To You, Who Loves Me Through My Anxiety

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I know at times you don’t understand this dark shadow that follows me. It has to be hard fighting those demons you don’t feel, let alone see. Many times I feel like I’m spiraling downward with nothing to help stop me, just endlessly falling into a black abyss with no hope to catch me.

I had always been afraid of you seeing that dark side, but you waited patiently for me to let you in.

Before you, I just kept pushing down all of the haunted feelings, letting them eventually build and bubble over. It wasn’t healthy, but I’m not one to admit I need help. Now, you’re the bright light, the fighter of my shadows, the hand that catches me. When I’m in that dark corner feeling like I’m losing my mind, you don’t look at me like I’m crazy — you look at me like you care. I’ve never had that. The concern in your eyes is enough to bring tears to mine.

Let me try to explain how I see and feel an “episode” through my eyes: It starts with just a nagging gut feeling, then the thoughts of being not good enough start creeping in. Then it takes all I have to not cry and disconnect from the world. Sometimes I do feel it would be a better place if I just hid away. From there, I just can’t muster up the strength, no matter how hard I try, to be happy.

Then, just when I feel like I’ve hit rock bottom, you appear. You pull me in and hug all my broken pieces together. You never take your supportive hands off me, and you look right in my eyes and say the most important words I will ever hear in my life — “I am here for you and everything will be fine.” You remind me the feeling will pass and that I am so so so loved.

Finally, you never take credit. You try to make me feel empowered. I love that you say I did it, I conquered my anxiety. But I didn’t do it alone. You were the big reason I made it out. I wish everyone who is accompanied by anxiety had someone as selfless and caring as you. You are my support, my bright light and most importantly my best friend.

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I just want to say thank you.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Write a thank you letter to someone you realize you don’t thank enough. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Teacher Who Said I'd Never Make It to Senior Year

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Though I was only diagnosed my freshman year of high school, I have been dealing with symptoms of depression and anxiety my whole life. During my freshman year of college, my mental health hit its lowest point in a lifelong spiral downward, and the one person I wanted to talk to didn’t understand me. 

Now, this is what I want her to know:

Dear Favorite Teacher,

I doubt you’ll ever read this. I’ll probably never even tell you anything that’s in here. There are some things people don’t want to know about others, and I’m assuming this counts for you.

I remember when I told you I had anxiety. I don’t remember how the conversation came up. But we’ve discussed it briefly a few times since. No, it’s not “just a phase.” It probably won’t pass after my freshman year of college is over. I can’t just get over it or turn it off. It’s crippling and exhausting. It means questioning everything I do, worrying about and imagining the negative effects of everything. I throw up. I can’t eat. I lock myself in my room alone, break down, shake and cry inconsolably. And that’s not even the tip of the iceberg. But I don’t show you, or anyone, any of it, because I worry people will hate me.

Remember when you told me, “If you have this much anxiety now, you’ll never make it to senior year”? I do. I’ll never forget. It never made me mad, but it hurt like hell. Still does. And that’s not the anxiety talking; I have depression, too. Regret and guilt and sadness make up my daily life. I have no motivation for anything. I constantly break down, regretting my whole life and hating everything about myself. I have many scars you’ll never see. I’m an empty shell of hurt and pain, covered with a thin, fragile and very fake layer of sassiness and confidence. But you have no idea how close you came to being right.

No, I didn’t drop out. But suicide attempts do exist. There’s a reason I missed a whole week of your class mid-semester. I wonder what you would say if you knew.

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I’m not asking for favors or pity. I don’t even expect you to understand. But I do wish you would listen. Because there are things you don’t know about me.

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: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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

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

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

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

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

I will illustrate it for you:

ACT 1: Confidently Beautiful and Socially Anxious

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

(Enter stage left: Social Anxiety.)

Scene 1: The Preparation

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

Scene  2: The Observation

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

Scene 3: It Arrives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scene 4: The Great Escape 

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

Scene 5: The Positive Self-Talk

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

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

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

Scene 6: Go Girl!

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

The End.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Introvert Bingo
source: Introvert Doodles

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

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

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

Here are more of her relatable anxiety doodles:

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

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

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How Mindfulness Helps Me Cope With Anxiety and Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When Anxiety Means Living Life in ALL CAPS

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Anxiety: 

anx·i·e·ty

noun

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

How does this translate to life with anxiety?

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

An outcome being everything.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Much love,

Erin xo

Follow this journey on It Runs in the Family.

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

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