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When the Idea of Anxiety Treatment Worsens Your Anxiety

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Most people would be ecstatic to hear “Pack your bags, you’re leaving Saturday and going to be in Tampa, Florida, for two weeks.” I’m doing just that. I’m leaving Saturday, and I’ll be in Tampa for an anxiety treatment program for two weeks.

But I’m not ecstatic. To be completely honest, I’m slightly terrified. My anxiety has gotten higher and higher as I’ve been trying to mentally prepare myself for it.

I hate unknowns. I like to know exactly who I’ll be talking to, about what and exactly how many questions I’ll have to answer, and what questions at that. Of course. I don’t know any of those things. This entire trip is full of unknowns. My mind fills with questions, five more questions for every question that remains unanswered. What if I don’t like the therapist? What if it doesn’t help? How long will I be there?

I’m going down for a program to treat my anxiety. You’d think with the thought of something that’s supposed to help my anxiety, I’d feel overjoyed and enthusiastic with relief. Instead, I just feel even more anxious. Anxious to the point that I popped my favorite water-filled stress ball. Anxious to the point of tears. Anxiety. Always. Lots of it. Never ending. Anxiety.

What am I supposed to do? How can I ever get the treatment for my anxiety that I quite obviously desperately need if my anxiety keeps getting in the way? It would be so much easier to treat my anxiety if I didn’t have so much anxiety. But of course, that is not an option. It’s rarely that simple. After all, I wouldn’t need to treat my anxiety if it didn’t exist. But how am I supposed to handle my anxiety leading up to the treatment?

I don’t know much about the program. I know they’ll be doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Exposure Response Prevention, both of which have helped me in the past. You’d think that would put some of my anxiety at ease, to know they’re doing something that has helped before, that will most likely help again. But still. my mind swirls with questions as I feel my heart beating faster and faster. It’s different this time,” my anxiety seems to whisper in my mind. “You’re different this time. This is a partial hospitalization. You’ve never done this before. This is different. It’s far away. A 15 hour drive. None of your local supports will be there.” My body reacts to my anxiety going over it again, and I feel my muscles becoming tense. “Deep breaths,” I remind myself “In and out. You can do this.”

So, for now, in the meantime, I’ll do what I seem to do best. I’ll distract myself from the things spiking my anxiety — in this case, my anxiety treatment itself. I’ll take care of myself and remember to breathe. I can’t make my anxiety go away, but I can find ways to calm myself down until I get to somewhere people can and will help me. It’s going to be OK.

The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To My Fellow Warriors, How About We Actually Live This Year?

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To say I’m anxious is an understatement. I’m more like a forecaster of doom. You know, the mundane oblivion we’re all destined for, the kind that’s coming for us on the sure horizon.

I roll my eyes at the hoarding doomsday preppers stockpiling their munitions and canned foods in repurposed school buses. But I wonder if they might roll their eyes at me if a documentary crew followed me around, taping my tells —

how I feel for swollen glands at the top of my neck at stoplights as some might glance at a text…

how I time my pulse sometimes when I think my blood pressure is up and a stroke must be coming on…

how I swallow hard after a new meal I didn’t make (Was I allergic to something? Did it expire?)…

how I follow self-exam instructions to the laminated letter in the shower every day and think of a friend lost to something that looked like a mosquito bite she didn’t know wasn’t…

how I remember my late father’s diagnosis of multiple myeloma at age 55 and how his doctor and my doctor and another doctor said it wasn’t genetic…wasn’t genetic…wasn’t genetic…

how I dream up all the things I might have but don’t know because I didn’t land in med school…

how I think of all my grandparents’ ages and how they’re completely rocking their 80s and then my mind turns to the ratio of what I’ve lived versus what I might have left, and I wonder if I haven’t done enough, said enough or been enough yet and how we’re doomed, doomed, doomed if I can’t settle everyone’s checks first…

how I think of writing a note to my kids in case of an accident so they know what to do in case I’m gone, and then I wonder where on earth I’ll put it because the house is always such a blasted mess — and why is the house always such a mess? — and is it making us sick over the long haul? — We have to get rid of the carpet.

It turns out I’m worse than the end-preppers. I look at them and think, “But the weather’s nice today. And I’ll bet you haven’t read all the David Sedaris your heart can handle yet, have you? And do you know how to make a good crab cake? I’ve always wanted to do that.”

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But then they probably look at me and think, “You’re totally screwed. You’re over there worrying about K-cup carcinogens, tomatoes in aluminum cans, and bad feet when you need to grab the Beanie Weenies and run, bunions be damned.”

I’m starting to hear that our message is the same: We don’t have much time.

We’re both right, unfortunately. But in the midst of trying to salvage what we’ve got, to fight the end, and to keep our eyes wide open all the time, we’ve missed the point completely. We’re trying to lengthen something we don’t own.

