How I Would Have Answered Miss USA's Final Question, as an Anxious Woman

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I was in a teen scholarship pageant once so I like to think I still know what judges look for. I was impressed by the responses from Miss District of Columbia. After she was crowned, I screamed in my living room. She deserved it, and there is nothing like seeing a woman who looks like you win!

But I kept thinking about the final question: to define “confidently beautiful.” It made me think about my own struggles with those two words.

For me, confidently beautiful is a fleeting thing when I attach the words to emotions. It’s here, it’s gone, it’s back.

It is only until recently I can finally put a name to this tug-of-war thinking that happens.

I will illustrate it for you:

ACT 1: Confidently Beautiful and Socially Anxious

SETTING: A social or professional event I have never attended. I do not know anyone in attendance.

(Enter stage left: Social Anxiety.)

Scene 1: The Preparation

I try to look my best, get my hair together, pick an outfit I will feel confident in. My makeup will be carefully executed. In other words, before I leave the house I enjoy a moment of shine in my mirror and take a picture on my phone to share with the social world.

Scene  2: The Observation

I walk through the door of the event, and it begins. I observe the people around me usually paying close attention to the women in the room.

Scene 3: It Arrives

This is the point where the thoughts creep in. You may call them thoughts of jealousy. I call them comparison.

“Wow her dress is nice!” (Translation: My dress isn’t as great as it looked this morning.)

“Her curls are perfect!” (Translation: My hairstyle is a mess, it was perfect this morning.)

“She’s in shape. That dress fits her perfectly.” (Translation: My clothes are too fitting, you can see my belly.)

“Look at that designer bag with the matching shoes.” (Translation: Everyone here has more money than me, and they are thinking how did I even get in here.)

They all sum up to one thing. I am surrounded by these confident beautiful women and I’m invisible or I look like I don’t belong.

Scene 4: The Great Escape 

There is always a bathroom scene. First, I cry. Yes, I release all the thoughts into streams of tears and I wipe them with toilet tissue. Once it is out of my system, I flush the toilet to give the illusion I came here to use the restroom like everyone else. I wash my hands. I avoid eye contact with the mirror until everyone is gone. I look at myself. I fix my hair, apply lipstick, spray perfume and I begin this internal conversation.

Scene 5: The Positive Self-Talk

I tell those thoughts to take several seats and leave me alone because I am strong and beautiful too. Sometimes these thoughts are not only mine. I may have texted my boyfriend with the details, and he’ll send these beautiful words of encouragement and remind me of the truth.

This is what the battle is about. The truth I already know needs to speak louder and the false story my mind created needs to fade to black.

In this moment, I have to choose to believe my truth.

Scene 6: Go Girl!

I return to the event like nothing happened. I smile, I nod, I speak when needed. I do what I came to do. I try to meet at least one new person. In social scenes, the motivation to interact isn’t as high as in the professional setting so I may not push myself as hard. Sometimes, I go back into the scene and still disappear into the background. But, one thing is common. No one ever sees the internal struggle or the tears.

The End.

There it is. So, if I’m in the pageant representing my home state of New Jersey I would stand tall, look into the camera, and say:

“I am confidently beautiful because I continue to learn to love who I am. I have learned to share my truth but it is not mine alone. I have experiences with depression and anxiety. But, it all contributes to making me unique and it gives me a story to tell. One that I know contributes to other stories in this community, and at least one other person will relate and say, Me too. Thank You.”

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Chart of a girl having a panic attack

If You're an Introvert With Anxiety, These Comics Are for You

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Attention anyone with anxiety who spent time in class with their head down doodling in a notebook: This is a comic series for you.

It’s called Introvert Doodles and started as a “self-pep talk” by a comic who goes by Marzi. She was inspired to explore her identity as an introvert after a personality test made her realize her introverted tendencies weren’t flaws — they were part of her personality.

