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I Didn't Choose to Have a Mental Illness

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I didn’t choose my mental illness, it chose me.

It chose me with the hazy cloud that covers my mind with a daily forecast.

It chose me with the 2, 3, and 5 a.m. wake up calls that no sound, light or meaningful explanation could ever bring.

A handful of pills at 16 years of age when they didn’t quite do the trick, yeah, my mental illness chose me.

My depression chooses me every single day. When I go to climb out of bed, an anchor brings me back under the covers. But every time I check, there’s no anchor to be found — there’s just me.

My anxiety chooses me every time I dissect a situation 100 times over 100 days over 100 locations because the solution will never satisfy the makeup of my brain.

Mental illness is a part of who I am, but it isn’t my choice.

My choice lies in the courage and the strength I have to speak out about mental health in the face of stigma, discrimination and pure hate.

My mental illness empowers me every single time I support another person with mental health challenges with empathy, kindness and compassion because I recognize the pain since I have lived the experience.

Next time you think a person is trying too hard or not enough, consider their mental health. There is more that lies beneath the surface the waves could never uncover.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your disability, disease, or mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold this misconception? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To My Best Friend, Who Didn't Run Away From My Inner Demons

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Dear Best Friend,

I know I can be quite a handful. I never know what mood I’m going to be in, or what is going to trigger an anxiety attack, not to mention all of the plans I make and then cancel because I just can’t handle it. I exhaust myself; I can only imagine what it is like to be someone who loves me.

I still remember the day you met my internal demons. I had been up for 24 hours, my mind raging with panic. You called and said you were going to stop by. I was too worn out to try to pretend I was OK.

I wonder what ran through your mind when you walked in the door. My tear stained face, half dressed, voice almost gone from crying, from screaming. My brain was too loud for me to form words, I could only apologize to you. I could only apologize to myself.

I was so ashamed.

But you didn’t leave. You didn’t run away. Instead, you went home and researched anxiety. You learned how to help me. You learned how my brain works. That’s the single most amazing thing anyone has ever done for me.

Since the day I opened up the door to my mind and let you in, you have gripped my hand with the strength of someone who isn’t afraid. You have answered every 2 a.m. phone call, every frantic text message. You have left parties and social events 10 minutes after arriving, simply because I am overwhelmed. You have patiently reassured me that you still love me, over and over and over again.

My friend, you have been a quiet voice and a steady heartbeat when I needed it the most. Thank you for showing me that even though I’m a handful sometimes, I’m worth it.

All of us, with our messiness and our mismatched puzzle pieces…

We’re worth it.

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4 Steps I Take to Cope With Anxiety

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The discomfort and pain from anxiety is real, and it’s hard for those who have never experienced it to understand. It is not the same as having stress or being nervous about something. It is relentless; it feels like something awful is going to happen. So how do we cope with these feelings?

Having lived with anxiety for my entire life and having now made a career helping others, I will share with you some of the ways I cope with these terribly uncomfortable feelings.

1. Ask yourself what’s causing the feeling.

The way I talk to myself when I have these feelings is extremely important. I can either make them worse or bring them down to a more comfortable level with my self-talk. I can say, “Oh no, this is so awful, I cant do this, I cant cope with this, this is the worse thing ever,” and if I talk to myself that way, I’m guaranteed the feeling with either stay the same or get worse. On the other hand, I can say, “Oh, here are these uncomfortable anxiety feelings again. What’s going on today that has me feeling more anxious? What am I afraid of? What am I dreading?”

Sometimes I can get an answer and know exactly why I’m feeling that way. In that case, I go on to step two. But if I can’t find any reason for the feelings, I go on to step 3.

2. Challenge the thoughts.

If I can get in touch with the thoughts causing me anxiety,  examine the evidence to see if these are true thoughts or, as the case almost always is with anxious thinking, irrational thoughts. For example: I’m feeling anxious because I have an exam today. I would ask myself: Are you prepared for the exam? Yes. Have you done well on your exams in the past? Yes, most of them, especially if I have studied. If for some unlikely chance, you do not do well on the exam, will it be the end of the world? No, it would not feel good, I would be disappointed, but it would not be the end of the world. Anxious thoughts are almost always irrational, and asking yourself these questions helps bring the logical part of the brain back into the game.

