two women talking on the beach

Anyone who knows me knows I am not shy when it comes to talking about my anxiety and panic disorder. But it hasn’t always been that way.

I spent most of my life hiding my mental illness. Then one day I realized – what’s the point? I’ve always wanted to help eliminate the stigma of mental illness, yet I was too ashamed to tell my own story. How could I help others accept their mental illness when I couldn’t even accept my own?

The reason I hid my disorder for so long is because I felt guilty about it. I had a good and comfortable life with parents who loved me and a group of close friends. I knew kids who didn’t have all these privileges and faced more challenges in their lives than I did, so why was I feeling this way?

But that’s the thing I’ve learned about mental illness. It’s not logical. For me, mental illness means feeling all the physical symptoms of sadness or anxiety without having any reason for it. And sometimes, this can be even scarier than having a socially acceptable reason to feel that way.

I’ve shared my stories of anxiety to show others that mental illness can happen to anyone – no matter what your life is like. It’s a disease you can’t control and, for me, beating myself up for feeling that way only fed into my anxiety. So I stopped beating myself up and decided to accept it as a part of my life instead.

I wish I had been told this when I was younger and first coming to terms with my disorder, so now I’m telling you: if you’re battling any kind of mental illness, it’s not your fault. And, like any other disease, there is treatment available to help you manage it. There’s also a huge community of people going through the same thing who you can talk to – like me. You are not alone.

Follow this journey on Meant to Live.


Anxiety hurts. It’s the fear you’ll never measure up. You worry about everything. (Are people going to think this post sounds bad? Should I be working on something else instead? Why did I waste five minutes staring at my phone deciding if I should turn on my music or not?)

I’ve been plagued by these anxious feelings for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I was labeled a “shy” kid, but I was anxious. I was terrified of being ridiculed if I gave the wrong answer or because my voice has always sounded a little bit like Minnie Mouse. I didn’t want to take some else’s turn to speak. (It didn’t matter that they talked over me.) I was an obsessive rule follower … not just some of the rules; all the rules. All the time.

I finally allowed myself to talk more often in class around the time I started writing, but I was still the shy girl. I can vividly recall my eleventh-grade English teacher writing a response in my class journal telling me she would appreciate me sharing my thoughts out loud with the class more often. It was a struggle. I felt like I was repeating what someone else said. I’d been quiet for so long, I didn’t know how to express myself. I could think of a million things I wanted to say, but getting them to come out of my mouth was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done.

I still struggle with tripping over my words when I talk in front of people. When I speak in public, it takes days to work up the confidence to do it, and I worry the entire time. Anxiety tells me no one is interested, or they’re only there to be polite.

Even my writing (my profession and my creative outlet) causes me anxiety, especially when I have get writer’s block. I worry myself sick over trends and markets and whether or not I’m the right person to write my stories. I hate that about me.

Anxiety raises its ugly head all the time in my life. I’m writing this story right now because I’m anxious about working on a story for my day job, and I’m trying to reassure myself that I can put coherent words on a page. Writing is the thing I’ve always wanted to do, but sometimes, I don’t even feel qualified to journal for myself, much less write for publication.

When I’m overwhelmed and can’t see past the fear beating inside my brain, often the best thing I can do is put on some music, zone out and write whatever words want to come out.

I start, stop, delete, hold my breath and beg my brain to make sense.

Get through one more sentence.

Finish the paragraph.

Take a breath.

Hands on the keyboard, don’t take both hands off the keyboard or the words might not come back.

Write the next word that comes to mind.

Write another, and another.

Soon I’ve got something. It might be one paragraph that took me an hour to write or an article for my day job that seemed too daunting to approach, but the words flow. They haven’t deserted me yet. I’m still writing and still worrying, but I can do it.

I’ve survived this anxiety for years.

I’ll keep fighting it. I have found my voice, and I refuse to let it silence me.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

The ugly side of the world has shown itself a lot lately, particularly showing us bloodshed and carnage. Merciless shootings have left innocent victims in our streets and placed fear in our hearts and homes. That fear doesn’t just fill my heart and occupy my home, it consumes my mind and intensifies my already overwhelming anxiety.

