one knows your needs like you.

6. Always report discrimination or harassment to your human resources department.

Unfortunately, any workplace may have employees (or employers) who are not tolerant towards people living with mental illness. This is not your fault. While trying to deal with these situations directly can seem like the quickest way to end it, direct confrontations can lead to serious complications. It’s best to report any discriminatory incidents to HR.

7. Know what online resources are available to help.

Getting back into a comfortable level of work can be a difficult adjustment. There are tools online that can help, like a Wellness Recovery Action Plan, which gives you a reasonable, structured plan for continuing your work after time off for mental health reasons.

I spoke to my friend’s therapist Dr. Debra Davis-Johnson, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, about these kinds of situations and how employers might better accommodate workers living with mental illness. She offers this counsel on managing employees with bipolar disorder:

  • Establish mutually acceptable ground rules to avoid any misunderstandings between the employee and employer. Allow for reasonable schedule accommodations, e.g., if it is a “bad” day – allow the employee to go home. The employee must be held accountable for missed time.
  • Encourage an atmosphere of trust and open communication; try to accommodate and be understanding.
  • The employee must provide medical certification to the employer, and provide verification of treatment via medication, counseling and therapy.
  • If the employee’s moods interfere with work performance, employer should set standards and expectations of the employee that can be quantitatively and qualitatively measured.
  • Ensure that both you and the employee are working together with your human resources department.

Finally, it is very important to know our rights and act upon them. Returning to work should be an opportunity to display one’s abilities and strengths and to fight against stigma. Do you need help returning to work but don’t know where to start? Here are some resources:

Mental Health Training

EEOC Sues King Soopers for Discriminating Against Employee with Bipolar Disorder

National Alliance on Mental Illness

Understanding Employees with Bipolar Disorder

How to Deal With an Employee With Bipolar Disorder

What to Expect from an Employee with Bipolar

The Next Big Thing: Bipolar Employees and the ADA

FAQs From Employers

Follow this author’s journey on Collective Essays of the Anxious Mind.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to 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.

I always keep my worries hidden. I mean, how do you explain to someone the conundrum of loving people and needing to be surrounded by people to be happy, but also that my deepest triggers are usually social situations? And those panic attacks? The only thing more terrifying than a panic attack is trying to explain to people what a panic attack feels like. The symptoms — a racing mind, heart and difficulty breathing — can make you feel like you’re going to faint, lose your mind. And die. Really fun. For a long time I didn’t even know what I was going through was a panic attack and I was going to be just fine.

People are puzzled by me — I come across as a perplexing mix of outgoing but introverted, very social but rarely out. Open, but selective on whom I’m open with. I connect with people easily but can only handle a few close friends who I share my whole world with. My character is bold, outgoing, my sharp tongue can get me into trouble, and I rarely care, but I can be mind-numbingly introspective too, sometimes even the smallest things can stress me out and override my nerves.

Dating is hard. How am I supposed to explain that I’m not a jealous, insecure freak, I just think about everything? A lot.

Me: OK, just let it go, don’t escalate it, don’t say shit. It won’t end well. Pick your battles. It’s not worth it. Let. It. Go.

Anxiety: Sooo I was looking through your Facebook page and…

Me: …Dammit.

My anxiety doesn’t care I am in a relationship with a boy who makes me laugh, looks at me like I’m the most beautiful girl in the world and treats me better than any other boy has. Anxiety also doesn’t care about how many things I have achieved, how many compliments I get or how many people I connect with. I will still assume I’m disliked. While this is annoying, it also keeps me pretty grounded and unpretentious at the same time.

Ironically, my anxiety also often keeps me moving forward. I’m always gripped by the feeling that there’s more I should be, or could be, doing with my life — and while this is stressful, it also keeps me in check. I am very driven, and my flaws in chemistry actually make me highly intuitive — I’m often hyper-conscious of what’s going on around me. People actually come to me when they’re stressed because I’m a great problem-solver — I mean c’mon, the billions of hours I spend thinking has to count for something.

Never let anxiety fool you into thinking you’re not strong enough for something. Never let your anxiety fool you into thinking you can’t achieve your biggest dreams. Never let anxiety convince you you’re not loved or that there’s something wrong with you. Never let anxiety fool you into thinking this is how you will be for the rest of your life, it gets a lot better.

You will fall in love with yourself regardless of your most uncomfortable state, you will learn to love your demons you can’t stand. You will learn to love your edges, all your roughness and you will one day see the perfection in all your imperfections.

