Simple Illustrations Sum Up What It's Like to Live With Anxiety

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Using the simplicity of an advertisement — and the brain and heart of someone who lives with anxiety — Canadian illustrator Catherine Lepage has created images most who live with anxiety can relate to, compiled in her book, “Thin Slices of Anxiety.

“I always try to find the simplest way to convey an idea,” Lepage, who has experience working as an art director at different advertising agencies, told The Mighty. But while she uses techniques from advertising, these images come from a place within. She’s lived with anxiety her entire life and also has had experiences with depression.

I try to explore myself. That’s what magic about it. By understanding how I feel, by getting to know me better, I can create something people can relate to,” she said. “People always share the shining side of things, but I think it’s also important to show we’re all human, we all have failures, we have things that are more difficult to cope with.”

She hopes these images will start a conversation and make having that conversation less taboo.

Check out the images from her book below:

On the left: Man's expressionless face. Text reads: Easiness. On the left, the same man's face. Text reads: Uneasiness.
Chronicle Books
To images of a man's face. On the left he's looking outward. On the right he's looking in. Text reads: Field of vision for a normal person. Field of vision for an anxious person.
Chronicle Books
Text reads: I live through other people's eyes. I have a fear of judgment. Images shows man standing on a pyramid of cards that read "confidence"
Chronicle Books
Image shows a bull. Text reads: It's uncontrollable
Chronicle Books
Person swimming in their tears.
Chronicle Books
Text reads: Everything becomes blurry. Image shows brain outside of a head.
Chronicle Books
Text reads: I struggle to get out of it, but I only tread water. Images shows somebody rowing outside of a boat.
Chronicle Books
Left speech bubble reads: Try not to always expect the worst. Right speech bubble reads: "and if I can't do it"
Chronicle Books
A drawing of a chipmunk. Underneath it reads: Thinly sliced and illustrated, emotions are much easier to digest.
Chronicle Books

How would you draw you anxiety? Send us your drawing to [email protected]

To see more from Lepage, visit her site.

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If Anxiety Is 'Fight or Flight,' I Choose to Fight

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Fight or flight. As a sufferer of anxiety it’s the most common phrase I hear from doctors and friends. I’ve heard this term so many times it barely has any meaning to me anymore. People with anxiety constantly get labelled the “flight” type of person,  like we run away every time a new situation comes up. Now every time I hear “fight or flight” I immediately zone out. Not because I don’t think it has value, I do, but because I believe people with anxiety do both on a daily basis.

To people not living with anxiety, it may seem like the common response of a person with anxiety is flight, but you have no idea how much effort and fight it took for that person to even get to that point. As I’ve said before, we all have different anxieties. For instance, I am fine when it comes to flying on a plane, but for others it can be completely terrifying. You might see that person get off the plane or leave the airport because of their anxiety, that’s the flight part. But what you didn’t see was how that person booked the plane tickets, packed their bags and drove to the airport. That is them choosing to fight, against all their instincts they are fighting their anxiety.

So why do we choose to focus on the times we choose flight and not the things that we accomplished when we were fighting? Sometimes you don’t even know that what you’re doing is fighting. Every time you hear that voice in your head telling you to flee and you  fight it, it makes you stronger and more confident. I can tell you from experience that when you’re at you lowest point, confidence is key. Start small, even if it’s just going out to your mailbox to get the mail. Every little thing you do builds up your confidence and soon you’ll be doing things you never thought you could do weeks or months ago.

A few months ago I couldn’t leave my house, and I actually couldn’t be alone either. First we would have my parents leave for 10 minutes, then 20, then 30, then one hour and eventually I could be alone at home be myself for a whole work day. After training myself like that I wasn’t afraid I would have a panic attack without someone there. A few months ago if you said this is where I would be, back to being able to drive alone, going into shopping centers and inviting some of my closest friends over, I wouldn’t have believed you. But every little step helped me to become more confident in myself and fight my way out of the depression I had fallen into.

Yes, there will still be times when you flee a situation instead of choosing to stay and “fight,” it’s in our DNA. Our anxiety is a survival mechanism, but that mechanism doesn’t work the same for us as it did our ancestors. When we grew as a species, we all found new things to be scared of. Instead of being attacked by ferocious animals, it became a fear of public speaking and stage fright. Instead of a fear of starvation, it turned into eating disorders and body shaming. Times may be easier now with all the luxuries we have, but that doesn’t make our fear responses any lesser than those of the cavemen.

