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How Books Helped Me Manage My Anxiety During High School

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I just graduated high school this year and I can’t tell you how happy I am to finally be done. When I look back on these past four years, I see marching band (the best thing about high school) and anxiety (the worst thing about high school). Each and every day was like going to battle against myself and all of the feelings that would flood me as soon as my alarm went off in the morning.

Freshman year started off well enough. However, feeling like a boss after leaving middle school behind and entering high school didn’t last long. It wore off in November when marching band ended. After that, my mental health was in the air. I missed a lot of school because of my anxiety. I would fake sick, referring to it in my head as “a day off.” These “days off” were usually spent worrying about going to school the next day, but for the most part I had less anxiety than I would have had at school. And that was my ultimate goal.          

I held each and every breath for Christmas break  — a break from attending that school of horrors. However, I spent all of Christmas break dreading every single day of the rest of the year. Who knew what fresh horrors awaited me on the other side of that new year? My brain thought it would be a good idea to worry about each and every day all at once. (That was definitely not a good idea.) My brain tried to take on too much at once, and I desperately needed something that would turn the anxiety down for a bit.

This first happened in January when I picked up the book “Divergent” by Veronica Roth. I started this book and instantly fell in love with it. (Though, to be quite honest, I did tell a friend of mine it was boring because my anxiety caused me to worry she would think I was ridiculous or nerdy for reading it.) But my endless love for that book started an endless love for literature. I loved “Divergent” so much, I now own three copies of it. (First edition hardcover, movie tie-in paperback and the collector’s edition. Also, if someone would like to donate an ARC (advanced reader copy) of it to me, I will happy accept. I’m kidding here  but I certainly would love one.)          

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After I flew through “Divergent,” I headed straight to its sequel, “Insurgent,” and finished that book within a number of days. That’s when I started to realize that reading during school took all of the pain away. I opened that book and went to some place where anxiety couldn’t tackle me down and where I was completely free. The main character’s problems became mine. Somehow their problems always seemed more desirable than mine — even if they were fighting an evil dictator in a dystopian world.          

I was always the kind of student who got their homework done in class. School came relatively easy to me, so I made a deal with myself: get your homework done as quick as you possibly can, and then you can read now and later at home. I would solve those homework problems in minutes, each part of me itching to find out what happened next in the book that sat under my pencil pouch, waiting for me. I didn’t even care if my answers were correct. I was determined to read that book no matter what.

I found so much inner peace while reading these stories. I wasn’t worried about when the bell was going to ring or how long it would take me to get to my next class. For once I could be out in public without caring if people were looking at me. That’s the effect of reading that has meant the most to me, because I rarely feel so comfortable and carefree in public. Books are the only things that make me feel like a “normal” human being. In a way, they were and continue to be my coping mechanism. I read book after book during the second half of my freshman year and all through my sophomore and junior years. I read so many fantastic books.

This is the part where I say I’m thankful for my anxiety. “Thankful?!” you may ask. Yes, I am thankful at this current moment. I would be a different person without my anxiety — probably someone who doesn’t read books. Books have done so much for me, so here is my praise and gratitude for all the fantastic authors out there. Without your books, I wouldn’t have had any magical fantasy lands to run off to while in the midst of pure panic. I’m so thankful for them. They helped me get through one of the toughest stages of my life — and I know they’ll help me through many more.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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The Imagination of Someone With Anxiety

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I imagine it.

I’m standing over a porcelain toilet bowl, the contents of my stomach spilling out before my eyes. Vomit hits the water. The taste of bile fills my mouth. I feel a deep emptiness.

This is my fault. I am disgusting. I am a burden. I am ashamed. I am out of control.

Would I choke? Would my son Elliot be scared?

I imagine it.

I suddenly fall to the floor, parts of my body taking turns shooting straight up into the air as other parts are forcefully slammed downward. A seizure. My eyes are closed, rolling backward.

This is my fault. I am embarrassed. I am a burden. I am out of control.

Would I black out? What would happen to Elliot?

I imagine it.

I wake up soaked in my own blood. I am warm. I look around and see white sheets now stained a deep red. I am trying to scream, but the sound will not exit my lips. I am trying to wake my husband Andrew up to tell him what I already know: we lost the baby. Miscarriage. I am trying to wake Andrew up, but I don’t want to. I don’t want him to see. I don’t want to watch the pain fill his eyes.

This is my fault. I made some kind of mistake. I am incapable. My body is out of control.

Would we survive this? Would we tell Elliot some day?

I imagine it.

