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You Can Have Your Sh*t Together and Still Struggle With Anxiety

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“I think–” I started and hesitated. “I think I might have anxiety.” I made this admission to my husband late one afternoon as we went for a lazy stroll together by the lake.

“You think?” he responded incredulously.

“Yeah. I just — wait, how long have you known?”

“Always.”

This may seem unbelievable to some people, but I really didn’t know. 

I didn’t know I had anxiety.

Correction: I didn’t know it was OK to know I had anxiety. I didn’t know it was OK for me to say out loud what I kind of knew for a long time. I didn’t know it was OK for other people to know. 

I didn’t think anyone would believe me because I didn’t believe me.

I thought for so long that because I looked OK, acted OK, sometimes even felt truly OK, that the label “anxiety” was off limits to me. I genuinely thought I wasn’t allowed to use it to refer to myself because anxiety was reserved for people who didn’t have their lives together. It belonged exclusively to the poor souls who couldn’t hold down a job, couldn’t go to work or school or even the supermarket because they couldn’t function. 

I pictured the person with frazzled hair and her hands held protectively close to her body as she shook and trembled. The person who found some corner at Kohl’s (because who doesn’t find Kohl’s overwhelming?) to curl up into a ball, arms protectively wrapped around his head, because he was having a panic attack.

I imagined a person who was consumed with anxiety. Who lived anxiety. That’s all they were. They owned the term wholly and completely and there wasn’t room for anything else in their lives.

The media helped give me this image. They have defined what anxiety is and what it must look like: The lady hoarding cats and coupons, sleeping on top of a pile of old trash. The old man too scared to ever leave his house. The person bawling and crying in public, red in the face from hyperventilating. The person eventually taken away in an ambulance, strapped down to a stretcher so he doesn’t hurt himself or anyone else.

I never saw myself in those depictions, so I denied myself the naming of my monster.

How could I have anxiety? I have my sh*t together.

I have a job I’m pretty amazing at.

I’m starting my own business.

I did better than a majority of my graduating class in college (take that Praxis exam!).

I have friends.

In fact, I am married to my best friend and we have a wonderful relationship. 

I leave the house. I bathe. I go to work. I go to the supermarket. I’ve never once had a panic attack in public.

How could I possibly ever own the word “anxiety” when I have all of that going for me?

But that’s all on the surface.

It turns out I can have and be all of those things and still have anxiety.

I can come right up to you and introduce myself without a hitch, wear bright colors (pink!) and smile a lot, laugh often, talk more than my husband would prefer (and louder too), and say funny or outrageous things without shame. I can be the life of the party. I can be outgoing and suggest we all go do karaoke and take tequila shots together. I can go out dancing all night long.

I can do all of these things and still have anxiety.

It turns out just like the brightness of your tablet screen and spicy food, like hurricanes and humidity, there are degrees of anxiety. It’s not all or nothing. There are shades of anxiety. There are levels intensity.

There’s even a special term for exactly what I’ve been dealing with all this time. It’s called “high-functioning anxiety.” There’s a pretty great article on it here!

And once I realized I can both function and have anxiety, I was so relieved. I was relieved to know there are different levels of anxiety, different severities, and that I could have it. I could have it without the panic attacks in public or the hyperventilating. I could have it while holding down a job, going out with friends, and laughing a lot.

I could have anxiety.

How empowering it was to know to finally know the name of my monster.

Names are important. I believe it is only when we know the name of something that we can ever truly understand it. Elias Canetti once wrote: “You have but to know an object by its proper name for it to lose its dangerous magic.”

 And David S. Slawson wrote in “Secret Teachings Art of Japanese Gardens:”

Names are an important key to what a society values. Anthropologists recognize naming as ‘one of the chief methods for imposing order on perception.’ What is not named in a culture very likely goes unnoticed by the majority of its people. The converse is also true: people pay greater attention to things that been given names.

It’s a rather desperate struggle when you don’t even know the name of your personal demon. Think of all those people visiting doctor after doctor, trying to discover what is wrong with their bodies. They need a name, even if that name is cancer, because they need to know what it is if they want to fight it.

I had to know the name of my monster. I had to know its name to fully perceive it. To see it. To pay attention to it. I had to know its name so I could understand it. 

Nameless, it would always have control over me. I would always fear it.

Once I learned its name, I could fight it.

Follow this journey on Hot Pink Crunch.

