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'Anxiety' Isn't a Dirty Word

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Dear friend

I’m sorry to hear you aren’t great at the moment.

That you’ve been feeling anxious.

That your heart has been beating faster.

Your mind has been racing.

Your worries are escalating.

You haven’t been able to sleep.

You would rather stay at home than face the world.

I am sorry that you feel like other people don’t always understand.

They think you are making a fuss.

Being a diva.

Questioning what you have to be anxious about.

But I know there’s a lot going on in your life.

You have a stressful job.

Your boss is unreasonable.

The kids keep you on your toes.

I know you worry about money.

You want to shift those stubborn baby pounds, but can’t.

You feel like you aren’t quite good enough even though you are better than you will ever know.

Did you know many other people are dealing with anxiety.

You aren’t alone.

Anxiety can be triggered by lots of things.

It is personal, but it isn’t exclusive to you.

You might think everyone else copes regardless.

They don’t.

We might look like it’s all under control, but it isn’t.

Anxiety doesn’t make you a bad person.

It doesn’t mean you are weak.

It shouldn’t be sneered at.

Using it as ammunition is as cruel as it is ignorant.

Life can be tough.

Challenges come our way.

We all deal with it differently.

It might feel like it, but you’re not alone.

Anxiety can be scary, but it is important to try to talk to someone you trust.

Sharing a problem is often the first step to recovery.

You can help get back on track.

Take a step back.

Go for a run.

Meditate.

Yoga and pilates are great ways to chill out and regroup.

Deep breaths can keep you calm.

Color.

Clean the house.

Go out on your bike.

Sing.

Cry.

If you start to feel worse, tell someone.

Remember, I am here if you need to talk.

Anxiety is part of modern day life.

It isn’t a dirty word.

Follow this journey on Just Because I Love.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: What’s one secret about you or your loved one’s disability and/or disease that no one talks about? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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5 Reasons to Share Your Story... Even If It Scares You

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Despite suffering from social anxiety and selective mutism the majority of my life, I appeared much the “typical” child to everyone except my family, coaches and teachers, who saw my struggle firsthand. Ashamed of my friendless existence and years of “not talking,” I kept my story deeply hidden within and firmly resolved it would die with me.

But apparently, someone had other plans…

Two years ago, through a series of events I still have no explanation for, I slowly began to share parts of my story. And then an interesting thing happened — the more I shared, the less I felt the shame of my past… and the more I experienced freedom.

See, I believe there is immense power in sharing your story. Wanna know why?

Consider the following five reasons as a love letter from me to you:

1. Sharing can build community.

Friendships are formed based on mutual interests, values, beliefs and even struggles. Yes, struggles.

Entire movements have been birthed because one person was brave enough to speak out and share their shame… the thing they erroneously believed defined them. And instead of being rejected, hundreds of thousands of people joined them and said, “me too.

Whether it’s through a “real life” encounter or via the internet, even a stranger can help you step out of the darkness you currently occupy and guide you into the light… a stranger may even become a friend in the process. Don’t count people out — the world does that too much already. People care. Just be honest… be authentic.

Vulnerability begets vulnerability.

Personally, when someone is vulnerable with me and shares a part of their story, I’m not revolted but rather enamored and inspired to share a part of mine (even if it’s a messy part).

2. Sharing can help others help you.

We all long to be “seen.” We all long for someone to walk alongside us.

However, when we feel anxious or unworthy, we tend to isolate… at least I do. But see, it’s extremely unhealthy to isolate. Rarely does isolation lead to a boost in self-esteem.

How can we feel loved if we continually remove ourselves from the opportunity to cultivate love?

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While there have been those who, over the past 24 years, have made it their mission to refuse to allow me to succumb to my self-destructive tendencies (and for them I am eternally grateful), they are the exception. I have found that most people in this me generation tend to subscribe to the “to each his [or her] own” philosophy and are more than content, without at least a gentle nudge to leave it from time-to-time, to remain in a world of their own.

Most people won’t stick around if you don’t make an effort to let them know they would be a welcome addition to your world.

It may be true that people can never save you, but if you let them in, they can support you and give a new outlook on an old problem. People can periodically check-in and offer words of encouragement. Even those who don’t share your specific struggles have most likely shared your feelings of doubt, insecurity and fear, and their successful journey can help pave the way for your own. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and give it a try.

