What I Wish I Knew When I Was First Diagnosed With Emetophobia

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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.

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.

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My 7 Biggest Takeaways From Battling Anxiety and Depression

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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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My 4 Favorite Tools for Managing Anxiety

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“The cost of living here is too much. It’s just never going to be possible for us to buy a house in this city!”

“I’m freaking out about this upcoming meeting with my boss — something tells me I’m going to get fired.”

“I’m not getting any younger and it seems like all the great ones are taken. What if it’s too late for me to meet a partner?”

“It seems like everytime I turn on the news, someone else has died of cancer. I’m super scared it’s just a matter of time for me.”

Does any of this sound familiar? Or do you have your own custom-tailored version of the what-if worries? If so, you’re not alone.

Anxiety is a normal and natural human emotion that everyone experiences at times. And, like with most things in life, anxiety exists on a spectrum — from butterflies in your stomach before speaking up in a meeting to a full blown panic attack when faced with getting on an airplane — the degree and impact and triggers of anxiety look different for all of us.

Bottom line: You don’t get out of this human experience without dealing with anxiety.

And while anxiety may be unavoidable to a certain extent, you can definitely cultivate some tools to help you more effectively manage and deal with it so it doesn’t impact your daily life so strongly or so negatively. So in today’s post, I want to share with you four of my favorite and most effective tools that I use in my psychotherapy practice to help ease and manage the everyday anxiety you may be experiencing in your own life.

What Exactly Is Anxiety?

Anxiety, according to the American Psychological Association, is “an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts and physical changes like increased blood pressure.”

That’s a fine definition, but it also sounds a bit like fear. So how to distinguish them?

One of the ways I describe and distinguish anxiety from fear for my clients is through this example:

Fear is what happens when you’re crossing the crosswalk just outside of my offices and a car comes barreling around the corner and is 10 feet away from hitting you. That surge of energy through your body is plain old primal fear. Anxiety is what happens when you’re crossing that same crosswalk and you see a car 20 blocks away and you start worrying if you’ll be able to cross the crosswalk in time and if that car will hit you if you don’t.

Anxiety is fear of perceived threats in the future. Fear is a response to actual threat in the present. Both have physiological impacts. But one is definitely more head-driven. That’s anxiety.

Again, we all feel anxious from time to time.

Anxiety basically tries to scan our lives and futures for harm and warns us when we need to take action to protect ourselves.

And while everyday anxiety is normal and natural, when anxiety begins to feel uncontrollable, unmanageable or starts to interfere with your daily activities, it may be time to seek out support from a licensed mental health or medical professional for support assessing and managing what may be more than normal, everyday anxiety.

Indeed, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are on the most most common mental illnesses in the country, affecting as many as 40 million people, or 18 percent of the population. So bottom line: anxiety disorders impact a lot of us.

CAVEAT: If you suspect you may be dealing with an anxiety disorder versus occasional, everyday anxiety, please reach out and get professional support. The tools I’m about to share with you are great, but no substitute for personalized, one-on-one care from a skilled professional.

So without further ado, let’s talk about some of my favorite tools that I use as a psychotherapist to help my clients manage this very universal human experience called anxiety.

Tool #1: Ground Yourself and Calm Your Nervous System.

When you’re feeling anxious, your autonomic nervous system (ANS) is aroused and activates your fight, flight or freeze impulses, catalyzing a whole cascade of physiological symptoms throughout your body. One of the ways you can begin to calm your nervous system and ease your anxiety is through some physical grounding and breath-driven self-soothing.

A tool I’ve found to be incredibly effective is a simple presence and breathing exercise:

Sit comfortably in a chair or on the couch. Let your eyes close and rest your hands on your legs or on the furniture in whatever way feels comfortable to you. Slowly, and with your lips slightly open, begin taking a deep breath in, pushing your lower abdomen out with air, bringing oxygen to the bottom of your lungs. As you breathe in, notice your feet on the floor, your butt on the cushion, your back against the furniture. On your exhale, release your breath slowly — a few counts longer than your inhale — and continue bringing your awareness to any sensations or sounds you notice — maybe your fingers on the fabric of your jeans, the sound of traffic outside, the breeze coming in through the window… Breathe in and breath out slowly, noticing all the slight sensations around you for 10-15 slow, mindful breaths, allowing your body to relax and your mind to center. And finally, when you’re ready, come back to the room.

The benefit to this particular tool is that it helps bring oxygen to our brain and calms our autonomic nervous system, allowing us to relax and access more parts of ourselves and to think and act from a more grounded, integrated place.

Tool #2: Untwist Your Thinking and Challenge Your Anxiety-Provoking Thoughts.

If you pay attention to what you’re saying to yourself when you catch yourself feeling anxious, I’m going to guess you’re probably saying something scary to yourself. Again, anxiety scans our lives and futures and tries to warn us of possible threats, so it’s pretty masterful in triggering scary thoughts.