On her site, she explains (in a doodle, of course):

Text reads: The story of Introvert Doodles. In speech bubbles : Hi! I'm Marzi. I spent most of my life feeling kind of backwards, because I didn't enjoy things other people said were fun. I didn't like parties, and being in groups wore me out. I liked to be alone, but this worries those who cared about me. Then one day, I found some info about personality types online. And it finally clicked for me. My "flaws" were a part of a bigger picture! And the things I like best about myself (being perceptive, creative and thoughtful) go hand i hand with my introvertive tendencies. For the first time, I realized... I'm ok, exactly as I am. I don't need to change to fit someone else's ideal. Of course, being in introvert in an extrovert world means that I end up in some awkward and funny situations, but now I can laugh about them.
source: Introvert Doodles

“I was surprised when others connected with my doodles on Instagram,” she told The Mighty in a email. (“I’d love to hear from you. Just not over the phone,” she writes on her site.) “I realized I wasn’t the only one discovering that it’s OK to be an introvert.”

She also also features comics about living with anxiety, although, she says, having anxiety and being an introvert are not synonymous.

“My anxiety began in my teens. I consider myself lucky, as right now it’s managed pretty well with medication,” she said. “I’m an introvert who happens to have anxiety… Being an introvert simply means you draw your energy from within, and social outings drain your energy. It’s a personality you’re born with and not something that needs to be fixed.”

Introvert Bingo
source: Introvert Doodles

“Sometimes anxiety and introversion overlap,” Marzi said. “In those cases, its helpful to identify the differences, so you know which tendencies to work on and which to embrace. I’ve learned that some things I was trying so hard to fix, didn’t need to be fixed at all. For example, it’s OK that I don’t have a big group of friends; it’s perfectly all right to just have one or two. It’s fine to leave a party early when I’m overstimulated. There’s nothing wrong with being quiet and only talking when I have something to say. As for the anxiety, I’m actively working to manage it.”

She says introverts like herself are finding a voice — and learning while their strengths are different from those of extroverts, they are no less valuable. And that while living with anxiety sometimes comes along with being an introvert, it’s not something that should be dismissed.

“The most important thing I want those without anxiety to understand is this: even though the perceived danger may be irrational, the fear itself is very real,” she said. “So please, try to be patient.”

Here are more of her relatable anxiety doodles:

Comic with two section. In the first section, a girl is sitting in bed. A man at the door says: You're being ridiculous. Just jump out of bed already. Text reads: How he feels. In the second section, the same girl is on a life raft in the middle of an ocean. A man on an island says: You're being ridiculous! Just jump overboard already! Text reads: How anxiety feels.
source: Introvert Doodles
Anxiety award stickers that read: I showed up! I didn't hid in the bathroom (for too long). I survived a panic attack. I was kind to myself today. I made a phone call. I made eye contact with a cashier.
source: Introvert Doodles
Chart of a girl having a panic attack
source: Introvert Doodles
Comic explaining how anxiety is like having a bear jump out at you.
source: Introvert Doodles
comic explaining how to help someone during a panic attack
source: Introvert Doodles
comic showing what anxiety is like.
source: Introvert Doodles

To see more from Marzie, visit her site and follow her on Instagram.

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How Mindfulness Helps Me Cope With Anxiety and Depression

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When I’m depressed or anxious, it can be hard for me to remember what makes me happy or what calms me down. Every coping skill I’ve learned in therapy seems to fly out of my head and disappear elsewhere. I used to let the depression or anxiety take over and control my mind, and would be miserable as a result.

During my last hospitalization, I learned about a meditation technique called mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your attention to what is going on internally and externally in the moment you are in. Mindfulness doesn’t exactly rid your mind of negative or anxious thoughts, but trains you to accept them and let them flow freely without feeling bad about having them.

It’s hard to accept negative thoughts at first; you just want them to leave you and not return. But acceptance is an important step in recovery, and accepting your thoughts for what they are is important when battling anxiety or depression.

On my bad days, I try to be mindful in everything I do, not just sit and think mindfully. When I wake up, I am aware of how I feel. I’m aware of the warmth still in my body as I stretch, and am aware of the immediately negative thoughts I have about the day that hasn’t even begun yet. I let those thoughts be, and move onto being mindful about my surroundings. As I travel from my room, to the bathroom and into the kitchen, I am mindful of how the carpet feels between my toes and of the bird’s songs outside the windows. Already my negative thoughts are moving through my mind, making room for positive thoughts.

As I sit down for breakfast, I eat mindfully. I eat slowly, savoring each bite and each texture of the food. I enjoy what I’m eating, even though on my bad days I don’t want to eat. Mindfulness helps me to not only satisfy the hunger I can’t feel on a bad day, it helps me to truly find pleasure in something so simple as eating an apple. And finding pleasure on a bad day is so very, very important.

