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The Paradox of Existing With Anxiety

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People often ask me for words to describe my diagnosis, the terms that define my illness. I have struggled for years to find such words, to put a definition to my mental illness. I have embraced a few terms, as simplistic as they may seem. Yet they encompass so much.

Broken.

It’s the only way I know to describe who I really am. The people around me don’t see it but the cracks are there, just below the surface, cleverly hidden by my smile and perfectionism. Maybe if I am good enough, do enough, smile enough and serve enough, then my brokenness won’t show. Maybe it won’t be the thing people remember about me.

Although they don’t see it now, I know one day I won’t be able to hide the cracks anymore and they will rear their ugly head. Everyone will know the fraud I really am inside and the horrible things I think of myself, all the while trying to teach others to love themselves despite their flaws. I pour my energy and thoughts into fixing their lives so I don’t have to focus on the thoughts running rampant inside my mind. While I know we are all beautifully broken, I feel as if I’m somehow the one beyond repair, unable to be mended.

Strong.

I am strong. I want to scream it to the world when I’m having a good day, when I’ve overcome an obstacle and feel as if I can do anything. When I am feeling confident, energized, capable and whole. I want so badly for people to understand I am much stronger than they realize and that battling my inner demons may not leave physical scars but the scars are there none the less. Yet, I persist.

I want the world to see that making it to work today was a hard task but I faced it anyway, knowing I am better than this disease. I want them to understand the determination it takes to battle daily with simply trying to exist and deciding I’m not willing to give up, knowing that once my spirit is that broken I will never recover. Instead, I focus on willing myself through another day until the pain lessens, and I find a safe foothold.

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I have mental illness, and as a result, I am both broken and strong. The paradox of this statement is not lost on me. I am broken, but this brokenness has produced in me a strong will to fight, to never give up. Although fighting for me might mean having to stay home, avoiding relationships or taking medication, it is what must be done to continue the daily battle for my mind, my sanity.

I wish the world would see although I know the brokenness is there, I don’t let it stop me. Even though there are days when it would be so easy to give up the fight, I know I cannot do so because only then would this illness win. I would rather be broken and strong than simply be defeated.

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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4 Lies Anxiety Tells You (and How Not to Listen)

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Anxiety is sneaky in the way it affects our internal dialogue. One of the problems with anxiety is that it’s so exhausting, we take these lies seriously. Because we’re so tired from trying to cope, when anxiety whispers in our ear we listen to it.

Here are some lies anxiety might tell you, and why you shouldn’t listen.

Lie #1: There is something wrong with you.

Once anxiety has our attention it quickly tries to show us evidence to support its lies.

A useful tip Susan Jeffers talks about in her book, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” is to write on a piece of card “I can handle it.” She recommends keeping that card within your sight.

Get used to questioning anxiety’s lies. Don’t just accept them. Look for evidence that you are OK. Think of the last time you felt OK and think about what you can do right now to help yourself feel calm and in control.

Lie #2: You will always feel this way. 

No one always feels anything.

This is one of anxiety’s favorite tricks. To freeze us in bad feelings and minimize our happier moments.

Negative thoughts often derive their power from being generalizations.

Pay attention to your internal dialogue and look out for statements featuring words like: always and every. For example: it’s always like this, or every time…

Getting specific with these generalizations helps contain them and bring them down to scale. Once they have lost their drama you can start to look at ways to address them.

Practice noticing the times when you feel OK. Sketch those times, or note them in a journal. Practice being present.

Lie #3: Nothing works.

Look at the success stories of others with a curious and open mind. Keep trying and find what works for you.

Pick one technique and try it every day for two weeks. Make it a game — draw 14 boxes for the next 14 days and make sure you tick each box. Or get a streaks app and make it your goal to do something every day and don’t break the chain.

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Recommended techniques for increased resistance to anxiety’s lies:

Lie #4: You are losing your mind.

Your mind may be disturbed, but it can be supported. You are not your body and you are not your mind. You’ll be OK.

For more anxiety-reducing tips, visit Anxiety Slayer.

Listen to the podcast below for detailed support on how to handle the lies anxiety tries to tell you:

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18 Signs You Grew Up With Anxiety

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Anxiety disorders can lead to strange and disruptive events in people’s lives, regardless of what age the disorder emerges. But for the majority of people who developed an anxiety disorder during childhood or young adulthood, separating the disorder from everyday events can be a difficult task.

