Sarah's tattoo

'Be Here Now': The Tattoo That Helps Me Through Anxiety Attacks

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Sarah's tattoo I’ve always played with the idea of getting a tattoo. After one of my anxiety attacks, I realized I wanted to get one on my wrist to help me through. When I have an attack, the world shuts off, and it becomes hard for me to breathe and function normally. I have two daily medications, but sometimes life and my anxious mind are more powerful. I have a stronger medicine available to take when needed, but I don’t like taking it. I wanted to find something else to help me. The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I need to remember to “be here now.” During an attack I leave the present, and that’s when things get worse. If I can be here now, I can recognize the pain is temporary, and I can control it. And just having a visual reminder of that can help immensely.

I had a wonderful experience getting my tattoo. I’m a huge music nerd and apparently so was my tattoo artist, Cole. When I told him I wanted the words “be here now” on my wrist, he asked if it was from the song by Ray LaMontagne. I had actually never heard of it, but he had the song on his computer and played it for me while he worked on my tattoo. This song instantly touched me. The best part was that Cole opened up to me and vice versa. When people understand what you’re going through, it creates this peace within. I decided to look up the lyrics later that night, and I couldn’t imagine any better words to permanently put on my body. The lyrical beauty of this song was amazing. I held back tears as I read it.                                                                                                                  

“Don’t let your mind

get weary and confused

Your will be still, don’t try

Don’t let your heart get heavy, child

Inside you there’s a strength that lies

Don’t let your soul get lonely, child

It’s only time, it will go by

Don’t look for love in faces, places

It’s in you, that’s where you’ll find kindness

Be here now, here now

Be here now, here now

Don’t lose your faith in me

And I will try not to lose faith in you

Don’t put your trust in walls

‘Cause walls will only crush you when they fall

Be here now, here now

Be here now, here now

                                 (Lyrics by Ray LaMontagne)                                  

The meaning of my tattoo is very personal. The words “be here now” are my reminder to be in the present during anxiety attacks. The semicolon not only stands for my choice to continue my story instead of ending it, but it is also a reminder of everything I have and will overcome. Please, if you want to do something like this for yourself, just do it. I’ve learned that if you find a way to help yourself overcome your battles, then you need to do it. Gain control.

Be here now.

 

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When the 'Anxiety Dam' Breaks

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It’s early on a warm Sunday morning, and I am awoken suddenly by my feet, which are already shaking and moving about restlessly beneath the covers. A sign that my anxiety is already in full swing despite the fact I’m not even awake yet.

There are roughly 30 seconds each morning between the moment I open my eyes and when the “anxiety dam” breaks — flooding my brain with everything I “should” be concerned with and worried about. Those 30 seconds each morning are my only peace these days, and I cherish them. This is my life — the life of someone with extreme anxiety.

As I sit up and ready myself to face the day, I have to remind myself to breathe in and out… in and out… otherwise I find myself holding my breath. I wonder what it may be like to wake up each day and breathe easily without effort. I try to remember the last time I was able, and I cannot. I assure myself, as I do every day, that the feelings of dread, the rapid beating of my heart, the tightness constricting my throat, is simply my anxiety already creeping up and settling in. It has made itself at home in my skin. Taken up residence in the deep crevices of my mind and thoughts. An unwelcome guest. It stays close to me at all times, like a parasite. Making its presence known as much as possible throughout the day. Trying to ruin each day in whatever ways it is able.

Anxiety is a bad relationship we would all like to break up with. But it’s here to stay for now, with its arm around my shoulders, around my neck. Sitting too close. Suffocatingly close. Breathe in… breathe out…

For so many of us who have extreme anxiety, each day is an exhausting struggle to make it to the finish line that is the end of each day. Only to find that despite our exhaustion, once we make it there and fall into bed, our racing minds won’t allow sleep in any reasonable amount of time. Nighttime proves to be the worst for my anxiety, so each night I pray for daylight to come quickly. Because maybe tomorrow I may have 60 seconds of peace when I wake up. Because maybe tomorrow is the day I will have a day with no panic attacks. Because, after all, the night is darkest just before the dawn… and my feet are already shaking me awake.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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5 Things You Should Know About My Anxiety Before We Date

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As a person with anxiety, dating has always brought its own set of struggles. Because a lot of my anxiety has to do social situations, dating is something I tend to avoid. And when I do find someone I want to go out with, my anxiety isn’t something I want to talk about. Because, I think, who wants to date the anxious girl?

Instead, I hide it. 

But why should I have to feel like I need to hide such a big part of who I am? If someone is scared off by my anxiety, it’s going to be better for both of us if I’m upfront about it from the beginning. Because even if I can hide it successfully for a while, it can’t and shouldn’t stay hidden forever. 

So in the interest of full disclosure, here are five things you will need to know about my anxiety before we date.

1. There are physical symptoms.

Anxiety is a mental illness, yes, but there can be a lot of physical side effects that go along with it. Something I struggle with a lot is feeling physically ill from my anxiety.

If I say I can’t go out with you because I’m not feeling well, what it probably means is that I was feeling so anxious I threw up, and now I feel like crap. Or maybe I feel like I’m going to be sick, and I don’t want to chance going out with you in case I get sick on our date. Unfortunately, this has happened before (it was exactly as horrible as you might think), and it’s not unlikely it will happen again.

The more I get to know you, the more comfortable I’ll be and the less anxious I’ll feel. Until then, the best thing you can do is to try to be understanding, and not blame me for something I have no control over.

