Keys in door lock

Why I Check Locks

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When I leave the house, I have to always pull on the door knob to make sure the door is closed and locked.

Likewise, when I come home, I make sure the door is securely closed and locked before walking away.

If I am heading out and leaving my children home alone, I will check twice.

It isn’t that I fear for the safety of my two large teenage boys who are fully capable of taking care of themselves; I just want to assure myself they’re locked safely inside. After returning my sugar gliders to their cage, I must always tug at their doors to assure myself they’re properly latched. I am admittedly obsessed with whether doors have been properly secured. This isn’t an occasional occurrence. It happens every. single. time. If I’m not the last one at the door, I will ask apprehensively if they’re sure the door is closed and locked. If not secure in their response, I will run back and check again for my own peace of mind. My ex used to ask if I had obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD. For years, I tried unsuccessfully to help him understand that my actions were not driven by OCD — they were one of many ways that my anxiety disorder presented itself.

Growing up, my mother did not believe children were entitled to locks on their bedroom doors. If we were getting changed, doors could be temporarily shut; however, doors must be reopened immediately afterwards because children were not entitled to privacy. Our bedrooms did not have sturdy wooden doors. We had flimsy accordion-style doors that could be easily slid open and closed or broken through without much effort. It was this lack of security and safety that led to a childhood filled with physical and sexual abuse. My bedroom was never a safe haven from beatings or sexual assaults. Anyone could come in through doors that could not lock, and come in they did.

I check doorknobs and locks because locks mean safety in my mind. I need to know my children are safe, my pets are safe, that my life is safely locked away behind a secure door. I know it is not rational. I know that a locked door cannot protect anyone or anything from all the evils of the world, but I cannot control that apprehension from rising every time I question whether everything has been properly closed. For years, I had no control and no safety. Making sure doors have been properly latched and locked is one way I have of regaining control of my life and the safety of those I love.

My anxiety extends beyond locked doors. It rears its head in any ways. Mental illness runs in my family. I am deathly afraid that my children might be suffering in silence so I am forever checking in, wanting to make sure they’re OK and they know I’m here to listen if they need to talk. Relationships are difficult for me because I’ve been cheated on, abandoned and discarded so many times, I live in constant fear of loss and betrayal. It isn’t that I do not want to trust those I love. Whenever things don’t go completely according to plan, my mind searches for a reason and usually lands on the worst case scenario. I need reassurance I’m loved and not forgotten because I’m terrified of being in that position again. I am forever anxious about money and bills because I’ve been homeless before. I am petrified of doctors because I’ve seen people I love eaten alive by illnesses, dying in hospice not even remembering my name. One of my greatest fears is that something will happen to my children; I am forever reminding them to be careful and safe. Fears with a hundred different faces run through my head on any given day.

It is a constant battle to keep my anxiety in check. When I can maintain even the slightest control, it gives me peace of mind, even if it means obsessively checking locks. I know there are so many things in life I cannot control. That fact keeps me up at night. I cannot tell you the last night I slept peacefully because I’m not sure I ever have. The worst, though, is when one of my fears becomes even partially realized. When I found a lump on the side of my breast a few years ago, I had a complete breakdown because I could not go through cancer eating me alive like it had my father; it turned out to be benign but my anxiety convinced me I was dying each and every moment of every day until those results came back. Each and every time my ex would cheat, my anxiety would charge in, full force, reaffirming my fears of rejection and abandonment. When fears are fully realized, anxiety attacks ensue.

I’ve tried and failed many times over the years to help others understand my anxiety. Again and again, I’ve heard critical remarks from others about how my anxiety is completely irrational. As if delivering some hysterical punch line, I always want to laugh and exclaim “Exactly!” Anxiety is never rational. It never makes sense. Anxiety leaks from past traumas and bleeds into every aspect of life. It digs at us like an itch we can’t scratch, gnaws at us so fiercely that it cannot be ignored. When anxiety puts a thought into our head, it becomes an obsession. When fears become realized, there’s no way to stave off breakdowns or anxiety attacks. I control my anxiety to the best of my ability, repeatedly doing things like checking doors to give myself some peace of mind because, while I know I cannot control everything in life, I need to feel I have even the slightest control over my anxiety disorder and my life.

