Two young girls with mobile phones at the city street.

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.

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.

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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'Anxiety' Isn't a Dirty Word

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Dear friend

I’m sorry to hear you aren’t great at the moment.

That you’ve been feeling anxious.

That your heart has been beating faster.

Your mind has been racing.

Your worries are escalating.

You haven’t been able to sleep.

You would rather stay at home than face the world.

I am sorry that you feel like other people don’t always understand.

They think you are making a fuss.

Being a diva.

Questioning what you have to be anxious about.

But I know there’s a lot going on in your life.

You have a stressful job.

Your boss is unreasonable.

The kids keep you on your toes.

I know you worry about money.

You want to shift those stubborn baby pounds, but can’t.

You feel like you aren’t quite good enough even though you are better than you will ever know.

Did you know many other people are dealing with anxiety.

You aren’t alone.

Anxiety can be triggered by lots of things.

It is personal, but it isn’t exclusive to you.

You might think everyone else copes regardless.

They don’t.

We might look like it’s all under control, but it isn’t.

Anxiety doesn’t make you a bad person.

It doesn’t mean you are weak.

It shouldn’t be sneered at.

Using it as ammunition is as cruel as it is ignorant.

Life can be tough.

Challenges come our way.

We all deal with it differently.

It might feel like it, but you’re not alone.

Anxiety can be scary, but it is important to try to talk to someone you trust.

Sharing a problem is often the first step to recovery.

You can help get back on track.

Take a step back.

Go for a run.

Meditate.

Yoga and pilates are great ways to chill out and regroup.

Deep breaths can keep you calm.

Color.

Clean the house.

Go out on your bike.

Sing.

Cry.

If you start to feel worse, tell someone.

Remember, I am here if you need to talk.

Anxiety is part of modern day life.

It isn’t a dirty word.

Follow this journey on Just Because I Love.

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

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5 Reasons to Share Your Story... Even If It Scares You

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Despite suffering from social anxiety and selective mutism the majority of my life, I appeared much the “typical” child to everyone except my family, coaches and teachers, who saw my struggle firsthand. Ashamed of my friendless existence and years of “not talking,” I kept my story deeply hidden within and firmly resolved it would die with me.

But apparently, someone had other plans…

Two years ago, through a series of events I still have no explanation for, I slowly began to share parts of my story. And then an interesting thing happened — the more I shared, the less I felt the shame of my past… and the more I experienced freedom.

See, I believe there is immense power in sharing your story. Wanna know why?

Consider the following five reasons as a love letter from me to you:

1. Sharing can build community.

Friendships are formed based on mutual interests, values, beliefs and even struggles. Yes, struggles.

Entire movements have been birthed because one person was brave enough to speak out and share their shame… the thing they erroneously believed defined them. And instead of being rejected, hundreds of thousands of people joined them and said, “me too.

Whether it’s through a “real life” encounter or via the internet, even a stranger can help you step out of the darkness you currently occupy and guide you into the light… a stranger may even become a friend in the process. Don’t count people out — the world does that too much already. People care. Just be honest… be authentic.

Vulnerability begets vulnerability.

Personally, when someone is vulnerable with me and shares a part of their story, I’m not revolted but rather enamored and inspired to share a part of mine (even if it’s a messy part).

2. Sharing can help others help you.

We all long to be “seen.” We all long for someone to walk alongside us.

However, when we feel anxious or unworthy, we tend to isolate… at least I do. But see, it’s extremely unhealthy to isolate. Rarely does isolation lead to a boost in self-esteem.

How can we feel loved if we continually remove ourselves from the opportunity to cultivate love?

While there have been those who, over the past 24 years, have made it their mission to refuse to allow me to succumb to my self-destructive tendencies (and for them I am eternally grateful), they are the exception. I have found that most people in this me generation tend to subscribe to the “to each his [or her] own” philosophy and are more than content, without at least a gentle nudge to leave it from time-to-time, to remain in a world of their own.

Most people won’t stick around if you don’t make an effort to let them know they would be a welcome addition to your world.

It may be true that people can never save you, but if you let them in, they can support you and give a new outlook on an old problem. People can periodically check-in and offer words of encouragement. Even those who don’t share your specific struggles have most likely shared your feelings of doubt, insecurity and fear, and their successful journey can help pave the way for your own. Don’t believe me? Go ahead and give it a try.

Remember, people have the power to change people.

3. Sharing can break the stigma.

Despite affecting seven out of 1,000 children, selective mutism is still a little-known disorder. I believe by documenting my story and increasing awareness, I can change lives. Changing lives… that’s pretty powerful stuff… even more powerful than the hold fear has of me.

Consider the people you most admire — how did they get to where they are? Sorry to break it to you, but it wasn’t the result of their Fairy Godmother sprinkling pixie dust on them. Rather, it was probably through hard work, perseverance and the courage to step out and take risks… perhaps even the risk of revealing their own hidden struggles.

Maybe you’re afraid to share your story because you’re not sure how it will be received. That’s OK, take small steps. Like I said, I was afraid to share my story for 22 years. And when I finally did, I didn’t start out by saying, “Hey, I was so afraid of other people that even when I was in college and ‘cured,’ I barely left my room.” Share what you’re comfortable with.

Just say something. Begin a dialogue. Before you know it, you’ll be smashing that stigma like it’s a piñata filled with sugary goodness.

4. Sharing can change someone’s life.

You were given your story for a reason (to be clear, you may not necessarily know that reason now… or ever).

Your story has the potential to reach others who are where you once were… still falling prey to the same demons that, in the past, held you captive. Sharing openly and honestly can encourage and help others realize that (1) they are not alone, (2) they are special, loved and “worth it” (even when their feelings point to the contrary) and (3) they too can banish the lies they’ve bought into for oh so many years.

There is power in your story.

My story is one of pain and conflict, but it is also one of mercy and grace as I learned to find my voice. My story is a testimony that hope is real and I am here for a reason. It can be a confirmation to others that they too are here for a reason.

Your story can also be such a testimony.

5. Sharing can be a source of healing.

For most of my life, I prided myself on the fact that no one really knew me. I was the enigma… the one who stood apart from everyone else. But after a year working closely with a small group of individuals (I’ll have to tell you about that experience sometime), I learned an important lesson:

The truth is always much more interesting than the mystery.

(Even if that truth includes having too many animal shoes to count and a preference for rainbow sprinkles on most everything).

Your anxiety, your depression, your [fill in the blank], doesn’t make you unique or special. It only makes you human. And all humans are broken.

As long as you hold on to your brokenness and allow it to fester and grow, it still has control over you. It’s still the thing that will continually leave you feeling unlovable. But honestly, you are lovable. The more you share, the more you’ll realize this.  

The more you share, the more control you’ll have over the thing that once controlled you.

Whether you choose to write an op-ed, have a one-on-one conversation, create a vlog, make a cartoon strip or really, engage in any other off-the-wall expression, please, I beg you…

…share your story.

You’re story is beautiful — from the mountains, to the valleys, to the bumpy roads in-between. It’s the journey that makes it all worthwhile.

You matter. Your voice needs to be heard.

 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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