monster's hand

The Monster Called Anxiety

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When you look at me, what do you see?

On the surface, as a person passing by, as an acquaintance, you see a girl with dark brown hair and golden brown eyes, a tiny little thing, not even 5 feet tall. You see my smiling face, and you hear my contagious laugh.

Now let’s take another step closer. You are a friend, what do you see?

My brown hair and eyes and my short stature. You see my smiling mouth, but you notice my eyes tell you something different, something that isn’t happiness. You hear my laugh, but you recognize it’s just covering the pain.

And now, one step closer, I am going to tell you what I see.

When I look in the mirror, I see all the things you see. But I also see the invisible things, the things inside of me that haunt me day in and day out. I see the monsters who are supposed to stay under the bed, who follow me everywhere I go. I’m going to tell you about these monsters that own me, they go by the names Anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and Panic.

These monsters come as “intrusive thoughts.” Every time I think, every time I close my eyes, they come. They produce an image of pain and suffering in my head. I cringe. Every thought I have gets spun into something terrible. The monsters build a web of lies, and even though I know they aren’t true, I still turn back, give up and cry.

Each time I think about driving, for example, or even getting into a car, I see myself getting into a car accident. Every. Single. Time. This is a typical worry for many people, but it isn’t always as drastic. I could be thinking about how I want to eat ice cream and see myself choking, dropping it on the ground, having an allergic reaction. That’s thing about my monsters — they like to change up the storyline, keep it interesting.

The inside of my head is a loud place. Something is constantly bouncing around. I think about things I said or did years ago, about how “stupid” I was. I regret decisions I’ve made. I think about things I did yesterday and things I will do tomorrow, I play out scenarios in my head and I create conversations I will have with people before I have them. I think about how I need my brain to stop, to turn off for a little bit. I think about everything and anything, and it never stops.

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My monsters have followed me everywhere for the last 15 years. I’ve had anxiety since I was 3 years old. I remember being 7 and learning if you’re allergic to something your throat can close. I remember going home from school and sitting in front of the mirror looking at my throat, hyperventilating because I thought it was closing.

I’m a self-confessed hypochondriac. My mom won’t let me look up “symptoms” I’m “feeling” or the side effects of medication. My brother is allergic to sesame. I’m not, but my anxiety tells me I am. I haven’t eaten anything with sesame on or in it since we found out about his allegy. If I do, my body mimics an allergic reaction, but all my vitals remain fine. My mind does this a lot, especially with foods I’ve never eaten or when I don’t know a recipe’s ingredients.  

My anxiety makes it hard to decide what to wear or raise my hand in class to answer or ask a question. Anxiety holds me back and keeps me from doing things others find easy. I can’t eat lunch in the cafeteria at school because it is too loud and crowded, and sometimes being with people is difficult.

I remember being 11 years old and having my first panic attack. That was almost seven years ago. I’ve been having panic attacks ever since. For those of you who don’t know, a panic attack is like an anxiety attack, except they don’t have a trigger and come at random. For me, a panic attack includes hyperventilating, shaking, dizziness and restricted breathing. These can last less than five minutes or upwards of two to three hours. I used to have to go home from school when I’d have one, but I’ve gotten so good at hiding them that I can sit through an entire class period having one without anyone noticing but me. Since January this year, I’ve had 310 panic attacks. I constantly live in fear of having another one, and I limit myself because of them. I avoid a lot of foods, places, people and events in hopes it will help.

Anxiety makes me a difficult person to be friends with. It’s taken a toll on me and my family. I can’t do a lot of things, not because I don’t want to but because I am afraid to. I am so afraid of dying that I’m afraid to live.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

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7 Things People With Generalized Anxiety Disorder Wish Others Would Stop Saying

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i can't keep calm because i have anxiety meme Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is characterized by excessive, persistent and unrealistic worry, and caused by genetic factors, brain chemistry and personality. In fact, 40 million people in the United States are affected by an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. As someone with GAD, here are 7 things I’d like to ask you to stop saying.

1. “Stop thinking about it.” Don’t you think if it was that easy I would not think about it? It maybe easy for you, but as a person with GAD I have to practice the coping strategies I’ve learned in therapy. And sometimes I can’t even do that. So telling me to not worry simply does not cut it.

