mom and daughter in ocean

Parenting Through Anxiety Fueled by Grief


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.



Woman in a forest or park, looking to the side

6 Secret Signs of My Anxiety


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



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What It's Like to Be the Mother of an Anxious Child


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.


When Living With Depression and Anxiety, Sometimes It's OK to Steal Joy


I have had a unique opportunity to enjoy three different events I would not have previously been able. These events have been documented on my personal blog, but I will summarize and detail why I would not attend them in the first place.

1. The Zoo Run: I am not a morning person. I had to wake up myself, and the family at 6:30 a.m. to attend. I also do not like to run, or in this case walk, any distance. Combine that with my anxiety in crowds and this was not where I wanted to be.

2. The theme park: I normally enjoy theme parks when it’s not a busy day, but in this case it was “bring a friend free” day. The park was packed with people. Lines to get food were an hour and a half long. Crowds we know are an issue so that was not fun. This was immediately following the zoo run so I had already walked 5k, so what’s another 10 for my legs?

3. Wrestlemania. OK, I have not watched wrestling since I was a kid in the 90s. This was one that was way outside my comfort zone. A friend called me last minute and asked me to go. I am not a last minute guy by any means. Crowds, loud noises and sweaty men grappling each other are not my cup of tea. I had no vested interest in going.

Why did I do all these events?

For joy.

More specifically, the joy of others.

I made a mental decision to go to all these events not for me, but for those around me. My family loves going to the zoo and we had friends who went with us. My daughters love going to the theme park as my youngest was able to ride more rides because she was taller this trip. My friend wanted someone to share the Wrestlemania experience. These were all acts that brought joy to others.

And in doing so reciprocated joy to me.

I found that joy can directly combat the effects of depression and anxiety. I stepped out of my comfort zone and shared in the experiences. I grasped the joy that came off my family and friends and held it close. I used their joy to inject some back to me. I stole their joy to increase my own happiness. In doing so I was able to fight of the depression and anxiety that vexes me so often.

These are things, as I have said, I would not do under normal circumstances. However, I felt compelled to do them. I was presented with the option of doing or not doing these activities. Instead of my usual “thank you, but no” response, I decided to take a risk.

And it paid off.

During the Zoo Run, I was able to get my exercise, increasing blood flow and help fight off depression. I got to laugh at the silly costumes with those around me. I got to see my daughters running and chasing their friend while their mother and I gasped for air running to keep up with them. I got to see the wonderment that came across their faces when we got to the zoo portion and the joy fill their bodies when they got to see lions and tigers and bears (oh my!). I felt fantastic at the joy around me.

At the theme park, I was able to again see the excitement on the faces of the children (both mine and their friends) as we got to go on roller coasters and merry-go-rounds and log flumes. The ear piercing screams were a bit much but were almost magical in and of themselves. They laughed at the excitement and cried out in terror. The second to last ride of the day was my eldest daughter’s “favorite ride ever, Daddy!” More joy to seep myself with.

At Wrestlemania I did not have my family, only a good friend. Instead of just one person, I was swept up in the 100,000 people cheering, booing, laughing at the antics in the ring. Seeing everyone hiss and boo as the wrestler with a bad reputation comes strolling into the ring with a unique unification that amazed me. I had one little boy break down crying in front of me as his favorite fighter lost while his sister put her arm around him to comfort him. It didn’t last though, because by the next match the action was back again and the crowd was cheering. While I knew almost nothing about who was who or what was going on, the excitement was infectious. The joy of people enjoying themselves was thick in the air. I drank it in, stealing a part of it for myself.

As a known introvert, it was difficult to say yes to these events. I am more at home with a good book and a nice cup of tea or coffee. I made the decision to break out of my comfort in order to find the joy I was lacking in myself.

The author and his wife.
Daniel and his wife.

So I ask, dear reader, are you lacking in joy? My pastor defined Joy as something that wells up inside us and is consistent. Happiness can come from joy, but it will fade and leave emptiness. Words I took to heart when setting this up. I was seeking joy. And I found it.

In places and activities I would never have gone too.

When was the last time you took that plunge? When was the last time you said yes to something you could do but you really just didn’t feel like it? You can sit it out.


You can go and look for the joy in places you didn’t expect. Try and seek it out. Judge not o, least ye be judged. Someone is having fun. Share in that fun. Someone is experiencing joy. Steal some of that joy for yourself. Take up the fight with your depression. Stand up to your anxiety.

You may be surprised at what you find with an open mind and a willing spirit.

Oh, and bring your plushie or something that comforts you. There were several times I needed a moment to fight the anxiety, but the willingness and the strength I got using my coping mechanism helped me through it.

#hugapony my friends. Go find joy.

