When a Nervous Couple Asked Me About Anxiety Medication for Their Child

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I can still remember standing in that line. The store was busy and the lines were long. I kept looking around to see if there was anyone I knew standing close by. Someone that might hear the conversation that was going to take place.

My turn was next. What would they think of me? What did I think of me? How did I end up in this place? I’m supposed to know how to “fix” this, make it better. It’s what I do all day for others, so why was I finding it so hard to do it for myself?

Handing over that white piece of paper was either going to define who I am or it was going to allow me to finally choose a different path on my journey. As I told myself you’ve got this, feelings of doubt and hope began to resonate. Then, those words. “Have you ever taken this medication before?”

A few months ago, I had a family come to me privately for help. They believed wholeheartedly their daughter needed medication for depression and anxiety. They had been to the doctor. The therapist was lined up and their daughter was on board with the plan, but nothing was happening.

In one simple sentence, they defined what many people struggle with when making this very personal decision. “We don’t know what people will think of us — what they will think of her.”

It feels like we live in a world that has two opinions in regards to antidepressants.

You’re either for it or against it.

What I have learned in my many years as a counselor is that we cannot let our most personal decisions be influenced by the opinions of others. We have to believe the right decision lies deep in our heart. We must believe in the knowledge we have and trust ourselves enough to embrace the unknown.

I am not an expert on anything. Most days I struggle with being the expert on me, but that is the only thing I come close to being an expert on. I often tell the kids who come to my office, that no one knows them better than they know themselves. I am not going to tell them what to do or how to think. That hard work is up to them.

That white piece of paper did not end up defining me. I am OK with my decision to take medication to help me with my anxiety. A decision that came from acceptance, not shame. A decision that allowed me to start down a new path on my journey.

I did one simple thing with that family before leaving them to make their decision on that fateful day. I reached across the table, took each of their hands and told them the only thing I know to be true. “It’s OK.

Follow this journey on FitMom.

 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.

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Fighting Through the Flames of Severe Social Anxiety

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I’m selling my soul. Prices range from lending an ear to opening a mind.

Everything must go, until I am free.

I’ve known fear. Up until a few years ago, I’d been afraid my entire life. Severe social anxiety and paranoia crippled me in just about every situation outside of my close friends. Yet, I was always in the picture. I was always around. I pushed myself into the flames of social and sporting situations. It really did hurt, like I was pulling my mind apart, ripping my pounding heart out of my chest. Most people would never notice.

Well, no one ever really noticed.

After every day of class or work, I would collapse in my room, free from the panic attacks triggered by deadlines and presentations, from the intense pressure of utterly simple group dynamics. I saw all the raw mechanics of every
situation. I always did and always will. I just didn’t know how to translate that into normal interaction. I had failed at everything, mostly because my anxiety crippled me in clutch situations. I played a mean flute but couldn’t handle
performances or being told the flute was a girl’s instrument, so I quit. I had artistic abilities but flamed out because my expression became stuttered and pained in college, so I dropped out. I was a good basketball player. My greatest accomplishment in high school was just the act of trying out for the junior varsity team in my sophomore year. I was cut, but that’s how severe my problems were — just the fact that I put myself out to be judged in any way
shape or form was a victory. I had severe issues with playing in front of coaches and referees and fans. I could barely play against people I didn’t know on the playground. It was my first true love, and I just could not get where I needed to be.

I thought. I think. It’s what I do. Every synapse in my brain would scream at me
in social situations, and I always felt like someone would find out, someone
would know. They would see how out of place I was, how ridiculously painful every word could be. But no one ever noticed. They had no idea about the shredding of my mind because I simply kept going. I would detach from the streams, from the pain, from every instinct in my heart and mind telling me to run, to escape, to hole up and never see the light of day again.

I’ve known pain. But I just kept going. That was always my thing as I got older. I couldn’t live on my knees, never knowing what could have been because of what should have been, what was supposed to be. I was supposed to alone, but I just wanted to be free. That’s all I ever wanted. So I went out. I showed up. I may not have won all the games, but I always played and I always tried.

I always tried. I have burned more brain cells in an effigy to social life than I could ever count. I always felt ugly. I was always afraid someone would see the
scars, see the wounds inflicted by fighting my natural synaptic arrangements. There are innumerate scars; like a boxer my face has been rearranged on more than one occasion. I kept fighting, though, kept moving forward, at any cost. The scars might never go away.

But I’m still standing. I’m not afraid to show my face. Beaten and bruised, but victorious.