Image via Thinkstock.

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To the One Hiding Your Anxiety

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It’s so incredibly easy, isn’t it?

To curl up in a ball and continue to hide inside of your shell, your safety net, your comfort zone.

This the place where you feel the most like yourself, where you don’t have to worry about what others think. It’s the best feeling in the world.

Although you are such a strong person, independent, ambitious, driven, determined and motivated, it is continuously overshadowed. By a secret, a thieving, sneaky ogre deep inside of you. Something no one else can “see,” but it has complete and total control. Of every aspect of your life. Of every move you make. Of every. single. thought that floats through your mind.

You are terrified to let anyone else know. About this monster. Because, the reality is, they might associate you with “it.”

“It” has nothing to do with who you really are.

This “it” is a seven letter secret. It drags by its side a plethora of stereotypes.

You know you fit none of them. Yet, you are afraid you will be labeled as all of them by those who know you the best and those who don’t know you at all. You know these labels by name. They are your worst nightmare and your greatest enemy. They are your greatest hill to climb and overcome.

Therefore, you continue working overtime to keep it all in, so you don’t have to continuously worry about others’ perception of you.

Stigmas. They carry such an unbelievably negative connotation.

Crazy.

Dramatic.

Emotional.

Needy.

Mental.

Irrational.

Ridiculous.

I can see why you like to bury it all. Because I do too.

Every. single. day.

You see, that’s the thing, though. There are so very many of us out there, with such amazing stories to share, but we are so incredibly nervous to do so. Because we know there’s a good chance we’ll become a label.

And the truth is, we don’t need that anxiety whirling through our minds. We have enough going on in there as it is. So, we make the most “comfortable” choice.

But me? I have battled this bandit for a long time, for as long as I can remember, from my first memories until now. Each and every day, I battle this as a woman and a mother. I battle in today’s social media driven society, always worried about what others think. I people please to the core. And, I have to tell you, I am utterly exhausted.

So, a few years ago, I decided to let my family and friends in on my little secret, hands shaking and all. Their response? Shocking. More and more people started opening up to me, sharing their own battles with me. It refueled me with courage and gave me newfound passion to be a cheerleader for others.

In the wake of such a consuming and deflating “illness” and in a world filled with judgment, vanity and instantaneous opinion, hiding is the easy part. Vulnerability never feels easy. Please, believe me when I say I understand your fear. I live your worry every moment of every day.

What has pushing through the uncomfortableness, the “shame,” the distress and the anxiety mounted on anxiety done? It has allowed me to share with you the one thing you are not — alone.

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When Someone Says ‘We Need to Talk’

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“We need to talk.”

What do you think of when you hear those words?

I’ve been realizing over the last several months that when I hear something like this, I immediately assume the worst. I worry, sometimes for days, that either a) I’m in trouble or b) someone close to me is in trouble. Usually, it’s the fear that I’m in trouble.

Why? Probably because I have a somewhat neurotic personality and have experience, unfortunately, with unhealthy workplaces led by unpredictable supervisors. Sometimes, the supervisor would call me into his office to praise my job performance, other times to threaten my job security. The praise and the threats may have happened 50/50. I’m not sure.

As I learned in a psychology class once, there’s this thing called the negativity bias that makes negative experiences impact us more than neutral or positive experiences. For example, if my supervisor criticized me fives times a week (true story), he might need to affirm me, say, 10 times a week in order for me to come away with an unbiased perception of our interactions. I don’t think that’s asking too much. It’s what we call “constructive criticism” or maybe “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). My supervisor didn’t seem to go that route.

So, I became scared of his office. Scared of the desk phone that so often summoned me into his office. Scared, sometimes, of just waking up in the morning and driving into work. Long after shaking off that situation with Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” playing as I drove away  (no joke), it seems I’m scared of someone saying “we need to talk.”

Here’s the thing: sometimes we just need to talk.

A few days ago, someone in a supervisor position suggested we go to lunch. I swear, the hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up. Lunch time came around, we ordered salads, and after several minutes of small talk and sipping sweet teas, I asked her, “So, did you want to discuss something in particular?”

“No,” she said with the simplest smile. “I just thought we hadn’t touched base in a while, just the two of us.”

I sat my fork down and breathed in deep. (Note to self: Do this more often.)

Hours of anxiety released like a deflating balloon.