Remember, people have the power to change people.

3. Sharing can break the stigma.

Despite affecting seven out of 1,000 children, selective mutism is still a little-known disorder. I believe by documenting my story and increasing awareness, I can change lives. Changing lives… that’s pretty powerful stuff… even more powerful than the hold fear has of me.

Consider the people you most admire — how did they get to where they are? Sorry to break it to you, but it wasn’t the result of their Fairy Godmother sprinkling pixie dust on them. Rather, it was probably through hard work, perseverance and the courage to step out and take risks… perhaps even the risk of revealing their own hidden struggles.

Maybe you’re afraid to share your story because you’re not sure how it will be received. That’s OK, take small steps. Like I said, I was afraid to share my story for 22 years. And when I finally did, I didn’t start out by saying, “Hey, I was so afraid of other people that even when I was in college and ‘cured,’ I barely left my room.” Share what you’re comfortable with.

Just say something. Begin a dialogue. Before you know it, you’ll be smashing that stigma like it’s a piñata filled with sugary goodness.

4. Sharing can change someone’s life.

You were given your story for a reason (to be clear, you may not necessarily know that reason now… or ever).

Your story has the potential to reach others who are where you once were… still falling prey to the same demons that, in the past, held you captive. Sharing openly and honestly can encourage and help others realize that (1) they are not alone, (2) they are special, loved and “worth it” (even when their feelings point to the contrary) and (3) they too can banish the lies they’ve bought into for oh so many years.

There is power in your story.

My story is one of pain and conflict, but it is also one of mercy and grace as I learned to find my voice. My story is a testimony that hope is real and I am here for a reason. It can be a confirmation to others that they too are here for a reason.

Your story can also be such a testimony.

5. Sharing can be a source of healing.

For most of my life, I prided myself on the fact that no one really knew me. I was the enigma… the one who stood apart from everyone else. But after a year working closely with a small group of individuals (I’ll have to tell you about that experience sometime), I learned an important lesson:

The truth is always much more interesting than the mystery.

(Even if that truth includes having too many animal shoes to count and a preference for rainbow sprinkles on most everything).

Your anxiety, your depression, your [fill in the blank], doesn’t make you unique or special. It only makes you human. And all humans are broken.

As long as you hold on to your brokenness and allow it to fester and grow, it still has control over you. It’s still the thing that will continually leave you feeling unlovable. But honestly, you are lovable. The more you share, the more you’ll realize this.  

The more you share, the more control you’ll have over the thing that once controlled you.

Whether you choose to write an op-ed, have a one-on-one conversation, create a vlog, make a cartoon strip or really, engage in any other off-the-wall expression, please, I beg you…

…share your story.

You’re story is beautiful — from the mountains, to the valleys, to the bumpy roads in-between. It’s the journey that makes it all worthwhile.

You matter. Your voice needs to be heard.

 The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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In the Midst of My Anxiety Attack...

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IMG_20160518_195345_300x300_acf_cropped Anxiety is the deafening silence that consumes you in its horrid darkness.

It’s the racing thoughts that leave you unaware of the ending of one thought and the beginning of another.

It’s the air leaving your lungs and refusing to come back, leaving you suffocating, almost as if you’re drowning in your own thoughts and despair.

It’s the constant what ifs and all the possibilities of things going wrong in any and every way.

It’s the dread of everything falling apart within seconds.

It’s the constant fear of everything going downhill, the lack of ability to do anything to prevent it.

It’s the nerves within you swimming in the pool of anxiousness.

It’s your family and friends noticing your frightened state and hitched breathing and feeling useless and unable to do anything to help.

It’s feeling distressed and disturbed and you can’t find out why and how to solve it and make it go away.

It’s feeling as if the world was on your shoulders and you can’t do anything to lessen the weight.

It’s the desire of isolation but fear of the thoughts and feelings creeping behind you and breathing down your neck.

It’s the shadows in every dark corner calling out to you, beckoning for you to come closer to make all your nightmares come true.

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It’s the nervousness that jumbles up within you, adrenaline pumping through your veins as if its preparing you to run.

It’s the fear of never getting better, but in reality, it does.

