I lived for 26 years thinking I would never want you. The idea of having the responsibility of a living creature was terrifying. I was barely getting myself through life so why would I dare add another life to those shenanigans.
I was waking up every day full of dread and emptiness. An average day consisted of waking up and immediately regretting it. I would lie in bed trying desperately to fall asleep again or fight the unknown force that kept me pinned to the mattress. Usually, only one thing could get me out of bed — needing to use the restroom. Sadly, this was my main motivator but happily a solution found me.
One day I got the text, “Chloe had puppies!” My niece continued to keep me informed. “The last one born was a struggle, he barely survived. I don’t know why but I think you should keep him.” I was completely against the idea for weeks! To appease my niece and persistent roommate, I let you come over. You had trouble breathing, an extra toe, an under bite hiding two rows of teeth and you pooped in my closet. As I scrubbed the carpet, I started shaking and crying. I was beginning to have an anxiety attack.
I held my breath while yelling at myself inside to just breathe. I tightened my fists and sat on my hands to avoid hitting myself. When anxiety and depression both fight for the spotlight in my mind everything hurts and tightens. My only solution was self-harm or dissociation. I was sitting on the floor of my closet next to dog poop, you were staring at me and my roommate was calling my name downstairs. I covered my ears and lay down trying to shut out the world while stifling the thoughts inside. I was consumed with pain and you could tell.
All you did was put your paw on my head and I let out a big breath. You kept your paw there and I continued to breathe. I inhaled and exhaled while you settled in next to me on the floor after you did your “circle before you sleep” move. You sighed, settled and slept. That was the first time you took care of me and it was then I promised to take care of you. six years later and we are still taking care of each other! Now an average day consists of waking up and immediately seeing you jumping around to get my attention.
I still have days when I feel pinned to the mattress, but now I have a better motivator: needing to take you outside. Our mornings outside keep me hopeful and positive. The mornings I woke up in the hospital without you were a true test of all you have taught me, but that’s a story for next time. For now, I can only say: Thank you for waking me up!
Sundays are fairly relaxed, and this one was no different. Instead of dinner at the in-laws combined with my baby boy Finn getting smothered by his loving grandparents, football took its place.
Exhausted when we got home, I did not think I had the energy to even feel anxious. But boy was I wrong.
Midway through stirring the chicken for our red thai curry, I felt an old friend return. My chest felt like it was being squeezed between a human-size vice, and after moaning or making a flippant comment to my wife Carolina as we bickered over something trivial, the dam came tumbling down.
The trigger words are always the same: “What’s wrong?” — the tone changing completely when Carolina realizes something is not right.
I turn to look at her holding our baby boy, and the tears start falling. She reaches in closer to hold me, and the second she does and we semi-embrace, my other arm stirring the chicken trying to regain composure, the heaving shoulders begin their cycle.
Within seconds I am arched over the countertop sobbing as heavy tears hit the granite. Yes, I am a sensitive guy, yet I have not watched “The Notebook” yet.
In this moment I’m ashamed, vulnerable and child-like. Carolina is somehow still strong, and as she does in almost every scenario, what every person should do, reassures and just is there.
As I try to fathom what is happening, I can only shout inside my head, “What the f**k!?” I worry my boy would think I was pathetic. I must be a shit husband and dad.
Some deep-breaths later, I am attempting to serve our dinner, blowing my nose into the kitchen roll. The tsunami wave has crashed and passed, and now it is just lapping at my ankles. Exhaustion sets in, and a strange calm returns. I feel pretty empty.
After dinner and being deadly quiet while Finn sleeps, Carolina smiles and tells me everything I needed to hear. I still feel lousy, but for the first time in several months, I have no interest in answering emails and helping others, working on Mr. Perfect or doing “life admin.” I fully intend to go to bed as soon as I can.
