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The Two Sides of My Anxious, Depressive Soul

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Yesterday

Yesterday I woke up and couldn’t make it to the end of my block while I walked the dog before this overwhelming, out of the blue panic hit me. I immediately turned around and could see my house, but I felt like I could not get there fast enough. I began to run, trying to match my movement with my heart-rate. When I got home there was both a sense of relief and disappointment. My home is my comfort zone, and that is sometimes disappointing.

As the day went on I had bouts of crying. Five or six times I broke down as I watched my husband sit there not knowing what else to say other than, “You’re going to be OK, you’re just going through a bad time right now.” He held me in the bed as I cried again. He has known me for six years and he has not seen me go through this before. But I have, many times. I warned him about these times. I don’t think he believed me. I don’t think he ever thought the vibrant, happy and full of zest for life woman he married could be the same person sitting in front of him telling him, “I promise I won’t kill myself, but I just feel like I am dying.”

I cannot explain to him in a way he can understand why I feel the way I do right now. I feel these things because I have a mental illness and every so often, I become sick again. I have always had the lingering generalized anxiety I can manage daily, but this — the deep seated depression — I cannot keep at bay and it will stay for a while. And while I do my best not to let it control me and take me, it’s powerful and some days I am just too tired to fight. It makes my generalized anxiety worse. On those days I stay home and I cry. And sometimes I cry a lot. I will run laps in my large basement, I will shower and cook and try to ignore the noise in my head. It is exhausting to go against the grain of just wanting to lie down and go to sleep forever.

Today

Today I felt pretty good. I had to work and I spent a lot of time out in the sun. I laughed a lot. I smiled many times. I didn’t cry. I felt like my anxiety was just a faint ache in my veins, barely noticeable and most tolerable. It didn’t stop me in my tracks and the fleeting moments were just that; fleeting moments. A few times I caught myself thinking about the fact I feel pretty good, and I breathed a sigh of relief and gratitude.

Why can’t every day feel like this? Temporary relief, even if not 100 percent.

At any given day my feelings, perception, opinion and thoughts might change depending on my illness. If you catch me on a good day, I will be full of optimism and hope. If you catch me on a rough day, I will be full of anxiety and tears and hopelessness. I do not know from one day to the next how I will feel. I start each day with great intentions, doing the positive things I hope help get me into a good head-space. I read, meditate, pray. I use positive affirmations and self-talk and my 12-step recovery program.

Some days I win. Some days I feel defeated.

I have never felt normal. I hate that.

Lately I have had some very rough days, weeks, months. I have been in this place before. I am sliding into the bottomless pit of despair with nothing tangible to grasp onto. I am holding on for dear life and hoping eventually I will find my way back out like the other times, but there is that little voice inside of me that whispers, “ What if you can’t this time?”

What if?

I think about all the times I have been in this dark place before and wanted to die, and the amazing days I had after because I chose to stay. So I hold on hoping the mental storm will pass again and I will have some peace again one day.

 My story has no ending, and that is OK. Because it means I am still here choosing life, even on days I feel like dying.

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: 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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For Those Who Are Anxious About Father’s Day

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I spent my first Fatherless Father’s Day bawling my way through The Happiest Place on Earth. Our family had traveled to Disney World, and I thought a change of scenery could help me escape the pain of losing Dad. But all the joy surrounding us just made my grief sting more. Everywhere I looked, I was reminded of death. (You know how many Disney princesses have lost a parent? Um, all of them. And don’t even get me started on Simba.)

Without understanding why, I was having panic attacks watching the nightly fireworks. Hyperventilating in gift shops, surrounded by Mickey and pals. You know you’ve really leaned into your grief when a toddler lets you cut in line for Space Mountain, in the hopes that you’ll stop crying.

When my dad died, I didn’t just lose the man who co-created me. I lost my sense of safety, sense of fairness and sense of wonder. Those were replaced with panic attacks, bitterness and loneliness. Until that point, I’d mostly been sheltered from my new companion, Anxiety.

