The Force is what gives a Jedi his power,” says Obi-Wan Kenobi to Luke Skywalker. “It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

My favorite movies of all time come from the original “Star Wars” trilogy. Growing up, I often played with Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader action figures, pretending I too was a Jedi Knight. It’s not surprising when I entered seventh grade and faced adversity I turned to the power of the Force.

Middle school hurt. Social intimidation, academic challenges and parental pressures all set against the backdrop of swirling hormones and my personal penchant for worry. Around age 12, my anxiety really took flight and started to knock the wind right out of me — literally. The smallest challenges sparked internal firestorms of thoughts that manifested in stomachaches, crying, and often shortness of breath. My parents tried to cleave me from the throes of panic with consistent love and reassurance, but to no avail. As I grew, so too did their feelings of helplessness. Not wanting them (or me) to suffer any further, I enacted a plan. I asked myself what a Jedi would do in this situation. The answer was obvious: use the Force to build a protective shield.

So I built one — an impenetrable emotional force shield. If I were anxious about an exam, I pushed the worry deep inside until I couldn’t feel it. If I didn’t get asked to a dance, I wasn’t hurt because it bounced off my shield and I felt nothing. By my first year of high school I had perfected the practice and became a full-fledged emotional stoic. When my parents asked how I was doing, I would say, “Fine. Fine. Nothing new.”

I believed my own words until the plan started to fall apart, and in the end was nothing short of an epic fail.

Instead of wielding the Force, I numbed it, particularly the dark side. Here’s the thing: numbing my dark emotions had unforeseen consequences… it also numbed the light. Research confirms that in squashing worry, sadness, anger and fear, we also push out joy, gratitude, meaning and purpose. In choosing not to feel, I became a veritable robot with a ticking time bomb inside.

That bomb went off at age 25. Mired in a messy relationship, I hit rock bottom. Panic attacks, anxiety and fear were untethered and came roaring back. I sought therapy, and with this blessing the trajectory of my life changed. I learned to focus inward, and for the first time in years I allowed all of my feelings — light and dark — to surface without judgment. In doing so, I finally unearthed the true secret of the Jedi: mindfulness.

You see, Luke Skywalker is a beacon of strength and a guardian of peace and justice not because he always feels happy and good. In fact, like all of us, Luke experiences fear, anger, worry and even moments of hate. And though these emotions can be overwhelming, through his Jedi training, Luke learns to sit with his discomfort. He allows his emotions to surface and pass. In practicing mindfulness, Luke’s emotions are stripped of their designations. Instead of “dark” and “light” or “good” and “bad,” emotions simply become what they were always meant to be: communication tools.

By the time Luke reaches the final battle with his father, Darth Vader, in “Return of the Jedi,” he is a master of mindfulness. When anger or worry spark within him, he closes his eyes and feels his emotion, allows it to surface, listens to the message it brings, and then makes a decision on how to proceed based on that information.

My first attempt at Jedi training was based on an unsophisticated understanding of the Force. With a different perspective and years of mindfulness practice, I feel confident in passing on some more effective Jedi lessons to our children. If you have an anxious child (and especially if they love Star Wars), try these techniques.

4 Jedi Mind(fulness) Tricks to Help an Anxious Child:

1. Define the “Force.”

In the Star Wars’ movies, it becomes clear very quickly that the Force is an awesome power that everyone wants. But what exactly is the Force? When I work with kids, I provide them with my interpretation. The Force is the power we get from any emotion whether it comes from the light side or the dark side. From love, joy and surprise to anger, sadness and worry, nothing is “good” or “bad.” These emotions are only messengers, and all are part of the Force.

Very plainly, The Force = The Power of Emotions.

Try this: Ask your child if he or she would like to go through Jedi training. Tell your son or daughter that their mission will be to decode the secret messages being sent by the Force (e.g., their worried thoughts, their angry feelings).

2. Wave hello to the Dark Side.

If your child feels anxious, the way around the discomfort is straight through it. We must teach our children not to deny, avoid or squash parts of their emotional experience. Long-term avoidance of emotions can actually spark and perpetuate depression, anxiety and substance abuse. When we choose not to face our worry, we are left much like Darth Vader, enslaved by our pain.

The alternative to avoidance is acknowledgement. I understand helping your child acknowledge his or her anxious feelings instead of shutting them down is not an easy choice. Sometimes it’s easier to just say, “Don’t worry so much. Please trust me, it’ll be fine.”

As a parent myself, I completely understand this path. Sometimes we don’t have the emotional bandwidth to support a child’s chronic worry, especially when it seems our love and reassurance are not having a positive effect. Anxious emotions are often big emotions that can be uncomfortable for the entire family.

All that said, when you parent an anxious child, you seek one thing above almost anything else for your child: inner peace. Toward this goal, acknowledgement is the stepping stone.

Try this: Next time your children worry, tell them they are Jedi Knight and Jedis acknowledge the Force (an emotion) when they feel it. They can wave hello to their worry and say, “Hey, worry. I see you’re back. I’m a Jedi. I understand you’re trying to tell me something.”

3. Lean into the Dark Side.

Leaning into the dark side takes training because, at first, it can feel messy and uncomfortable. Leaning in means allowing your child the space to physically feel where the Force or worry is flowing on the inside. Allowing discomfort to pass gets us a step closer to decoding the message from our emotion.

Anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system, and as such, feelings of worry are often felt in such places as the stomach, chest and throat. Breathing with visualization can calm the nervous system and begin to kick a child’s logical brain back into gear.

Try this: Obi-Wan instructs Luke to close his eyes and, “Stretch out with your feelings”; Yoda says, “Allow the force to flow through you.” When your son or daughter worries, have them close their eyes and ask them where they are feeling the worry or the Force flowing inside of their body.

Now, ask your children to breathe into the place in their body where they feel the Force. While they take a deep breath, ask them to imagine what the Force actually looks like. What color is it? What consistency is it? Maybe it looks like a dark cloud. Once they have the visual, ask them to breathe the Force out.

To support your child during this process, you can use phrases like, “I am here, and you are completely safe, my young Jedi. This feeling will pass.”

4. Put the Light Saber down.

Our range of feelings (light and dark) creates our emotional consciousness and gives power to the Force. Within this consciousness lie encoded messages. The problem is we usually miss the communication being sent by our emotions such as anger and worry because we are too busy reacting. Swift reactions cover up messages.

Darth Vader tries to provoke these reactions in his son, Luke. Vader says, “So you have a twin sister? If you will not turn to the dark side, then perhaps she will.” Luke feels very angry and even as a full Jedi Knight trained in the art of mindfulness, he does not pause to acknowledge or lean in to his anger. Instead, he reacts right away and begins to battle his father.

When Luke regains his composure, he realizes his anger is communicating he wants to love and protect his family, including his father. Luke then decides the best way to teach his father about the light side is to show him compassion. So he turns his light saber off and tosses it aside.

Now, this last step may seem way too esoteric for your child to grasp, but I’ve worked with children for years. Even at a very young age, they are incredibly sophisticated. If we communicate in their language, they get it.

Try this: Let’s teach kids their worry is trying to send them a message, but the message is encoded. As a Jedi, the way to get to the secret message is to be mindful when we feel worried. This means understanding worry has a purpose, acknowledging it, leaning into it and then making a logical decision on how to proceed.

On this quest toward training the next generation of Jedi, may the Force be with all of us.

More from this author at GoZen!

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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.

Zero.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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