I am driving. I feel the car moving faster. My foot fumbles around for the brake. I cannot find it. I am accelerating faster, faster, faster. I am spinning out of control. I am Out. Of. Control.

This is my fault. I am careless. I am stupid. I am out of control.

Who would tell Andrew? Would Elliot remember me when I’m gone?

I imagine it.

We are standing on top of the play structure, and Elliot steps too far too fast. He falls hard and does not cry. I am waiting to hear his cry. I run to him fast and pick him up into my arms. I am covered in his blood. I have tears streaming down my face. I am screaming help me, help me, help me.

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This is my fault. I am stupid. I should’ve been more careful. Going outside wasn’t worth the risk.

How could I be so careless? Would he live?

I imagine it.

I round the corner and see Andrew’s feet hanging off the edge of the bed. He doesn’t respond to my question. He is quiet. I go to him and see he’s no longer breathing, his skin is blue, he’s gone. I am screaming, but no sound is coming out. I am screaming help me, help me, help me.

***

My favorite professor in college said something that has not stopped rattling around in my head: Your weaknesses are your strengths out of control.

Creativity is my strength. I dream up ideas and realities. I think of endless possibilities.

My creativity out of control has manifested itself in anxiety.

I take refuge in little blue pills and pints of chocolate ice cream.

How could I ever tell someone? How could I even describe it? I am often lost in my own world of imagination – worst-case- scenarios and what-ifs. My thoughts run faster than I could ever express them. I am distracted from real life because I’m lost somewhere in my mind, lost somewhere in the possibility of trauma.

I know why.

Most of my imaginations have one thing in common: a sheer lack of control. Control is my desire, my pursuit, my idol. I will wash my hands and take showers and Clorox wipe every surface to feel like I am in control. I will run the numbers and obsessively Google and stay at home most of the time to feel like I am in control.

I know why.

In my undergrad psychology class, I learned that when a young mind experiences trauma, they are trained to believe it will happen again.

I know I’m just waiting. I’m in survival mode – waiting for the next attack, trying to anticipate it, trying to protect myself, trying to prepare. I know I am trying to control.

But still, I imagine it.

Several times each day, I imagine puking and seizures and miscarriages and death.

But somehow still, amidst all this, I can imagine something different.

I can imagine a world without my little blue pills. I can imagine a world where I have peace, where I am content. I can imagine a world without all my little obsessions, a world where my mind is free to think and believe the best things are yet to come. I can imagine a world where I can live in confidence, knowing control is not my ultimate need, that tragedies are inevitable but that it is not my job to anticipate them, that it is not my fault they occur, that I am free, free, free.

It seems impossible and far off.

But still, I can imagine it.

Still, I will imagine it.

Image via Thinkstock.

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I Have Anxiety and These Are the Thoughts I Have

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My eyes open with a start. My body is jolted from the dream. What was that noise? Was it someone fiddling with the lock? Are the neighbors trashing the front yard? Is this the day I run into the monster my younger self created? These are the questions I ask first.

There is a part of my mind, buried underneath heavy clouds of fog, that knows the noise was just my cat getting restless or the wind getting too strong.

I’m not “crazy.” I have anxiety.

It takes me a long time to fall back asleep. Sometimes I don’t. My day has begun.

The noises mostly set it off late at night. It’s easy to be afraid in the dark — I know people who don’t struggle with anxiety who are. The problem is anxiety isn’t patient enough to wait until the sun is down and the lights are out.

Anxiety invites itself over at all times of the day.

I’ll be sitting on the train and feel a bump and a hundred headlines of derailed trains flash through my head in seconds. My friend will be running late for our dinner date and a thousand scenarios of what could have happened to her startle me. Suddenly I’m sending text after text to make sure she’s OK. I am aware the train just hit a bump on the track and the rest of the ride will be smooth. I know my friend got caught up at work and couldn’t answer my texts because she was too busy. The awareness of reality almost makes it worse because I can’t stop the anxiety from seeping through anyway.

Now I’m sitting in a room with all my coworkers and the story I’m telling is taking longer than I expected. I never would have started it if I knew it would take this long. Why is she pulling out her phone? Is he yawning because of me? Is she getting up because she needs to go to the bathroom or because she can’t listen to me ramble any longer? If I stop now, the story won’t have an ending but if I don’t stop, I’ll be talking to myself. Why did I open my mouth at all?