As I walk down the street with my daughter in the stroller, I am mindful of my surroundings. I notice the birds flying, the trees swaying and the bees moving from flower to flower. I notice my daughter look around, imagining she is being mindful as well. Children look at the world with such innocence and wonder, much like mindfulness has us do. I accept the worries swimming in my head for when we return home; chores, lunch to prepare, phone calls to make. I accept them and move on, back to observing the beauty around me.

When it’s raining, it’s hard for me to remain mindful. The weather matches my mood and I would like to just stay in bed. But I am mindful about the rain. I notice the size and the speed of the drops, and remind myself that water, even in the form of rain, is good. It is good for the plants, for the crops and for me. It washes away yesterday and prepares me for another new day. I used to let the rain, the bad days, control me. But when I learned to look at the rain mindfully, my mood toward it changed, just like my mind has changed when it comes to negative thoughts.

Remaining mindful helps me cope with my anxiety and depression. It keeps me in the present moment, and manages my worries about the past and the future. Mindfulness doesn’t make my worries disappear, but rather equips me with the peace and strength to deal with them. I was just practicing mindfulness on my bad days, but now I try to remain mindful on my good days, too. Since trying to remain mindful all of the time, I see my situation and the world around me in a more positive light. I find I enjoy the little things more often when I’m mindful; my daughter’s laugh, the neighbor’s dog, my mom’s cooking.

Without mindfulness, I would still be in darkness on my bad days. I would let my negative thoughts completely take over, leaving no room for an inkling of positivity. Without mindfulness, I may not see myself or the world around me in a realistic, positive way. I am glad I learned the technique during one of my most difficult times, so I could learn to use it in the most trying, and the most wonderful times. Mindfulness is not only just a form of meditation. I believe it is a way of life, and a natural medicine to help treat anxiety and depression.

 The Mighty is asking the following: What was one moment you received help in an unexpected or unorthodox way related to disability, disease or mental illness? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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When Anxiety Means Living Life in ALL CAPS

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Anxiety: 

anx·i·e·ty

noun

a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

How does this translate to life with anxiety?

An imminent event being the next breath, phone call or face-to-face interaction.

An outcome being everything.

The best way I have come to describe my anxiety is that it’s kind of like everything is in all CAPS – ALL THE TIME. I talk in all caps and people ask me why I’m yelling at them. I walk in all caps and people ask me where I’m going in such a hurry. I breathe in all caps and it sounds like I’m in labor.

I’ve tried my whole life not to let my “crazy” leak out onto others. That usually means keeping everyone at arm’s length knowing with certainty no one would actually want to be in my presence if they saw me in all caps too many times. It’s exhausting when life is screaming at you all the time. Believe me.

I’ve finally reached a place, whether through the process of aging, being surrounded by the right people or divine intervention, where I feel less concerned about getting my anxiety on people. It’s part of me. A big, big part.

I try to be cool. I’m desperately not cool. I try to be calm. It doesn’t work. I try to be everything to everyone including myself. That never turns out well.

Some positive things about anxiety? I care a lot about everything. I will work really hard to make things the way I envision them. I am vulnerable. That’s terrifying but somehow it works as long as it doesn’t come out at the wrong time.

Lastly — I’m strong. It may not always appear that way, but I promise you when every second is as challenging as it is when you live with anxiety, you have to be tough to hold it all together.

What does a person with anxiety need? The same thing as everyone else only sometimes a little more.

It’s hard for me to ask for help of any kind. I worry it will be perceived as incompetence, weakness or laziness. It is in those moments of need I feel the insecurity and inadequacy that comes with anxiety. That little mean voice pops up inside my head — you know it, everyone has it — whispers, “Someone better than you could do this all by themselves. If you were really all you’re cracked up to be you could make this work. You should be able to do this all by yourself.

So in reaction to that mean little voice I know is full of shit, I still dig in. I become resolute to do everything all by myself. That makes me really tired. It’s not a good plan if your goal is longevity. I’m working on it.

Here’s the other thing about that though: Growing up as a kid struggling with anxiety and depression, I failed a lot. I never felt successful. Even when I did good things and never felt like it was enough to make up for all the places where I fell short. So now, even now, every opportunity to feel successful is one I relish and I cherish. It feels good to accomplish something. No matter how small. This doesn’t need to healthy or balanced behavior. I make people tired. I’ve been told that before, “Erin, you make me tired.” I think it was meant as a compliment. I tried to take it that way.

