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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24 Quotes That Show What It's Really Like to Live With Anxiety

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Anxiety is something everyone feels every once in a while, which is why it’s easy to think it’s “no big deal” when someone has an anxiety disorder. But anxiety disorders can be daunting, and for the people who have them, they’re very real.

So, we asked our readers who live with anxiety to take us into their head for a day — to describe what anxiety is really like. They’re haunting descriptions, and prove that although some anxiety is normal, it’s hard to know what it’s really like to live with an anxiety disorder unless you’ve been there.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Anxiety keeps me awake at night; it keeps me as a prisoner in my home. Anxiety makes me feel like a failure; it has taken away my self-worth. Anxiety makes me feel uncomfortable and nervous. Anxiety has taken away friends, family, opportunities, my life.”

2. “Anxiety is like having new tabs opening very quickly [on your computer] one after another and not being able to close them or stop new ones from opening — but in your head. It happens while working, taking care of kids, driving, answering questions, and a million other things that people do in a day.”

3. “Anxiety is like an adrenaline rush without the actual roller coaster! Heart races, palms sweat, knees get weak. You have all the physical symptoms of a thrill ride but your brain has no actual event to tie the symptoms to.”

4. “It’s like you have no control; it’s feeling constantly uncomfortable in your own skin. It is isolating, lonely, and it’s soul-destroying.”

5. “My anxiety takes over my body. My breathing is irregular, my heart is racing despite minimal activity, and my muscles are tense unless I consciously relax them. My mind doesn’t shut off. I think about things that could go wrong, things that went wrong in the past, and things I have absolutely no control over. Despite having the knowledge that I cannot control everything that happens, I struggle with these consuming symptoms on a daily basis.”

6. “It’s like not realizing you’ve been holding your breath so you have to constantly remind yourself to breathe.”

7. “Anxiety takes you to a place where you’re outside of your body and cannot determine fantasy from reality. It’s debilitating, scary and downright gut-wrenching.”

8. “Picture a bunch of people loudly talking to you about everything you don’t want to hear — that’s how it feels in my head. Some days are better than others, but it feels like pure chaos on bad days, and it’s exhausting.”

9. “Anxiety feels like being the passenger of a race car driver while pleading to be let out. I close my eyes and take deep breaths at every endless turn.”

10. “My panic attacks make me feel numb and cold all over. I feel like I’m going crazy, about to die, my heart is beating too fast, and I can’t get air. I often have to get up and go outside to get fresh air.”

11. “It feels like being in fight-or-flight mode. Never being able to stop overthinking, overanalyzing, over worrying. It lets your thoughts run your life.”

12. “You feel like crying a lot because you have no control. Your life is not your own.”

13. “It feels like having absolutely no control of your emotions. Sometimes I feel like I’m watching myself work something up in my head, knowing I’m safe and fine, but not being able to control the panic creeping up my neck or the fear response. It’s horrible.”

14. “Your life is simply like a roller coaster ride. One moment it’s happy and fun, and then in a second whip around the corner, it’s instantly scary and overwhelming. It’s a 24/7 ride; the mind is always going, preparing for the worst, over analyzing things to the point where you learn to expect the worst. Anxiety consumes your life, especially when it affects someone you love dearly. Understanding it is truly difficult, but be patient. Reassuring they are loved and not alone is key!”

15. “I often thought of it as standing in a water tank. Sometimes you’re only in puddles, sometimes it’s knee level but still bearable, but there are days when the water level rises up too high and too fast and you’re struggling to stay afloat and breathe.”

16. “Anxiety is knowing however much you plan ahead, you still expect the worst to happen. Even if it doesn’t, you convince yourself it will next time; it’s a never-ending cycle.”

17. “It feels like your brain got switched from 40 mph to 140 mph and your body can’t keep up. You can’t breathe or think or run away.”