I bath our boy, and it helps hugely. I have missed just one day of bathing him in almost 10 weeks. It is our time. His big blue eyes stare at me silently, even when I deliberately try to move out of his vision, he follows. It doesn’t make sense. I have this boy, a supportive wife that keeps me pushing forward, a job and some great people around me.
Then I was truthful with myself, something I have worked on over and over again in the past few years.
We have a 10-week-old boy, I am back playing football and working out regularly, we have multiple projects on at work, my site Mr. Perfect is taking off, and I am helping several other people with making sure they are OK and happy.
Combined with the fact I talk more openly about my struggles, I thought I had ticked off the four or five key strategies I use to get by.
Don’t get me wrong, I love all of this. And as much as I can be machine-like at times and continue to perform at work, at home, as a dad, as a husband, I am not a robot.
The other issue, that I conveniently pretend is not there, dawns on me. I have stopped taking my medication. Although it was only a small dose, I made a decision I was doing well. My psychiatrist, no matter how good he is, became more of a listener as I quite cheerfully updated him on my life since my last visit.
Regardless of this I made a massive rookie error. I live with my relentless mind every day. But the cloudy spells and meltdowns are a fairly obvious reminder to shape up. I do not know better than my doctors and already I have booked to see my GP this week, cap in hand like a naughty schoolchild to confess and work out a better strategy.
Monday was a new day. So was Tuesday, and so is today. I feel better, not great but much better.
So if you are reading this thinking it sounds like you, that you wait for the storm to pass and worry about the damage later and think the next storm is never coming, go look up your doctor or mental health professional. They did not go through the stress and debt of medical school and training for nothing. Despite the barriers governments put in front of them, they did it, and with a bit of hard work, it can all make sense.
I’m a firm believer we are a sum of our choices, that we decide what makes us and what takes from us. I believe I am personally responsible for my own happiness. While there will be times when I need to lean on others, when I need to be vulnerable, I ultimately decide if something steals my joy or not. I will not be a victim of things I cannot control, nor will I be ashamed of the moments when it feels too hard to keep going. I want to see my anxiety as not something that defeats me, but something I can learn from. These are some of the lessons I feel it has taught me.
1. All things pass.
As you may know, when you are experiencing an anxiety attack, your perspective becomes severely skewed. You trust nothing, and you fear everything. There’s a sense of impending doom that can’t be explained in words. There have been times when I have holed up in a closet or a under a blanket to escape the overwhelm. But it’s only a moment in time. So, I wait it out. It passes. And I am OK.
I can’t control the way my body reacts. I can’t control the tightness in my chest, the struggle to breathe, the fear washing over me like a violent wave. I don’t have power over that. What I do have power over, however, is whether or not I let my anxiety win. In the midst of those sensations, I can still choose to be gentle and kind and communicate what I am feeling. But I no longer try to get rid of the feelings of panic. I can’t. They come, regardless. So, I let them happen, and then I let them go.
3. There is nothing more important than love.
It’s cliche for a reason. It’s true. Love is the only thing worth having. Everything else pales in comparison. Love passionately, love authentically. Love without condition and limitation. Forgive others, forgive yourself. Exercise unconditional self love. Because we all need that. And we all need each other.
Someone out there is alone and feels forgotten in their struggle. Please, know you are not. Please, know you are loved. Even when your illness is at its most aggressive, never let yourself grow cynical and bitter. Keep falling deeper in love with life. It’s a precious gift.
Above all, I learned I am stronger than I realize. And you are too.
The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or mental illness. Check out ourSubmit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
My old “friend” is back. The anxiety I felt during my early childhood has resurfaced and is threatening to drown me. As I struggle to find new ways to cope and new ways to trick my mind into believing my anxiety is a liar, I think back to the many times it has touched my life.
I first learned to manage my anxiety as a young child by lying and inventing excuses no one could argue with. I remember an ice skating class when I was around 4. The teacher wanted us to skate from one side of the rink to the other. The rink seemed impossibly large to me and the task immensely scary. I immediately said I had to go to the bathroom and it could not wait. When confronted by my mom, who had seen the whole thing, I insisted I had to go to the bathroom. She saw right through me, but I didn’t care. She couldn’t possibly understand how terrified I felt in that moment.
