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I know my anxiety can be annoying.

The constant reassurance, the questions, the shaking, and so much more.

But I’m trying.

I know it may not seem like it because lately most of my days have involved me hiding away or just silently sitting there, but believe me, I am.

To my friends who have seen me shake uncontrollably and struggle to breathe, yet still stood by my side, thank you.

To the ones who do more than just stand there and wait for me to calm myself down, I love you.

But there’s also a big part of me that just wants to apologize — for all those times you witnessed me go from calm into a full on panic. For that time you had to listen to me ramble on and on till 4 a.m. about bullsh*t because we both thought talking would help calm me down. And especially for all the times I needed you to reassure me we are OK.

I want to apologize, but I was told I never should say sorry for the things I can’t control. I know you love me, and I know I am always welcome; but sometimes that feeling telling me I’m not needed is louder than your love, and it causes me to hide away or look for reassurance.

I never forget the first time someone sees one of my panic attacks. Confusion and worry fill their face, and I am always left embarrassed and filled with shame, but it’s the handful of people who actually decide to stick around and figure out how to help that make me want to get better.

I know I can be a handful. I know you never know how I am going to react to something. I know you always have to worry if I am being “too quiet” or even just straight up disappearing from events without letting anyone know, but I know, even at my lowest I can call on you for help.

You may not fully understand what’s going on in my head, and I may never be able to fully explain it as more than just a “feeling,” but the fact that you decide to continue to stick around means the world to me.

I don’t say this enough, but I love you.


Webster’s defines worry as: “to think about problems or fears.”

Stop worrying so much. Don’t worry. Calm down. It’s fine.

This is what I hear on a daily basis. When my fingers start running up and down my arms, when my eyes get wide, when my breathing gets heavy. This is what I am told… don’t worry.

If my anxiety took the dictionary form of worrying, this would be understandable to me. But my anxiety is not simply “worrying.”

First, my brain starts going faster and faster. It’s like a train without the brakes, constantly moving at a faster pace until the only solution is a collision. The negative and paranoid thoughts start slamming into me, and there isn’t an off switch. They don’t go away.

Then, my chest tightens. Every breath feels like someone is waterboarding me. My stomach starts to turn and twist. I lose control of my senses, and I can’t tell where reality ends and my mind begins.

Finally, I shut down. I disassociate, and I just can’t process anymore. I throw my phone at the wall, or I sink to the ground and put my head on my knees. If I can, I leave. I lock myself in my car and I drive until I can draw breath without a struggle.

This happens, in some capacity, 10 to 25 times a day. On bad days, it is constant. There is no relief; there are no breaks from the chaos.

Next time you want to tell me to “stop worrying,” take a pause. Grab my hand, don’t say a word and just stay with me until my brain calms down. It’s the best thing you could possibly do for me.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Bringing awareness to this guide is very important to me. I found myself feeling all alone after my diagnosis. My whole world changed and I felt that no one understood what I was going through. My friends and coworkers had a hard time understanding the pain I was in. I didn’t look “sick” so I should be able to continue to do the things I used to. Having an “invisible” illness can lead to people being judged and mistreated. So please, if you have a friend or a loved one who has a chronic illness, please read the following tips so your loved ones do not have to go through this journey alone. I ask that you please share this because the more we educate and bring awareness, the more supported they will feel.

So if you are in a position where you need to support someone with a chronic illness such as fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis or any other chronic disease, there are a few things you should know. It will make the entire process much easier, both for you and for the individual who is battling the disease.

Education is key.

Finding out as much as possible about the disease is vitally important. It is essentially the only way that you can arm yourself with the knowledge necessary to ensure both you and the affected individual are capable of dealing with the disease in the most positive manner possible.

Respect physical limitations.

People will try to keep up with you by doing all the same things they’ve done the past. This can be painful for them, both physically and emotionally. It also might make them prone to injury. Remember that they may have physical limitations you don’t have to worry about. However, you should always respect their limitations and choose activities that you can both enjoy.