I no longer feel the intense fear and painful reverberations of the anxiety. It still exists somewhat, but I have developed skills to quiet it. I’m still searching, still fighting, to be free, but I’m a lot closer to the light than the flames these days.

Closer to the light than the flames.

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

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.

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No, Being Stressed Isn't the Same as Having Anxiety

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All I needed was some cough drops.

Allergy season in Alabama is no joke, especially for someone working in a call center all day. And allergy problems in my family are no joke. We keep the Sudafed and Claritin folks in business twice a year. Around the exterior of my house, everything is covered in an all-familiar yellow devil dust. I hate pollen.

I told my boss I would be right back and left work on my lunch break with plenty of time to run to the gas station around the corner. While I was there, I figured it was a good time to fill up the gas tank, considering I was below “E.” I pulled up to the pump, got out, swiped my debit card and the message of death appeared on the screen, “See Cashier.” So inconvenient.

I headed inside, picked up those menthol cough drops I so desperately needed, and headed to the cashier. I explained the situation, told her I had already checked the banking app on my phone and there was no reason for it to be declined. I swiped it again and entered the PIN. Declined. “Try credit,” she said. Declined again.

My frustration was boiling, but in my gut, I knew I must have been hacked. I called the bank and of course, “Please continue to hold. We value your patience. Someone will be with you in 15-20 minutes.”

The bank is about two miles away, but I had to have some answers… and some money. Long story short, I was right. Hacked for the second time since October. There’s not much in life that is a bigger inconvenience. Plus, I hate that feeling of being violated.

These are the days when it’s most difficult to extend grace. When I’m driving back to work, tight-chested, stressed to the max and hungry. I knew I wouldn’t make it back in time for a midday meal and low blood sugar is my worst enemy.

But this is stress. This is not anxiety.

I didn’t need to take a Xanax. I wasn’t feeling tight shoulders or shallow breaths. I was just stressed. Not to mention hungry and a little pissed. This is normal life. This kind of thing happens to all of us sometimes. Things don’t go as planned and we hit a pothole. Everyone has had a flat tire or an overheated car on the way to an important meeting. But that’s not anxiety.

Anxiety doesn’t only hit on the side of the road. Sometimes it strikes during happy hour with your friends or at the exact moment your co-workers are laughing at an apparently hilarious joke. Anxiety is  crying in your car after dropping off the kids at school or knowing what it feels like to cry in the shower so no one hears your sobs.

Living with anxiety means secretly rejoicing when other people have their own problems to talk about, so you don’t have to share your own. You hide, silently isolated, pretending to care about the struggles of the whole damn world, as long as you can remain anonymous in your own suffering. It means you sometimes smile at a friend, wishing they knew you were dying on the inside, and equally thankful they are unaware.

For someone living with anxiety, it is a daily battle just to change out of your pajamas, stand at the front door, peer out the window and wait for just the right moment when no one else is in sight, so you can make the trek to the mailbox and not have to interact with another human being.

Living with anxiety means living with the constant fear that you’ll feel this way for the rest of your life. It means you look in the mirror, and as bad as you want others to see you as a person, all you can see is your own misery. Your diminished self-worth is based on the fact that you not only feel crazy, but you believe you are crazy.

Living with anxiety is stressful. People who know your diagnosis ask how you’re doing and you nearly have a panic attack because you don’t know how to adequately explain something you don’t even understand yourself. It’s exhausting fighting with your own head.

Living with anxiety is one of the most courageous things a person can do. Your mind writes a story that would make any “normal” person weep, but you live with it every moment of every day, because you know the only other alternative is a far less-happy ending.

Stress tends to be more temporary and can often be used as a motivator. While anxiety, with its paralyzing lies and pressures, is a smothering blanket. It’s important to know the difference between stress and anxiety because it helps know how to best care for ourselves, when to ask for help and how to spread further awareness to fight the stigma of mental illness.

While we may not be able to prevent stress or anxiety from showing up at inopportune times, a great place to start is by taking a deep breath and remembering we don’t have to have it all together all the time. Or even some of the time. The best thing we can do is live honestly with ourselves and give others the space to do the same.

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way.

Follow this journey on I Am Steve Austin. Click here to sign up for his free self-care e-book.

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.

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What Happens When We Hide Our Anxiety

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Anxiety. At some stage in your life you will face it. A first date, a public speech or the first day at your new job. For the lucky ones, you’ll get nervous, do whatever it is that is making you nervous and then go back to your usual self. And that makes me incredibly envious.

For the unlucky ones like me, anxiety controls us. It manipulates our thoughts and pushes us further and further into solitude, until it’s hard to see the light.