Slowly but surely, it fades away, and you’re stronger than you were before after going through it.

Everything gets better, and nobody ever said you have to face your battles alone.

In the end, you are strong and able to push past this.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Ellie Goulding Opens Up About Anxiety and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

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Ellie Goulding revealed in the summer issue of “Flare” magazine that she dealt with severe anxiety early in her career. The 29-year-old British singer-songwriter told the magazine her symptoms, which worsened as her career took off, were intrusive.

“My surroundings would trigger a panic attack, so I couldn’t go to the studio unless I was lying down in the car with a pillow over my face,” Goulding said.

Brandon Ballantyne, a member of the American Counseling Association and a Licensed Professional Counselor, said anxiety like Goulding’s can be especially problematic.

“I like to refer to anxiety as a survival emotion,” Ballantyne told The Mighty in an email. “Anxiety provides information to our brain about the level of danger that exists in the external events we face daily. Problems develop when we ‘think’ about events as if they were ‘life-threatening’ or potentially ‘injury-provoking’ when there is little or no evidence to suggest that this is realistic. Individuals with anxiety issues may experience extreme cognitive behavioral reactions to normal everyday situations that do not necessarily require a ‘fight-or-flight’ response.”

According to “Flare,” Goulding underwent cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to cope with stress.

“I was skeptical at first because I’d never had therapy, but not being able to leave the house was so debilitating,” Goulding said.

The pop star said CBT has enabled her to retain control over her anxiety and curb her panic attacks.

“There were a couple of times after I released ‘Delirium’ when I was doing promo and thought, ‘Oh god, it’s coming back, it’s coming back,’ but it didn’t. I think my body has become quite good at controlling anxiety,” she said.

Ballantyne said CBT theory, which views thoughts as an automatic response to a situation, can be especially helpful in cases like Goulding’s.

“CBT places increased focus on thoughts,” Ballantyne said. “It emphasizes that thoughts are different from emotions. Thoughts create emotions. Emotions influence behaviors. If we can challenge our automatic thinking, we can achieve more desirable emotions and/or reduce the intensity of unpleasant emotions; therefore laying the ‘blueprint’ for healthier behavior responses and reactions.”

CBT aims to help people with anxiety reframe the thoughts that unnerve them.

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“The goal of CBT, as it pertains to anxiety, is to increase the awareness of the patterns in the automatic thinking and develop recognition of how thoughts such as ‘This is a complete catastrophe’ may intensify the anxiety that comes next,” Ballantyne said. “If this awareness and recognition develops effectively, CBT can assist individuals with learning how to ‘challenge’ the ‘reality’ of their automatic thoughts.”

Have you undergone therapy for anxiety? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.

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When Anxiety Strikes on an Airplane

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I’m on an airplane. I just boarded with my husband after an amazing week in St. Croix, visiting his parents and soaking up the sun, sipping on fruity rum drinks and enjoying family time. We’d flown to San Juan and had a meal, browsed the duty-free store and gotten on the plane. I’m excited to have the window seat since I took the middle on the way down; it’s my turn to have a wall to sleep against. I swallow my trusty Dramamine — while I don’t usually get nervous on flights, I prefer to sleep my way through them —  and try to settle in. I’m crossing and uncrossing my legs, propping myself up against the window, leaning on my husband’s shoulder. I can’t get comfortable. My neck and shoulders start to ache, my lower back too. We haven’t even taken off yet, and I suddenly need air. 

The flight attendants have begun their safety speech, and I continue to squirm. I try tucking one leg underneath me, then the other. I ball up my hoodie and try to lean against the window using that. Everything hurts. It’s not just an aching anymore, it’s a throbbing that courses throughout my body, my arms, my legs. I start to feel like I want to crawl out of my own skin — anything to stop feeling so uncomfortable. I lean back in my chair so hard that it tilts back the way airplane seats sometimes do, surprising the woman behind me. I turn around and smile apologetically, adjusting my seat so it’s upright again. She has no idea of the frantic flurry of thoughts in my head trying to get my body to relax. We still haven’t taken off. 

After what could only have been 10 or 15 minutes, I have become so restless I feel like I’m disturbing the entire plane (this is unlikely; it’s a big plane). Finally my husband turns to me and asks, “Are you anxious?” 