Look for signs of pain.

Many individuals will not tell you that they are in pain. If you know what to look for, you might be able to help them. Notice when they seem subdued or when they are not quite themselves. Watch how they move, the expression on their face and whether or not they are breathing easily.

Have empathy.

If possible, try to put yourself in their shoes and understand how you would feel if the disease were affecting you personally. This might help you see things from their perspective more readily.

Listen to and validate feelings.

One of the best things you can do is simply listen to what they have to say. Validate their feelings about their disease. Above all, don’t get in the habit of having a contest where you are constantly trying to one-up them with your own ailments. This might be meant as a show of support to help them understand that everyone is battling something, but it often comes across as though you are more interested in yourself than you are in them.

Be patient and helpful.

Do your best not to get frustrated with an individual who is slower or can’t do something because of their disease. Instead of expressing frustration, give them the chance to do what they need to do themselves and then offer help when it is appropriate.

Treat them with dignity and include them in your life.

Nothing is worse than being treated as though you are less of an individual because you have a certain disease. That doesn’t change who that particular individual really is. Try to see past their disease because it doesn’t define them. Include them in your plans and make a special effort to do things with them they can comfortably do.

Be positive.

Staying positive is key for anyone who is battling a chronic illness. Many times, their personal outlook on the situation can have a dramatic impact on the way they feel. Give them the chance to take an otherwise negative situation and turn it into something positive. If you can, help them along the way.

Silence is OK.

There will be times when the individual in question doesn’t want to talk about their illness. This has nothing to do with you. It is OK to simply be together in the moment without having to find something to say.

Remember it’s not your fault.

So many people who are close to someone with a chronic illness blame themselves. There is no point in doing this. It isn’t your fault any more than it is anyone else’s. It is simply something that happened and now it must be dealt with.

If you follow these tips, you and the person who is going through their own challenges can find better and more effective ways to deal with the disease. It is a challenge for everyone involved but as long as you rely on each other, the entire process can become much easier.

Follow this journey on Rockin RA.

Something important has happened.

My boyfriend is out of town this week, and I went to work every day he was gone. I know this seems like duh, why wouldn’t you go to work? But in case you haven’t been following my story for very long, I have a history of having to take a day off while he’s gone because of anxiety. But this time, I went to work every day and I am so pumped. Seriously. On a scale of one to curled up in a ball on the floor of the bathroom sobbing and alternately going to the bathroom and puking my guts out, the most I felt this whole time was a two. I woke up 45 minutes before my alarm yesterday with some tightness in my chest and some rapid heartbeat, but it was gone by the time I left for work. And this morning? Nada. I woke up early, cuddled closer to the dog, and the next thing I knew my alarm was dragging me from the depths of sleep with its stupid incessant chiming. It was glorious.

I know that to people without anxiety this might feel like a weird thing to celebrate. But to me, this is huge. This is the first time I’ve been in a situation that has caused me intense anxiety in the past and not felt any. It’s crazy. I feel like I’ve leveled up in a big way.

I was telling my therapist about it during session yesterday, and she goes how did that make you feel, to know this might go away? And, to be honest, my answer to that question might not be what you think, because it feels like I’ve been dealing with this for so long. Two out of 30 years is not actually that much, but it’s been so intense it feels like it’s eclipsed the not-having-anxiety years. When I think about not having to deal with it anymore, I’m kind of torn. On the one hand, it’s amazing. It’s like I can finally see a future where I’m not dreading traveling, I’m just excited about it. And it feels like I’m getting back to me, to being able to do more and experience more and be a little busier and not need as much downtime. I can see a life with my boyfriend where my anxiety is not something that keeps us from doing things. That’s so awesome, and I’m so excited about it, and it’s nice to be excited. I haven’t been this excited in a while.