So little steps, that’s the key. Confidence will develop overtime, so long as you focus on the things you fought and conquered. We all deserve to live in a world where we feel safe and in control of our own happiness.

Don’t give up. Keep fighting. Win.

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To the Friends I Haven't Seen Much Because of My Anxiety

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Dear person in my life,

It’s possible that I’ve shared with you what’s going on with me. It’s more likely I haven’t. I want to be clear this isn’t because I don’t trust you or we’re not as close as you thought we were; it has nothing to do with you. I didn’t tell you about it earlier because how do you say that? Like, hey! So I’ve been a shitty friend and it’s because I’m dealing with some intense mental health stuff and that’s why I’ve basically fallen off the face of the Earth. Who does that?

So instead I’m telling you here. Over the last year and a half, give or take, I’ve been experiencing panic attacks of varying intensity, as well as smaller, more constant anxiety. It’s not so much that it impacts my day-to-day, but sometimes it can knock me flat on my ass. There are days when I literally am Chris Traeger.

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I’ve been trying really hard to learn how best to manage this so that I’m addressing it, but not letting it interfere with my life. And it’s hard. I’ve tried lots of different things; some have worked, some have not, but I’ve learned that the ones that do work deserve my time and commitment. That’s why I’ve retreated to my couch and stopped asking you to get Shake Shack or if I can stop by the office. It’s why I took the summer off from a job I truly love and gave up spending my days with the people I love most. At the time, that was what I needed to do. So I did.

But I miss you. I miss laughing with you and celebrating your joy with you: your marriage, your first kid, your move. I miss sharing my joy with you and sending you regular texts. I miss going to movies with you and doing our secret handshake and knowing when I’m with you that I’m in a place where I can truly be myself. Please know that my heart aches for that, and that I promise I will be around more soon.

Normally I would apologize, but that’s not really what I want to say. I want to say thank you. Thank you for not making me feel like I’m bad friend for failing to hang out with you for a long time. For remembering me in little ways and sending me texts to let me know. For being patient with me when I canceled plans or left early or didn’t reach out. For not judging me, and for always showing up when I ask you to. And for loving me and my mess and for listening with a supportive ear when we talked about my anxiety; for reading this with a supportive heart if we haven’t. And if I haven’t told you in person, I’m sorry for that. You deserve to hear my voice saying this and not to read it on the internet, but to be honest, this is much clearer and it allows me to only have to have this conversation once; over and over is emotionally taxing, and that’s difficult to do. If you want to talk about it more, let’s get together and do so.

But most of all, I want to tell you that I love you, and that I am so grateful for your presence in my life.

XO

Follow this journey on It’s Only Fear.

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. 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 My Husband When I Don't Have the Words to Explain My Anxiety

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To the one who signed up for loving me and everything that comes with me,

I’m having a rough day. You know that for better or for worse thing you committed to? This is somewhere on the “for worse” end of the spectrum. If you have received this letter, there’s a chance I may be curled up in a corner somewhere in our house, sobbing uncontrollably. Please find me, hold me and give me a little kiss on the forehead. I’m probably going to need some tissues as well, unless you don’t mind me using the sleeve of your favorite Brooks Brothers shirt to wipe my eyes… and probably my nose.

Please, know this has nothing to do with you. I know you’ve never lived with someone who suffers from anxiety and depression. You’ve never had to come home and comfort a person you love from an invisible monster that lives inside of them. If this were a visible illness, you could see the scars from the battles I fight on a daily basis and the bruises from when my anxiety is beating me up inside. You can’t though. You just have to trust I’m fighting every day to be the best version of myself, for me and for you.

Loving you is one of the easiest and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, all at the same time. You have given me something to fight for but also a fear greater than I’ve ever known. My fear is that everything that comes with the human being that is me is going to drive you away someday. I can’t control that though, and that scares me, too. You have given me no reason for these fears. It’s nothing you’ve ever done or said. It’s the opposite really. It’s the anxiety being fearful and the depression telling me I’m not worthy of the love of someone as incredible as you.