Since Dad’s death, Anxiety has been my shadow. Anxiety is the devil on my shoulder, encouraging me to hide, avoid and be fearful. Sometimes Anxiety skips town for a few months, but it always returns in June, as Father’s Day nears.

I know I’m not alone. For so many, Father’s Day is now associated with loss: the loss of a parent, the loss of a child, the loss of the dream of being a father or the loss of a connection to a father who is still very much alive.

You can’t outrun that kind of loss, and sometimes it’s more painful to try. That’s why now I decide to celebrate Father’s Day, even though my father is no longer here.

But Anxiety wants nothing more than to be our sole focal point and the star of Father’s Day weekend. Selfish, right? Personally, I’m done letting Anxiety win.

For those who are anxious about Father’s Day, here’s what’s helped me:

1. Have a plan.

Get out of town. Stay in town. Do an activity that reminds you of your dad. Stay in bed all day and watch Netflix. Celebrate the other men in your life who have served as father figures. Send a card to a child who doesn’t have a dad at home. Having even a loose semblance of a plan will help you feel more in control. Anxiety hates that. 

2. Eliminate/avoid needless grief triggers.

Once June hits, there’s nothing like a quick scroll through e-mails to remind you if your dad’s dead. For two weeks, we get to immediately delete e-mails with subject lines like “Still time to remember Dad!” and “Show Dad you love him!” (Or my favorite: “Did you forget about dad?”) Do yourself a favor and unsubscribe from promotional e-mails, or set up a temporary filter to send them to a special folder. Anxiety hates that, too.

3. Limit – or embrace – social media.

For the first few years after Dad’s death, I avoided all social media on Father’s Day. Now, I embrace it. I’m like that aunt who likes and comments on every picture IN ALL CAPS. I’m an ambassador supporting those who still have their dads. Many of my friends who yearn to be parents choose to abstain from social media around the holidays. You do what’s healthiest for you. Anxiety really hates that.

5. Treat yourself, and treat yourself well.

Practice some self-care strategies. Book a massage. Get a manicure/pedicure. Go for a long
walk or run. Buy yourself some nice sheets and get some rest. Go to a concert, see a movie, read a book. Grab some friends and family and raise a toast to your loved ones. Do anything that helps calm and steady you. Anxiety won’t even recognize the new you.

6. Ignore the calendar.

For me, the days surrounding an anxiety-fueled milestone are often harder than the actual milestone. Start your self-care strategies early, and extend them past Father’s Day. Put out the “No Vacancy” sign and let Anxiety know you simply have no time or space for it this year.

Above all, go easy on yourself. You’ve been through worse days, and you survived. It will hurt, but you’ll get through this one, too. That’s what my father always taught me.

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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I Am a Transgender Teen With a Mental Illness, and I Am Done Hiding

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My name was Abby Mary Stansel. I was a 15-year-old girl from Connecticut. I was autistic. I had anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I was in hiding.

My name is Ashton Maryn Stansel. I am a 15-year-old transgender boy from Connecticut. I am autistic. I have anxiety and PTSD. And I am not afraid anymore.

a selfie of abby

This is my story.

I’ve experienced anxiety and PTSD from severe bullying that went on for years. Being transgender isn’t a mental illness. However, I will not deny that the way people treat me because I’m transgender does sometimes exacerbate these conditions.

Being a trans person in this world is hard. For many of us, each day is a struggle, a decision between being who we want to be and who society demands we be. This internal struggle, this constant battle within our soul, can leave us exhausted and broken down. We may struggle with dysphoria, “the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex.” In the mental illness community, dysphoria is often understood as something that only affects people in the sense that they see their bodies differently than they actually are. For example, someone with an eating disorder may experience dysphoria. For me, dysphoria is spending every minute knowing my body prohibits me from being who I am. I see my body as it is. But it’s just not me. And while neither is better or worse, we as a society need to talk more about this. We don’t seem to understand that people don’t always identify with their given bodies. And that’s OK.

