What Anxiety Has Given Me

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Imagine your biggest fear, the feeling of your heart racing, hot flashes as you start to sweat. You try to think clearly but the panic takes over. You don’t know what to do. Your body tells you to get as far away as possible, yet somehow you find it hard to move.

So what is your biggest fear? Heights? Spiders? Clowns? Of course, you would only feel scared when confronted with this terrifying situation. What if you have multiple fears? What if your biggest fear is leaving the house? Typically, leaving the house is a very ordinary occurrence, with minimal risk or danger involved. All you have to do is get up and walk out of the door.

Try telling your body that. The thought of going outside has you rooted to the spot, wanting to hide away in a dark corner and never come out. Your mind goes one step further.

Why stop at being scared of the outside world? Why not also be scared of seeing your friends? Why not also be scared of eating?

Anyone suffering from this kind of anxiety must not have a life, right? Wrong.

I’m sure everyone’s heard all about the torture that comes with mental illness or perhaps you’ve even experienced it. Yet, does anyone stop to look at the positives that can come from such an unpredictable disorder? There is no way I would be the person I am today without my anxiety. Many feel they have lost themselves to their illness, wishing for the return of that younger version without a care in the world. Personally, I disagree. I would never trade my current self for that shy girl who hid her nose in books.

My anxiety has given me understanding and compassion. Not only can I relate to those who suffer from similar problems, but I can help them through it and always be a supporting shoulder to lean on if they need it. It has made me appreciate the finer things in life, like a quiet evening in with friends or something as simple as sitting peacefully on the grass by the lake. Once you remember how beautiful life can be, you will want to do everything to keep it that way, for yourself and others around you, too.

My anxiety has made me cross personal boundaries I probably never would have crossed before my mental illness. Despite having never been one for going out in the evenings, there was no chance I was going to miss out on the university experience. It may have taken me a month or two, but I practically dragged myself out to club. And guess what? I loved every minute of it! (I have definitely been clubbing a lot more than I ever thought I would.)

My anxiety has taught me how to get by on my own. Although it is my body that lets me down, I know I will always bounce back. Personally, I find it hard to rely on people, so I have worked out my own coping mechanisms that are sure to get me back on my feet ASAP. It has helped me understand my own mind. This way I can put these measures in place as soon as I feel the anxiety coming on. As much as I want to fight my anxiety and live without any worries, some times are harder than others, and self-care needs to come first.

My anxiety has made me realize I can have anything I want if I try hard enough. The barrier holding me back just makes me all the more determined to break through, making every success feel a thousand times better. After a morning of anxiety, managing a walk to the shops feels like I’ve won a medal. This was nothing compared to the accomplishment of leaving home to go to university. The next step is to graduate and get a career I love (once I’ve worked out what that is).

My anxiety has made me want to push myself to continue doing what I enjoy. After a summer of being dependent on my mother, needing her to walk me to school to make it in for my exams, to move away to university seemed like the extreme opposite. In reality, it was the first major step to surviving on my own and rediscovering all of the things my anxiety stopped me from doing, like eating out and socializing.

My anxiety has taught me to make things happen for myself. Without the determination I have developed from this disorder, I would never have applied for volunteering in my local theater or have been so persistent in my summer job search. I wouldn’t have gone out and met the best friends I could hope for and made great memories together.

My anxiety has taught me to hold onto the good things. I finally had the fortune to meet a guy who cared about me as much as I cared about him, and there was no way I was going to let him go. There were so many points where I could have given up and let him walk out of my life, but the idea of our future together encourages me to fight back my demons and try my best for him.

My anxiety has made me who I am. And I wouldn’t change myself for the world.

This post originally appeared on StudentRantz.

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Why I Dream of Becoming a Clinical Psychologist

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I was shaking, but I wasn’t cold. I was on my knees, and there was an unsettling sensation in my chest. I read some verses from my religion book because I knew that at that moment, this was not physical pain — this was inner pain, and those verses could help me gain inner peace. This was the day my life would change. It took a while to understand that what I went through was related to an anxiety disorder.