It is difficult to manage my anxiety when the world around me is spinning with hurt and violence. Here are the five ways I cope:

1. I don’t watch the news.

I believe it is important to stay informed of what is going on in the world but only until I’ve reached a certain point. When I start to obsess over what I see in the news and lose sleep because I’m too anxious and scared to shut my eyes, I know it’s time to put down the newspaper, turn off the TV and abstain from social media.

2. I don’t isolate myself.

Being overwhelmingly anxious is bad enough. For me, being anxious alone is even worse, especially when I’m experiencing fear. I find safety, physical and mental in numbers. Even if I don’t want to be social due to my social anxiety, I surround myself with others who will have a positive influence on my mood. I feel better and less anxious by being around my friends and family even if my social anxiety tries to keep me from them.

3. I journal.

The worst part about my anxiety and being afraid is how I obsess over both of those feelings. I try to expel the anxiety and fear from my worried mind by journaling about it. I imagine I am physically spitting out the words and they are getting literally stuck on the page and are indefinitely out of my mind. It works for me. As I write, I feel more calm, more in control of my thoughts and not as anxious or scared.

4. I go to church.

When everything in the world seems dark all at once, I seek light at church. The minister’s message is enlightening and being amongst the congregation is comforting. Church requires me to get cleaned up, which boosts my self-esteem and makes it easier to let my inner light shine through to others, who may also be encased in the darkness of the world. Church is like a lighthouse in the night. I seek it like a lost ship and feel safe when I find it at church.

5. I volunteer.

The world definitely needs more love, more hope and more people trying to do good. I do my small part in giving others love and hope by giving my time as a volunteer at places like my local nursing home and Humane Society. When I volunteer, I’m helping others in need. When I’m helping others, I’m able to let go of my fear and anxiety for a little while. Volunteering in this world right now means doing a little bit of good when we’re all focusing on the bad. Helping others temporarily cures my anxiety and shifts my focus from fear to focusing on the good in the world.

When our world turns dark, violent and mean, my anxiety becomes hard to manage and I become scared. I don’t think rationally when I’m scared and don’t see my world in a healthy way when I’m anxious. Instead of letting my fear and anxiety control how I see the world, I do these five things in attempt to manage my fear and anxiety, and to remind myself that even though bad things are happening in our world, there is still good.

1. I’m sorry if sometimes I don’t reply to you. I’m not trying to be rude. The words just aren’t coming out.

I know it comes off as rude when you talk to me and I just smile and look the other way. I’m sorry. My brain moves much faster than my mouth, and sometimes the words get so jumbled together it makes me too nervous to speak.

2. It’s OK to tell me if you need specific accommodations and/or help due to a mental health disorder.

I know it’s scary, and I understand.

You wouldn’t be the first person to ask me to seat you in a specific area. I know how it is to feel trapped in a sea of too many people and screaming children to the point that you can’t enjoy yourself. It’s OK. You don’t even have to tell me why you need to be away from people. I get it.

3. I know you’re right in front of me, but I don’t see you.

Please don’t be so rude. My anxiety keeps me from focusing. Sometimes I just look at you and smile, but I don’t realize you’re in front of me right away. I know it’s annoying — it annoys me as well.

4. Yelling at me if I mess up doesn’t help the situation.

It only makes me more anxious. 

I spend a lot of my down time worrying I messed up at some point during my shift. I know it’s frustrating when I mess up, but yelling at me won’t fix it. I’m already tearing myself apart inside.

5. I’m sorry I’m avoiding you even though we know each other.

If I see you while I’m at work, I’ll probably act like I don’t know you. It’s not because I don’t like you, I just don’t know how to push myself to act “normal” during social situations like that.

6. Sometimes, I need your help.

It’s hard. Dealing with people is not one of my specialties. I can hardly deal with myself. I can’t help it. If you notice I’m having a hard time, please help me because I’m too scared to tell you I’m struggling.

7. I promise I’m trying.

It takes time. Some days, I’ll walk in with no problem and do my job. Other days, it will take everything I have to show up at work. On those days, I promise you I’m doing my best. I know I frustrate you. I frustrate myself too, but please let me take a moment to figure out what I’m doing. I can do it if you’ll just let me show you.

