woman in dark corner

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


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.

On Sunday night, University of Washington football standout Isaiah Renfro took to Twitter to announce he was walking away from the team to receive treatment for depression and anxiety.

In a lengthy statement, Renfro explained he’d missed his school’s spring workouts because he had been in a hospital for “people like me,” participating in a rehabilitation program he said “taught me how to cope with my problems and what to do when I hit my lowest of lows.”

Renfro also wrote that being diagnosed with anxiety and depression makes it difficult for him to do a simple thing like get himself out of bed in the morning. Before being admitted to the hospital, he says he was in a dark place.

The football player’s decision to speak out is an important one. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to report serious psychological distress than non-Hispanic whites. But, only a quarter of African Americans, compared with 40 percent of whites, seek mental health care.

Paolo Delvecchio, Director of the Center for Mental Health Services at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, praised Renfro’s actions.

“Honest conversations about mental health dismantle the prejudice that is often associated with mental illness,” Delvecchio, who himself has depression and anxiety, told The Mighty. “When a respected public figure discloses a mental health condition and the experience of seeking treatment, they lead by example, breaking down the misperception that having a mental health problem is a personal weakness. Most importantly, by their willingness to share their stories, they help give others the hope and the confidence to seek help and recovery.”

Especially among football players, this conversation is needed.

Now, Renfro said, he has a “better outlook,” but will step away from football and his studies at UW as he continues to recuperate.

“This isn’t the end of me, just the end of a certain chapter,” he wrote. “I will conquer this, and not let this situation conquer me. I’m on a journey to find my happiness again.”

Renfro told ABC News the reaction to his story has taken him by surprise.

“It’s a bit surreal — people calling me a hero,” Renfro said. “But I don’t view myself as that at all. I see it as just telling my story, to see if I could help one or two people. I didn’t imagine that it would help all these people.”

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.

When my father died I wasn’t prepared for it. It was supposed to be a happy time in our lives. I was pregnant with my parents’ first grandchild, and everyone was thrilled. My father had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was estimated to live a few more years. My pregnancy became the focus of happiness and life away from the inevitable loss on the horizon. We just didn’t know it was going to happen so soon.

When I was five months pregnant, we lost him and I shut down. Usually I have no problem talking openly about my feelings and understanding the pain that comes with them. This time, I just buried it all. I found it necessary to skip the grieving process to continue with a safe pregnancy. My focus was on keeping my baby healthy, positive and delivering her unharmed. I knew none of us could handle another loss. I had to be strong.

There is a price that comes with burying something so important. I found this out shortly after the birth of my daughter. It began with starting to feel panic over taking my baby in the car. I did it, but I suffered extreme anxiety. I would sit in my rocker and cry thinking about what might happen were I to be in a car accident resulting in her injury or death — how I would want to die if my baby died.

It wasn’t only just anxiety over losing her. I felt anxiety over her losing me.

Often I would need to pull to the side of the road to calm down when driving alone. I would hope people didn’t call me to have dinner or meet to go shopping because I was plagued with a desperate fear that I would die and my beautiful, sweet daughter would grow up without her mommy’s protection. I grew frustrated whenever someone invited me out. I resented it because in my mind it was a risk. I couldn’t leave my daughter. What if I didn’t ever make it back?

I started to experience dizzy spells when out in public. At the park, watching my daughter go down the slide I would feel panic beginning to take over. Chugging down the bottle of water I’d brought with me and eating a grain bar I would try and tell myself everything was fine, it was just a panic attack, nothing was going to happen. No matter how much I tried to talk myself out of feeling the extreme anxiety, it would never completely go away. Things got worse.

I began to have what my therapist called “daymares.” Basically I would have a nightmare while being completely awake. Going for a walk with my daughter I’d suddenly be taken over by a fear, and that fear would turn into a deep thought process where I envisioned myself passing out, my daughter left with no one to watch her as an oncoming car would speed her way.

These kinds of daymares happened often. My husband would see the look of horror on my face and question what was wrong. I didn’t know how to tell him nothing was wrong in reality, but in my head there was death, pain and endless fear. I realized I truly had no control over my situation, and I needed to get better fast. It wasn’t fair that my daughter had a mother who feared the world. My illness was debilitating and getting worse every day. When my husband won a trip to the Caribbean, my first reaction was terror — not joy, terror. All I could think about was how I didn’t want to instill this sort of fear in my young daughter. I felt like I was failing as a mother.

mom and daughter in ocean She deserved better, and so I finally began my grieving period.

I connected with my family, my therapist and did I could to come to terms with what I’d ignored for so long.

I no longer feel the fear of driving distances. No longer do I envision my child’s death. I no longer fear the future. I know this is not the last time I will experience anxiety and depression. I know this is not the last time I will experience a death. I just hope in the future I will be able to handle things better because there is someone relying on me and she’s not going anywhere.

Perhaps tackling the pain head on is the way to deal. I don’t know. What I know is I can’t allow things to go on as they did before. My daughter deserves for me to be the best parent I can be — the kind of parent my father was and my mother still is.