“Oh,” I said. Yes, I guess I am. Sometimes it feels so physical, and I don’t think I have anything to be worried about, so I forget anxiety just does this sometimes (you’d think I’d start to get with the program one of these days). I have nothing to take to make it go away. This type of anxiety usually only overtakes me at bedtime at home, where I can take a sleep aid or get up and do something else to quiet my nerves, so I don’t have any actual anti-anxiety medication with me. I’ve never gotten this way on a plane before. Now that I’ve identified what’s going on, I start to feel worse instead of better. My heart gets a little racy. I want to jiggle my leg up and down, but I know that will shake the whole row, so I settle for tapping my fingers frantically against my thigh. This is awful. How am I going to get through four hours of this without moving around or screaming or bursting into tears? 

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I count down backwards from 100 to give my mind something to focus on. When that doesn’t work, I try counting down by twos or threes to make it harder. It helps for maybe a few seconds at a time.

Drinks and snacks come. I can’t eat. I’m desperate to feel something, anything, other than this agonizing feeling that something is terribly wrong. My husband suggests I hold an ice cube. (He works with kids who have mental illnesses. He’s good at this.) He puts one cube on the back of my neck. Cold water drips down the back of my shirt, and this makes me cringe, but holding the ice on the pulse points of my wrists seems to help briefly. I want to shriek. Everyone around me is reading, watching movies, sleeping. How can they be so relaxed? Usually I can read and then drift off to sleep, but not now. My husband holds my hand and tells me everything is OK. He tells me I am his best friend. I smile because this usually comforts me, but the anxiety is like a thousand ants crawling over every inch of my skin. How could this possibly ever be OK? 

I’m distraught, about to come completely unglued. Last resort: we have some nips in our carry-on. I drink one. It helps for about 20 minutes. I might doze for five or 10 of them. I am miserable. I drink another one. Again, relief for a few precious moments. I think I have to pee, but the idea of disturbing the woman in the aisle seat makes me cringe, and anxiety surges up inside of me. This becomes all I can think about. I know I’m perseverating, but I can’t help it. As soon as I decide to make a move for the restroom, the seatbelt sign goes on. Now I am convinced I cannot get up to pee (it’s against the rules!), but after several others do I muster up the willpower to ask the woman on the aisle to let me out. Just walking the aisle I feel a little better. It feels good to stand up. I’m not trapped against the wall of the plane anymore. I’ve never felt claustrophobic in this way, but being up and about feels so much better than sitting that I wonder if that’s what this is. 

After the bathroom, I sit in the middle seat because my husband has moved over. I am OK. Surprisingly, this feels better than my usually-preferred window seat. We are landing in less than an hour. I somehow manage to read a little bit and sit quietly without wriggling around and accidentally elbowing my seat mate in the face or slamming my seat back into someone’s knees. Thank goodness for small favors.

We land in Boston and get off the plane. I have survived one of the worst flights of my life. I think I have decided depression is way easier to deal with than anxiety. (Until, of course, the next time that sad, familiar pain creeps into the pit of my stomach in a few days, and I will change my mind again.) For now, though, I will breathe and thank God for the relief that comes when the ants crawl off my skin and scurry away, when I can breathe again, when the anxiety lifts from my cramped, tense shoulders. 

Follow this journey on Go Where It Hurts.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were traveling that was either incredibly challenging or where you faced adversity. Tell us how you handled it or wish you had handled it. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When You're a Person Who Needs to Know

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If you’re like me, you have the need to know: to know exactly how things are going to play out, how you’re gonna get from A to B (and C and D and E…). You spend most of your time anticipating the future, planning and daydreaming. You might worry about the possible outcomes. A lot.

I’ve always been a relentless planner. I truly enjoy piecing together a calendar like it’s a puzzle. I love crafting plans of all shapes and sizes and daydreaming about their outcomes. This is the fun side of my anticipatory nature. The other side is not so fun; it’s where the anxiety comes in.

A few years ago I found myself sitting outside my favorite restaurant in Boulder, Colorado, with my mom. I’d just gotten my condo ready for some Airbnb guests, packed for a camping trip I’d planned for me and my friends and was preparing to give notice at my stable and by all means “good” job to move away and travel Europe. To top it all off I was awaiting some potentially scary medical test results. Pretty much all these things I was excited about (not so much the medical stuff), and yet when I finally stopped moving and sat in the hot sun trying to eat a pizza, I started feeling woozy.