Follow this journey on annabash.com.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? 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.

Hi my name is Chelsie and I have emetophobia.

If your initial reaction was something like, “Emeto…what?” it’s OK. It’s not uncommon for people to not know what this is — and it’s something I’ve gotten used to explaining.

Emetophobia is the intense and irrational fear of throwing up. No, it is not the same thing as being squeamish or “just not liking to get sick.” And yes, I completely understand there is nothing to be afraid of, but that hasn’t stopped me from having panic attacks in my bedroom about a loved one feeling nauseous or after eating food that just didn’t seem right to me.

I honestly don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t scared to throw up. My earliest memories of this phobia start when I was about 4 years old after a botched tonsillectomy left me sick to my stomach for two months. I’ll spare you the details, but it was not great. From there, this phobia took on a life of it’s own.

I began to obsessively clean my hands and if I couldn’t wash them after going somewhere, I’d avoid touching my face in fear of contamination. I worried about foodbourne illness, so you can imagine the amount of food I ate was small. When I did eat, it had to be on my safe food list. That list contained a completely starch driven diet of pasta, rice, bread and potatoes. Coughing is a serious trigger, and if someone says that they were sick over the weekend, it sends me into a tizzy. Winter was the worst time of year because of the fear of norovirus, and the thought of having children sends me into a genuine panic. I don’t like to travel for a multitude of reasons, and you can forget taking any form of transportation other than my own car that I drive myself.

Worst of all, it’s spending every day, worrying about what your body feels like. Every stomach ache, every gurgle and growl. It’s freaking out over a headache, feeling dizzy or having abnormal bowel movements. It’s looking in the mirror, thinking you look pale, and falling into a panic attack because now you’re surely going to get sick.

Emetophobia is hard because you are basically afraid of yourself, and last I checked, you can’t exactly avoid yourself. Trust me, every emet has tried to find a way to just run from our own bodies, but it just can’t be done. And for 18 years I spent my time thinking I was certifiably crazy, because I didn’t even know that these insane quirks were something others suffered from.

Looking back, I wish I had someone who could have told me what really matters when dealing with emetophobia, and that’s why I want to make sure I share them with you:

1. You are not alone.

Sometimes it’s easy to feel alone in a world of people who think throwing up is no big deal, and we should just get over it. No one understands what it’s like, and unfortunately sometimes our parents, friends or significant others don’t exactly get it either, which leaves us feeling alone. But fear not, you are not alone. There is a huge community of people out there who just get you. They understand the panic, the fear, the anxieties, the late night pacing you do after a nightmare… There are countless support groups and communities on Facebook full of people who struggles just like you. They are always there to remind you that although this phobia can be isolating, and while most people don’t understand, they just get you, and sometimes that’s really all we need.

2. It’s OK to feel how you feel. 

Despite what you may think, your feelings are valid. You are experiencing true, intense emotions about something that you believe is life threatening. So it’s OK that sometimes you feel like you can’t handle it, or you let your panic overwhelm you. Just because someone else doesn’t understand what it’s like to walk in your shoes doesn’t mean that it’s not OK to struggle with this, or that your feelings are any less valid. You don’t have to explain yourself, just know that it’s seriously fine, and we’re here to help you through it.

3. Recovery is possible.

There are many tried and true methods to overcoming this phobia, including counseling, medication and self-help books. It took me two years of counseling, going once a week, every week, before I could say I was living 70 percent anxiety-free. Prior to that, I would say I was living most of my days 75-85 percent anxiety filled. It took me two years to get to that point, and even on a good, full-70 percent day, I still had a lot of work to do. Now, at year three, I’m about 90 percent anxiety-free, and I’m still working for 100 percent. Recovery is possible, but it takes time. Don’t give up if you don’t see progress in six months, or a year. This phobia takes time to get over, and it’s become ingrained in your habits, both consciously and subconsciously. It’s going to take time to reverse those feelings, so don’t get down if it takes a little while.

4. There will be good days, I promise.

Life with emetophobia is full of bad days; days where you can barely work up the nerve to get out of bed, let alone venture outside to get the mail. But with every bad day, there will be good days, wonderful days even. There will be days that you wake up and just know you can take on the world, even if it’s just for a few hours. You will find hope in those good days, and I hope you use that hope to remind you that you can do this.