Ever since those symptoms occurred, I lived with it every day. It wasn’t something that had a certain end; I was living with constant panic and no apparent reason why I felt nervous. This was when things were going good, which only meant when something did not go as planned, it was going to tear me apart.

This is when I started therapy, and today, looking back at what I went through, I would say I’m proud of myself for overcoming my struggle. I can barely remember the pain and can’t imagine it happening to me again. I did research; I spent most of my days on the internet, studying anxiety disorders, people’s experiences with them and how they can influence daily life. Through this, I came across other related psychological disorders and mental illnesses.

Although I learned good techniques in handling my personal circumstances in life and overcoming my anxiety, I was interested in gaining further knowledge. I spent two years of my life researching schizophrenia, dissociative disorders, anxiety and depression.

When I found out psychology is an option in university, I did not think about looking at other options. I believed this is what I was born for; I knew it deep down. I was able to advise those around me, to spread positivity and relieve pain when I saw someone upset. I was able to help others have a positive perspective about certain aspects of their lives.

The day my psychology professors introduced themselves and talked about this field, I was almost in tears. I knew it deep down inside — these are the individuals I want to become when I’m older.

I will never forget how those of us in the psychology field can truly make a change in this world, or in someone’s world.

I once needed help. Now I am ready to help.

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The Power of Words to Someone With Anxiety

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Today a friend referred to me as seductive.

We were cuddling on the couch, they had to leave, we were both making excuses, and their final one was: ”And you’re so seductive”.

My first response was to laugh — we were smiling and joking — and I flippantly said, “You’re so cute!”

But once they were gone, my anxiety kicked in. It started by pricking my curiosity on the meaning of “seductive.” A word I’ve read and heard so many times, with an instinctive contextual understanding. But with many words, in any circumstance, I sometimes wonder if I have been interpreting correctly. It’s so familiar, but only learned by general association, like so many words in our native languages.

So maybe I was wrong in suddenly wondering if my friend had meant I was sexually alluring. And so I flipped to Google, with that simple reasoning.

Or so I told myself.

Of course, all results referred sex — from the most established dictionaries to the modern wiki. So, with some determination (or desperation), I tried a search method I learned when I first had access to internet: the use of a minus sign to exclude all reference to a word or phrase in search results. The word I tried to remove was “sex.”

My screen filled with porn links.

OK, in the original search, right there on the screen, there was some reference to the term’s first use. From a Latin word, meaning “draw aside.” One website explained thus: “Seductive is an adjective that describes the fascinating magnetic pull that someone or something has, an attractive quality that tempts you in some way.” 

Apparently, over time, and increasingly since the 19th century, society has directly associated “seductive” with sex. So now even a fireplace is sexy if you use the adjective right 

But my anxiety wasn’t going to read reason now. It was starting a full attack. 

“Whore,” it said. “Slut.” Streams of abuse pelted out like a machine gun round.

Fear kicked in.

My brain is conditioned from years of abuse, of all kinds, from many people. Anxiety is one of the last remnants left behind. And it knows words are power.

I have no doubt my friend had absolutely no malevolent intent when “seductive” came out of their mouth.

But for anyone — and especially for people with anxiety — any word can be a bullet.

So, for the first time, I started retaliating against my anxiety with my own words.

I had recently purchased this bracelet, which reads, “With brave wings she flies”.

Close up of a bracelet that reads: With brave wings she flies
Victoria’s bracelet

I now wear it at all times. 

“Brave.” I am brave. That is a word that speaks truth in the face of all lies.

“Wings.” I have resources. I have strength. They are a part of me, like all other parts of my body.

“Flies.” I achieve. In the face of all I’ve been through, and continue to go through, I survive.

And with one look at that bracelet, at that collection of words, I fired a single shot:

“No.”

Anxiety faltered.

I used more words.

Anxiety retreated .

I won. No full blown panic attack. No freak out. I carried on my day, feathers ruffled but still able to fly.

Words are power. And anxiety — I am powerful.