It’s hard to find people who accept and respect you even in the face of life in all caps. I don’t expect a lot from most people. I’m sensitive and it’s hard to let people in when you walk around with no skin. But when I find a person or people who understand, who get me, who don’t mind all of the nuttiness — I make sure to keep them in my life.

The older I get, surprisingly, the easier it is for me to let people in. Only a little easier — I still don’t invite people into a messy house which is why I rarely have people over… it’s always a messy house. I’ll happily meet for dinner, drinks, coffee or whatever. I have good friends — way more than I thought I’d ever have — and I love them. I’m learning to let them love me back. It’s really hard.

The movement of speaking out about mental health issues is growing. We are teaching the world it’s just fine to be sensitive, anxious and “weird.” Our diagnoses, no matter how severe, do not define or limit our capacity for greatness, achievement or love.

Remember It Runs in the Family – and we are all family.

Much love,

Erin xo

Follow this journey on It Runs in the Family.

The Mighty is asking the following: For someone who doesn’t understand what it’s like to have your mental illness, describe what it’s like to be in your head for a day. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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10 Things I Wish My Family and Friends Understood About My Anxiety and Depression

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As someone who has suffered from mental illness for a long time, I understand people feeling weary about sharing their feelings with friends and family. Sometimes it seems like there is no way they could ever understand what you’re going through. In my personal experience I have found they did try their best to understand and support me; however, there are some things that may be difficult for them to fully understand.

1. Sometimes I cannot find an explanation for why I feel the way I do.

There are times when my anxiety and depression act up and I don’t know why. I understand there is usually a trigger, but sometimes even I don’t know what it is. Unfortunately, my mental illness doesn’t come with an informational pamphlet about what triggers it.

2. Being constantly asked if I am OK can lead to me feeling even worse.

Sometimes when you ask me if I am OK, there is honestly nothing wrong — the constant questioning can make me panic about whether I am unintentionally acting like something wrong. In this panic I manage to convince myself you think I am upset too often or that I am making up my illness. I know it’s irrational, but I can’t help it. 

3. Whenever I seem to want the most space is usually when I need the most support.

When I start to go into a depressive episode or my anxiety is particularly high, I try to isolate myself. I hide in my room or spend an immense amount of time outside of the house to try to stay away from people. When I’ve locked myself in my room it means more to me than you could ever know when you just come lay next to me with no need for explanation or words of any kind. 

4. Some days it really is impossible for me to get out of bed.

This one is particularly difficult for some people to understand. Whenever I lay is my bed “avoiding my responsibilities,” I really do want to be productive. I want to right that essay and take that online test; I just can’t bring myself to do it. I feel like I am paralyzed. And not being able to fulfill my responsibilities tends to make my anxiety even worse. I am not just being lazy or procrastinating; I simply cannot do it at the time. 

5. I don’t mean to avoid people.

Don’t take it personally if I give a “no” to your invitation to go out or don’t respond to your text. It’s not that I don’t want to see or talk to you, sometimes I just don’t feel like talking to anyone. I just need some time to sort out what’s going on inside of my head, and going to a movie or texting you about the newest episode of “The Walking Dead” makes me feel like I am never going to be able figure out my own brain. 

6. I still care about you, probably more than I care about myself.

No matter how bad I feel, I still want what’s best for you. When I genuinely start to avoid you, for weeks or even months at a time, it’s not because you’ve done something wrong; I just feel like you are better off without me. I begin to think your life will be happier without me in it and that my mental illness is dragging you down. Even if being around you makes me happy and forget about my illness for a minute (which can be the most helpful thing in the world), I will try to sacrifice that if I feel like I am an inconvenience to you in any way. In times like these I just need reassurance that you don’t feel like I am a nuisance. And I might not believe you right away, but it will help to bring me out of that downward spiral, and it makes me remember you care about me too. 

7. There are days when I feel completely numb to my emotions.

If I look like I am walking around like an emotionless zombie, that’s probably how I feel. Sometimes all of my emotions seem distant to me; I know what I should be feeling, but I can’t quite grasp the feeling itself. And sometimes I will feel like this and you will never know; since I know what I should be feeling, I’ve learned to act as though I am feeling this emotion.