Instead, try asking me to go for a walk or if there is anything you can do to help me process what is happening.

2. “Everyone feels anxious.” Yes, everyone feels anxious, and it is completely natural. Anxiety actually pushes us to get things done, but when your anxiety stops you from being able to function, guess what? That’s a problem. So please do not compare GADers (yes, I created this word) with non-GADers (this word too).

Instead, acknowledge what I’m going through. Say, “I see this is really hard for you. Would you like to talk about it?”

3. “I’m stressed too.” Not to discredit your stress, but you are certainly discrediting ours. What you do not understand is that we have a hard time controlling our thoughts, and whether you realize it or not, no matter how small it may seem to you, our anxiety tends to maximize everything.

Instead, try offering some words of encouragement.

 

7 Things You Shouldn't Say to Someone With GAD

4. “I know how you feel.” Unless you have GAD you do not know how I feel, so please stop saying that you do.

Instead, say, “I don’t understand exactly how you feel, but would you be willing to help me understand?”

5. “You need to calm down.” When people suffer from GAD, there are times when his/her anxiety is through the roof and it takes me time to calm down. It is always a three-ring circus going on in our heads. That advice is like telling someone who is sick to stop coughing. So no, we cannot calm down right now.

Instead say, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”

6. “You are doing too much.” (Translation: “You are being dramatic.”) Thank you for your words of comfort. We know our thoughts can be irrational at times, but that is how our brain works. Can you imagine 1,000 tabs on your computer are opened, and you cannot stop new tabs from opening? Well, that is how we feel. Just because our disorder is invisible does not mean it is not real.

Instead, ask me about what methods I use to ease anxiety (like breathing methods and yoga), and remind me what’s worked in the past.

7. “You worry too much.” Yes, we worry too much and we know that, but if you have not figured it out by now, we cannot control it. Telling us we worry too much does not help. We were already worrying about 50 things prior to this unnecessary statement, and now we are worrying about worrying.

Instead, say, “It’s OK to feel this way. I know your anxiety can be difficult, but I’m here for you.”  

The Mighty is asking the following: What is a part of your or a loved one’s disease, disability or mental illness that no one is aware of? Why is it time to start talking about it? 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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To Anyone Who Needs an Introductory Course in Anxiety and Depression

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Dear person who doesn’t understand,

Close your eyes and imagine you have tons of bricks laying on top of you. You’re paralyzed, and no matter how hard you try to push the bricks off, you cannot get them off.

Well, that is how I feel every morning trying to get out of bed.

Still don’t understand?

OK, you are in the middle of the ocean and trying to float because swimming is too exhausting. You are panicking, constantly kicking your feet, flapping your arms and hands, breathing rapidly and you begin to drown, but you never actually drown. You are only able to hold your head above the water but the kicking, flapping and rapid breathing does not stop. Your mind is racing but you cannot control it.

Do you understand now? Not yet. Let me give this another shot:

You are emotionally, mentally and physically drained all the time. You have absolutely no energy. You are in pain and it never goes away. You do not have an appetite so you do not eat. Some days you sleep too much and other days you do not sleep at all. You have feelings of sadness, but it’s more than the blues; it is a dark place and you cannot seem to find the tunnel to get just a little bit of light. You are extremely irritable and have difficulty concentrating on simple tasks. Thoughts of death pass through your mind every second, every minute that turn into days, weeks and then months. At one point you were able to suppress the thoughts but you can no longer suppress them. You want to put yourself to sleep for a few  days but, if you are really honest with yourself, you never want to wake up.

Do you understand? A little better. Ok, I’ll take it. Welcome to my introductory course; MDD and GAD 101.

MDD (major depressive disorder) is not a choice. I cannot just snap out of it. Biological and genetic factors play a role. For some people it’s situational, such as going through a financial hardship. For others, mental illness runs in the family, so a depressive episode isn’t always tied to a specific reason(s). Life events such as death of a loved one and losing a job only maximizes the depression and anxiety. So saying things like “Why are you depressed?” frustrates me because sometimes I do not know why. Depression is not a sign of weakness or a lack of faith in God.

GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) can be caused by life events, generic factors, brain chemistry and lifestyle. It’s characterized by excessive, persistent and unrealistic worry. So when you tell me not to think about it, it’s not that easy for me. It takes a lot of mental work to turn off my brain and it’s exhausting.

According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million people in the United States are affected by an anxiety disorder. Nearly one-half of those diagnosed with depression are diagnosed with the anxiety disorder.

Bipolar, panic disorder, schizophrenia, depression and any other mental illnesses don’t discriminate based on your educational, socio-economic or professional background. It impacts everyday “functional” people such as mothers, fathers, lawyers and doctors. Please know there are different types of depression and anxiety disorders, so do not lump them all together. It looks different on every person.

I hope this long letter gives you more insight into the world of a person with mental illnesses, even if you cannot understand.

Follow this journey on joygreenmentalhealth.com

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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What It's Like Being Diagnosed With Generalized Anxiety Disorder in Your 20s

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I held the slip of paper in my hands.

We had waited two hours at the clinic for an appointment that lasted about 10 minutes. It felt like it spanned another two hours, though. This memo I had received at the end of the appointment might just be the answer to the past two and a half years of endless questioning, doubt and periods of emotional intensity that alternated with emotional blankness.

Two years prior, I was staying in a dorm while studying for a non-graduate diploma in education. Having been unable to enter the undergraduate program for education, I’d told
myself I had to excel in this diploma program — I was hoping to attain excellent grades that would permit me to continue into the undergraduate program upon completing my diploma.

Yet, as much as I tried, my two years studying for my teaching diploma were hardly as I’d envisioned. Instead of enthusiastically searching for new and creative ideas for lesson activities, I was mostly a perpetually exhausted mess. I was barely surviving on chocolate bars and tea for “lunch,” finding myself in a state of mental fog most of the time. Instead of making friends with fellow teachers-to-be and actively exchanging teaching philosophies or classroom management strategies, I mostly spent my time fretting over every essay submission, trying to balance that with managing laundry and regular changing of my room’s bedsheets.

While I’d managed to complete the diploma, I’d only done so very barely, almost through the skin of my teeth. Additionally, the stress of full-time teaching upon graduation only took a greater toll. At the end of my first term break, I was supposed to return to school. But I woke up that morning and found my feet were tingling while I was covered in cold sweat.

Following that, I’d called in to school to report sick, while texting a close friend to tell
her what had happened. She told me to head to the clinic nearest to my house, where she’d met me. As I stepped out of the doctor’s room at the end of the appointment, at long last after all that struggling and waiting, I glanced at the slip of paper:

Provisional Diagnosis: Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Reading those words simultaneously gave me relief and caused me more anxiety. Relief, because I could finally put a description to what I had been struggling with for the past two years — to know it was an issue with a name was of some strange comfort, as though it validated those periods of emotional messiness. Yet it was equally nerve-wrecking — what did having a named mental health condition mean for me? 

I was a young, 20-something fresh graduate from teacher training, if only more edgy and easily stressed than the average person — how could I ever have a mental disorder, why on Earth was I given this memo for referral to mental health services?

Two and a half years post-diagnosis and several months of therapy later, I have now learned  the roots of my anxiety disorder stem from early childhood experiences,
characterized by emotional insecurity and dysfunctional parenting. In the midst of these, I’d developed a terribly low self-esteem and a penchant for perfectionism. In hindsight, taking into consideration the extremely low tolerance I had for my own foibles, this anxiety disorder was a ticking time bomb waiting to explode, given how self-punishing I was towards my own inadequacies.

Admittedly, accepting this diagnosis was quite a struggle, as it occasionally continues to
be — in the first year of being diagnosed, I constantly questioned if I truly had an anxiety disorder, or whether it was something I made up in my head. It wasn’t that I doubted the legitimacy of this condition. Rather, I felt that having been given this label, I had to be “sick enough” to live up to it. In my opinion, holding down a full-time job was sufficient evidence I was not “sick enough,” even as I felt like I was drowning in my own anxiety struggles at work. At this point of writing, I’m still learning to overcome the self-stigmatization a label of an anxiety disorder brings. Yet, I am also slowly discovering that this label does not, and cannot, take away the things I treasure most — writing, words, music and faith, among other things.