18. “Imagine being at the mall with your 3-year-old child but you turn around and they have disappeared. Imagine the level of panic you would experience. Some days every single thing feels like that. No rhyme or reason — it just does and you can’t turn it off.”

19. “It’s that battle-ready mode where you’re on high alert to literally everything around you, every worry and fear, but there’s a cage you just can’t get through. You just stand there frozen, mind racing, and your heart feels like it will explode out of your chest. In truth, it’s indescribable because everything just gets hazy and it’s hard enough just to remember where you are at times, let alone push past it. It’s the ultimate feeling of being alone.”

20. “It’s like walking through a field of land mines with one clear path, but with every step, the path changes and you have no idea when the mines will explode. Every step is uncertain; it makes you second guess everything in your life.”

21. “That split second before you trip when your breath gets caught up in your throat and you lose all control over what’s happening. That feeling right there, but it lasts sometimes for days.”

22. “I feel like I’m being drowned by waves and caught in a rip tide. I have to keep treading and swim diagonally towards the shore. You can’t get there directly.”

23. “It’s a knot in your chest that’s always there lurking waiting to creep in and put seeds of doubt and worry into every thought.”

24. “Like an out-of-control, out-of-body experience. You’re watching yourself and can’t do anything to control it.”

*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. These answers are based on individuals’ experiences.

Related: 30 Things About Anxiety Nobody Talks About

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To the Guidance Counselor Who Helped My Daughter Through Her Anxiety

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To my daughter’s elementary school guidance counselor,

A few years ago you helped my daughter during a difficult time. She was struggling with some anxiety issues after a few small incidents happened. Incidents which seemed minor at the time, but became a big deal to her. She had trouble getting herself to school, and trouble concentrating on her school work.

Every day before school she felt fear, heart palpitations and difficulty breathing. As someone who deals with anxiety, I couldn’t bear to see her like that. I understood the horrible symptoms she was experiencing, but I did not know how to help her. I tried to hug her, I tried to help her take deep breaths. I tried to tell her I loved her no matter what, and that she would be OK.

But love was not enough. I was not enough. She need some extra help during that difficult time.

She needed you.

You let her sit in your office until she was ready to go to her classroom. You gave her some tools to slowly overcome her anxiety. You sat with her. You ate lunch with her. You listened.

You cared.

You made yourself available when she needed you, even though you were busy helping so many others and had many other responsibilities to attend to. You answered our questions, and provided a referral for counseling in case we needed it.

You handled the situation perfectly, with the skill and professionalism that only a top rate school guidance counselor possesses. You were committed to helping my daughter, you never stopped trying.

I don’t think you realize how much you did for my daughter and our family. She was drifting into a sea of anxiety, and you provided a much needed life vest. She was able to go to school knowing you were there. We were able to relax a little because you were there.

You are a constant, reassuring presence to many children at the school. You are very involved, you are loved.

You continued to guide and help my daughter after she was doing much better. You regularly teach her and her class many valuable lessons. You are helping them to prepare for the upcoming transition to middle school. You answer all of their questions. You go out of your way to bring in things to help them such as combination locks, which so many of them are worried about learning how to use.

I don’t think school guidance counselors get enough credit. We take the fact that you are there for granted, we don’t realize all you do on a daily basis. But, when our children need you, you are always there.

Thanks to you my daughter got through her crisis and is excelling in school. She is getting top grades and has a renewed confidence in herself.

You deserve the award you are being considered for and so much more. Your guidance is invaluable, you are helping steer so many children in the right direction, you are making a big difference in so many lives.

My daughter will take all you have shown her wherever she goes. She is getting ready to move on from elementary school, but she will always have a place for you in her heart.

I am responsible, respectful and ready to learn,

I have finished elementary school, and now it’s my turn,

I will take all you’ve shown me, wherever I go,  

I will always be grateful, and I want you to know,

that elementary school will always mean the world to me,

I’m ready to move on now, but I’m forever a Husky!

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Write a thank you letter to someone you realize you don’t thank enough. 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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