8. There are days when I feel too many emotions all at once.

Opposite to not feeling anything, sometimes I feel entirely too much. This can manifest in many ways; I may feel sad, excited, angry, hopeful, desperate, love and hate all at once. So if I seem like I am jumping from one emotion to the next extremely quickly it’s because I am trying to hold on to one emotion at a time, but I can’t hole one long before it jumps to another. 

9. I am trying to feel better. I really am.

I don’t like feeling this way, and I would never choose to have a mental illness. Even if it doesn’t always seem like it, everything I do is an attempt to make myself feel better. Even if it’s something that seems self-destructive, at the time I genuinely feel like it will make me feel better eventually. I don’t like feeling like this because of how damaging it is to me and to you, so I try my best to fix it as well as I can. 

10. I truly appreciate everything you do for me

I know caring for someone with a mental illness can be difficult; we push you away or try to cling to you forever, and trying to pull us out of one of our episodes can be draining for you, but you do it anyway. I will never be able to express just how much your support means to me — the 3 a.m. phone calls where you’ve pulled me out of an anxiety attack, the times when you’ve calmed me down when we’ve been out, and I seemed super happy, but all if the sudden I burst into tears, and your constant reassurance that you’re there for me. Your support is what makes my mental illness bearable, and I cannot express just how much I love you for it. 

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.




10 Things I Wish My Family and Friends Understood About My Anxiety and Depression

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When a Doctor Finally Told Me What I Needed to Hear About Living With Hypochondria

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Every cough is a predictor of lung cancer; every ache is a sign of some kind of skeletal disease; every headache is a brain tumor. Essentially, every bodily “abnormality” is a catastrophic illness.

This is life with hypochondriasis, or its kinder, gentler euphemisms: illness anxiety disorder or somatic symptom disorder. Yes, chances are you’re fine — you’re not dying and not suffering from some debilitating but unseen disease. However, the feelings and the certainty are all too real for those of us who know there is something terrible happening in our bodies, just below the surface.

Right now as I am writing this, my back hurts. This vague but persistent ache is in between my shoulder blades: I’m almost certain it’s my heart or some kind of tumor on my spine. Right now, I am resisting the urge to go online and find confirmation of this on WebMd, but that’s a whole different issue called, appropriately, cyberchondria. The point is, while most people would simply say “my back hurts,” get an ice pack and leave it at that, I cannot help but think I am headed for an imminent and unpleasant death and that this back pain is only the beginning.

Later today, there will undoubtedly be different bodily sensations. Whether it is a headache from staring at my computer screen (brain tumor), neck pain from tilting my head in the same position for too long (lymphoma), or heart palpitations from too much coffee (heart attack), my brain will probably diagnose my body with something awful. Once the diagnosis has been made, the thoughts will snowball. “Thought-stopping” and “mindfulness” are beautiful ideas, but they are difficult to put into practice when you are having a hypochondriac episode which, by the way, can last for days, even weeks or months. A few summers ago, I spent months and a lot of money visiting doctors, waiting for one to tell me I was terminally ill. I visited two emergency rooms at two different hospitals. I went to every urgent care within a 30-mile radius. I had EKGs, X-rays, even a CT scan. The diagnosis? I was fine. At age 34, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t yet succumbed to one of the diseases my brain had convinced me I had.

Surprisingly, it was an oral surgeon — not a psychologist or psychiatrist — who told me something I never forgot. I went to him because a discoloration on my tongue had convinced me I had oral cancer. This had gone on for months and had been accompanied by jaw pain and other vague feelings of oral discomfort. After a thorough examination determined that it was, in fact, not cancer, I asked the doctor, “What is it then?” (People with health anxiety usually do not rest until a diagnosis is made: that’s why we spend so much time and money seeking one out.)

The doctor said, “It’s just your brain remembering the pain.”

That statement has stayed with me. We should never underestimate the power of our minds to convince us of anything, rational or not. A few years ago, today’s back pain would have sent me running to the doctor or even hospital. Today, while it still concerns me, it won’t take over or ruin the day because it is most likely my brain sending me a catastrophic but misplaced thought I can focus on lessening in intensity. I can breathe. I can remember the progress I’ve made. I can give myself a break. I am probably not dying.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s the best thing a medical professional has said to you related to your (or a loved one’s) disability, disease or mental illness?  Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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