Gender dysphoria is not a mental illness.

Public opinion on transgender individuals causes more pain than most cisgender (people who identify as the gender they were assigned at birth) people can imagine. All of the current fighting around issues involving transgender people makes things worse. And the people who are not being heard at all is the community of transgender people who also have mental illnesses.

People who are anti-trans like to insist that being transgender is a mental illness (which again, it is not). People who are pro-trans understand it isn’t. However, sometimes an important part of this is missed: a transgender person can experience mental health issues, especially ones like anxiety or depression caused from trauma.

For me, having anxiety is like being told every single thing in the world that could go wrong will happen. Those thoughts play in my head over and over. And when you are a transgender person, every single thing that can go wrong tends to be pretty bad. In 2013, a majority of victims of hate violence homicides (72 percent) were transgender women, according to the NCAVP. It’s estimated that more than 40 percent of trans people have attempted suicide. This article on The Huffington Post takes a closer look at why this is, listing reasons like rejection from friends and family, discrimination, physical abuse and internalized transphobia. In my case, abuse led to anxiety. That anxiety causes fear — fear that every person on the street will murder me. Fear that leaves me unable to move or even think.

I shouldn’t have to feel this way.

Because I am a person like everyone else. I am not a statistic. I am not a problem. I am not a political agenda or a plaything. I am human. That is the sole thing I am. Human.

So, to every LGBTQ person, male, female or anything else, young or old, and even non-LGBTQ — it doesn’t matter — who struggles with anxiety and fear. I have a request for you.

Take a minute. Tell yourself, “I am worth it. I am not a mistake. I am not what they call me.”

When I am having a day where people at school are treating me badly, I repeat this to myself. Over and over. Because I promise. You are worth it. You are not a mistake. You are not what they call you.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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What Not to Say When Anxiety Attacks (and What to Say Instead)

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So yesterday I came clean about my anxiety issues. Which, ironically, caused all sorts of anxiety for a few hours as I fretted over what all my friends and family would think/say/do.

Now, I just want to talk about what not to say to someone who has anxiety. Yes, all of these have been said to me, so I know exactly how little they helped in my personal situation.

Here are some comments that are unhelpful when anxiety attacks:

1. “It’s not worth getting all worked up over.”

I know. Trust me. The logical part of my brain is screaming this very sentence at me as soon as an actual attack starts to happen. Every logical part of my body knows most of what I’m worried about/anxious about will never come to pass.

If only anxiety were logical.

2. “You’re freaking out over nothing.”

To you, yes. It’s nothing. To me, it’s my worst fears coming true. It might just be a bug to you; to me, it’s a carrier of deadly diseases out to kill me and my dog. It doesn’t help when you tell me it’s nothing. It just makes me feel small and judged.

3. “Seriously, what’s the worst that can happen?”

We don’t want to answer that question. The worst that can happen is the thing that controls our anxiety and our every waking thought in the middle of an attack.

4. “Can’t you take something for that?”

Yes. Sometimes I am on medication. If you’re sick, you take meds, right? Anxiety can be a type of sickness. There was a time when I couldn’t control the anxiety anymore and I went on medication. It doesn’t make me a bad person. But whether or not to be medicated for anxiety is a personal choice. It’s also a hard choice. There are pros and cons to both sides of the argument. Please don’t make us feel bad about our choice to not medicate either.

5. “Your faith isn’t strong enough/you don’t trust God enough/you’re not praying enough.”

This one is worth a whole blog on its own. But, as a Christian, you would not believe the number of times someone has equated my anxiety with my faith. Just because I have anxiety doesn’t mean I don’t trust God. It doesn’t mean I don’t try hard to follow Him. It doesn’t mean I don’t spend hours in prayer. Anxiety isn’t about faith. Faith, quite frankly, is the only thing that gets me through anxious thoughts sometimes.

6. “Just breathe. Calm down.”