I know better, though. Depression and anxiety are liars. I am so worth loving. In fact, my blessing and curse of being able to feel things so incredible deeply means I will love you deeply. My passion, compassion and empathy will make me a great wife to you and a great mom to the kids we will hopefully someday have. I just need to be reminded of that somedays when I’m overcome by Xi and the ‘Pression Monster (it’s what I call the anxiety and depression so it sounds less scary — I imagine them as my own internal heavy metal band).

I’m sorry I lack the ability to use my words right now. I wish I could explain to you why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling and what drives me into feeling that way. Nine times out of 10, I can’t pin down the reason. Sometimes all I can do to help you understand is send you articles written by others who have gone through the same thing.

One last thing: I know this affects you, too. I know it’s terrifying for you to see me like this. I can’t even imagine. I know you want to do everything you can to make it better, but you’re learning just like I am. We’re both going to have a few bumps along the road trying to figure this all out. I know you’re trying and I hope you know that I’m trying, too.

Today, I’m going to need you to love me a little bit louder, hug me a little bit tighter and maybe grab me an ice pack for my head.

Forever and always,

Maisy

Follow this journey on Maisy Ann

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. 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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3 Tips for Managing Sunday Night Anxiety

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As long as I can remember, Sunday nights were an extremely anxious time for me. The end of a weekend or a vacation meant my anxious mind was bombarded with worry thoughts.

It started during my early school years. Stomachaches and heart palpitations from persistent “what if” and “oh no” thoughts were so severe that I often contemplated calling in sick. If I did choose that option, I would then spend the day in misery about what my teacher and later my employer would think about my Monday absences. “Oh no! They will think I just wanted an extra day off, that I’m faking being sick or that I’m lazy!” Nothing could have been further from the truth.

Sunday night anxiety was worse for me than any physical sickness I have ever experienced. Throughout the many years I have journeyed with anxiety, I have acquired some tips that help me reduce the intensity of my Sunday night dread. I now share three of these tips with you in hopes that some or all of them will help you.

1. Check in with your thoughts.

My stomachaches didn’t happen because it was Sunday night. They didn’t happen because I had to go back to school or work the next day. They happened because of my thoughts about going back to school or work.

First, write down your worry thoughts (yes you actually have to write them down, otherwise they might just keep going around and around in circles in your head). After you have written them all down, look for the distortions in those thoughts (this is where having a therapist to work with you can be very helpful, since it can be a challenge to find those distortions on your own at first). Here is an example:

“Oh no I’m going to go into work Monday morning and have a ton of emails to respond to, I won’t be able to get it done in time and my boss is going to get upset with me and think I am a terrible employee, then I will have an awful performance appraisal and get fired and wont be able to pay my mortgage and lose my house and end up homeless!”

Can you see how the worry train really took off and created a catastrophe over one thought? The anxious mind excels at imagination. However, we often jump to conclusions and imagine the worst-case scenario. Instead, we can learn to change the neural pathways in the brain that lead into anxious thinking and create new pathways by changing our thoughts.

If you are anything like me, you have been having anxious thoughts for many years, so remember it will take practice to change your thoughts. But like learning any new skills, it totally can be done with practice. Take the above example again, but this time we will redirect our thought down a different pathway:

“Oh no I’m going to go into work Monday morning and have a ton of emails to respond to. Hmm wait a second, actually it wont be a ton, a ton would be 2,000 emails, so I’m exaggerating. It is usually somewhere between 20 to 50 (here you are preventing yourself from catastrophizing by looking at the situation in a more realistic manner). I’m only human, I’m not a robot, so I will start with 10 (you are setting more realistic expectations) and then give myself a two-minute calming break (you are giving yourself permission to use the self-soothing tools mentioned below).”

2. Take short, calming breaks.

Having several one- to five-minute calming breaks throughout the day is absolutely essential when you have anxiety. Start these Sunday night and use them through the week. Anxiety is exhausting, and taking these mini calming breaks is as necessary as oxygen is to breathing.

4-7-8 Breathing

This relaxation breath has been described by Dr. Andrew Weil as “a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.” He explains, “[This] exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently.”

You can read how to do the 4-7-8 breathing exercise here.