The rest of the shift, I don’t talk at all. Everyone is asking me what’s wrong and all I can muster is a weak “nothing.” It takes a lot of strength to get that smile on my face that reassures everyone I’m fine when really I can’t focus. I hope no one thinks I’m lying even though I am. Is everyone giving me a sideways look? I better start faking it to make it stop.

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I’m so sick of faking it.

It’s late at night and I’m home. I’m staring at a blank Word document. Why am I not writing? I start to write. Why am I so bad? Backspace, backspace, backspace. What’s the point?

My anxiety tells me there is none.

I check social media instead. The anxiety does a quick U turn. What’s the point in saying you’re a writer if you aren’t going to write? Now I’m back at the blank word document.

Every day in my mind is a high speed car that doesn’t have brakes. My anxiety never gets tired even when I’m exhausted. It lives off people telling me to “calm down” because now I’m panicking over people thinking I worry too much. It’s not pretty. It’s really ugly.

But it’s mine.

I can feel it when I hear a funny joke, but my laugh chases it away. It’s lingering in the corners of my mind when I’m driving fast with the windows down, but that breeze and this song? They’re stronger. I know it’s here now as I type this sentence, but my fingers are moving fast. They pound down on it.

I know it’s going to be here all night, and it’s going to be here tomorrow and the day after. I can’t scare it away for good. Instead, I fight. I fight every thought, every question, every doubt. I fight because there’s so much to see and listen to and feel. I fight because my heart is beating and I’m alive.

And I refuse to let it scare me away from my own life.

Image via Thinkstock.

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36 Alt Rock Songs That Have Helped People Through Anxiety

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Music is by no means a cure-all for anxiety, but the right song, or even lyric, can certainly have an impact. It’s scientifically proven that music can reduce stress, and while stress is not the same as anxiety, the two often come hand in hand. But we decided to bypass the scientists and turn to the music fans in our mental health community dealing with different kinds of anxiety disorders or maybe just going through a particularly rough time.

Continuing our series of anxiety-relieving playlists, this time we asked our Facebook readers what alternative rock songs help them through anxious moments. Here’s their list (a Spotify playlist is at the bottom).

“Migraine” — Twenty One Pilots

And I will say that we should take a day to break away / From all the pain our brain has made / The game is not played alone / And I will say that we should take a moment and hold it / And keep it frozen and know that/ Life has a hopeful undertone.

Yes I’m Changing — Tame Impala

Yes, I’m changing / can’t stop it now / And even if I wanted I wouldn’t know how. / Another version of myself I think I found, at last.

Breakdown — Seether

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You can break me down if it takes all your might / ’cause I’m so much more than meets the eye.

Edit the Sad Parts — Modest Mouse

Sometimes all I really want to feel is love. / Sometimes I’m angry that I feel so angry. / Sometimes my feelings get in the way / Of what I really feel I needed to say.

Live Like a Warrior — Matisyahu

Your heart is too heavy from things you carry a long time. / You been up, you been down, tired and you don’t know why / But you’re never gonna go back, you only live one life.

Hopeless Opus — Imagine Dragons

It’s not a picture perfect life/ Not what I had in mind / Let me write my own line.

You Are A Tourist — Death Cab for Cutie 

Because when you find yourself the villain in the story you have written / It’s plain to see / That sometimes the best intentions are in need of redemptions / Would you agree?

Knife Going In — Tegan and Sara

I’m feeling anxious / Not enough to kill me

Washington Square Park — The Wonder Years

I’m looking for the upsides to these panic-attack nights / where I’m staying in eating take-out food by TV light / I’m trying to play the b-side to this awkward life of mine.

Lost That Easy — Cold War Kids

If we didn’t laugh, we’re crying all the time.

Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise

There was a dream and one day I could see it / Like a bird in a cage I broke in and demanded that somebody free it / And there was a kid with a head full of doubt / So I’ll scream til I die and the last of those bad thoughts are finally out

Wilder Mind — Mumford & Sons

You can be every little thing you want nobody to know / And you can try to drown out the street below / And you can call it love / If you want

Ache With Me — Against Me!

Do you share the same sense of defeat? / Have you realized all the things you’ll never be? / Ideals turn to resentment, open minds close up with cynicism. / I’ve got no judgement for you. / Come on and ache with me.

Let’s Dance To Joy Division — The Wombats

Everything is going wrong / But we’re so happy.

Third Eye — Florence + The Machine

‘Cause there’s a hole where your heart lies / And I can see it with my third eye. / And oh my touch, it magnifies / You pull away, you don’t know why

Colours — Grouplove

It’s the colors you have / No need to be sad. / It really ain’t that bad.