 

Over the last several days, Twitter users have used the hashtag #GrowingUpWithAnxiety to tell their stories of living with an anxiety disorder as a child or young adult.

Here’s what they had to say:

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To the People Who Chastise Me for My Anxiety

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I wish you could see me through my anxiety.

You might think I’m high-maintenance or tell me I should just accept that everything is OK.

What you don’t see is the enormous effort it takes to simply live my life. My mind is never quiet, running through multiple scenarios constantly. I agonize over whether I have offended others inadvertently, whether I have done or said “the right thing” in any given situation, whether I will be abandoned because I am not “normal” and have an illness that still carries a stigma.

I wish you could see the things that really matter about me. How hard I work to advocate for other people, how much I love my children. The way I can see into people’s hearts and help them work through their pain. I wish you could see how I cherish my friends, making an effort to know them deeply, to be there for them. To love them. I wish you knew how much I cared — about you and your well-being, my family, my clients, the larger world around me. I wish you knew that when I’m told I’m too intense, it invalidates the very quality that gives me my passion and my capacity for empathy.

My anxiety is a part of me, and I spend time and energy coping with its symptoms and trying to manage them the best I can, to not be a “burden” to the people around me. But it is not all of me. I am so much more than that, and I have so much to give you and the other people around me if you can just be a little patient with me. Give me a chance to show you who I really am and what I have to offer. See me through my anxiety and I guarantee you will have a loyal, loving friend for years to come. A friend who will always try to see you through whatever challenges you may have.

I’m here, I’m waiting. See me for who I really am. I’m worth the time and effort.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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7 Things I Want My Friends to Know About My Social Anxiety

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I owe my friends an explanation of why I don’t — and can’t — hang out with them much. I’ve kept the reason to myself because I fear judgment, misunderstanding and criticism, but I realize that in order for my friends to understand my social anxiety, I have to explain it to them.

I want my friends to know these seven things about my social anxiety so they know it has nothing to do with them, or me.

1. I don’t want to cancel our plans.

I really like spending time with you, and I really don’t want to cancel the plans we make together. But when we make plans a few days in advance, that’s too much time for me to rack up a bunch of anxiety, and as a result, I cancel. I don’t want to, but I do because my anxiety takes over when it comes to social situations.

2. But I don’t want to make plans either.

Making plans just means I’ll probably cancel them, which I’m afraid will disappoint you and hurt your feelings. I’m hesitant about making plans with you because I don’t want you to be mad at me if I cancel them.

3. Canceling plans disappoints me, too.

I’ve missed out on a lot of fun we could have had together, and that upsets me. What is worse is the amount of fun I still have to miss out on because I don’t have a handle on my social anxiety. You’re not alone in your disappointment when I cancel plans; the disappointment I have in myself really gets me down.

4. It’s not that I don’t like people.

I love people. I love watching them. I just don’t like interacting with them because of the anxiety I feel when I do. I don’t like social encounters with people because of my physical response to my social anxiety. I’m afraid people will see my red, blotchy hives and sweaty face and think I’m “strange.”

5. I’m sorry.

I want you to know that whenever I cancel our plans or deny your invitations, I feel awful. I’m sorry my social anxiety takes a toll on our friendship. I’m sorry for all the cancelled plans and missed opportunities for fun. I’m sorry, and I hope you understand.

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6. I’m going to try harder.

It’s always been easier to give in to my social anxiety than to try and make it better. But because I care about our friendship, I’m going to try harder to get the upper hand over my social anxiety. I’ll try different forms of therapy, meditation — whatever it takes — to be able to do fun, social things with you.

7. I miss you.

When I decline your invitation to go out and am sitting in my room alone, I miss you. I miss you making me laugh, comforting me and reminiscing over funny things in our past. I miss you when you’re out with our other friends, and I’m disappointed I’m not only missing you, I’m missing out. You mean a lot to me, and missing you fuels my desire to get control over my social anxiety so I don’t have to miss you anymore.

My social anxiety is a big part of my life. It also prevents me from enjoying my life and our friendship. I’ve spent too long being alone in my room, hiding from socialization, and hiding from you. I care about you and our friendship, and I don’t want to be alone anymore. Please understand, and be patient with me, while I find what works for my social anxiety. And please remember: it’s not you, and it’s not me — it’s my social anxiety.