Once I started school, faking some type of ailment became my go-to coping mechanism. Whenever something made me nervous, I suddenly didn’t feel well. There were many trips to the nurse’s office. I felt like they were my friends. They allowed me to believe my stories were believable.
On some level, I was telling the truth. My stomach often hurt, which, although I didn’t understand it at the time, was most likely the result of me having a nervous stomach. I even had to get an upper GI test done because I complained so much about having stomach ailments. Physically, I was fine, but no one assessed my mental or emotional health as far I know.
My anxiety would weave itself in and out of my life for the next several years. My family lovingly started referring to me as a hypochondriac. I remember running in to my parent’s bedroom one night and frantically announcing to my parents that I thought my heart had stopped beating. My father’s gentle laugh emerged and he calmly explained to me that that was impossible. I still wasn’t sure, but I trusted him.
My father was my life vest. He was the soothing presence in my life who would pull me back to the surface every time my anxiety tried to sink me. I began a practice of telling him my fears and waiting for him to reassure me. As long as he was safe and present in the world, I knew I could find my way back to myself. When he died almost 20 years ago, the anxiety didn’t strike right away. The depression and denial numbed me from my fear in that time. The worst had happened. What else could go wrong?
Six years ago the wall of numbness finally came down. My anxiety was back and once again, it manifested itself in fears about my health and my sense of safety. Despite the intensity of that episode, I was able to climb out of the darkness by myself after a year-long bout. It was my toughest battle until the birth of my daughter shook me up once more. What was unique about that experience, though, was how I learned to rely on myself and implement coping techniques that quieted my anxiety. I considered it a great success until my world was shaken up once more and the cycle began again.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that my anxiety has returned at this moment in time. We’re coming up on the tenth anniversary of my father’s death. It’s been 10 years since I have been swimming without a life vest. I’m exhausted from the effort.
This anxiety is different, though. It has whispers of my old anxiety, but it has been attacking me with a vengeance as if it’s mad at me for neglecting it for so long. This time, the physical symptoms are impossible to ignore. “Pay attention to me,” it says. “I am still here.”
I am writing this after a panic attack woke me from my sleep. A simple thought entered my mind and off anxiety ran. By the time I woke up and stumbled to the bathroom while loudly urging my husband to wake up, the panic had set in. Who am I? Where am I? How can I find my way back to my center?
I’m still not sure. I am starting to have daily panic attacks, which is something I’ve never experienced before. I hope I can find a way to cope with my new normal. I hope I can find my way back to myself again. The only comfort I have is knowing that I have done it before, and that I have drowned and come back to life time and time again. I am underwater now, but I’m frantically kicking. Come on, old friend, surely this isn’t how our story ends.
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.
I’m fortunate that I don’t live with the feeling of anxiety every minute of every day. There are people who do, and based on my own experience, I can imagine how much that sucks. But my boyfriend and I are moving, and I’ve been living with background anxiety about it for the last few days.
This is different from panic attacks; this is not an intense period of fear and physical symptoms from which you calm down. This is more like a pot you put on the heat and slowly, slowly it begins to simmer. But there are physical symptoms here just like there are with panic attacks, and I want to address it.
We don’t talk about how anxiety feels physically, and so it feels embarrassing to talk about it. To be honest, some of the physical symptoms are things we’ve been trained by society not to mention. This feeds into the stigma of mental illness; if we feel like we can’t talk about what’s going on in our bodies, how are we supposed to holistically address our mental health? Through talking about our physical symptoms, we can actually help ourselves address the anxiety sooner, and thus feel the symptoms for a shorter amount of time.