5. You are so much more than your phobia.

In a world where we can get so consumed with our anxieties, depression and fears, it’s easy to forget who we are. You are so much more than your phobia makes you believe. You are strong, you are funny, you are smart. You have passions and goals and big, big plans. You may have emetophobia, but you are not your emetophobia. Stand strong in the face of your fears, and you will be surprised at what the universe will give back to you.

You can get more information on emetophobia on You, Me & Emetophobia.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: If you could go back to the day you (or a loved one) got a diagnosis, what would you tell yourself? 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.

Since 7th grade, I have struggled with social anxiety. I’ve spent years simply being called “quiet” or “shy,” cringing at how much I felt that minimized my reality. The truth is, no one really knows what I’m going through unless I tell them. Despite many physical symptoms of anxiety, I’m a master at hiding it. I can smile and seem OK, while inside I feel like I’m suffocating.

I’ve also been through several episodes of depression. Luckily, I’m on the upswing from my most recent depression, which was my worst yet. Dealing with both anxiety and depression can feel like an absolutely impossible battle – I’m outnumbered, two against one, and those two know me inside and out. It’s a tough fight, but I’d like to share what I’ve learned along the way.

1. It’s OK to not be OK, and to ask for help when I’m slipping.

This is actually hard for me to accept, but I’ve learned that pain and suffering are universal – everyone experiences them – and admitting vulnerability has the ability to connect people. Everyone has struggles in life – it just happens that anxiety and depression are mine. And truthfully, I’ve almost always been met with love and compassion when asking for help, and there’s no better feeling than “coming out” and lifting the weight of secrecy off my shoulders. Asking for help and admitting vulnerability is a sign of humanity and strength, not weakness.

2. The older I get, the harder it is to handle.

I always thought the older I got, the easier it would be to handle – after all, I’d become an expert, right? Wrong. Because of my tendency to bottle up my feelings, they build up over time, meaning there’s much more for me to deal with. I have to become more proactive to stay healthy, especially when my mental health also ends up affecting my quality of life at home, my ability to work and my physical health. I am worth the effort.

3. Meds and therapy really do work for me.

I was skeptical of this. Therapy and meds are new for me. Having an unbiased person to talk to, who I knew would not judge me, has been life-changing. And despite the short time I’ve been on meds, I’m feeling better than I have in months. There is finally a light at the end of the tunnel. I wish I had sought these options years ago.

4. It’s OK to open up at work. 

I didn’t want to be seen as incompetent, so I always went out of my way to hide my anxiety. I teach, which is tough with social anxiety, but when you love what you do, you make it work. This year, anxiety has kept me from performing duties I’ve done regularly throughout my 14-year career. It’s tough to explain why I suddenly can’t face these things, but anxiety doesn’t make sense. It’s often unpredictable. When I started slipping at work, I had two choices: continue to struggle and not perform to my usual standards, looking like a slacker, or I could be truthful. I decided on the latter, and I’m glad I did, because my bosses were very understanding. After a really crappy scenario (a panic attack in front of my admin), I was told to “take care of you.” Those four simple words meant the world to me at a time when I was hitting rock bottom. Fear had been holding me back, but by opening up, I feel more supported and more able to work through my anxieties at work.

5. I should not be ashamed. 

I’ll admit I know this, but it’s hard to feel this way. But if people can talk about their broken arm, or headache, or any other physical ailment, it should be OK to talk about anxiety and depression, or any other mental issues. I don’t want to shout about it from the mountaintops, but I don’t want to be afraid to talk about it. My self-acceptance is a work in progress.

6. A strong support network can mean everything. I just have to be willing to let people in.

Anxiety and depression feed me lies, telling me I’m never good enough, or that I’m a burden to those around me. I know these thoughts are irrational, but knowing doesn’t change my feelings. When I’m at my worst, I isolate and withdraw from everyone. It’s important to have people I trust, who love me and allow me to lean on them when I need to. In my darkest times, it’s almost impossible to lift myself up on my own.

7. I’m grateful for my anxiety and depression.

I know this sounds strange. Anxiety and depression can be debilitating, but they have had a huge impact in shaping who I am, and in developing some of my biggest strengths. I’m proud of my kindness and empathy. When things are good, they are great, and I feel an unparalleled level of gratitude. Familiarity with struggle makes a person appreciate the goodness in life so much more. Life is sweet, and life is short, and I will make my journey count. Anxiety and depression do not define me, but I am truly very grateful for the life lessons I have learned in working to overcome them, and of the person I am.

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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