Breathing is second nature to most people. And yes, deep breathing has helped my anxiety immensely because it gives me something to focus on other than whatever is causing the attack. But, there is not amount of breathing that can make everything “better.” Don’t tell me to calm down, either. Trust me, if I could, I would.

7. “Anxiety isn’t a real disorder/you’re looking for attention.”

Saying anxiety isn’t a real disorder is like saying what I’m feeling isn’t real. Trust me, it’s as real to me as a headache (which I get because of the anxiety, by the way) and any other issue I have. People don’t talk about mental illness because they are told it’s not a real thing all the time. We suffer in silence because talking about it is taboo and you think we’re looking for attention. I don’t want to be known as Anxiety Girl. Trust me.

8. “I’m a worrier, too.”

I appreciate that, I really do. But worry is not the same thing as anxiety. Worry you can fret, process and move on in a reasonable amount of time. Anxiety means you stew, obsess and get to the point where your anxiety pushes you to a place where you no longer feel in control.

Instead, this is what I’d rather hear:

1. “How can I help?”

Most of the time, dealing with anxiety and combating a panic attack is a personal thing. Everyone is different, so ask the people in your life (individually) what you can do to help them with their anxiety. The best time to ask this is when they are not in the middle of a panic attack, FYI. They may need you to do nothing, or they may give you ways you can support them (like being someone they can text at 2:00 a.m. if needed, someone to run errands if they’re in a really bad place, etc).

2. “Is it OK if I hug/touch/comfort you?”

If you know me, you know I am a hugger. I love to give and receive hugs and physical touch is definitely a love language. Except when I’m panicking. If I’m in the middle of a really stressful attack, I don’t want to be touched. For me, a hug right at that moment feels suffocating. So, ask before you hug/comfort.

3. “What’s the worst that you think will happen?”

Yes, this was on the “what not to say” list, as well. It’s all about tone with this question. Sometimes my husband asks me what’s the worst that can happen and it helps me realize I’m freaking out over something that is highly unlikely, if not completely unlikely. Case in point: I used to have panic attacks every time my husband left for an overnight trip. I was convinced something horrible would happen to our dog, who he adores. In my anxiety/panic/illogical state I then convinced myself that if something happened to the dog, my husband would leave me. (Yes, writing it out makes me realize how silly it was). So, him asking about the worst thing that could happen prompted us to have a conversation about my fears and help me work through them.

The difference is he asked because he was trying to help me work through my anxiety, not minimize it.

4. “I love you. I accept you. Just as you are.”

One of the underlying fears of anxiety issues (at least in my circle) is that our disorder makes us unlovable and unaccepted. When we panic about something small, we are also panicking our anxiety will make the people we have in our lives turn away from us. Remind us, especially when things are rough, that you love us and you accept all of us, not just the parts of us you see when we have our anxiety under control.

5. “I believe in you.”

I know the things I fear and worry about seem silly to most people. What I need from you is to believe that I believe they are real. You don’t have to believe they’re true, but I need you to believe that, in my head, this is what I think is going to happen. We can talk through it and work through what is imagined fear and what is legitimate, but validate my feelings. Believe in me when I say I want to get better. Believe in me when I say I don’t know how to get better.

Above all, remember that people with anxiety need to be loved and trusted and supported. We need to know you aren’t judging us because of our illness. We need to know we can trust you with the anxious parts of our hearts and the non-anxious parts of our hearts. We need to know that you won’t run away when we panic and that you’ll help us pick up the pieces when an attack is over.

Follow this journey on The Journey.

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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23 Songs That Help People Get Through Anxious Moments

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Anxiety can strike at any moment. And when it does, we need tools to help us through. Although breathing techniques and other exercises can help manage our racing thoughts and accelerated heartbeats, sometimes a simple song can help calm us down and get us through a tough moment.

So, we asked people in our mental health community to share what songs help in particularly anxious moments. It might give you inspiration to add to your own playlist.

Here are some of the songs they shared:

1. “Be Still” by The Fray

“When darkness comes upon you and covers you with fear and shame, be still and know that I’m with you, and I will say your name.”