So, that being said, things are about to get really real. I totally get it if that makes you feel weird or gross or whatever, but I encourage you to push past it. If you experience anxiety, you might see some of yourself in what I’m describing. If you don’t, you’ll have a better understanding of what your person may be going through.
When I talk about anxiety, I’m usually not talking about panic attacks. General anxiety — for me — is different. It’s different for each person, but usually it’s a sense of being on edge or nervous. This lives in the background. You can go about your daily activities, and you can mostly hide it from other people.
The thing is that this type of anxiety is also pretty sucky in its own way. It’s just less obvious. For me, this is a cumulative thing, and it’s very anticipatory. I have this kind of anxiety leading up to a big event: a move (hence my post today), a trip, an important day at work, etc. This kind of anxiety used to lead to a panic attack for me, and I’m sure it probably still can and will at some point. But what I want to talk about here is the collection of low-grade symptoms that kind of pile on top of each other and make it harder to function and fend off the actual panic.
For me, it starts with waking up suddenly, much earlier than I need to, with a racing heartbeat and a sense of being on edge. Sometimes there’s also some tightness in the chest and the need to go to the bathroom more often or more urgently than normal. I can usually sit through these feelings, using my anxiety checklist to help me feel more comfortable.
One morning or day of this is OK, but with each day it gets worse because the effects of sleep loss are tossed in the ring. In addition to waking up early and not being able to fall back asleep, I also have trouble falling asleep and staying asleep. This leads to nausea and headaches, and a general feeling of malaise. While these are fairly mild, the cumulative effect is that, three or four days later, I’m dead tired, sleeping only four to five hours a night, and my temper is much shorter. Add to that the feeling of being on edge, and you end up in this weird state where you’re at once exhausted and feel like you’ve had a ton of caffeine. When I got to work this morning, my coworker had to ask me three times if my sister had her baby before I understood what she was asking.
All of these things ebb and flow; for me, they’re worst right when I wake up and as I’m going to sleep. And they usually go away completely once I’ve started doing whatever it is I’m anticipating. I know when I get home and start moving my stuff into my new apartment, I’ll feel much better. In a way, it’s actually a good thing I can’t fully alleviate the symptoms until it comes time for whatever I’m anxious about because it forces me to sit with the feelings and get used to them. This helps in general with dealing with anxiety because tension is the thing that makes it worse. If I’m not resisting, if I’m sitting with the feelings, I’m helping my own healing process.
Anxiety may or may not be like this for you or your person, but I encourage you to ask them if they want to talk to you about their experience. They may not, and that’s OK. But sometimes it can be really helpful to talk about the physical side of things because it helps us normalize the experience. It helps us get used to sitting with the feelings and practicing all of the strategies we know help. By asking us about the symptoms that are not-so-great to talk about, you’re actually helping us heal. And isn’t that what we all want?
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 ourSubmit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.
Everyone is afraid of something. Even the most fearless and daring people have their limit.
But for people who live with anxiety disorders, fear isn’t always an occasional, ghost-jumps-out-at-you experience. This fear can become a soundtrack in their minds, looping doubts and worries. It can be hard to shut off. To get a better understanding of what this is like, we asked people in our mental health community to share their biggest or most “irrational” fear.
If you can relate, know you are not “crazy,” and you certainly are not alone.
Here’s what they had to say:
1. “My biggest trigger of anxiety is when I’m in a room full of people. I start to panic and then fear more how I would look if I just got up and left.”
2. “My health. Especially since the birth of my daughter. I have a constant fear I’m going to get sick and pass away and not be around to see her grow up.”
3. “My biggest fear is having to open up to someone about my anxiety and depression, so I keep it all bottled up even though I know I should talk to someone. But every time I try I feel like they will think I’m insane or won’t understand, so I keep it all in and end up having a panic attack.”
4. “My biggest fear with anxiety is that it will win. Win in my work place, my relationships and my self-worth. The fear of all of my insecurities coming true — ‘They don’t care about you. They wouldn’t care if you walked away. You’re naive for even thinking they benefit from having you in their lives.'”