3. Relax the body.

So you’ve tried to figure out what your anxious thoughts are, and you come up with nothing. Everything seems OK, but you still have a body full of anxiety. In this case, your best defense might be relaxation. Deep breathing slows down the part of the brain that has you on anxious overdrive. It is actually the best way to reduce a panic attack. Deep, slow breathing means breathing from the belly — inhale, hold and slowly exhale.

I used to only do this when I was extremely anxious and then get so frustrated it was not working. I had to become consistent in practicing this every single day, even on days that were not as bad. Now when I do it, it really does help. Relaxation also can include massage, yoga, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery (using visualization to bring yourself to a calm, peaceful place), mindfulness (paying attention to your five senses) and walking in nature.

4. Practice self-compassion.

On days when you are feeling particularly anxious, the last thing you need is to criticize yourself for having these feelings. Have compassion with yourself. Remind yourself that having an anxiety disorder means we may feel more sensitive, tired, have more body pains and generally that we require sufficient downtime, safe connections with others and self-care. Treat yourself with tenderness and soothe yourself with a nice cup of calming tea. Have a nice warm bath in lavender. Write positive affirmations about yourself, things you are grateful for and nice things others have complimented you on in a journal. Remember to tell yourself that feelings are like waves — they come and go, they ebb and flow. 

Andrea Addington, MSW, RSW specializes in anxiety counseling in Moncton, N.B. Her website is www.andreaaddington.com.

Editor’s note: Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

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A Letter to My Boyfriend About My Anxiety

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To my loving, thoughtful and caring boyfriend:

You may ask, what is my anxiety? It may seem one-dimensional to you, but there is so much more going on below the surface. What does it look like, and what does it mean? It’s hard for you to understand it the way I do because I live with it every day. But I hope this letter helps you to understand the difficulties I face in living with anxiety.

So, what is my anxiety?

My anxiety is having no appetite one day and eating everything in sight the next. It’s being completely out of touch with my own feelings and needs.

My anxiety is feeling ill with no explanation. It’s feeling like you have a perpetual hangover with no end in sight.

My anxiety is feeling like I physically can’t get out of bed in the morning. It’s more than simply not wanting to get up — it’s being terrified of what could happen in a single day. It’s being paralyzed over the uncertainty of whether it’s going to be a good or bad day. It’s being worried about having a panic attack. Some days it’s easier to stay in bed than to face the world.

My anxiety is being perfectly happy one minute and snapping at someone the next. It causes mood swings I didn’t even know I was capable of. I snap at people out of pure frustration over feeling like anxiety prevents me from living my life the way I want to.

My anxiety is closing my bedroom door and not answering it when my roommates knock to ask to watch reality TV together. It’s wanting to be alone because you’d hate for your anxiety to affect others. Pretending I’m not around is easier than trying to explain why I don’t want to leave my bedroom.

My anxiety is walking around the grocery store for an hour and a half trying to decide what to have for dinner. It causes me to carefully consider every possibility in a situation until I feel like I have made the right decision. It’s more than just indecision; anxiety causes a small decision to evoke a debilitating fear of choosing the wrong thing.

My anxiety is having zero energy. It’s going from being an energetic, happy person to having the life sucked out of me. It’s feeling like lifting my hand to grab the television remote will be so exhausting I’ll need a three-hour nap to recover. Please know when I’m feeling this way, that’s when I need you the most. I need you to sit by me, hug me, tell me it’s OK and fight alongside me.

My anxiety is isolating myself even though I want to be around other people and participate in fun activities because I know those activities have the potential to cause a panic attack. I snap at people I love when they reach out and ask me to join in because I’m frustrated with the reality that I can’t be a part of certain things.

My anxiety is something I can’t control. It’s something I have tried for years to control. It’s something I’m still trying to accept as a part of my life, knowing I probably won’t ever have control over it.

My anxiety is doubting everything you, my loving boyfriend, say to me. It’s doubting your trust when you have given me no reason in the world not to trust you. It’s questioning if you want to be together because of the way I’ve been treated in previous relationships, or agonizing over why you didn’t respond when I said “I love you” when you probably just didn’t hear me.

My anxiety is an emotional roller coaster almost every day. And I’m in the front seat every time whether I like it or not.