For years, I have seen a quote floating around social media. Shared over and over. And over again. A post  I have a really difficult time “liking,” because it’s one with which I don’t always agree. Not because I don’t think it’s beautiful and inspiring. No, not one bit. Simply because I don’t always find it to be true:

“Happiness is a choice. You can either choose to be happy or miserable. The amount of work is the same.”


You can “choose.”

That’s where I have a difference of opinion. Because, I know for both myself, and countless others reading this, happiness is not always a matter of choice.

You see, for as long as I can remember, I have been at the utter mercy of a relentless thief. Literally stealing the joy, the happiness, from so very many of life’s most-treasured moments.

A crook that has always been a part of my life. But one that totally and completely grabbed hold of my life, when becoming pregnant with our oldest, and that has kept its grasp for a very long time.


A seven-letter word. That took control of my existence. And wouldn’t let go. That forced me to feel as though I was living my reality inside of a glass box. Watching the world around me thrive and grow and flourish. While I was entrapped. Held captive. By a force over which many times, I have no power. And I hate it. Despise it. That doesn’t even seem to cover it.

A bully. Pushing me around, forcing my mind to spend hours at a time set on a closed-circuit of “worst-case” scenarios, without a stop sign in sight. Like going scuba diving without my oxygen tank. Or sky-diving without my parachute. Grabbing for any kind of life-preserver around me at the moment. Literally, at times, struggling to catch my breath.

Thankfully, through each and every one of my experiences, as hard as they may have been, and still are, I have learned my “triggers,” and how to map out successful strategies for combatting these worries. Still, the path to feeling as though I am finally able to exist without feeling as though I am encompassed in cage bars has not come without a bumpy trail. My mind is always left reeling, constantly thinking about just how much I have missed out on. Because of this stupid force. This invisible predator. That took my joy. And let fear seep in to every moment meant to be amazing. That robbed me of my confidence. And stole so much contentment.

If you look at me from the outside, you would most likely never label me with “mental illness.” And neither do I. When I look in the mirror, I see someone who has achieved. Who is well-educated and graduated at the top of both my high school and college classes. Someone who excelled in sports, setting records and breaking them. Someone who loves to give and be around other people. An elementary teacher for over a dozen years. A wife. A mother to four. Who is “highly-functional” on a daily basis.

But I also see someone who is continuously filled with worry. A type of worry that deprives me of more moments of happiness than you could probably ever imagine.

My mental illness does not define me. It is simply a part of me. Some days, a much larger part than others.

While my anxiety has taken so very much from my life, it has also given me something for which I am so grateful: a story to share. One full of encouragement. The strength to step out of the shadows. Away from my comfort zone. And share my experiences with others. In hopes of encouraging them to know they are not alone. That anxiety isn’t something that has overshadow the entirety of someone’s being. That it is only one piece. And most importantly, that this is never something about which someone should feel ashamed. Ever.

The one thing I hope to share more than anything else? The one small piece of the puzzle I would wish for everyone to understand? Having anxiety and struggling with these smothering feelings is not a choice. There are days when it feels miserable to be happy. Standing in total anticipation of the next “bad” thing to happen. The “amount of work” that simply goes into keeping it all at bay, and to very well make it through a given day, can be utterly exhausting.

You may never have experienced anxiety. You may not think you know anyone around you who has. Yet, chances are you do. You may never know. Because this person may not speak up or reach out. Chances are, he/she is struggling. In complete silence.

Respectfully learning something about this illness can move mountains in the eyes of others. You see, it only takes a moment to know:

Those with anxiety can’t predict when it might hit.

In the mind of someone with anxiety, the seemingly irrational thoughts and worries are so very real.

There is often not an explanation for the anxious thoughts.

Those with anxiety are typically always in “limbo,” even when all is well… just waiting for the next worry to reel through their mind.

Experiencing anxiety tends to cause hours of overanalyzing.

Anxiety “looks” different for each individual. And it can “look” different from day-to-day for just one person.

You may or may not be part of someone’s “comfort zone” at any given moment.

You may not fully understand, but you can still be part of someone’s support system.