Today, even as I’m thankful for the people who have helped me rebuild my self-esteem over time, such as my psychologist and the members of my church community, I am still very much a work-in-progress. While I have learned strategies that help me cope with the anxiety, recovery is never a linear process — more often than not, I still find myself succumbing to the anxiety and wondering if it will ever go away.

But I am learning to be kinder to myself and rejoice in my baby steps of progress, no matter how tiny.

For now, I am thankful I have found a coping mechanism in writing for various online
platforms, just how this submission itself was penned as a coping mechanism.

I may have an anxiety disorder, but I’m gradually learning it does not need to have me!

The Mighty is asking the following: Were you diagnosed with your disease, disability and/or mental illness as an adult? Tell us about the moment you finally got your diagnosis. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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6 Myths About Generalized Anxiety It's Time to Debunk

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Growing up in the South, I would often hear the phrase, “Ugh, you’re getting on my nerves” or “Oh, my nerves are bad.”

I always wondered what “nerves” were.  I knew “nerves” were a consequence of feeling “nervous,” but I was always confused.

When I took my college neuropsychology course, I learned the (broad) definition of “nerves” had to do more with a description of a bundle of fibers in the body that interact with the brain and spinal cord, transmitting sensations or messages to other organs.

So which definition was correct?

Both. To a certain degree.

Most people use the term “nerves” or “nervous” as a colloquial term to describe a mental state in which he or she feels nervous or apprehensive about what might happen. If these feelings are coupled with other symptoms, a person may receive a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder.

Generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, is described as excessive worry. A person living with GAD may feel an inevitable sense of doom about children, money, work or family. The worry, however, may impede daily functioning. GAD often accompanies depression.

Over the years as a mental health counselor, I’ve heard a lot of negative misconceptions and myths about anxiety, as well as panic attacks. I decided to write down the most frequently heard “untruths,” and why they are so untrue.

Myth #1: “People with anxiety blow everything out of proportion.”

Reality: People living with anxiety are not dramatic. Anxiety can be completely debilitating. A person diagnosed with GAD might be described as a “chronic worrier.” It is perfectly normal to worry about your children. When your children start kindergarten, you may worry about how they will adjust. When your  children start driving, you might worry about if others on the road will be safe. When your children start college, you may worry about grades, tuition and making good choices. Anxiety becomes serious when the worry becomes too much, and the anxious thoughts will not cease no matter how hard the person tries. It seems as though no matter how much you tell someone who has anxiety not to worry, in that person’s mind, something bad will happen, and that feeling often does not go away (without treatment).

Myth #2: “People with anxiety don’t ever want to socialize.”

Reality: It may be that people living with anxiety want to socialize, but they simply can’t. People living with anxiety often feel this impending sense of doom. There is a constant fear of failure, of disappointment or fear of making a mistake. Just the thought of socializing may evoke fear and anxious feelings. The thing about anxiety is that the more a person thinks negative thoughts, the worse the anxiety becomes. This cycle is often continuous.

Myth #3: “People who have panic attacks or panic disorders are ‘faking’ or want ‘attention.'”

Reality: Believe it or not, I’ve heard this one before. Panic attacks are extremely scary and very real. Often, people have gone to the ER thinking they’re having a heart attack, or even an asthma attack. Upon further investigation, they later find out that anxiety is the source of their symptoms. A panic attack usually occurs quickly. A person may have difficulty breathing, feel shaky, have a rapid heart beat or even have severe chest pain. I’ve found most people living with panic attacks don’t want attention at all, they just want the attacks to stop. 

Myth #4: “Taking medication for anxiety will make you an addict.”

Reality: There are several types of medication to treat anxiety, and taking them does not make someone an addict. While it is true that Benzodiazepines can be habit-forming, using these medications under a doctor’s supervision and care can make them safer. If a person feels that he or she is at risk for dependency, other medications can be used to treat panic or anxiety such as antidepressants, or beta blockers. I am a firm believer in the importance of having a conversation with a doctor to discuss possible side effects and concerns, so that a person may make an informed choice. The stigma or fear of taking medication should not hinder appropriate treatment. A medical doctor (or nurse practitioner, etc.) can answer any questions about medication.