5. “I fear starting a family and having my anxiety affect my children. It terrifies me that my mental health could have an impact on the life I bring into the world. I hope someday I can overcome this fear so my husband and I can start a family of our own.”
6. “My biggest fear is lots of people paying attention to me at one time because I’ve done something embarrassing or wrong.”
7. “All of my anxiety stems from my irrational fear of vomit. Known as emetophobia. Have had the disorder since I was 7 years old.”
8. “I’m afraid my anxiety will ruin my children’s childhood. I know it’s irrational, but it’s a like a little black raven sitting on my shoulder telling me I’m a bad mother.”
9. “My biggest fear is that I’ll end up alone. Not because I’m too unbearable to someone, but because I pushed them away because of my anxiety.”
10. “My biggest irrational fear that comes from anxiety is that my husband will eventually learn to hate me because of my anxieties and then leave me. I’m getting better every day, but there are still times I feel like I need him to say the right things more often, just to quiet the voices in my head. They’ll sometimes scream to me that because he’s quiet, he’s mad and looking for a way to break the news that he’s leaving me. It’s sad and makes me feel horrible for thinking it, but it’s an irrationality I live with almost daily.”
11. “Answering the phone.”
12. “My biggest trigger is the fear of death. I fear it so much that I don’t actually live. It’s terrible.”
13. “I feel like I’m a horrible friend because I often need space/time alone. But then I panic if I text or call or message them and don’t hear back right away. I instantly feel like they hate me.”
14. “I fear failure. My capabilities and strengths are great, but my anxiety makes me feel that I am never good enough.”
15. “My biggest fears, especially with my social anxiety, is that constant thought of being unwanted and unimportant. Always being terrified of others’ opinions of me. Also the thought of not having a purpose and wondering what on earth I’m supposed to be doing with my life.”
16. “I’m pretty sure everyone I love is going to die 100 percent of the time. Late getting home? They probably died in a car accident. Minor outpatient surgery? They’re gonna die. Breathing a little funny? Cancer. Death. I constantly have to remind myself not everyone is dying in real life just because they are dying in my head.”
17. “I fear things at random. Sometimes it’s that my family got in a horrible car accident. Other times it’s of tripping in front of people. My fear ripples with the events happening in my life. They come back and fall away like a yo-yo. My anxiety never lets me have peace. Every moment or so some horrible scenario flashes in my heart and leaves my heart racing and my eyes burning with tears.”
18. “My biggest and most irrational fear is that my anxiety will make me a person I don’t recognize, and that I will lose everything and everyone I hold dear because of it.”
19. “My fear is not that others won’t be able to accept me, but that I will never be able to accept them because I cannot see them clearly; my perception is so out of line.”
20. “My biggest fear is the unknown. Not knowing how things will turn out, whether it’s a party or the afterlife. It’s a very broad spectrum, and life is obviously full of unknowns. Instead of seeing unknowns as a fun part of life, my anxiety turns every unknown into a worst-case scenario.”
21. “I have social/general anxiety and agoraphobia. My biggest fear is losing the people I love and not being able to have a family, which only makes my anxiety worse. I worry this illness will isolate me more than it already has and ruin my dreams. It scares me every day.”
22. “I fear my anxiety makes me unlovable.”
23. “I have bad social anxiety and it causes me to think when I go out in public everyone’s staring at me and saying terrible things about me.”
24. “I have a deep fear and avoidance of bird poo. I know nobody wants it on them, but even the memory of poo being there freaks me out. I remember my mom telling my her cousin or friend lost her sight when a bird pooped on her face. When I hear ducks overhead I cover my head like a bombs going to drop.”
25. “I fear that while taking a shower I’ll slip and fall and the paramedics will see me naked.”
26. “I’m afraid all my friends will get tired of me, either because I’m boring or a burden. I am too much and not enough at the same time.”