Suddenly, the small talk seemed sufficient rather than suspenseful, as if maybe we’re meant to just be together rather than be together until some ticking time bomb goes off. Suddenly, I wasn’t so scared. I was just there, fully, freely there. I cared more genuinely about her toddler’s antics and approaching anniversary. I could accept she cared quite genuinely about my roommates and writing. We need to talk. We really do. I’m resolved to redeem that phrase.

This post originally appeared on juliapowersblog.com.

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What It's Like Living With Both Depression and Anxiety

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Depression is like a sinkhole. One minute you’re standing on firm ground, and the next minute you’re falling into a pit of darkness. Depression is crying over something simple, like dropping a glass on the ground and breaking it, but not crying when something drastic happens, such as a family member passes away.

Anxiety is worrying too much about things we have no control over. Anxiety is like a river. It never stops flowing. Sometimes, anxiety skyrockets and we end up feeling too much, but it can also dry out. Then we don’t feel like constantly worrying, moving or being busy. A river never stays dry for too long — it always becomes alive with water once again. Also, a river will erode away at the walls encasing it, just as anxiety will eat us alive.

Depression and anxiety together is like staying in bed and skipping school because you don’t want to deal with anybody else. Then, worrying for the rest of the day because you don’t want to fail. Having both is like wanting to go out and hang out with your friends, but then talking yourself out of the plans because you don’t want to have to make the effort.

Did I work too hard on this project? I shouldn’t have put this much effort into this. Stop being such an overachiever!

Just stay quiet, it’s not like anyone is listening to you anyways. I mean, do you really think they care?

Alright, I’ll just go in here and pay this bill. I’ll be right out into the car. No one will be looking at me. Right? Right?

I don’t feel like getting up today. No one will miss me.

I missed the test today! Oh no, what if they won’t let me retake it? I knew I should have gotten up today. Oh no.

Look at yourself, do you really think you’re worth all the trouble you make?

I’m going to go through self-checkout. No one has to talk to me. I don’t have to stutter over my words. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Depression doesn’t just show up when something bad happens. For me, it’s always about the little things. Someone will look at me wrong. I drop something on a bad day. The weather will affect me. Even just thinking about something from the past will trigger me. But something bad can happen, and I won’t feel as affected. Then, the depression will build and just burst one day over something simple as shutting a door too hard.

Anxiety isn’t just something people make up because they need an excuse as to why they work too hard or try too hard. Anxiety is a motivator for many of people but for all the wrong reasons. Anxiety pushes people too hard for little things, such as a poster project in school, a practice writing exam, their looks, how they dress, what they eat or how they do everything they do. Anxiety convinces people they need to be and look a certain way in public.

Can I not just have one damn day where I’m content to go into public with just sweatpants, a baggy tee shirt and a messy bun? Do I always have to put on makeup, wear some tight fitting jeans, a nice shirt, do my hair just to go to the dollar store? Am I conceited or do I just care too much?

Sometimes, depression will win over my anxiety. I will go into public dressed in those sweatpants and baggy t-shirt. I will look like a complete mess and I won’t think anything of it, until I wake up fully, later in the day. Then, I will be consciously wrapping my arms around myself, shying away, scolding myself in my head for looking the way I did.

Can I not wake up one day and just be happy and content with who I am?

Is it that hard? Are you sure you’re not faking this for sympathy?

Why would you be depressed? You have no reason to be depressed.

Anxiety is just your excuse. Grow up.

Waking up every day is a struggle. It’s like waking up with an elephant on your chest and having to move around and act normal with that extra weight on you. Anxiety will never be an excuse. Anxiety is me. I am anxiety. It is a part of me. The same goes to depression. Depression and anxiety are two of the things I would never wish on anyone, even my archenemy.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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When Anxiety Becomes the 'Am I?' Syndrome

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It’s summer. A time for renewal and relaxation. Except I can’t relax because I’ve been worrying about everything. This summer, my anxiety has kicked into major overdrive.

Six weeks ago I worried about whether or not to start my 6.5-month-old on solids (I did).

Four weeks ago I worried about whether or not I should stop breastfeeding my now 7-month-old (I did).

Two weeks ago I worried about whether or not I had remembered to sign my 5- and 3-year-olds up for swimming lessons (I didn’t. Oops.).

I’ve spent the rest of the summer wondering:

Am I wasting my summer? Because I haven’t written enough or read enough books or gone to the pool even once.