Falling — HAIM

They keep saying / Don’t stop, no it’s never enough / I’ll never look back, never give up / And if it gets rough, it’s time to get rough.

Mononokay — Sorority Noise

I’ve tried to rid myself of my anxious tendencies / But I have to accept my head for what it is to me.

Gimme All Your Love — Alabama Shakes

So much is going on / But you can always come around. / Why don’t you sit with me for just a little while? / Tell me, what’s wrong?

Now — Paramore

Lost the battle, win the war / Bringing my sinking ship back to the shore / Starting over, we’ll head back in. / There’s a time and a place to die but this ain’t it.

The Hand That Feeds — Nine Inch Nails

So naive / I keep holding on to what I want to believe. / I can see / But I keep holding on and on and on and on.

Shaky Ground — Freedom Fry

Expectations — Sir Sly

Truth has holes; truth, it swells / Sometimes truth can feel like hell. / And it’s full, and it swells / In the end, we’ll all be well.

All Our Lives — Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness

There’s only two mistakes that I have made. / It’s running from the people who could love me best / And trying to fix a world that I can’t change.

Up and Up — Relient K

Yesterday / Is not quite what it could’ve been / As were most of all the days before / But I swear today / With every breath I’m breathing in / I’ll be trying to make it so much more.

Watch The Sky — Something Corporate

And I will crawl / Theres things that aren’t worth giving up I know. / But I won’t let this get me. / I will fight. / You live the life you’re given with the storms outside. / Somedays all I do is watch the sky.

Silhouettes — Colony House

Did you lose something? / Or someone you love? / You’ve still got that story / tell it every morning.

It’s a Good Life — KONGOS

Too much information / People drowning in receipts / Some days you wanna just chuck it all / Try your luck and hit the streets

You’re Not Alone — The Mowgli’s

You’re not alone / Even when you feel so far from home / Everybody’s here / You’re not alone / Screaming in the mirror saying, “I’ve been broke / Out of love / But I know /We’re not alone.”

A Little Rain (A Song For Pete) — Arkells

Hung up on everything that I’m not / Pete said, “Look around at everything that we’ve got.”

Dyin’ to Live — Smallpools

It’s not much to ask for / We’re only trying just to feel all right / We’re only trying just to find that steady love / We’re only trying just to buy some time / We’re all just dying, we’re all just dying to live

All These Things That I’ve Done — The Killers

“If you can hold on, hold on.”

Make Them Gold – CHVRCHES

We are made of our longest days. / We are falling but not alone. / We will take the best parts of ourselves / And make them gold.

Flaws — Bastille

All of your flaws and all of my flaws are laid out one by one. / Look at the wonderful mess that we made / We pick ourselves undone.

Mountains At My Gates — Foals

Yeah, when I feel low / You show me a signpost for where I should go.

I Wanna Get Better — Bleachers

So now I’m standing on the overpass screaming at the cars, “Hey, I wanna get better!”

What would you add? Let us know in the comments below!

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When I Asked Myself, 'When Was the Last Time I Was Happy?'

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As a teenager, I’m used to emotions. Every day, my head and my heart are a rush of feelings I can’t quite explain, my body awash with hormones that make me feel like I’m upside down most of the time. That’s probably why I didn’t notice something was wrong for the longest time.

It wasn’t until I sat on my bed, crying for reasons I couldn’t understand as I texted with a friend that I found out. She asked me if I’d ever been diagnosed with anxiety or depression. My gut reaction was to deny it. Me? Depressed? Anxious? Please. Overachievers like me don’t get anxious. I’m a straight-A student with parents that are still married and friends that were as nice as could be. My life was great. I had no reason in the world not to be happy.

But I wasn’t.

“When was the last time I was happy?” I found myself thinking. Yesterday? Last week? Three weeks ago?

Three months. I hadn’t been happy in three months, the best I could determine. And that’s when I realized my life had changed.

“What happened?” I couldn’t help thinking. What could of possibly triggered this?

And the answer is, nothing happened. Nothing concrete, anyway. The more I’ve thought about it since that day, the more I’ve come to the conclusion that it doesn’t take some traumatic event to cause anxiety. It doesn’t happen all at once. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you when it all started. It could’ve been years ago.

All I knew as I sat on my bed, in my room, alone that night was this: I didn’t know who I was anymore. I found myself finally acknowledging all the self-depreciating thoughts I’d been having recently.