Imagery Visualization

Just like your anxious mind can imagine the worst-case scenario, it can also be used to transport you to a most peaceful place. I take myself to a beautiful beach, where I focus on using my five senses to get the full experience of really feeling as if I am there. I feel the warm sand on my feet, I hear the seagulls and the ocean waves crashing, I bathe in the glow of the sun and smell the salt air. Once I am here, I repeat to myself: I am safe, I am OK. No matter what is happening around me, no one can take this away from me. I can come here anytime I want. I am peaceful, I am serene, I am so calm and relaxed.

Gratitude Meditation

This mediation is so powerful that I cannot do it without getting tears of joy. No matter how anxious or unhappy I feel, this meditation has the power to completely change how I’m feeling. I start by thinking about how grateful I am that I am healthy and safe, and then I extend this feeling to my loved ones. I repeat over and over again how I am filled with so much gratitude at the blessings I have in my life. I allow myself to really feel this in my heart.

Your gratitude list will be different than mine, but here are a few ideas to start with:

  • I am so grateful my family is happy and safe.
  • I am so grateful my parents are living and healthy.
  • I am so grateful for the hot shower I took today.
  • I am so grateful for how comfortable my bed is.
  • I am so grateful I have an abundance of food when so many do not.
  • I am so grateful the lady at the coffee shop smiled at me warmly and told me to have a nice day.

The list can go on and on and fill your heart with joy.

3. Practice self-compassion.

I absolutely loathed my anxious mind. I spent my 20s going from therapist to therapist looking for a magic solution that would rid me from the agony my anxiety disorder caused me. Many years later, I now see this part of me in the same way I would see a child who was terrified and afraid. Would I loathe that child? Would I scream at her and tell her to just stop? No! I would speak to that frightened child with compassion, reassurance and encouragement. Now that is exactly how I speak to myself when I experience anxious moments. I say things like this:

“Andrea, you have had Sunday night anxiety since you were 6 years old and in all those years, nothing has ever happened that you were not able to cope with. I understand how painful those uncomfortable moments are, but the worry you are having right now is actually much more painful than what you are worried might happen.

“You are safe. In this moment, all is well. I am here with you. This will pass.”

So there you have it: three of my own strategies for dealing with Sunday night anxiety. I wish you all a peaceful and happy week ahead.

Andrea Addington, MSW, RSW specializes in anxiety counseling in her private practice in Moncton, NB.

The Mighty is asking the following: Create a list-style story of your choice in regards to disability, disease or illness. 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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Dealing With the Anxiety of Feeling Ugly as a Child

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I hurled the brush at the mirror, satisfied when it made a loud sound. My face was red, and the crying had started five minutes before that moment. Staring at my reflection, I felt ugly.

I was 7 years old.

Many struggles with self-esteem began at a young age for me. Nothing seemed
right. My face wasn’t the right shape, and my nose was too big. My smile before braces was an orthodontist’s financial dream waiting to happen. To
top it off, I was shorter than most of my peers.

Surrounded by family and friends all of the time, I was not socially isolated. I had good friends who I laughed and played with.

Not many knew how I felt about myself.  Most of the time, I was ashamed to say it out loud, preferring instead to beat myself up over my insecurities.

This outlook had an impact on a lot of aspects of my life that would stay with me for many years. Picture-taking was an absolute nightmare for someone with this kind of anxiety and low self confidence. I avoided looking at the camera whenever possible.

Sometimes people would say, “That’s OK. We didn’t want you in the picture anyway.”

It wouldn’t change my mind, even if that was what they were trying to do. How could I say out loud — that I didn’t want to be the one to ruin the photo?

Magical moments popped up every so often when I did feel beautiful. Happiness had a way of taking over. I would smile and say, “Cheese” loudly with my arms around my friends… not a care about how I looked.

Until I saw the picture. The doubt would creep back in like tiny voices that just Would. Not. Give. Up.

Looking back, it breaks my heart. I hope my children never feel that way about themselves.

Through the years of growing up and surrounding myself with different people and experiences, my self esteem grew and took on a more positive role in my life. I began to look back at old pictures and think they weren’t so bad after all. The self-doubt is still there, but I fight harder to be mentally stronger. I have kids now, and my son likes to grab my phone and take pictures. He thinks his mom is beautiful so I smile and just say…”Cheese.”

One day, I want him to look back on it and remember how beautiful we both were.

For me, I don’t need to see the picture. I know it’s perfect.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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