Submitted by Kaitlyn Mueller: “The music itself is so soothing, but the lyrics really make you just stop and breathe.”

2. “Moonshadow” by Cat Stevens

“Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light. Did it take long to find me? And are you gonna stay the night?”

 Submitted by Abby Ferron: “Positive thinking, even if the worst happens.”

3. “Seasons of Love” from RENT

“How do you measure a year in the life — how about love?”

Submitted by Sacha Batra: “Reminds me how precious life is, to look at the big picture, and realize how blessed you are.”

4.”The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World

“Hey, don’t write yourself off yet. It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on. Just try your best, try everything you can. And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away.”

Submitted by Cait Ruth

5. “There, There Katie” by Jack’s Mannequin

“Katie, I’m sorry that in your condition the sunshines been missing, but Katie, don’t believe that it isn’t there.”

Submitted by Katharina Munzig

6. “You Are My Sunshine” as sung by Johnny Cash

“You are my sunshine, my only sunshine. You make me happy when skies are grey. You never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don’t take my sunshine away.”

Submitted by Sharyn Bell: “‘You Are My Sunshine’ is my go to song. My Nanna used to sing it to me when I was upset, and hold me tight in her arms and rock back and forth. Now when I sing it, I find myself cuddling myself and rocking back and forth — it’s the only way I can gain focus after a bad episode of anxiety. Life’s hard but that song helps me every day.”

7. “Under Pressure” by Queen & David Bowie

“Can’t we give ourselves one more chance? Why can’t we give love that one more chance?”

Submitted by Keith Gottschalk: “The tension builds with the song – it’s like a panic attack set to music. ‘It’s the terror of knowing what this world is about/watching some good friends screaming, let me out!’ I can’t think of a better explanation for the anxiety I experience than that line. But just when the song builds to a breakdown, there’s the saving grace: ‘Love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves’ – there’s this crushing, beautiful catharsis that we’re not along in our suffering. We are ‘the people on the edge of the night.’ Empathy, understanding, love and self-forgiveness are what I take from this song. Our ‘weakness’ is our strength, our humanity. This is ourselves. And I feel better.”

 8. “A Quiet Mind” by Blue October 

“Give me a quiet mind and I…I love you. You give me a quiet mind and I…I love you.”

Submited by Hannah Elle

8. “Details in the Fabric” by Jason Mraz

“Calm down, deep breaths, and get yourself dressed instead of running around and pulling on your threads and breaking yourself up.”

Submitted by Abbey Dunson: “I listen to this song on repeat until my anxiety goes away. It calms my mind and gives me hope for the future through the music and the lyrics. I actually have part of the chorus tattooed on my worst. There have been times where I can’t leave the room and listen to it, so I just look at my wrist and sing it in my head.”

9. “La Vie En Rose” by Louis Armstrong

“And when you speak, angels sing from above, everyday words seem to turn into love songs.”

Submitted by Shelby Munson: “The tempo helps me calm down, and the lyrics remind me that life is beautiful when my anxiety is telling me that everything is chaos.”

12. “Hanging By a Moment” by Lifehouse 

“I’m desperate for changing, starving for truth. I’m closer to where I started chasing after.” 

Submitted by Kelly Leskiw: “Lifehouse has always been my vice. They have brought me through some of my darkest days.”

13. “Be Calm” by fun.

“Be calm, I know you feel like you are breaking down. I know that it gets so hard sometimes. Be calm.”

Submitted by Sharon Fischer

14. “Lose It” by Oh Wonder

“Move your feet and feel it in the space between, you gotta give yourself a moment, let your body be. We gotta lose it.”

Submitted by Taryn Heil

15. “Make My Own Sunshine” by Olivia Lane

“Hey, hey, I’m OK. Hanging right here in my happy place.”

Submitted by Jess Daly

16. “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac

“Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? Can the child within my heart rise above? And can I sail through the changing ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life? Oh, oh I don’t know.”