And if you think for even one second that those with anxiety, depression and beyond would not “choose” happiness and tranquility in those moments of panic, suffocation, and sometimes pure fear… “mistaken” would be an understatement. Truly, those things are all we want. Even for one moment.

Image via Thinkstock.

You can’t handle this.

This is another disease that could end his life.

This can’t be happening.

What if he dies in his sleep?

What if he doesn’t wake up? What if he falls off his bed, I don’t hear it and he goes in to shock? What if I don’t know how to help him? What if I’m not capable? No, I’m not capable. I can’t do this. This is too hard. I’m not strong enough for this. Why does everyone think I’m strong? I’m not strong. I’m weak. My body is tired. It’s probably because I’m sick. I’m probably dying of an undiagnosed disease. Cancer. Heart attack. Stroke.

I’m tired, but I can’t sleep. My mind is on another sprint through every dark scenario that could maybe happen. As I lay there wide awake, I cannot turn off my brain. The only thing in my mind is how to get through another day of handling a chronic illness I cannot control. How do I manage to care for a child who is chronically ill when I have generalized anxiety? Even though I’m on prescription drugs for anxiety, I still have panic attacks. My heart will race so fast, I feel like it will explode. My appetite will be completely gone. I can go days without even thinking about eating. There have been points in my life where I have lost more than 20 pounds in a matter of months due to high anxiety.

At its peak, I could do days without more than two to three hours of sleep a day. In my experience, doctors often want to medicate with sleeping medication only. They don’t always tell you how much of a zombie you might feel like the next day. They don’t always tell you that you will feel so foggy, you may not remember the first few hours of your day. Instead of sleeping pills, I just opt to try to sleep on my own. It’s horrible. Most days I feel like I’m debilitated in exhaustion. When I do finally drift off to sleep, my son will wake up from a night terror, discomfort from his feeding tube, or be scared because his night light is out. Somehow you get use to not sleeping, or at least, not sleeping well. Even though each and every day, I feel physically exhausted, I keep on moving. The truth is, there is no other choice. There is no one else to care for my son. There is no one else I want to care for him, and with his debilitating disease, I have yet to find a balance of caring for myself and caring for him.

When I’m surrounded in a crowd, I am easily seen as a bubbly, extremely happy person. Yet, at the end of the day, I’m drained and incomplete. My brain is buzzing thinking about what I said or if I said something inappropriate due to my anxiety. I analyze and critique everything and consistently worry and panic that I’ve somehow upset someone or I’ve made an enemy. More than 99.9 percent of the time, none of this has actually occurred. I have learned to train my mind to know it’s just the paranoia of anxiety. It’s just what happens to people who are anxious. When the anxiety gets too loud, I have to tell it shut up. Or I wait quietly for my fears to be refuted.

There are days I wonder if I will ever feel OK. Will the anxiety that rips through my mind ever stop? Will the panic I feel subside, and will I be able to just breathe? Medication can only dull the noise that goes on in my brain. It never totally goes away. Therapists teach self-talk, and they teach you to reel it in. Yet on the worst days, nothing is actually able to reel it in. When anxiety takes hold, it’s like I’m stuck on a ship I desperately want to get off, but I’m stuck at sea. The waves are rocking back and forth. I feel sick to my stomach, but I know vomiting will do nothing to ease the pain of what I feel. I close my eyes to make it stop. All I want to do is sleep, and yet my mind continues to race. I slowly drift to sleep, but it only lasts moments.

I know many of us in our community experience anxiety and depression. I know so many other parents who are suffocated by fear. They can’t seem to move forward because the reality of what they are facing is hard to bear. The only thing I can do is continue to lean on God. I need to try to find comfort that he will take care of me. I need to trust he will take care of my son. I need to give my fears to God. Each night I quietly pray for him to guide me, watch over my son and help me manage another day. He is my strength. He is my backbone. He is the feet that carry me when I am too weak to move. I pray each and every day that one day I will feel less anxious, and as I pray, I feel more and more calm. One day I know he will carry all of these fears. One day I will feel peace. One day my son and I will both be whole.

Follow this journey on Without a Crystal Ball.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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