My anxiety is an illness a lot of people aren’t educated on and don’t understand. They don’t understand how difficult a single day can be. Anxiety is invisible in many ways, and because people can’t see it like a cast on a broken leg, they tend to assume everything is fine. They don’t understand why I get upset or tire easily or isolate myself from the group. Truth is, oftentimes these people don’t want to have a conversation about what I’m dealing with. It’s easier for them to just ignore it even though I don’t get that option.

My anxiety is me trying to fight what my brain tells me every day and losing that battle almost every time. Don’t tell me to just “get over it” because it kicks me down daily. Don’t tell me to be strong and pull through — you have no idea how strong I try to be every day. Don’t tell me I’m not trying — I’m putting up a fight every single day of my life. Help me during those times when I feel like I have no strength in me to fight it that day.

Be patient with me. I know that’s a difficult request when I tend to be impatient about most things. I have to learn to be patient with this illness, and the only way to get through this is for you to be patient too. Know sometimes I need some space and other times, I need your arms wrapped around me and you telling me it’s OK. It’s OK that I can’t control this. It’s OK that I’m going through this. It’s OK that I can’t face people today. We’ll try again tomorrow. It’s OK that I snapped at you. Try to remember I’m sorry. It’s OK that I’m frustrated because I know you are too. It’s OK that I have anxiety because you love me, no matter what.

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




A Letter to My Boyfriend About My Anxiety

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Artist Posts Fake Magazine Covers to Twitter That Highlight What It's Like to Have Anxiety

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An artist, known as Crayon, has taken to Twitter to share some relatable truths about anxiety in the form of magazine covers.

Anxiety: The Magazine, satirizes the typical magazine format, and highlights what it’s like to live with anxiety.

In an interview with Refinery29, Crayon said the fake magazine covers were inspired by her life as a PhD student. “I draw inspiration from my job, my friends, current events,” she said. “All of which are things that I spend a lot of time worrying about.”

Some of the worries highlighted by the magazine include social anxiety, concerns about body image and self-sabotaging thoughts. Other callouts include: “‘You can do it!’ and other embarrassing pep talks your coworkers have overheard you giving yourself” and “Literally everything you said yesterday, let’s go through it again.”

You can check out all three issues of Anxiety below.

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10 Self-Care Tips for People Who Dissociate

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Dissociation is a complicated thing to explain to people. Even when I attempt to, it usually results in me triggering myself. Explaining dissociation to someone is the equivalent of explaining the color red without starting off a sentence with a direct comparison. The closest I’ve ever gotten to having a friend understanding dissociation was when he compared it to astral projection.

For those of you who don’t understand what dissociation is, click here. I’ve actually spent an alarming amount of my life dissociated without even knowing it until fairly recently. This had gone unnoticed for so long because it likely began in my early childhood and I had nothing to compare it to. I didn’t know things were very, very wrong until I committed to therapy and meditation in late 2014. Things haven’t improved 100 percent since then, but I have now spent almost an entire year feeling like an actual human being. Below are some of the things I use within my self-care routine to help keep me grounded.

Side note: These are things I have figured out through a lot of trial and error. Creating coping mechanisms/a self-care routine takes a lot of time and persistence. Don’t give up.

1. Practice acceptance. 

Acceptance is the hardest thing to do when I find myself experiencing an episode of dissociation, but for me it’s the most important step to make. My immediate reaction has always been to try and bully myself out of it even though doing so makes it 10 times worse. The best approach you can make is one out of compassion. For example, I try to react to my episodes by saying, “It’s OK. I understand a piece of me had to go and disappear for a bit. It’s fine.” And if you feel frustrated, allow yourself to feel that way, but don’t beat yourself up for being triggered. Sometimes triggers happen out of the blue (which sucks), but I’ve found that these episodes are decreased in length if I am genuinely nice towards myself. Recovery takes a lot of practice and patience. You’ll get there.

2. Create and repeat affirmations. 

Affirmations are what I consider a controversial type of “tip” because they’re grouped together with things such as yoga and meditation, and these things don’t always work when it comes to treating a mental illness. I think the key to this being effective is to choose a phrase that really means something to you. When you choose/find a phrase that means something to you, make sure you say it with a sense of weight and purpose. In other words, “say it like you mean it.” Treat it like a verbal anchor. Creating an important go-to phrase like this can become a helpful anchor during difficult moments.