Submitted by Froggy Robby

 17. “Lost” by Michael Bublé

“‘Cause you are not alone, and I am there with you. And we’ll get lost together ’til the light comes pouring through.”

Submitted by Wendy Thompson: “It reminds me that I’m not lost and I do have friends and family around me that love me.”

18. “Heart of a Lion” by Kid Cudi

“At the end of the day, day, my momma told me don’t let no one break me. Let no one break me.”

Submitted by Caroline De Coursey

19. “Don’t Carry It All” by The Decemberists

“Let the yoke fall from our shoulders, don’t carry it all, don’t carry it all. We are all our hands and holders beneath this bold and brilliant sun.”

Submitted by Casey Bee

20. “I Wanna Get Better” by Bleachers

“So now I’m standing on the overpass screaming at the cars, ‘Hey, I wanna get better!'”

Submitted by Ashlee Schuler

21. “Car Radio” by Twenty One Pilots

“I hate this car that I’m driving, there’s no hiding for me. I’m forced to deal with what I feel. There is no distraction to mask what is real.”

Submitted by Josh Edward

22. “Iris” by Goo Goo Dolls

“And I don’t want the world to see me ’cause I don’t think that they’d understand. When everything’s meant to be broken. I just want you to know who I am.”

Submitted by Emma Wood

23. “Rylynn” by Andy McKee

Submitted by Sarah S

 

What song calms you down when you’re feeling anxious? Tell us in the comments below:

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When You Can't Help but Compare Yourself to People Without Depression or Anxiety

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I possess the unique combination of unwavering determination and paralyzing uncertainty. Until recently, I didn’t realize my anxiety probably played a large part in why I feel these things. I’m determined to always do more because I never feel like I’m doing enough, but I don’t know if the things I’m doing are the things I should be doing. It’s a conundrum, I’m aware.

I look at the people around me who seem so sure of themselves. They have this idea of what they want to do and how they’re going to get there. I’m not sure I’ve ever really felt that way. I have questioned almost every path I’ve ever gone down. Not only do I wonder if it’s the right path, but I also question my ability to make it down that path. Everyone else seems so much more qualified than me. They’re more organized. They do their hair every morning and put on makeup every day of the week instead of getting 15 more minutes of sleep. They probably don’t have sandwich condiments in their purse or receipts from two years ago.

I get so frustrated with myself sometimes. I feel like I should be better than this. I should be more capable of fighting off the depression that has been looming over my life lately. I should be more. I should be better. These are statements I’m constantly telling myself. There are days when I just feel like a colossal failure. The depression and anxiety I’m battling exhaust me, and I have no desire or motivation to do anything else, which makes me feel even worse.

You see, I compare myself to everyone around me who isn’t fighting these battles. I am so focused on how functional their lives seem and how dysfunctional I feel that I forget no one’s life is perfect. I forget to give myself credit for the little things and celebrate my small victories. I forget perfection isn’t attainable. I forget to give myself the advice I would give someone else in these situations.

I am not just sad. I am battling depression. I am a warrior, and this is my fight. Every day I go to battle. Some days, I may lose. I have to remind myself I haven’t lost the war, I’ve only lost the battle and getting up every morning and fighting that battle is, in itself, a victory.

Your war may not be the same as my war, but I commend you for getting up every morning and fighting your battle, whatever it may be. You’re not always going to know where the next day will take you, but one thing I’ve realized is it’s important to remember you deserve love just as much as anyone else. Give yourself love on those tough days. Be gentle with yourself. You will figure out where you’re going and what you’re meant to do. It may not be today or tomorrow, but it will happen. When it does, all of these battles you’ve been fighting will have prepared you for it. They’ve made you stronger. They’ve made you wiser.

Today, I’m sending you as much love as I can fit onto this page. I hope it helps heal some of your battle scars.

The Mighty is asking the following: What’s one thing people might not know about your experience with disability, disease or mental illness, and what would you say to teach them? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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