You would think with all these worries I’d take slightly better care of myself — go on walks, lose the same old pounds, look up sweet potato recipes, eat more kale, sleep more.

I don’t.

Like the jerky hoarders, I live in survival mode. I’m no better.

So, let’s just stop this year, OK? We’ve been running and avoiding running for too long. We’ve got to get over the onions and coconuts — the little hang ups that keep us from figuratively eating that which would otherwise bring us sublime joy.

We’ve got to stop hollering over fire ants and moving those hills into our neighbors’ yards — even on accident. Our paranoia is contagious, and that stress is contagious, and that fear is contagious. These are the things we should truly be afraid of — the pressure that will cook us from the inside out.

My daughter is in eighth grade. People are asking her what her major will be and where she will go to college.

To them my husband and I say, “Do not pollute our lakes and rivers.”

She is stressed because she is not stressed about that which stresses them. Come on!

Here’s our litmus test for our children’s success:

  • Do they love learning and know how to do it on their own?
  • Do they understand the importance of hard work and intentional rest?
  • Do they know to put people, in every instance no matter what, before things?
  • Do they have enough love in their pockets to give some away?

To quote my Rowling-loving daughter’s response, “The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter.” And she’s talking about a calling here. She gets it. When you know, you know.

Let’s not be in a hubbub about college acceptance this year. She’s 13. She really is just now starting to know what she likes on a sandwich.

Let’s believe the best about this year for a change. Let’s just live for a bit! How about it?

Let’s line our pockets with love instead of fear.

Let’s warm the hearth not because we won’t survive the winter if we don’t but because the flames are pretty.

Let’s write love letters and actually mail them this time.

Let’s fall asleep and let late work be early work because those REM dreams are worth having (the sleep, not the band, but to each her own).

Let’s work miracles in the daylight, surprising people with our generosity of spirit.

Let’s remember how far a glass of water and a deep breath go.

Let’s have people over with the laundry on the couch.

And let us feel the echoes of each new joy all year long.

Follow this journey on DeidrePrice.com.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Little Moments That Shouldn't Cause Anxiety, but Do

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Yes, I get extremely anxious going to unknown places and meeting strange, new people. Yes, sometimes even family visits or friendly get-­togethers scare me. But the little moments are the worst…

The doorbell.

Every time! My heart starts beating in my chest, and I really, really don’t want to go and open the door. Even when I know people are coming: the screeching sound makes my muscles tense.

A call from an unknown number.

I wish we could all use email. All the time. When I hear my phone ringing, I can’t do anything but stare at it. I should pick it up, but I don’t know who it is. What do I say? What if it’s someone I don’t know? What do I do? And if I decide to let it go, it gets even worse. Because now I don’t know who’s been calling me, and that’s enough to make my brain go wild for the next couple days… And if they leave a voicemail… well… that’s like forcing me to call back.

When someone doesn’t return a text.

As you’ve probably figured from the one­ above, I always text. And when someone’s read my text (how awful is it that you can see that?) but doesn’t reply, my anxiety goes through the roof. They have to be mad at me… I’ve said something wrong…

And when that person replies a little later, with 10 silly emojis, my anxiety doesn’t stop. Because that would just be too easy…

Going to the toilet at night.

I’ve had this fear as long as I can remember. I can’t get out of bed in the middle of the night. I practically see myself getting murdered or kidnapped or slipping on the floor. This is one of the reasons I can’t see myself living in a house instead of an apartment. I can only imagine my fear when there’s a whole other floor just beneath me.

There are hundreds more — especially when you count the “occasional” ones, like cooking over a fire. Sometimes I only focus on the biggest, baddest anxiety kickers, but that doesn’t mean these aren’t equally important — or any less satisfying to overcome. Because I recently dared myself to shower when I was home alone… and I did it!

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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Anxious in a Crowded Room

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My body is shaking, and I don’t understand why.

It’s trembling despite the fact that I’m wearing two layers of clothing.

I can’t remember the last time I felt this way.

So out of control.

Gasping for the closest thing I recognize.

Any familiar face.

There are way too many people here.

When did it become so crowded?

When did all these people arrive?

My eyes are beginning to tear.

My lips trembling.

I can see my chest moving up and down.

Faster.

And faster.

I’m starting to hyperventilate.

Everything is pulsing.

I keep searching in what seems like a sea of unfamiliar bodies.

And within seconds it takes over me.

My mouth is dry, but I need to speak.

My legs are stiff, but I need to sit.

I need to gather my thoughts, but my mind is racing.

A sudden touch.

A familiar voice.

An anchor.

Brings me back.

And I’m safe.