You feel weak because you can’t do something that others think is a piece of cake. You begin to feel like a burden to everyone, friends, family and partners.

Your keep bailing on plans with friends because of your anxiety (I did this constantly) and they begin to pull away and stop asking. For some reason this makes you happy — briefly, but it does. You don’t have to panic about doing something wrong or embarrassing yourself, and that gives you relief — but believe me, it’s only temporary.

The stigma around having a mental health issue causes a lot of people to hide it. We mask our pain and are very good at doing so, that’s why a lot of the time when you find out someone has anxiety or depression it comes as a surprise.

I hid my problems from everyone. My parents were the only ones who knew, and I’m lucky they were so supportive. All throughout high school I never told any of my friends, and they never asked. There were times when I considered telling some of my close friends but I thought they would never understand. They never seemed to be going through any of these problems themselves, so I went through high school pretending. Hiding until it would be over.

Suicide is something a lot of people with mental health problems have contemplated. Dying seems easy when you’re in that mindset, and living seems hard. Sometimes we think the easiest solution is to make it all end. Permanently. If I didn’t have such a beautiful family supporting me, I could easily see myself going down that same path many others unfortunately have. Just trying to survive was difficult, but my support system helped me realize something that ended up helping me the most:

The more you hide your disease the more the disease wins.

You didn’t ask for it and you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy, but it’s there. It’s going to be there for a while and that really sucks. I know this because I have both anxiety and depression disorders. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked “Why me? Did I do something wrong? Is this karma?” I can’t tell you why it happens to the people it does. But we, the ones that survive, you won’t find anyone tougher.

We are all unique human beings. Not one the exact same as another. Our joys are different, our happiness differs from others and our grief takes different forms, just as our anxieties and fears are different from one another.

So if I can end this post with one thing it’s just to remember that. Don’t judge people based on their anxieties. Help them, support them, and you will get to know the person they are without fear.

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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Amber Smith Shares Before and After Photos to Show Reality of Her Panic Attacks

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Amber Smith experiences anxiety that sometimes leads to panic attacks — but from her social media identity, you wouldn’t know that.

On Sunday, Smith, from Rugby, England, shared a “typical” Facebook photo — a “filters galore” selfie where she’s wearing makeup and dressed to go out. “The ‘normal’ side of me,” she wrote. Underneath, she shared a photo taken shortly after having a panic attack. “Also the ‘normal’ side to me that most people don’t see…”

In the post that’s since been shared more than 2,000 times, Smith explains the stigma of an invisible condition and how people assume because she’s young and “looks fine,” she can’t possibly experience severe anxiety.

“To anyone who is going through the same, please do not suffer in silence,” she wrote. “There is so much support around – Don’t be scared to ask for help.”

 

You can read the full text from her post below. Editor’s note: This contains explicit language:

God knows why I’m doing this, but people need some home truths..

Top picture: What I showcase to the world via social media. Dressed up, make up done, filters galore. The ‘normal’ side to me.

Bottom picture: Taken tonight shortly after suffering from a panic attack because of my anxiety. Also the ‘normal’ side to me that most people don’t see.

I’m so sick of the fact that it’s 2016 and there is still so much stigma around mental health. It disgusts me that so many people are so uneducated and judgemental over the topic. They say that 1 in 3 people will suffer with a mental illness at some point in their life. 1 in 3! Do you know how many people that equates to worldwide?! And yet I’ve been battling with anxiety and depression for years and years and there’s still people that make comments like ‘you’ll get over it’, ‘you don’t need tablets, just be happier’, ‘you’re too young to suffer with that’

F*CK YOU. F*ck all of you small minded people that think that because I physically look ‘fine’ that I’m not battling a monster inside my head every single day.

Someone actually said this to me one day ‘aren’t you too young to be suffering with anxiety and depression? What do you actually have to be depressed about at your age?’ Wow, just wow.

I’m a strong person, I’ve been through my fair share of crap in life (the same as anyone else) and I will be okay. I have the best family and friends around me and I am thankful everyday that they have the patience to help and support me.

To anyone who is going through the same, please do not suffer in silence. There is so much support around – Don’t be scared to ask for help.

This is why I can’t stress enough that it costs nothing to be nice to others. Don’t bully others, don’t put others down and the hardest one of them all (as we have all done it at some point) don’t judge another person. We’re all human regardless of age, race, religion, wealth, job. So build one another up instead of breaking each other down.

Peace & love guys ☮

EDIT: Please don’t be afraid to share this, there needs to be more awareness. The more awareness there is, the less people who will suffer in silence.