27. “My most irrational fear would have to be thunderstorms. Thunderstorms provoke full-blown anxiety attacks for me. When there is a thunderstorm, my mind goes into panic mode and I assume the worst. I don’t see it as a thunderstorm, I see it as the possibility of something really bad and scary happening. Even though I know it is just a thunderstorm and that it is not dangerous like I think it is, anxiety doesn’t understand that.”
28. “Honestly: Windmills, zombies and loud voices.”
29. “My biggest fear is that one day, I’ll become so much of an inconvenience no one will want to be around me because I’ll be so much to handle. My biggest fear is becoming completely alone and having no one to turn to.”
30. “Being approached by sales/charity promoters in public sends my anxiety and blood pressure through the roof. I hate feeling rude by ignoring them but being approached by someone I don’t know makes me irrationality anxious, and then I feel silly for getting so worked up!”
31. “I’m afraid certain things are symbols for what is about to come. I am terrified of dead birds. If I see one, I think someone is going to die. It feels like it is a warning. Also, I’ll get nervous and scared when I start to see the same numbers in a row on the clock. (11:11 or 3:33). It has nothing to do with anything and I know it is silly, but my heart will race and I am uncomfortable just looking at the numbers.”
32. “Losing control.”
33. “My biggest fear is one I go to bed with every night. I fear my house will catch on fire and everyone inside (my kids, my husband and my cats) will die. I’ll lose everyone and everything I have. I think about it every night. I have extra smoke alarms and two fire extinguishers — none of it seems to bring any peace of mind.”
34. “I’m terrified of ordering food or paying for things. Terrified the person will get angry with me for moving too slowly or if I give them the wrong amount of money or if I mess up my order.”
35. “I get scared every single time I leave the house, that I’ll have an attack and throw up in front of everyone.”
36. “My most irrational fear is that when I’m riding in a car I will lose control of my body and jump out. I have to have the child locks engaged and if there are no child locks, I have to put things between me and the door.”
37. “My biggest irrational fear is space. The unknown of what we are, what life is, really makes me feel suffocated and anxious. I used to love everything about space; from going to the planetarium, to watching ‘Cosmos,’ ‘Interstellar,’ ‘The Martian,’ and my all time favorite show, ‘Dr Who.’ But then something clicked in me and made me fear it. I would get dizzy and feel sick to my stomach when I would watch anything about it. I can’t run away from it and it frightens me. And writing about it makes it seem so stupid and crazy to fear, but I do. I know it’s because I think too vast and that can be considered a great thing, a sign of intelligence. But for me, it’s crippling, embarrassing and frightening.”
38. “I can’t even go to the shop for milk without my hair and makeup done to my own personal standard. It scares me to the point of tears and panic attacks.”
39. “My biggest fear is being left by everyone I care about. That I’m just a placeholder till they find someone better.”
40. “The most irrational fear I have is that I’m going to spontaneously combust, tied with that I’m going to swallow a rat (if I see a rat, I panic and I’m scared that if I panic too much insanity is going to make me swallow it like I did in a dream when I was younger) and that I have maggots in my ears… [I] have to keep trying to convince myself that’s it’s not real and that touching wood multiple times is going to stop it.”
41. “I have an extreme fear of the dark. I need to have some form of night light, and someone to sleep in bed with me, or I only get three or four hours of sleep a night. Every sound, every object in the dark terrifies me. I cannot get myself out of bed if its dark in the room, and if I do it take hours for me to build up the courage to do so.”
42. “When I hear sirens, I think something happened to someone I know. I play out the entire scenario in my mind and forget sometimes it didn’t happen.”
43. “My biggest fear is that my mental illness is ‘all in my head.'”
You are not defined by your fears. If you live with anxiety, there are resources that can help. Visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of American to find a therapist, local support groups and more information about anxiety disorders.
*Answers have been edited and shortened.
Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. These answers are based on individuals’ experiences.