 Follow this journey on My Stuffed Little Therapy.

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.


When Anxious Fears Control Your Daily Thoughts


I’ve always lived in the land of the overly cautious: I try not to break the rules, I wait a few extra seconds before crossing the street, I go back upstairs to make sure I turned off the stove. In other words, do nothing to cause danger and do not take risks. Fear is the driver of it all.

One experience pushes my level of fear into overdrive, and it looks like this:

“This turn is too tight.”

“We’re not going to make it.”

“Who thought a two-way tunnel was a good idea?”

These are the unspoken thoughts that travel through my mind as my boyfriend is driving us to New York City for my 28th birthday. I am sitting in the front seat and enjoying the ride until things get uncomfortable.

I do not talk about my fear, but I do tell him to slow down and move out of the left lane. I remind him, gently, I think, to stay away from the cars ahead of us recklessly switching lanes.

He doesn’t complain but suggests I try to take a nap.

My body goes into a slight panic, which he can sense even if I try to conceal it. My heart beat increases, my foot presses down firmly on the car floor as if I’m pushing down on my own safety passenger brake. I grip the handle of the door tightly, and if it’s really bad I will shut my eyes.

We do not go on road trips but a few times a year. I cannot pinpoint when my anxiety got so bad. In the car, my mind goes into high alert. I sense danger. I am fully aware of the fact that I have no control over the cars speeding by. Sometimes I glance over and monitor the speedometer. Sometimes, I just close my eyes again.

I have used public transportation as my main way to travel since I moved to the Washington, D.C. in 2006. I even use it when I travel back home to New Jersey. My ultimate preference is the Amtrak train. Maybe it’s because I feel safer in larger vehicles. Maybe it’s because I know the train is on a track and the odds are in my favor.

I go straight to the cafe car and search for a “safe” seat. The ideal is to have the whole section to myself, but usually there is at least one person across from me with a table dividing us. I sit in the blue leather seat and put down my oversized purse. I take out my books, sunflower seeds and my headphones. I breathe. I can completely relax because I don’t see a threat to my safety.

I’m surrounded by people but still feel like I’m in my own world. There are four large windows on each side of the aisle allowing me to observe the scenes outside and let my mind drift.

None of this serenity is part of a car trip. The difference here is I am not in control. I can’t simply wait a few extra moments to cross the street just to be safe or run back upstairs to make sure I turned off the stove before I leave the apartment. In this situation, all I can do is close my eyes and wait for it to stop. It is the same way with life; as hard as I try to control my thoughts, there will be ones that slip through the cracks.

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.


23 Messages for Anyone Who Just Received an Anxiety Disorder Diagnosis


Everyone experiences anxiety. Not everyone lives with an anxiety disorder. And for those who do, getting an “official” diagnosis can be scary, confusing, intimidating — or all of the above. But just because you have an anxiety disorder doesn’t mean you simple can’t “handle” anxiety like everyone else. Anxiety disorders are real, and naming it might be the first step to giving it less control over your life.

We asked people in our mental health community who live with anxiety to tell us one thing they’d want someone who was recently diagnosed to know.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “Never let anyone tell you it’s ‘just your anxiety.’ It’s a diagnosis that blurs the lines between what you can and cannot control; you are always allowed to feel whatever you’re feeling without being marginalized for it. Your diagnosis is not a weapon for others to use against you to silence your concerns.” — Kelsey Whiting

Quote from Kelsey Whiting: "Never let anyone tell you it's "just your anxiety."

2. “There’s nothing wrong with you. Having a diagnosis will help you to learn how to cope. I found being diagnosed is actually pretty great.” — Aoife Gray

3. “The most genuine people I ever met I met because we had anxiety disorder in common. It’s scary, but there’s so much more to you than a diagnosis.” — Nancy Jaimes Reyes

4. “Here’s what I was told: Everyone gets anxiety, it’s normal to feel anxious.
My advice: Just learn about you, keep a journal about abnormalities in your personality, mood, emotions. This will help you understand what is anxiety and what isn’t.” — Catherine Ward

5. “Nothing is different about you because you have a diagnosis. You  are the same person you were before you went to the doctors office. You have already made it through 100 percent of your toughest days, now there’s just a label on it. Take advantage of all of help that comes along with your diagnosis.”  — Amanda Camara

Quote from Amanda Camara: You have already made it through 100 percent of your toughest days, now there's just a label on it.