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To Those Who Have Both Anxiety and Depression

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It’s not easy having anxiety or depression, and it’s definitely worse when you have both inside of you. It’s like they swirl around you head, always looking for a way to get in and take over you for God knows how long.

Sometimes, they come in as one or the other. Depression comes in and then anxiety takes its place. But other times, they like to come in and construct chaos together.

It isn’t easy. Sometimes you wake up in the middle of the night unable to breathe because of anxiety. Sometimes you wake up late in the day unmotivated to do anything, wishing you’d fall within the mattress and never come out.

It can be a truly a horrible experience. You become scared of when your next anxiety attack or depressive episode will happens.

Fear turns into paranoia.

Paranoia turns into hopelessness.

Hopelessness turns into dread.

Dread turns into negative thoughts.

You begin to think, maybe you’re being punished for whatever wrong you’ve done. Maybe it isn’t worth it anymore. Maybe life isn’t meant for anyone.

Then you begin to have nightmares and wake up feeling numb. The world seemingly endless and dull.

It’s true, it can be horrible. I could write more, but this is what needs to be written next:

You. Are. Not. Alone.

You are loved.

You matter.

You have friends and family who want to help in whatever way they can to get those demons out of your head.

Even a therapist can help you.

Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

The thoughts in your head are wrong, and you’ll realize it and be thankful you beat them.

Just remember this:

It gets better, not immediately but it does.

You are as important as the stars and galaxies.

Nobody ever said you have to face your battles alone.

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

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

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A Message for My Anxiety: You Haven't Beaten Me

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Dear anxiety,

You haven’t beaten me. You beat me up, again and again and again. You kick me when I am down, and you tell me terrible lies. You warn me I will never win. I can’t. I should just stay down. You scream at me and make me feel small and helpless. You are a textbook bully.

But you haven’t beaten me.

I am learning to recognize your lies. Remember when you told me I would never be better? I am better. Remember when you told me you weren’t real? You are.

When you first showed up and told me I was dying, I believed you. You didn’t even need a cause of death. You just showed up and announced that it was all over. You were taunting me in front of my kids. I put on a face for them, but I was cowering.

We’re old acquaintances, but still when you came charging in and running things, I did not recognize you. The old anxiety was small and subservient. The old anxiety was timid. The old anxiety would sometimes spark and fan fear into flames, which leapt about painfully but with minimal destruction. When you charged in like you owned the place, I did not recognize you, and even now I wonder if you aren’t a different player who shares a name.

You screamed at me. “Be afraid. Be afraid of death. Be afraid of pain. Be afraid for your kids. Be afraid for you husband. Be afraid for you parents and your siblings and everyone you have ever loved.” When I confronted each individual fear, you simply invented more and screamed louder.

Until I didn’t know how to argue. Until you were the only voice I could hear. Until your unhinged taunts outgrew my mind. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t get out of bed. I tried to cover you with mind-numbing TV, but you just laughed. I was shaking and vomiting. Remember that?

You’re a mean SOB. But you didn’t beat me.

You shamed me. You told me I was weak if I needed help. Surely I was strong enough to send you away on my own.

The author wearing a Mighty t-shirt

But it isn’t weakness to ask for help. Asking for help isn’t admitting defeat. I needed help. I needed control of my mind. With my doctor, I stood up to you. We didn’t chase you off the playground; that’s is your bully tactic. We just cornered you. We took your power away.

You can stay, but you are not in charge anymore. You can even have a job. Your job is to help me find problems so I can address them before they grow. But I don’t trust you anymore, and so for now we are keeping you under lock and key. Two tiny pills every night before bed.

Anxiety, I am winning. You don’t own me. And I am not ashamed of the help I needed and continue to need. I am only ashamed I ever believed your lies and that I ever allowed you to boss me around.

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When I See My Anxiety in My Sweet Little Girl

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She’s got my eyes.

My golden hair.

My half-moon smile.

My frame.

My dimple.

She is like looking at myself in the mirror 28 years ago.

