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.”

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Dear Anxiety: Today I Take Back My Own Mind

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Dear anxiety,

Today I let you go. You do not rule me.

You are a part of me, and your existence I cannot deny, but you do not have the final say.

I will breathe through the panic, through the pounding in my chest, the dizziness and the sound of blood pumping in my ears. I will survive, again and again; you will not win. I will not be beaten by that which my own mind created. You are a resounding voice in the back of my mind saying over and over how I am not enough, how I will always fall just short. You are fear and hesitation, the isolation that has kept me locked up for too long.

But today I say enough.

Dear anxiety,

Today I take back my own mind, even if just for a bit. There will be times when I stay inside because the fear of being seen is too great, times when the panic attacks come back unbidden and unwanted. But this war has not been won, and you have underestimated me. I acknowledge you for what you are, an opponent as strong as the day is long. But you are a monster of my own mind, and therefore you cannot be stronger than me. You are a part of me, but that also means you are smaller than me.

Dear anxiety,

Today I let you go. I am staring into the face of fear, but I will not blink.

Today I become the master of my own mind again.

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I'm Not Scared to Talk About My Anxiety Anymore

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I have a friend who visits me sometimes. He often just drops in unannounced. Sometimes he stays way longer than he is welcome.

He doesn’t bring anything except fear and worry.

When he’s around, I feel like I’m just treading water.

I ask him politely to leave, but he hangs around, waiting to drag me down.

I make him a hot drink, but it’s never got enough milk. I bake something, and he tells me all the ways I could have done it better.

He brings the world news with him and explains all the reasons why I should be scared.

I would hide him from people and delete his messages, but he would always find a way to get to me, and he always uses the disappointed emojis.

He’s a hell of a guy, that Anxiety. And I hear it’s not just me he visits either.

Anxiety is a weight in the pit of your stomach, a million tiny little things you worry about and can’t get out of your mind. It keeps you awake; it knocks the wind out of you. Being a parent with anxiety means there are extra things around you to make you equally scared and worried. Everywhere you look. Sometimes I felt I was “crazy,” the amount I’d worry and lie awake at night waiting for something bad to happen. But I’m not. And you’re not either.

We don’t talk about it enough. We hate burdening people with our problems, as mothers, sisters, friends and daughters, so we bottle it up. We don’t want people to think we can’t cope, so we hide that Anxiety guy away in our cupboards. But he always finds a way.

I’ve realized I’m not scared to talk about it anymore. I want people to know they’re not alone. She could be your neighbor or the checkout girl at the supermarket or the mailman. Anxiety doesn’t define you — it’s just a part of your journey, and it’s nothing to feel ashamed about. It’s unfortunately more common than you might think.

So together, let’s stand up to Anxiety, that lying bastard. We are stronger and bigger than him.

Follow this journey on T Is For Twins.

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A Conversation With My Anxiety

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Emily: Hey, how are you? You’ve been kind of M.I.A lately.

Anxiety: I don’t want to talk about me. I want to talk about you. I heard you got a D in one of your classes and barely scraped C’s for the rest. Not doing so hot in the scholarly world, are we? What a huge disappointment. That’s not even average, and mediocrity doesn’t cut it. I also heard you have no idea where you’re headed in your career, or life in general.

Emily: Look, I’m… I’m taking care of it! I have an internship this summer, and everything is going to be fine. I might be stuck in a rut, but figuring things out isn’t that easy, you know.

Anxiety: But you’re trembling, dreading the future’s arrival because you don’t know what it holds for you (that is, if it’s holding anything for you at all). The lack of control and perfection is paralyzing you. Your internship isn’t exactly industrial, and while your friends are gallivanting abroad or building relationships in the corporate world, you’ve failed to do either. You suck at school and in the work force. Can you even say you’re a part of the work force? After all, that internship is unpaid and you don’t do much.

Emily: What the heck man! I do a lot and I love my job! My coworkers are nice and treat me like an intelligent individual. I…I don’t suck! You’re a jerk.