6. “Treat it, medicate it, do what you need to do for you. It’s OK to be #openlyill” — Kiera Schmierer

7. “Not everyone is brave enough to face their diagnosis or even brave enough to get diagnosed. I won’t tell you to get over it because I know it doesn’t work that way. Healing is a long and difficult process, yet it is possible. Getting diagnosed is, I believe, the first step of healing. There will be good days, and there will be bad days that will almost make you want to give up, but hold on. Please always try to hold on because I believe you can make it. I’m also struggling, but I’m starting to get through healing. We can make it. I am so proud of you for facing it and trying to help yourself.” — Kaloy Aquino

8. “Don’t let your anxiety define you; you are not your anxiety. You will be able to cope, it just takes time and effort to take control of your brain again. Stay hopeful.” — Hailey Danielle

9. “Just because you experience a lot of anxiety, it doesn’t make your anxiety any less real. Your feelings are valid. Always.” — Jennifer Ashley Hoffmeister

Quote by Jennifer Ashley Hoffmeister: Just because you experience a lot of anxiety, it doesn't make your anxiety any less real. Your feelings are valid. Always.

10. “Try to stay in the present moment, and be kind to yourself. Your thoughts, are only just that — thoughts. Thank your anxiety for giving you a chance to show caution, and be more aware of your surroundings. Reward yourself for those little steps you take with something you enjoy, even though you’re scared. You will learn how to cope with it, and you will find the calm hidden within the chaos.” — Kai Zilli

11. “Getting a diagnosis is the best part because at least you can now put a name to this weird, scary feeling, this slow spiraling into madness, the unexplained, inexplicable sense of worry and panic that envelops you out of nowhere, even on a good day, even on your best days. The diagnosis means the uncertainty part of our illness is over. It’s easier to explain to yourself and your loved ones what’s wrong with you. Take your diagnosis and make it work for your recovery.” — Soonha Abro

12. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Learn how best to manage and even conquer it. There will be good days and bad, but don’t let the bad ones take over. Talk to others who have anxiety, it helps. No triggers are wrong. Everyone is an individual and everyone gets anxious, just on different levels and to different extents. Love yourself, be compassionate, give yourself time.” — Gemma Hall

13. “Your life may feel overwhelming and out-of-control right now, maybe even more than before your diagnosis, but know this: being diagnosed is the first step toward more times when you’re able to manage your anxiety rather than it managing you.” — Monica Mongiello

Quote from Monica Mongiello: Being diagnosed is the first step toward more times when you're able to manage your anxiety rather than it managing you.

14. “You are never alone within this struggle, even when you feel like you’re losing the battle. People may leave you, but they just don’t know how strong you are. Never let a dream disappear. You may have to face different obstacles than others, you may not get things right away or need better explanation, but never be afraid to ask. I’m here for you.” — Adrian Torbenson

15. “Some days will be harder than others, but that is life with or without an anxiety diagnosis. Learn your triggers and when you can be courageous, confront your fears. On the days when you can’t do that, it is OK, and you will be OK. You are not alone!” — Nelson Carrington

16. “There are medications, cognitive behavioral thearpy and counseling available to you. Learn about your disorder and educate your support system. Group therapy helps us realize we are not alone and coping skills are shared. You are not your anxiety and with this new awareness and dedication, you’ll start to feel the shift back to peace of mind.” — Flurp Smith

17. “Don’t judge yourself when you know your thoughts are irrational. Instead, recognize that it’s part of your anxiety, and that it’s not a reflection of your character. Be kind to yourself.” — Tamara Lavoie

Quote from Tamara Lavoie: Don't judge yourself when you know your thoughts are irrational. Instead, recognize that it's part of your anxiety, and that it's not a reflection of your character. Be kind to yourself.

18. “Don’t let a diagnosis alter your spirit! Be strong and determined to find the best course of treatment. Let others help you because it can be a lonely place.” — Sharon Emslie

19. “You are not crazy, do not be ashamed and try to hide it. You will be just fine. Believe in yourself and know that no matter what life throws at you, you are stronger than your diagnosis.” — Cheryl Moore

20. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s still possible to do anything you want to do. You can learn to succeed despite a mind that is turned against you.” — McKenna Guegold

Quote from McKenna Guegold: It's nothing to be ashamed of. It's still possible to do anything you want to do. You can learn to succeed despite a mind that is turned against you.

21. “It may be a hard road ahead, but you were brave enough to take the first step in getting better. You can do this!” — Paige Johnson

22. “Your life will still be amazing, you will experience joy and peace. And your story will inspire hope in others.” — Alicia Nelsen

23. “You are never alone, you are never a burden, and you are never worth less than the person standing next to you.” — Laura Sanscartier

If you live with anxiety and need more support, there are resources that can help. Visit the Anxiety and Depression Association of American to find a therapist, local support groups and more information about anxiety disorders.

*Answers have been edited and shortened.

Editor’s note: Not everyone experiences anxiety in the same way. These answers are based on individuals’ experiences.

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