3. Go to therapy.

Do your homework and find a therapist that specializes in trauma, dissociation, etc. — whatever it may be that has contributed to your situation. Most importantly, you don’t have to go beyond your comfort zone when you first start going to therapy, or push yourself to discuss the trauma. If you begin to dissociate during a session, let your therapist know, and begin to back off from the sensitive topic. There is no reason to rush this. Trust yourself, trust your boundaries and make sure your therapist respects them as well.

4. Flashbacks will happen. Sometimes you have to let them run their course. 

And they might make you feel sick and overwhelmed, but you have to try and remember they aren’t happening in real time. Try to think of it as a plug that has been pulled. The memories are being drained from your subconscious and they’ll finally be gone once you’re able to sit through them. They’re like a bullet train just passing through the station on their way to their next destination, which thankfully happens to be somewhere other than the back of your mind. Your body may react in ways that makes it feel like everything is happening again, and I wish I could tell you there’s a quick fix to turning those sensations off, but they’re something you have to allow to run their course. Do whatever you can to ground yourself, but do not make yourself the enemy during this phase. Write about them, talk to a friend, run and listen to angry music, anything that will allow you to treat them like they’re just a loud thunder storm that will inevitably end.

5. Exercise. 

Do something that mentally engages you. Focus on the plants/trees around you when you run, focus on your body during yoga, focus on your breathing during lifting weights. Try to be present instead of allowing your brain to rummage around in the darkness. Exercise on foggy/dissociative days too if you can. You don’t have to be in a good mood to exercise. Be honest with yourself about how you feel and put that feeling into the movements you’re doing. Feel angry? Run hard. Feel sad? Move gracefully with compassion during yoga.

6. Let the people around you know what to do in a crisis.

They may not understand what you’re going through. Personally, I’ve tried so many times to explain dissociation to the people around me and only a couple understand what it’s like. It’s hard to explain what it feels like to not feel anything and everything at the same time. Put what you need into terms they’ll understand. Chances are they want to help any way they can. You just have to spell it out for them.

7. Be kind to yourself if you relapse. 

Relapses happen. Do not hate yourself for them. Do not hate yourself for any of this. The reason your brain developed this coping mechanism/disorder is so that you could survive the situation(s) you were in. You might wake up one day feeling like a new born baby, and it’ll feel weird and great and scary all at once, and the next day you might wake up and be back at square one. This is a natural part of the process and it will be like this for a while. Do not be mad at yourself for these ups and downs. Focus on the fact that you’re even having these ups and downs. That is progress, no matter how big or how small it is.

8. Accomplish things at your own pace.

Regular life things tend to take a backseat when we’re dealing with a mental illness. It’s not the end of the world, though. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing your situation to everyone around you, especially people who fall under the “neurotypical” category. You are not falling behind, you are not failing and you are not going to be stuck in this place forever. You are allowed to take time to figure things out and to take care of yourself. Think of it this way: You cannot build a house on a rocky foundation, and you can’t construct a steady building with a rocky foundation. Write a list of things you want to accomplish and then write baby steps you can fulfill that will lead up to that main goal. (P.S: Don’t worry if you’re completely frustrated by taking things slow either, it’s OK.)

9. Understand that people are limited. 

Not everyone is going to understand what you deal with and you shouldn’t rely on those people for support if they can’t give it. There will be people who don’t understand dissociation, but they will be open to learning about it and what they can do to help. On the other hand, there will also be people who don’t understand dissociation and they will make zero effort to do so. Do not expect the people who fall into the second category to change their minds. Do not continue to put yourself into a position where you are constantly relying on people who do not have the capacity to offer the support you need. I realize this can be a hard thing to accept, especially if it’s your immediate family, but it can also be a freeing thing if you let it. By approaching people with this mindset, you will be able to gage who can and will offer you the best type of support.

10. Forgive yourself.

Whether you have a full-blown dissociative disorder or you experience minor episodes, you have to forgive yourself for the time you have lost. This has never been and will never be your fault. Understand you are trying your hardest to cope with your situation. Understand this likely resulted from a situation your brain could not process/handle. You are doing your best. You are surviving.

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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