One of my other favorite tools when my clients are struggling with scary, catastrophic future-oriented thoughts is to have them untwist their thinking with a version of questioning informed by The Work by Byron Katie. Byron Katie is a spiritual teacher, author and creator of The Work, which, according to her website is “a way of identifying and questioning the thoughts that cause all the anger, fear, depression, addiction and violence in the world.”

The Work is available for free on her website and while you can review all the steps of her process there, what I have my clients do is a simplified version of her process consisting of identifying and naming the anxiety-provoking thought, asking questions to test it’s reality and turning the thought inside out by finding four reasons why that thought may not be fully true.

For example, a woman is anxious about being back on the dating scene and believes “I’m too old to find love at this point.” This thought is causing her a lot of anxiety, stress and grief, so we decide to challenge her thought:

  • Therapist: “So you believe “I’m too old to find love at this point”?”
  • Client: “Yes, absolutely!”
  • Therapist: “Is that true?”
  • Client: “Well yeah, it feels true!”
  • Therapist: “But can you absolutely, 100 percent beyond a shadow of a doubt concretely know that ‘You’re too old to find love?’”
  • Client: “Well no, I guess I can’t know with 100 percent accuracy…”
  • Therapist: “Good noticing. OK, let’s unpack and untwist this thought. What’s the opposite of that thought ‘I’m too old to find love?’”
  • Client: “The opposite would be ‘I’m not too old to find love.’”
  • Therapist: “Great, can you give me three examples, even tiny ones, why that opposite thought may in fact be true?”
  • Client: “Well, I have a girlfriend who met her husband at age 43 after her divorce and they’re now one of the happiest couples I know. So if she can do it maybe I can, and that’s one reason why my thought may not be true. It may not be true because people still fall in love in nursing homes all over the world and they’re waaaaay older than me. And I may not be too old for love because I’ve been getting a lot of people reaching out to me on Match and my age is clearly listed there, so maybe it’s not so big of an issue as I thought.”
  • Therapist: “How do you feel when you think about those reasons why you may not be too old to find love?”
  • Client: “I feel less panicky. I feel a little more hopeful.”

When you challenge the truth of the thoughts that are creating your anxiety and literally untwist them by finding reasons why the opposite might be true, you can create a bit more flexibility in your thinking. And since thoughts can generate feelings, when you create more spaciousness and flexibility in your thinking, you can often ease your anxiety.

Tools #3 and #4: Halt Emotional Flooding Through Mental Distraction.

Have you ever been so wrapped up in your anxiety that you started to become emotionally flooded? Slightly short of breath, totally in your story, detached from the room you’re sitting in and the person you’re with because of the intensity of your feelings?

You may have been emotionally flooding.

Again, when you’re anxious and perceiving threats, your autonomic nervous system is aroused and your body becomes flooded with a cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol. This can make it hard to think clearly and to maintain focus and react rationally. This is emotional flooding. Two ways you can interrupt this flooding and help yourself get centered and present is through the following tools, both of which were inspired by my understanding of cognitive behavioral therapy.

Counting Colors.

If you catch yourself flooding or perhaps just caught in the loop of an anxiety-provoking thought, tell yourself to look around you in whatever room or environment you may be in, and try to scan the surroundings to find and count aloud five colors of a certain shade. (Hint: I like to have my clients look for colors like purple or gold which are often far harder to find than colors like black and brown which tend to be pretty ubiquitous.)

The reason why this tool is effective is that it pulls your mind away from the intensity of the internal experience you’re having and forces your attention to be external, literally scanning your surroundings and focusing on a task, which can help reduce the emotional flooding you may have been experiencing.

Counting Backwards. With a Twist.

Another great tool to use on yourself (or to use with someone else who is anxious and emotionally flooding) is to count backwards. But not just any counting backwards — anyone can basically recite 100, 99, 98, 97, etc. without much concentration or effort.

What we want you to do instead is to pick a big number like 637 and then pick an odd, random number like 19.5 and start counting backwards to zero from 637 by 19.5. (Did you just frown in concentration reading those words? That’s exactly the point!)

Focused efforts to actually try and do that math engages your brain in a way that can distract from the anxiety and flooding you may have been experiencing. Try it next time you’re emotionally flooding in any way, whether with anxiety, or maybe anger at a co-worker. It’s a subtle, invisible tool that can be wonderful for emotional regulation.

Wrapping Up.

Again, I cannot stress this enough: anxiety is a natural and normal emotion that all of us face. We basically don’t get out of this human experience without dealing with anxiety.

But if you suspect your anxiety is more than occasional, everyday anxiety and it’s starting to impact the quality of your life (your relationships, your sleep and health, your job performance and your ability to move in the direction of your dreams), please get professional help. The tools I’ve provided in today’s post can be a wonderful support in rounding out your emotional toolkit, but they’re no substitute for personalized care from a licensed mental health professional.

Reach out and get the support you need. You’re so worth it.

So now I’d like from you: What is one of your favorite tools to manage everyday anxiety? Do you have any tips and tricks you’d like to share with readers of this blog? Leave a message in the comments below and I’ll be sure to respond.

And until next time, please take very good care of yourself.

Warmly, Annie

 

 My 4 Favorite Tools for Managing Anxiety

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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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