2. Sometimes I need to organize my thoughts.

If we’re having a tough conversation, anxiety can make my brain lock up. Sometimes it feels like I literally can’t speak, as if my mind has gone blank or I can’t figure out how to put into words what I’m feeling. I’m not trying to be difficult, I just sometimes need a minute or two to collect my thoughts and calm down.

Chances are, the anxiety comes from fear of how you will react to what I’m feeling, and I’m trying to fight my way through that to say what needs to be said. I might just need a minute to breathe and think without the pressure to speak, or I might need to leave the conversation entirely and come back later once I have processed my thoughts.

3. I don’t jump into relationships quickly.

Like I said, I tend to avoid dating. I’m sure there are people who will say the only way to get over dating anxiety is to go out with a bunch of different people, but that sounds unbearable to me. I’m much more comfortable getting to know the other person slowly. If I’m going to date you, it’s because I think you might be worth fighting through all my mental obstacles for. It will take me a while to really open up, so you’re going to have to be patient. If that’s not something you can do, then you should move on.

4. Sometimes I feel needy.

My anxiety likes to tell me you probably aren’t really all that interested in me, and even if you are interested, you won’t be for long. So I have a tendency to feel a little needy. Not that I will share these feelings with you, of course. Because then you definitely won’t be interested anymore, since no one likes a needy person.

Instead, I’ll just feel anxious and sad and overanalyze every interaction, waiting for the moment I can tell you are no longer interested. In an ideal relationship, I’d be able to share these feelings of insecurity or neediness without the other person judging me or putting me down for them.

5. It’s OK for us to laugh together about my anxiety.

In my family, humor is how we cope with difficult situations. I make jokes about my anxiety all the time because it helps me deal. If I make a joke about it, it’s OK to laugh. And if you know I’m feeling anxious, trying to get me to laugh can be a good way to help me calm down.

That doesn’t mean it’s OK to make fun of me. What I’m saying is sometimes my anxiety is ridiculous, and I have to laugh about it or the weight of it will bury me. You are encouraged to laugh with me.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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Summer Vacation: The Unlikely Worst Nightmare of Someone With Anxiety

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The pulsing panic, incessant self-doubting and debilitating worrying starts when the airline’s e-itinerary shows its bolded subject line in my inbox. Or when a friend or family member hits send on the text message to confirm when we’re leaving for that road trip…in that hot, cramped car.

Sure, I know I was an over-eager brainstorming machine when the trip was just an innocent idea. But now it’s real. The date is branded on my irrational brain, and the worry countdown has begun.

You see, a “vacation” is another word for the worst nightmare of many people who have anxiety. Being in a controlled space with no escape route with people constantly watching you, expecting you to be happy. Expecting you to be relaxed.

I have an anxiety disorder. Being happy and relaxed is an exhausting battle I wage every minute of my waking life. And now, since we’re going on vacation, it will be on display.

And I’ll have nowhere to hide.

I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be purely excited and carefree on vacation; the only tough decision being where we’d go for dinner.

Instead, I am constantly wrestling the questions and infecting thoughts of my anxiety disorder:

What if I get sick? Did I get an aisle seat? What if people can tell I’m anxious? Will I ruin their vacation? Why can’t I be carefree? Did I pack the right clothes? What if I am not fun enough? OK, then how can I look like I’m having fun if I am anxious? I should bring a book. That’s what relaxed people do, right? They read books on vacation. But what book should I get? What if I have a panic attack? Where will I go? Where will I hide? What if I’m having a bad day? This is supposed to be fun. Just go with the flow. Wait, the flight is three hours?!
 

I love vacations. I love traveling. And just like you, I love having fun with my family and friends.

But remember, I don’t choose these relentless thoughts. I didn’t choose this brain. See, anxiety never takes a vacation. My struggle travels with me — and now with you.

There are a few simple ways, though, that can help make vacation enjoyable for myself and others with anxiety.

Here are some tips:

1. Let me ask (a lot of) questions about the details.

When I ask those annoying questions, I am processing. Asking the same questions over and over in the three weeks leading up to the trip is how I prepare myself. So let me into the details a bit and entertain my incessant questions. It’s how I cope.

I promise I am not doing it to be annoying. I am trying to reassure myself I’ll be OK by knowing what to expect.

2. Make flexible plans.

Try not to schedule that three-hour massage and yoga class for me without asking. Personally, it gives me something else to dread because I can’t get out of it. Instead, let me know what your plans are, and let me choose what I want to do when I am ready.

I know my limits and tendencies, and I will let you know what I’m up for. While you may find these plans exciting, they add to my cauldron of worries.

3. Ask me how I am feeling.

This is so simple, but don’t assume because I’m on vacation, I am happy and relaxed. Kindly and authentically asking how I’m doing can do wonders. That way, I can let you into my world and if we’re with a group, I know I have an advocate.

4. Allow me to have alone or quiet time without feeling guilty.<

Alone, quiet, unstructured or unplanned time in a comfortable place is what a real vacation looks like for me and for many with anxiety disorders. Spaces where I don’t have to “pass” for being carefree will allow me to be myself, lower stress and reduce the exposure to anxiety triggers. Now that’s my kind of vacation!

5.  Remember I love vacation too.

I love spending time with you, having fun and going on vacation. But just like you would need to modify your vacation plans if you had a cast on your arm, I too have to adjust for my anxiety. It’s nothing personal.

And know for someone with anxiety, it is hard to commit to these types of things. The fact that I decided to come along with you means I really want to be there, with you.

Now, let’s have some fun.

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To the Friends Who've Stayed Through My Anxiety

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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.

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When You Tell a Person With Anxiety to 'Stop Worrying So Much'

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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

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