I also kind of don’t want it to go away completely because, in a weird way, anxiety also makes me feel really grounded. It forces me to care for myself in a way I never really have before; I always just kind of barreled ahead and told myself I would deal with things later and then never did. Anxiety doesn’t work like that. I have to be in the moment; there’s no way not to be when the physical symptoms are so intense. And I have to be mindful of it every day. I’ve changed my life to accommodate things I know help, and that has been great because it means I’m accepting it by making room for it. I’m not fighting it. I still have those moments where I really don’t want to go to the gym or set up all of my yoga stuff — still working on looking forward to exercise, ugh — but each time I’ve reminded myself that this is part of accepting anxiety’s place in my life. That going to the gym is helpful not only because the endorphins are great for my brain, but even more so because it means I’m making space for anxiety and I’m practicing noting its presence and then letting it go. Which is awesome for when I’m actually feeling anxious — it’s so much easier now to be like oh, hey, my chest is kinda tight. Let me belly breathe for a minute and then go about my day.

I cannot explain how freeing that is. What a huge sense of relief I feel. It’s kind of like when you’re playing a video game and your character dies again and again and then finally you start playing the level that gives you trouble and all of the information from your past lives clicks and you beat the boss. I feel like I just kicked the boss’ ass and now I don’t really care what I have to deal with on the next level because this one was so hard.  Beating it has made me feel like I can take on anything.

And I know, too, I won’t always feel like this. That I will probably still feel pretty anxious on our next trip, and I will still feel like throwing up on my wedding day, and I will still want to hide from everyone sometimes. And that’s OK. It’s even good — those feelings tell me I’m highly evolved and I care. It’s weird to realize I’ve actually kind of come to love my anxiety a little bit, and to know I would (only slightly) miss it if it went away completely, because it helps me cultivate my empathy and compassion not only for others, but for myself. And it’s made me healthier because now I go to the gym and own a ton of workout gear and that is not ever a thing that I thought would happen. Anxiety has made me proud of myself in a way I have never been, and that is such a wonderful, unexpected result of my time in therapy.

Follow this journey on It’s Only Fear.

Thanks for asking, but I am not anxious about any specific thing. I don’t have anything specific that is worrying me. There is no real and pressing immanent doom. Not really. I am not anxious. I have anxiety.

Instead, I have a liar that lives in my head. The liar was planted in my head many years ago and is part of my complex post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The liar tells me I am incapable. It tells me I am ugly. It tells me I am not worthwhile, and it’s probably not worth trying. It tells me I am foolish. It tells me my life isn’t worth living. It’s a draining soul-eating voice, and it rules my life sometimes. There are times the liar immobilizes me.

I also have low self-esteem based on failures the liar has caused me and based on my history with the liar. Together, the low esteem and the liar can create a psychic pain that is palpable physically. The pain starts in my chest and travels along my arms. At those times, I sometimes want to die to get rid of the pain. I feel worthless, hopeless and useless. At times like that, the act of holding on and continuing to breathe and even to exist takes all of my will and courage. And I do.

Medications help some people. I don’t take any medications. They don’t work for me. I just hold on and do my best. I really do.

I remember the times I used to have hope, and I hold onto those times. I force myself to do things, to get out of bed, to shave and to shower and to work out. In horrible pain, I push myself to go and write daily. I push myself to go perform comedy at night. Still, the liar is subtle and remains with me

The liar tells me people don’t like me. The liar tells me I am not good enough. It will allow me to make my way, all the way to a comedy performance and then just when I think I am safe, the liar keeps me from entering the establishment to perform. I have taken public transit, which is a soul sucker of another sort, and just as I am about to defeat the liar, it wins!

And yet there are some ways to, if not completely defeat the liar, make his power over me smaller. There are small victories that over time can build into successes.

I work out daily. I walk on the treadmill for a minimum of 45 minutes a day. I watch my diet. I meditate on a regular basis. Meditation has allowed me to separate the voice of the liar from the other voices. I make myself get dressed and leave where I am staying every day. I write this blog.

I keep myself occupied.

I try not to compare myself with others. I have learned comparing who I am with what others have is a way the liar likes to beat me up. I try hard not to do that.