She deserves mother who can show her the world without fear — someone who can prove there is a silver lining behind every cloud and a dream following every nightmare.

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.

Anxiety is a different experience for everyone. Some people have panic attacks, some avoid social situations and some who have anxiety show signs nobody on the outside can see. I show six signs of anxiety that are subtle and secret to me because they are hard for those close to me to notice.

1. I bite my lips.

My lips are usually broken and chapped because when I’m feeling anxious, I bite them until they bleed. It hurts a little and leaves my lips looking torn up, and I don’t usually realize I’m doing it.

2. I pick at my face.

I have scars all over my face from relentless picking and scratching when I’m experiencing anxiety. The scars affect my self-esteem, but even though I end up feeling badly about myself, I can’t seem to stop.

3. I can’t sit still.

Pacing, fidgeting and tapping my feet are all things I do when I’m anxious. I’m restless and it bothers me because my racing thoughts are showing outward.

4. My muscles are tense.

I’m almost always sore because when I’m anxious, I can almost never relax. My shoulders feel like they are as high as my ears, and my fingers get sore from clenching my fists so tightly.

5. My stomach gets upset.

For me, nausea always comes with my anxiety. I constantly feel like throwing up and feel like I want to physically buckle over and hold my belly. I get heartburn, as if my anxiety is coming up from the pit of my my stomach and burning my throat.

6. I clench my jaw shut.

I know I had an anxious day when I wake up the next day with a sore face. I clench my teeth in my sleep when my anxiety had been particularly bad that day, and have continuous pain because of it.

These six signs aren’t easily recognized as signs of anxiety, but they are mine. I decided to share my secret signs because I don’t want to hide when I need a little extra help or encouragement. I don’t want to keep my anxiety in, because it could manifest into something more. So, no more secrets. These are the signs of my anxiety.

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? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

6 Secret Signs of My Anxiety

What is it like being the mom of a child with severe anxiety?

It is helping her down stairs every morning despite the fact she can do it herself. It’s reassuring her, yet again, she won’t fall just because once, several years ago, she heard mom fell down the stairs and hurt herself.

It is encouraging her to dress herself when she’s afraid she may fall over because that happened once before and she never forgets.

It is reassuring her that her clothes have been washed and she has worn them before. It is showing her, as always, the labels have been removed so they won’t hurt her, the trousers are soft enough and the socks have no sharp bits.

It is telling her she is beautiful so often in the hope she will one day believe me.

It is letting her see the breakfast cereal in the box. Otherwise she will refuse to eat it in case you have somehow bought another brand by mistake. It is pouring out just the right amount in case some accidentally spills over the bowl because she lives in fear she may somehow get in trouble even though she never has.

It is brushing her teeth religiously because the dentist said she should do it twice a day, and she worries what will happen if she doesn’t.

It is walking to school making sure we avoid uneven ground because she may just fall and hurt herself and that would be a disaster.

It is going over and over what the day at school holds because she is worried you may have forgotten sometimes (we checked three times before we left the house) or she may have done something not quite perfect in her homework the night before. It is the heartbreak of watching her become mute as she walks through that school gate holding your hand like you are sending her into the lion’s den.

It is watching her walk (never run, as you may be punished up for that!) to her line, avoiding eye contact or body contact with any other child in the playground in case they say something that upsets her or they accidentally touch her. It is looking at her standing facing the front, arms straight by her side like a soldier as she lines up, terrified she may lose points for her class because she is not forming a straight enough line.

That was just the first hour of our day.

My daughter will bite her lips, chew her tongue, barely eat or speak but conform to everything school expects of her. She will inwardly break her heart if she spells one word wrong on a test (and break down about it that night at home), she will freeze during gym lessons when they ask her to stand on a bench for fear of falling. She will take food because she doesn’t want to be seen as different yet she will hardly touch it. She would never ask for someone to help her cut it up as she is too anxious she may get in trouble for doing so. She would even eat something she was allergic to if she felt it would make a teacher happy.

Living with that level of anxiety is not healthy, yet so many children experience anxiety on that level daily.

I can reassure her. I can encourage her and prepare her for change, but I can not take her anxiety away.

Watching her refuse to eat because she had a wobbly tooth was awful. Hearing her cry because she can not read a word in her new reading book breaks my heart.

Sometimes you may see me jump into play areas with my 7-year-old and think I am bizarre. Sometimes you may hear me say I laid beside my child until she fell asleep and you may feel I need to let her grow up. You may see me lift her on and off escalators and think I am keeping her a baby. If you knew I held her in my lap and cradled her and wiped her tears last night, would you perhaps think I was overprotective?

Her anxiety is huge. Her worries are real. Today I will do my best to help her as I do every day. Tomorrow she will be just as anxious and I will try yet again to help her. We get through one day at a time.

I acknowledge her anxieties but I also help her overcome them.

That is the role of a mom to a child with severe anxiety.

That is what it is like being the mom of an anxious child.

Follow this journey on Faithmummy.

The Mighty is asking the following: Parents of children with mental illnesses – tell us a story about working within the mental health system. What barriers of treatment have you experienced? What’s a change in the system that could help your child? Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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