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Knowing the Triggers of My Anxiety

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It’s officially summer!

It’s been hot here in New York, which means beach days and barbecues and bike rides and… anxiety.

Wait, what?

Um, yeah. You see, I don’t love the heat (or humidity), and this discomfort has historically been one of my triggers for a potential panic attack. Not to worry, I have not recently had a panic attack or even come close, but not because I’ve stayed inside in the air conditioning and avoided all  scary situations that might trigger me – because, um, that would suck and make for a very lame summer. Instead, I have learned what my anxiety triggers are and do my best to take care of myself so I can enjoy the sun and fun that summer in NYC has to offer.

Whether you’ve experienced panic attacks like me or just get a little jittery from time to time, it’s useful to know what might bring it on, and take extra good care of yourself when faced with these feelings. So here are mine.

Heat: Feeling like I’m overheating can make me woozy. I’ve learned if I don’t find a way to cool down at least once a day (e.g. taking a cold shower or sleeping in the AC at night), it can kinda build up. But I don’t avoid situations where I might get hot; I simply plan for them: I wear comfortable and cooling clothes, bring plenty of water, and maybe even a hat. I’ll take breaks in the shade and make sure to cover my bases with the rest of my triggers…

Hunger: After experiencing debilitating panic attacks years ago, I realized the feeling of hunger is akin to the feeling of anxiety in my belly. When I feel like I’m starving, I can begin to feel faint and weak and talk myself right into that “I’m not OK” mindset, basically creating my own panic attack. I decided back then I’d always rather be full than worry about eating too much. I bring snacks with me if I know I’ll be out for a while, and I never push myself too hard. Skipping meals doesn’t do anyone any favors; you need to eat, you’re a human.

Crap food: OK, so maybe I should be a little more precise – eating crap food doesn’t make me feel like a million bucks, either. Although at times of discomfort I often want to turn to foods like pizza and ice cream, I know it’s not what my body needs. Science tells us the foods we eat can affect our moods, so I focus on the good stuff. I avoid processed and instead eat whole foods, making sure to get protein to feel strong and energized and full.

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Caffeine: At the time my panic peaked, I was crushing a four-shot Americano every day. Yup, that’s a lot of caffeine. No wonder I was feeling jittery and my heart was racing, only to take an energetic nosedive later. I now avoid the stuff almost completely and feel balanced throughout the day.

Sugar: I know I recently went on a rant about sugar, but I really can’t say it enough: it is the worst for me. It hides in everything from cereals to breads to pasta sauce, and it causes a similar spike and crash like coffee. It messes with my insulin levels and leaves me feeling tired and bummed out. This is not the pick-me-up I need when I’m feeling a little off to begin with.

Alcohol: I know, I know. But alcohol is a depressant, and while it might feel pretty nice at first, that aftermath can leave me feeling pretty low. My biggest and scariest panic attack ever came in the middle of a terrible hangover; in fact, for a while I thought it was just the weirdest hangover I’d ever had. A few drinks are fine; I just try to avoid the hangover.

Sleep: I always, always, always try to get enough sleep. All systems are basically down for the count when I haven’t been getting rest. I notice I feel hungrier when I’m tired (see note about hunger above), and tend to want to eat crap (again, see above), and just generally feel weak and not-so-confident.

It’s no coincidence that the ways to reduce anxiety are also the ways to just take good care of yourself in general. And while anxiety can go much deeper than these triggers, I find as long as I’m feeling healthy and strong, I can pretty much tell myself I’m OK if any of those old familiar feelings start to crop up.

Just this week I faced a potentially triggering situation, where I had only gotten one hour of sleep, barely ate, and took the subway at 3:30 a.m. into Times Square to do yoga with a bunch of strangers. I caught myself checking in: Am I OK? I’m tired and hungry and I’ll be in the middle of the city and far from home and nobody there knows me and will know how to take care of me if anything happens! I realized I could sit there and talk myself right into a panic attack, imagining the scene where I become stuck to my yoga mat in the middle of Times Square and totally ruin this awesome experience for myself — or I could imagine the opposite: a strong, albeit tired, version of myself, rockin out some yoga in one of the most iconic places on earth. I chose the latter, and as soon as I stopped focusing on it, those jittery feelings subsided.

What makes you feel shaky or uncomfortable? How can you avoid those feelings, without avoiding life? Find this post helpful or know someone who would? I’d love it if you’d share it.

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