I no longer use alcohol or pot to try and defeat the liar. I was in trouble the first time I had a drink because, for a time, alcohol silenced the liar completely. Pot made me friends with the liar. For a time the liar and I coexisted, I thought happily, with the aid of alcohol and pot. Then the liar became demanding. It wanted more and more and more of me and more and more and more pot and alcohol. And more. There were times I was high all day long. Then, over time, alcohol and pot stopped working. It took more and worked not at all. That’s why, today, I choose, for myself, to stay sober. Some people claim pot helps them and it probably does. For me, I have to stay clean and sober.

I wish I knew where my life was headed. I wish I knew what was going to happen next. Right now, I am on disability and I am technically homeless. I try and stay optimistic. Maybe my writing will work out to be a job of some sort? Maybe I will become well enough to work. Maybe I will be stuck here for the rest of my life. I try to not despair. Despair is what the liar uses to defeat me.

I do what I can, one day at a time.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

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 picture is my psychiatric service dog with me during an anxiety attack
The picture is my psychiatric service dog with me during an anxiety attack.

After a year and a half of hospitalizations, misdiagnoses, countless medication changes and many unanswered questions, I was fortunate enough to get an evaluation appointment with one of the best mental health specialists in the country. My parents and I drove six hours south to meet this doctor to hear his opinions on my diagnosis and future treatment.

The evaluation process took more than five hours. At the end of the day, the doctor said, “There is no need for her to be on antipsychotic medication because she actually has a severe anxiety disorder.”

My parents were so happy to hear this prognosis, and everything the doctor explained about the onset, symptoms and reactions I had to medications made sense. At the time, I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea that I had an anxiety disorder because I didn’t understand how the severity of what I was going through was a term I heard people say every day. Many times people use the word “anxiety” when they are describing feeling stressed or nervous about something. When I heard the doctor say “anxiety disorder,” I thought he meant I was just a nervous person. After learning more about anxiety disorders, I realized they are real psychiatric disorders that can consume and change someone’s life and future.

An issue I’ve seen many times for people with anxiety disorders is others’ belief that anxiety isn’t real. When people are dealing with anxiety, one of the most damaging statements they can hear is that they are making it up or exaggerating their feelings. Some common examples are phrases like:

“Everyone gets stressed.”

“All students go through this at the end of the semester.”

“You just need more sleep.”

“She’s just trying to get attention.”

As a woman with an anxiety disorder who also has friends and family with anxiety, I’ve heard countless versions of these statements. I usually don’t dwell on the limitations I’ve had to deal with due to my disorder, but what I’ve faced over the past few years illustrates that anxiety is real and should not be taken lightly. For those who think I’m “doing it for attention,” consider this:

I gave up my privilege to drive at night because I became afraid of driving in the dark. I had to change the career path I’d wanted since the seventh grade because I knew the job environment would trigger my anxiety. Why would I want to leave the part time job I’d loved for five years? Why would I throw away three years of college after being so close to
getting my teaching degree? Why would I want to spend three months in the hospital away from my friends, family and brand new kitten? Why would I spend Thanksgiving in a hospital three hours away from my family? Why would I want to take medications after living my whole life drug and alcohol free? Why would I stay home from my best friend’s bachelorette party in Atlantic City? Why would I want to face mental health stigma? I have to see people graduate college, get their dream jobs, buy their first houses and take spontaneous trips just because they want to. Why wouldn’t I want to experience those things too?

This is how anxiety has had an impact on my life. I’m not using anxiety as an excuse to skip school, get out of a test I forgot to study for, get extra time on a paper I put off doing, leave work early or avoid my adult responsibilities. When people use the word “anxiety” as an excuse, it essentially tells the world that people with diagnosed anxiety disorders can turn it on and off and are just exaggerating their symptoms. Nobody would want to go through a battle with mental illness if they had the choice. We are not doing it for attention.

Anxiety is a disorder, not a decision.

Follow this journey on Redefine Mental Health.

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