Am I spoiling my children? Because I let them watch Netflix every morning and eat crackers on the couch.

Am I feeding them the right food? See “crackers on the couch.”

Am I reading to them enough? Because I try to read Harry Potter to them every night before bed, but it’s rarely ever the cozy experience I imagined it to be.

Am I playing with them enough? Because I’ve only played catch with my son once this summer.

Am I playing with them too much? Because it’s important for them to play independently, too.

Am I letting them watch too much TV? Because I turn on Netflix every morning, so I can sleep in just a little bit.

Am I spoiling the baby who’s still waking up every night? Because the lack of sleep is killing me.

The list of “Am I?” questions never stops. With every decision I make, I question what I am doing. This is what my anxiety does to me — it’s dark and it makes me wonder if I am enough. After a lot of soul searching, I know I am not. I’m trying to be OK with that. As a perfectionist and typical “type A” personality, it’s hard for me to accept mediocrity. And I realized I can’t do it alone, so I’m finally getting help.

I saw a therapist a few years back for depression and anxiety. At the time, I was able to cope through journaling and exercise. Now, I barely have time for a cup of coffee much less journaling and exercise (as I’m writing this, we are driving across Canada and I’m multi-tasking by writing and soothing the now 8-month-old baby who’s been in the car far too long). I’ve started new meds. It’s too soon to tell, but I’m hoping these will work and help change my never-ending questioning to something a little more positive. Aside from meds, I’m working on a more positive mindset. While I’m still going to struggle with my constant wondering and worrying, I’m slowing trying to replace “Am I?” with “I am.”

I am reading — this summer, I’ve read four Stephen King novels and am re-reading the Outlander series.

I am spoiling my children — a little bit here and there.

I am feeding them the right food — they love fruit and yogurt.

I am reading to them — most nights, we read a few pages of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.”

I am playing with them — but I let them play and fight with each other.

I am letting them watch TV — because a good television show is almost as good as a good book.

I am spoiling that baby — because he’s the most beautiful baby in the world and he might be my last.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Anxiety Is a Director, and I Have the Leading Roll

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Another take? “Do I really have to do this again?” I ask.

“Yes, but this time, his blood is draining from his head into the ditch while it’s raining. Then, you get the call from the officer that your husband has died! Now action!” she barks.

So I do my job. I go there in my mind. I imagine my husband splayed out on the highway, blood draining from his bearded face. My stomach knots and my throat tightens. I nearly break and cry actual tears.

Suddenly my husband walks in the door, and the real act begins.

“Hi Honey. How was your day?” I ask all perky and happy.

I show no trace of the agony I have just been through. For now, he is home safe, and the director has to shut her mouth and wait her turn, for now. She will be back soon though. She is very prolific, a creative genius really. I am so amazed at the amount of troubling and terrifying ideas she comes up with, and the range of emotion she elicits in me is inspiring.

With just a word or picture or smell, I am there, completely engulfed in it. Not to be immodest, but I am really good at my job. I have the passion and range to give her just what she wants. It’s a powerful partnership that is inspiring, motivating, controlling, but her endless ideas and my big imagination have spun out of control. I mean, she has four to five of my family members dying every day, and often, one of them is me! Do you know how exhausting a death scene is, especially when you have to hide it from everyone?

Some people have caught on and they try to be helpful. They say:

“Kick her to the curb!”

“Just ignore her.”

“Have you tried writing her a letter about how you feel?”

They mean well, but they clearly do not understand the complexity of our relationship. I have gone years without working with her, and then one day, she shows up at my door, persistently begging me to come back and telling me I’m the only one who can handle the job. It’s a lie, of course, but her flattery puts a wedge in the door. Eventually, I give.

Then, she creeps back in like a bad ex-boyfriend, and I am left crying, sick and exhausted. So I think I’m going to renegotiate my contract. Sure, she won’t like it, but I deserve some creative control! I’m going to ask her to collaborate. Let me come up with some ideas for once.

Maybe not a “Happily Ever After” ending, but not an “Everyone Must Die” ending either. How about a “Happy for Now” ending? Just maybe, we could play out the tragic scenes with me overcoming, instead of being overcome. Yeah, I like that. Oh that’s her knocking again. I’m going to do it! I’m going to tell her. Wish me luck!

“Hello Anxiety, we have to talk.”

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 
 
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