Anxiety: They’re faking it, all of it. So are your friends and classmates. Trust me, I’m usually right about these kinds of things. You’re a useless peer and that uselessness poisons your family life, too.

Emily: Stop! Leave me alone! Leave my world alone!

Anxiety: You need me to keep it all in perspective, Emily. What good would it be for your character if I left you with this false impression that you don’t have to stress about your relationships or feel like you’re going to lose the people you trust the most? I can’t let you get too comfortable. It would only blow up your ego and damage your sense of humility.

You’re too privileged for me to let that happen. You really think when your family looks at you, they’re proud? They’re not proud. They’re aghast. They’re ashamed. Your dad held multiple jobs that took him away from home. Your mom left work to run a smoother household with more attention, more love. Do you think failing to keep calm throughout your youth is rewarding to them? You screwed up, Emily. You are the screw up.

Let me break it down for you: Your parents? They’re disappointed in you. Your sister? She thinks you’re a loser. Your auntie? She wonders how a girl can be so god**mn lazy.

The only reason why your friends keep you around is because your self-deprecating humor is mildly entertaining. They fell in love with the light-hearted Emily, but if they were ever introduced to sad, desperate Emily, they would leave as quickly as they came. I haven’t even mentioned your love life yet. I mean, if you had one.

Emily: Please, don’t go there. I’m choking on my own tears. My head is pounding from the pain. My chest is sinking. I can’t feel my face, and my hands are cold and sweaty. I’m tired.

Anxiety: You’re nobody’s first choice. You’re a back up plan, at best. You may have thought he was cute and kind, but you were a fool to catch feelings for someone you’ve just met. You want attention from someone who won’t give it to you. Pathetic.

Emily: Are you done yet?

Anxiety: You don’t ask the questions. I do. Are you done with this suffering yet? Because I know what I do to you. First, I pay you a visit while you’re working toward a goal, like a project or something. Then, I sit at your side, gazing at your silhouette, wondering what gives you this illogical idea you can accomplish the task at hand.

So then I stand up and peer over your shoulder. I watch you for a while, and then leave. I continue this for several moments, several days because I have a plan. At the end of a busy period, I pay you another visit, but this time, I don’t want to sit at your side and gaze upon your form. I engulf you.

I hold you and shake you back and forth so that your pen falls from your hand and your glasses drop to the ground. Your heartbeats are erratic. Your breaths are more shallow. Your face is prickly. Your hands are numb. It’s enough to make you done, isn’t it Emily? Are you done with me, with reality?

Emily: No, I’m not. I’m not done with you because you’re not a reality to begin with.

Anxiety: Excuse me? I don’t think you understa—

Emily: Oh, but I do. Anxiety, you feel real. All the things you said you do to me, yes, it does happen. When I was kid, you didn’t have this much strength. I remember you trying to peer over my shoulder all the time, but when we locked eyes you would cower behind the shadows and run away from me as fast as you could.

Anxiety: But, but this isn’t about me, this is about—

Emily: Me, I know. And I’m telling you there was a time when I could make you get lost with just one powerful, intimidating glare. Unfortunately, that glare has dimmed over the years. I want it back, and I can get it back. You scare me and hurt me, but you don’t own me. You’re a part of my life, but I still posses the power to vanquish you.

Anxiety: But—

Emily: My family loves me. My friends think I’m pretty cool. My classmates have generally enjoyed my participation in class, and my co-workers think I’m rather helpful. It is you, not me, that must face the truth, to understand you need me more than I need you. The only way you can be my reality, Anxiety, is if I let you.

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How My Anxiety Makes Me a Walking Contradiction

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I like to refer to myself as a walking contradiction. I hate waiting in line and little children, but I go to Disneyland any chance I get. I love getting new clothes, but I hate going to the mall. I need to make my bed every morning to feel neat, but there are clothes and empty Amazon boxes thrown around the room.

I don’t understand how I have come to be this massive contradiction, but I have noticed it also heavily pertains to my perception of my anxiety. I try not to let my anxiety define me. Yet, my experience with high-level general and social anxiety has shaped me into the person I am today.