My mom and I moved inside thinking that would do it, but the room was spinning. I abruptly interrupted my mom as she spoke, barely sputtering out the words as I asked her to just stop talking. I hung my head low in an attempt to regain some balance. I didn’t know what was happening to me, but immediately all the worst-case scenarios started flashing through my mind. I could stay here and risk an embarrassing public scene or try to stumble my way home in the heat. I opted for the latter and left my mom to settle the bill. With guests scheduled to arrive at my place, I went to my mom’s where she comforted me as I trembled in her guest bed. I’d experienced something like this just a few weeks before but had written it off as a bad hangover. A friend had suggested it might be something else, but I still didn’t want to believe it; I was having a panic attack.

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I dug myself further and further down the rabbit hole as I lay there, unable to move, scenes of my upcoming European adventure flashing through my mind. All I could think was, “What if this happens when I’m out there? What if I’m in a foreign city all by myself and lose complete control of my body? What if I’m hanging with my cool new Euro friends at a music fest and start acting like a ‘crazy’ person? What if my mind never returns to ‘normal?'” 

It felt like hours before I could breathe normally again. I’d somehow escaped the trap that was my own mind. I nibbled on some food, convinced my mom I was OK and drove to Denver to continue on with my weekend plans. As my friend and I set out for our five-hour drive the next morning, that same dizziness took over when we hit some traffic. Needless to say, the journey was rough. My friends were extremely patient as we stopped so I could lie down on cold pavement for close to an hour, constantly shifting to a different place to get more comfortable and hitting the bathroom about a million times.

I survived the weekend without further episodes and Googled “panic attack” when I got back to Boulder. Wikipedia listed about 12 symptoms, noting that a person may have just a few during an attack. I had all of them and then some. Now that I knew what it was – and that it was survivable (though at times I honestly thought it wasn’t) – it seemed a bit less scary. But all of the sudden I had a new thing to be afraid of. I’d find myself in meetings thinking “don’t have a panic attack now” and imagining the worse case scenario, planning my escape route. I began avoiding certain situations for fear of my panic setting in. Anytime I felt a little dizzy or hungry or hot or tired I thought, “Oh shit, am I OK?” and started spiraling.

This was just the beginning of my experience with panic attacks; luckily it didn’t last too much longer. Years later I’ve learned that my diet, exercise, mindset, lifestyle and just about everything else plays a role in my anxiety. I can see now that all my anticipation was building this constant buzz of anxiety inside me. I operated like that at medium-level for years before the volume got cranked up and was too loud to bear. I’ve learned to take much better care of myself and to let go of that “need to know.” Anytime I feel that hint of dizziness or bit of nausea, I check in and realize I’m back to worrying about the future, imagining worst-case scenarios, grasping for control.

I hope these are foreign feelings for you, that you’ve never had the volume cranked up so high that you couldn’t see straight. But I think we all experience some low-level anxiety, a feeling of nervousness for the future, a need to control how things go and that worry of a worst-case scenario. If and when this happens, take a deep breath and notice where your thoughts are. Realize you are painting a picture in your mind of only one possible outcome. We have no way of knowing the future – which is now something I’ve come to appreciate because frankly if everything went according to my plans, my life would be a lot more boring right now. Find something to believe in, be it God, the universe or simply yourself. 

Know that whatever comes your way, you will handle it because you’re badass and you’ve gotten through everything else that’s come your way. Your worst-case scenario is not likely, but if you keep focusing on it, you might just turn it into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love to plan. I tried to shake that all together but have accepted it’s just in my nature, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I create a plan because it feels like a nice security blanket; it’s one possible road I could travel and something to daydream about. Oftentimes I find that having a plan keeps me motivated and calmer about moving forward. The trick is to stay open to any and all changes in the plan, to detach from that need to control every step of the way and trust that it’s all gonna be OK, to set your sights on a goal and then do what you can right now to work towards it because that’s all we have control over — how we act in this moment.

Follow this journey on MeganCuzzolino.com.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Share with us the moment, if you’ve had it, where you knew everything was going to be OK. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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