Myth #5: “If I do take a pill, that will solve everything and my anxiety will be cured.”

Reality: A combination of medication management and talk therapy tends to work best. There are also techniques that a person can learn to utilize such as mindfulness. A therapist can work to help “re-train” the brain to change thoughts, and mindfulness can help a person learn to be present, in the moment, by focusing on the “here and now,” as opposed to what might happen.

Myth #6: “People living with anxiety never get better and will always feel ‘nervous.’”

Reality: With proper treatment, people living with anxiety can learn to retrain the brain, and if taking medication, he or she may eventually be able to stop. It’s so important to dispel myths to end the stigma. No one should suffer with anxiety when there are multiple, effective treatments available.

Myth: People who have anxiety must suffer forever.

Reality: It’s OK to seek help.

What myths and thoughts have you heard about anxiety? Do you think there is a stigma associated with anxiety? How has anxiety affected your life?

The above information is intended to be strictly educational. If you think that you may be struggling with anxiety, it may be time to see a personal mental health professional or medical doctor. If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal or needs help, contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

Follow this journey on Call the Counselor.

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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To the Hair Stylist Who Noticed My Anxiety

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hair salon When I entered the salon you work in, I was filled with anxiety for no reason. It’s just something I deal with daily. My generalized anxiety has become much worse since I developed Lyme disease. Everyday chores and trips to the grocery store/hair salon/mall/restaurants fill me with anxiety. I wish I didn’t have to feel this way all of the time, but for now I do. I’m working hard to overcome it, but that could take many years.

And so I made myself walk into your salon. I desperately needed a nice haircut, and I took a deep calming breath and hoped for the best. The salon was beautiful and had a relaxing atmosphere. The staff were all nice and brought you out to meet me.

There was something about you that immediately put me at ease, and that is no small feat. You had a big smile on your face and a tranquil demeanor.

You brought me to your chair and asked me a few questions about how I wanted my hair cut. I answered your questions quickly, as I was still nervous. Then you proceeded to wash my hair. The scalp massage helped me relax. I felt OK as I walked back to your chair.

I had to immediately bring up a few health issues, as my Lyme disease makes me more sensitive to chemicals, and I have to make sure no nut or shellfish-containing products are used due to my and my son’s food allergies.

You did not roll your eyes at all I told you. You sincerely answered all of my questions and even checked and rechecked the product labels to make sure they were safe.

Even though you are young, you had a certain patience and understanding about you that usually comes with age.

Whatever topic I brought up, you offered words of wisdom well beyond your years. You are sympathetic, perceptive and knowledgeable.

I was so grateful to loosen up and be distracted enough to actually enjoy my haircut for the first time in years. You have no idea how much that means to me.

After talking to you for awhile you brought up the fact that you had recently donated your kidney to a boy you had been dating for only a year. Then it all made sense.

You are more than just a thoughtful, patient young woman.

You had actually saved someone’s life, and I was grateful to be in your peaceful presence.

You gave off an air of acknowledgement because you’ve already been through so much.

You were able to put me at ease because you understand struggle.

You were able to show kindness because you know exactly what it means to walk a tough road.

You were also able to give me the best haircut I’ve had in years, even though you are just beginning your career.

When my haircut was through, you gave me a big hug. Not a forced one — a real, genuine hug from your heart. That had never happened before in my 40-plus years of getting haircuts.

It was sweet and special, just like you are.

I believe deeply in thanking people who have shown me or my family kindness. I believe in thanking people who make my day or go out of their way to help others.

Thank you for making an ordinary trip to the salon an extraordinary one.

I wish you all the success in the world.

I also wish good health to you and your boyfriend. I hope the special bond that exists between the two of you lasts forever.

I will be back for more haircuts and will refer my friends and family too.

I have never thought of writing a letter/blog to thank a hair stylist before.

That’s because I never met one like you.

I am altering the words of Sir Elton John to say:

My gift is my blog, and this one’s for you…

The Mighty is asking the following: Share with us an unexpected act of kindness, big or small, that you’ve experienced or witnessed in an everyday place. 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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