I always had a highly activated nervous system, even as a baby. When my parents would leave the house, I would cry and cry until I threw up. I couldn’t have sleepovers or go to camp. I even had a hard time the first couple years of elementary school.

Looking back, I now realize I have been anxious for a long time, but these symptoms presented themselves as normal child behavior. Being able to recognize this from the other side of my diagnosis is extremely important to me. I now better understand myself and the choices I made, as well as my thoughts and behaviors throughout my entire life. I would not change the lessons I had to learn and the obstacles it took for me to get to know myself. I am proud of my mental illness.

However, it is exponentially harder to do basically anything in life when you are have severe anxiety. It is hard for me to sit still in the workplace and concentrate on a big project for an extended period of time. It is hard for me to communicate with my superiors when something is bothering me. It is even harder for me to choose what to eat for dinner sometimes because my brain is in sport mode.

I had an unfortunate experience at work the other day, where I was reprimanded for what was perceived as goofing off on my phone. In reality, I was trying to self-care in the form of playing a mindless game on my phone and texting my mom. These are tools I have had to learn to use to cope with my anxiety in a high-stress environment, and it completely backfired. It was here when I had to explain this situation to my superior and essentially use my anxiety as an excuse for not acting in a professional manner.

It was weird to directly blame my anxiety for my behavior because I never thought trying to take care of myself could ever be considered wrong. The choices I make are the ones I know are going to make me happy. I have to take into consideration how my anxiety is going to be triggered because of the situations I’m in.

I do talk about having social anxiety and being exhausted at the end of a work day, but it’s not something I try to use as an excuse. I accept being a giant contradiction. I am proud of the person I have become because of it. It may be complicated at times, but it always feels right.

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When Anxiety Makes You Your Own Worst Enemy

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In those brief moments of clarity right after the Xanax kicks in, or right after the caffeine from that first cup of coffee flows straight through my veins, I truly and actually feel like everything will be all right. Unfortunately, those moments are brief, and for the rest of my day, and sometimes night, it is usually a constant battle in my head. The anxious thoughts escape from their pen at the back of my mind and slowly entangle themselves in my day-to-day thoughts.

What am I having for dinner? becomes: What does this feeling mean? Should I feel this way or that way? What did this interaction mean? What if this happens? Or that? Constantly taking my emotional temperature is debilitating. It robs me of my ability to live in the moment, the present. It also saps me of my energy, as it is mentally exhausting to constantly assure and reassure yourself all day that everything will be fine, and bring yourself back to the present.

Thankfully, these are only my days when my anxiety spikes. These spikes can last from a number of days to months. But once they are over, I only realize the spike has ended because my mind is suddenly quiet without the constant fight. It’s almost like the absence of city noises in the suburbs — surprising and so welcome. That’s when I get to feel “normal,” or what I assume people without anxiety feel. And it is glorious. I feel heartbroken because the way my brain is wired means this isn’t the status quo for my mind. But my mind finally feel settled at the same time, like I never had a demon in my head I needed to fight: myself.

In these moments, I hope and pray the anxiety has been quieted for good, forever, and I can count it as something I used to have. And yet, the day inevitably comes when life stressors — family, friends, relationships or even new and exciting stages of life — come about, and my anxiety sees an opportunity to try to sabotage me. Sabotaged by my own brain is really how I feel. I know rationally that the thoughts are my worst fears preying on my mind, and I can try to let them pass, because I might never be able to control them or eradicate them. The harder you try to erase the thoughts, the worse they become. It is a testament of will to have anxious thoughts, sit with them and let it pass by. To work hard and wait patiently until the spike passes.

To all those who read this and know exactly what I’m talking about — you’re not alone. I may not know you, but I know there is a community of us. We exist. We walk around like everyone else, secret battles raging in our minds. These battles will eventually pass, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t reach out a hand when you see the signs of someone struggling. Talk to that friend who looks overwhelmed; share your story, as scary as it may be. Your strength can become theirs, and together we can break the taboo.

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