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 check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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3 Simple Things to Tell Someone Who Doesn't Understand Anxiety

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Anxiety is like being at war with your mind. You’re fighting an internal battle tougher than some outer battles. For someone who suffers from the same problems, it’s easy to understand. For someone who has never dealt with it, not so much. There will always be those people who don’t understand, and it’s tough to explain what goes on inside your brain when sometimes you’re not even sure.

Here are three things you can say to help those people understand what you’re going through.

1. “It’s not just worrying.”

Sometimes, being anxious for a presentation at school or a huge final exam is comparable to anxiety. But, other times, it’s a lot more than just a sense of worry. The worry starts and then turns into something that’s scary and uncontrollable. Your brain is fighting itself, and everything is happening so fast you lose it. There’s not a magical switch I can flip when I freak out. Anxiety is uncontrollable and definitely not something I chose to deal with.

2. “Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t real.”

People often tend to think if they can’t see it, it’s not there. Anxiety starts on the inside. Your brain goes into fight or flight mode, and then some symptoms do transfer to the outside. While these symptoms may seem fake to you, they’re very real to me. When you see someone in the grocery store, you never know what’s going on inside their brain. Some people with anxiety are good at disguising it so you’d never know they dealt with it. But just because they wear a fake smile and act like everything is OK, doesn’t always mean everything is actually OK.

3. “I don’t have to be in a stressful situation to be anxious.”

Being in an anxious situation is extra tough for an anxious person. But, even if I’m not in an anxious situation, that doesn’t mean I’m not anxious. My brain is constantly at work. It doesn’t stop for anything. Thoughts and fears are running through my head at any given moment, anxiously anticipating the next reason to have a panic attack or feel like I’m in danger. The brain is a very complex organ, and sometimes it just fights it self.

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I know it’s difficult to deal with anxiety. I also understand how tough it can be to attempt to explain anxiety to someone who doesn’t know. You’re fighting a very difficult battle. But, you’re doing great. Things will get better. You will make it through. You’re a warrior and nothing less. Keep on fighting. The battle is almost won.

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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When My Mom Told Me I 'Wasn't Special' for Experiencing Anxiety

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My mom still has a hard time accepting I suffer from a mental illness.

She’s sad, because I suffer from something she can’t fix.

She’s confused, because she doesn’t know what the trigger was that brought on my symptoms.

She’s concerned, because of the influx of young women my age who suffer from mental illness.

She’s worried something in my world caused my mental illness when I was young; the divorce between she and my dad, the shared parenting that ensued afterward. I try to explain my mental illness to her, but I understand why it’s hard for her to wrap her head around.

I wasn’t given my first diagnoses until after high school, which meant there had been no prior conversations about mental illness between my mom and I. After I was diagnosed, there still was little talking about it. Neither of us knew what to say; I didn’t know how to cope and she didn’t know how to help me. It wasn’t until recently, and after my second diagnosis, that I began to open up to my mom, and she did the same.

One Saturday morning, we sat in the kitchen drinking our coffee and watching my daughter play, when I told my mom I had woken up anxious, and do almost every morning. I went on to tell her how much I hated it, and how the medication doesn’t carry from the day before and help with anxiety in the morning. It was then that she said something to me, the best piece of advice I have received from her thus far: You’re not special.

My reaction was the same as yours — I was offended. What does she mean, I’m not special? Of course I am! I am going through something nobody understands. I didn’t want to, but I let her explain. She told me she also wakes up anxious. In the morning, she is anxious about being late for work. In the afternoon, she worries while she’s at work about all the tasks she has to complete at home. In the evening, she is anxious over what she didn’t get done, and goes to bed anxious, as well. I was surprised, because I never knew we had anxiety in common.

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She went on to say again: You’re not special.

She then clarified: You’re not alone.

My mom continued, explaining I’m not the only one who goes to bed and wakes up high on anxiety. The only difference between she and I is that I can’t come down from that high as easily as she can. I need the help of therapy and medication, and she told me that’s OK. I’m not special. There are many, many people who suffer from mental illness and require medication to help them function. It was then I began to understand my mom was telling me I’m not the only one who experiences anxiety, and I found comfort in that. Part of what makes me feel so anxious is the feeling that I am alone; the only person feeling the way I feel. My mom telling me I’m not special really resonated with me; I really, truly was not alone.

At first, “You’re not special” sounds like an awful thing to say. It sounds like whoever said it is not even trying to understand what you’re going through. But when my mom said “You’re not special,” she meant “You’re not alone.” And that is the most helpful thing my mom has said to me throughout my battle with mental illness. I am not special, I am not alone. There is a vast mental health community with sufferers just like me, who need to hear the same thing I did. We are together in this fight, and together we are not special.

The Mighty is asking the following: Give advice to someone who has just been diagnosed with your mental illness. What do you wish someone had told you? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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