Inside and out.

And that’s why I worry.

You see, just as much as she looks like me, she also very much has my heart. My book-smarts. And my anxiety-ridden mind. At just a half-dozen young years old.

It absolutely breaks my heart.

Because I know how it feels to be filled-to-the-brim with worry as a child. And not sure how to function without it flooding and overflowing everywhere. Or, in my case, holding it in with all my might, to prevent the dam from breaking.

By her age, I had already witnessed a younger sibling pass away as a baby. And in just another year, I would see my mother go through months of chemotherapy, after an Earth-shattering diagnosis of breast cancer at such a young age.

So, I watched.

Intently observed.

I took it all in.

And I kept it there.

I worried.

I prayed.

My mind was reeling.

Constantly.

Always on edge, waiting for the next “bad thing” to happen.

My parents had me in therapy. And the therapist told them out of any of my siblings I would be the most likely to struggle with anxiety and depression as an adult — because I did in fact hold so much inside. I never knew that until I had children of my own. And, wow, what truth has come from that statement.

I will never forget her second year of preschool. A week of nightly tears. Every time we tried to tuck her into bed. She couldn’t hardly talk. Telling us she had thoughts in her mind, and she could not get them to leave. As I worked hard to hold my own tears back, I worked even harder to put together a game plan. A powerful one. That was going to overcome this beast. Using every resource available to make sure it didn’t rob her of her happiness as a sweet, young girl. I contacted her teachers. I phoned our pediatrician. We scheduled extra time at her upcoming well-child check-up. I reached out to her caregivers. And together, we worked overtime. To “not make a big deal” out of the little things. And, thanks to her incredible teacher, we had the perfect response to those everyday hiccups:

“Sweetie, unless you see a dinosaur walk through that door right now, you have nothing to worry about.”

She loved it. It made her giggle. So we used it. Constantly.

Together, we had created the strongest weapon we could. A team. A village. Working toward one goal. For one child. To combat her anxiety.

This fight is nowhere near over.

The littlest things spark a whirlwind of thoughts in her mind. And the tears begin. And I begin doing the best thing I know how to do.

Talk. to. her.

Do not dismiss her.

Ever.

Because when I do… I can see it in her eyes.

It might be so incredibly minute to me. The most miniscule thing to worry about in the entirety of the world.

But to her… at that moment… at that place… in her mind… it is greater than any mountain imaginable.

And I know what it is like to feel dismissed. As though what I am worrying about is “silly” or “nothing.” Because when you have anxiety, those “nothings” are e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g. Heartbreaking. Forcing an even more intense bottling-up of worries and emotions, racing on a closed-circuit track through your mind.

With school starting in just two weeks, I can already see a shift in her behavior. Thankfully, kindergarten is out of the way. She knows what to “expect” at grade school. But, true to my own nature, she never, ever wants to make a mistake in the eyes of others. Perfectionism is her game. And her enemy. Because it feeds this thieving monster. And keeps it coming back for more.

We expect some acting out to unfold. Never away from home. And that’s OK. Because we know that this house… our family… these grounds… are all part of her “comfort zone.” Where she can free those thoughts. Anxious feelings. And constant worries. And, as long as she knows what she can/cannot appropriately say when she is letting those fears go, this will continue to be a “safe” place for her to release, always.

On our part, we will continue to comfort her. To listen intently. Not to dismiss. But not to feed into making anything greater than it needs to be. We will try to remind her to keep her eye open for dinosaurs. We will be firm, but gentle. We will keep in contact with her teachers. Her doctor. And anyone who will be a significant part of her life.

And if this crook tries to finagle his way in to take even more from my daughter than he already has? You better believe, this mama is ready. To fight, with every ounce of my being. For her happiness. For her childhood. For her mental health. And to break the cycle of hereditary anxiety. As much as I possibly can.

Because, oh, how I know that our precious girl is destined for incredible things in this life. Already wanting to change the world. And there is no way I am going to stand idly by and let a thieving seven-letter word stop her.

Image via Thinkstock.

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