You’re not good enough, and you never will be. Nobody likes you. Your friends just hang out with you because they feel like they have to. They feel sorry for you. And why shouldn’t they? You’re pathetic. You’re a burden who’s just weighing them all down. They’d be better off without you. You are never going to amount to anything.

I made a list of the physical symptoms I’d been having. (The fondness for lists was a fairly recent development, at the time. I’d come to find later that that is yet another lovely symptom of my anxiety.) Chest pains, trouble breathing, headaches, trouble sleeping, feeling faint, loss of appetite… The list went on and on. And they all added up to one thing for me: Anxiety.

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Wow. Anxiety. That’s a huge word.

Let’s just say I was terrified.

And I still am. Six months later, I am still overwhelmed by it. Some days worse than others. Parties aren’t as fun; before accepting an invitation, I have to think about how I will keep my anxiety at bay. If I don’t think I can, I just don’t go. Shopping is stressful because I worry about whether the cashier will try to talk to me. Driving leaves me petrified; answering the phone makes my hands shake. Some days, even answering a text or an email takes 20 minutes because I worry about saying the wrong thing. And you can just forget about small talk with strangers.

But I’m so much better off than I was those three months when I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I think that once you realize what it is, anxiety is easier to deal with it. Giving it a name gave me a real and palpable problem to confront. Anxiety is my constant companion now, yes. And, as result, it changed my life. But as long as I don’t let my anxiety control me, it hasn’t ruined it.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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Pancakes and Panic Attacks: A Tale of Parenting With Anxiety at Target

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We woke up today, just like any other day. It’s just you and me and a pancake date planned. After all, we don’t get many days where it’s just us. I thought I was ready. I perfectly planned your purple tutu and favorite polka dot bow last night. It was laid out neatly, right next to my list of quick things we needed to grab at the store. It would be a quick stop. After all, I was prepared.

We’re shopping away, laughing and giggling as we work as a team to knock things off my perfectly planned list. Toilet paper — check. Milk-check. Tampons — check. Bathmat — check. Wait. Wait. What size do I need? And then I feel it coming. It comes like a freight train, and I am chained to the tracks, forced to watch the wreckage.

Why didn’t you measure the bathroom, Shelby? How could you forget? When will you have time to come back to look for another mat? There’s no time. There’s too much to do. Because, Shelby, you must always be doing, and if you stop doing, then something will fall apart. Something always falls apart. Something will go wrong. My God, what if something goes wrong? And people will expect you to have a damn bathmat. Why can’t you do this? Why are you constantly failing? People expect you to have it together.

Now I’m sweating. I feel like I’m being swallowed alive by the shelves of bathmats in all different unfathomable sizes around me. And feel the train run over my chest. I am gasping for air, but my chest feels like it’s been crushed. And I struggle to breathe. I didn’t realize it, but people are looking, waiting to see if I can relax. Because, for f*ck’s sake, Shelby, you should be able to relax. Why can’t you relax? Then I try to relax but my heart won’t slow down, and I panic all over again because I can’t get the damn bathmats to stop swallowing me alive. OK, think about other things. Oh sh*t — all those things. Things you need to do. If I don’t do them, I will let people down, and if I let people down, I am failing and Shelby you cannot fail.

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I can’t breathe now. I am gasping for breath, sweating and shaking, in the damn bath aisle of Target.

You saw it all. You witnessed mommy break. I promised you princess outfits and pancakes, and you got Mommy’s panic attack.

Soon, after I regrouped, after the train had backed off my chest and the air was back into the room, I stood up. I took you from the Target employee who had come to help, and I held you in my arms. This is my coping skill. In those moments of fear and the feeling of doom, I need to know what is real. I need to touch what’s important.

Anxiety is different for everyone. I have learned mine is stress-induced. I function just fine and lead a seemingly full, happy life because I know my triggers. Most days, I know I am so much more than my anxiety. I am smart and brave and kind and good. I am not a failure. I am enough. But some days, the doubt and feelings of inadequacy creep in the cracks of my tired, overworked, over-stressed self. It gets under my skin and spreads like a rapid virus that may show its ugly head, or may lay dormant until triggered by an outside force. My outside force is fear of failure. I just don’t want to mess anything up or let anyone down, especially you, my sweet girl. I want you to know your momma is strong and capable and knows what she is doing.

At the end of the day, I just have to remember to be in the moment. Whatever it takes to get me through. In seconds, in minutes, in hours. Just get through. Just get off the floor. Just breathe. Because there will always be things to do and lists to make.

But right now, I owe you pancakes.

Lead photo source: Peter J. Romano 2nd on Wikimedia Commons

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