A panic attack is the “abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes,” according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Symptoms can include an accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling, shortness of breath, chest pain, numbness, nausea and more. An estimated six million Americans have panic disorder, an anxiety disorder that causes spontaneous panic attacks with no obvious trigger, but even those without panic disorder can experience a panic attack, and for those who do, it’s a truly scary experience.

People experience panic attacks differently, so it’s important to ask a loved one experiencing one how you can best help them, rather than assume a course of action.

Related: What It’s Like to Have a Panic Attack, From 24 People Who’ve Been There

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The Inner Monologue of a Mom With Anxiety

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It’s 6:30 a.m. I stumble into my son’s room to wake him up. I rub his back as he awakes, and he tells me he feels bad: his stomach hurts, he has a headache. He complained of the same thing last night and yesterday morning.

“You’re just over-tired, sweetie, you haven’t been sleeping well,” I say out loud.

“He’s probably got leukemia and is going to die,” I say in my head, as my stomach contracts and twists. “You’ll probably have to take him out of state for treatment, and how are you going to pay the mortgage if you can’t work? You can’t even afford a plane ticket right now. You’re such a poor money manager. You’ll have to borrow money from someone. Why can’t you stick to a budget? If people really knew how disorganized and useless you were, they would be amazed. You’ve got them all fooled.”

“Ok, time to get up and get dressed,” I say out loud.

“He’ll probably be dead by Christmas,” I say in my head as my stomach gives several more twists. “How will you even function if he dies? You could just give the house back to the bank, and go live in your mom’s basement. But what about the dogs? She’s got cats and her backyard isn’t fenced, and how would I afford to get them there anyway? It’s 3,000 miles. I guess we could drive but then there is the cost of hotels and gas and food. And our passports are out of date so I’m not even sure we could get across the border. You’d better look at the budget when you get to work and figure out when we can spare $400 to renew those. You’d better get on that NOW, what if you have to rush back home if Mom gets sick?”

In the shower, I do the meditative breathing techniques and visualize my anxieties running down the drain, as my therapist has taught me. I consciously relax my muscles, and when the intrusive thoughts start up again, chiding me for hitting the snooze button too many times and insinuating I’ll be late and lose my job and lose the house, I address them directly:

“Really? That’s all you’ve got this morning? We talked about this all yesterday, so you’ll have to do better than that,” I say out loud to myself.

“But seriously, you’re only a few paychecks away from losing it all,” I say in my head as I dry off. “And what if one of the dogs gets sick or eats something they shouldn’t and needs to go to the vet? Ferguson is 13! That’s old, he’s probably going to get sick and die soon and you won’t be able to afford the vet bill. You probably shouldn’t even have pets, since you are so irresponsible. If you tried to adopt a dog or cat from the shelter right now they would consider you a bad candidate. If people really knew how disorganized and useless you were, they would be amazed. You’ve got them all fooled.”

“Again with that?” I say out loud to myself. “Stop!”

Yelling at my anxiety usually quiets it down for a while so I can finish the morning routine of making lunches, feeding dogs and getting ready for work. But it also feels pretty silly, especially when my son knocks on the bathroom door to ask who I am talking to.

I tell him: “The mean voices in my head.”

I am as honest as I can be with my son about my anxiety disorder — without scaring him. I try to normalize mental illness as much as possible in our house, being open with him about the challenges and thanking him for being supportive. It helps if he knows when Mom might be edgy or distracted or (and I cringe at this), might be more likely to snap at him. I want him to understand my condition. He lives with it, too, and, given his DNA, there’s a good chance he will struggle with anxiety or depression — or both — at some point during his life.

As I collect my bag and coat and hit the remote start on my keychain, the thoughts start up again:

“The car felt a bit funny when I braked yesterday. Is the alignment off? You should probably have it checked, or you could over-correct on ice and skid off the road. Then you’d be late for work and the car would be wrecked, and you’d have to get a new one and who is going to loan you money, you loser. That’s OK, you’ll probably have to leave work early to pick up your sick kid who shouldn’t even be going to school, and that will irritate your boss and you’ll get written up and they will see how useless you really are. You shouldn’t have even had a child. You’re passing this on to him and sentencing him to a life with nasty voices in his head too. Is this stomachache a sign of early anxiety? He was complaining his leg was sore last night. Is he growing? Great, how will I afford new pants and shoes again so soon? Or did he play really hard at school yesterday? Or is it bone cancer?”

“Get your coat on, sweetie, it’s time to go,” I say out loud.

And the three of us – me, my son and my anxiety disorder not otherwise specified – step outside, to start another day navigating the world with a chorus of doom on repeating loop in my head.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. 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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