This blog originally appeared on Unlovable.

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Inside the Mind of a Mom Experiencing an Anxiety Attack in Public

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“Please stop, please stop crying,” I’m telling my 2-year-old daughter as she begins screaming for seemingly no reason in the middle of the restaurant. I stand up and carry her to the lobby in hopes that she will calm down. I’ve been tired all week. I’d barely eaten, and my mother suggested we stop to eat after our shopping. She could see in my face I’d been dealing with anxiety and could probably use some food and relaxation. Unfortunately, the moment we’d sat down in the restaurant, my daughter decided lunch was not something she was interested in.

I walked outside, still holding my crying toddler in my arms, bouncing her, asking her what was wrong.  She was not going to let up. I could feel myself cracking. Of course, she was just acting like a toddler. Nothing I should be surprised with at all, but I’d started today already on edge, and this was the final push.

I carried my child back to the table where my mother was waiting, and sat down. “I’m so sorry,” I said. My mom immediately told me not to worry and called the waitress over, instructing her to pack up the food she’d just delivered to the table so we could leave. My mom took my daughter, and I sat, blank-faced, unable to do much more other than hold back tears. I felt myself shutting down.

I can’t take this. Everyone is staring at me. They must think I’m such a horrible mother. Oh, please. Don’t start crying in front of everyone. I’m a terrible mom. Why won’t my daughter stop crying? I just can’t deal with this. Why am I letting all this get to me? Stop it, just stop it, and get a grip! I’m so ashamed. I can’t even snap out of it. My daughter deserves so much better.

I felt so ashamed, for a moment I could hardly move. I looked over at my mom, who was waiting patiently while the waitress returned with the cartons. She knew I wasn’t myself. “Honey, it’s OK. She’s just being a 2-year-old. Don’t worry,” she reassured me. Robotically, I managed to put some of the food into the empty containers. My mom told me she’d grab the bags and meet us outside.

I carried my daughter to the car and clicked her into her car seat. Safely behind the wheel with the doors closed, I began to sob loudly. I couldn’t control myself. I sobbed because I was stressed out. I sobbed because I was ashamed at my inability to play it cool, something I’m usually so good at doing. Big, fat tears ran down my face where my sunglasses couldn’t hide them. I saw my daughter’s face in the rearview mirror. She looked concerned. “Mommy crying,” she said, and I cried even harder. A few minutes later, I managed to start getting my bearings, wiping away the tears before my mother slid into the passenger seat.

“Mom I’m so sorry,” I choked.

My mother looked at me with that knowing stare. She said, “I knew you weren’t feeling well. You’re tired, you’ve had anxiety, and you haven’t eaten all day. It’s all OK. You’ve done nothing wrong. When babies cry, it can get to you. It’s how it is.” I nodded, stifling back the sobs that threatened to re-emerge. “Let’s go home and try to eat something, shall we?” my mother asked. Finally feeling a bit more normal, I turned on the car and drove out of the parking lot.

I knew I hadn’t ruined lunch. I knew my daughter was just being a toddler. I was used to her having tantrums every now and then. It’s what little kids do. Usually I’m great at dealing with these situations, but not this time.

There are times when I’m simply prone to anxiety. I’d had a rough week, and sometimes it’s not possible to always be calm. Sometimes I don’t have a choice, because I’m not able to fight the feelings that overcome me. When anxiety takes the reins, it’s just a matter of waiting until I can regain control of my mind again. There are periods of shame. There are moments I wonder what others must be thinking, if they can see the panic behind my eyes. I wonder, Do they notice? I can only hope the majority of my worry is in my mind, because this is what it’s like to experience panic in public, and it is far from a positive experience. It comes with feelings of fear, worry, shame, and embarrassment. Though thankfully these days my anxiety attacks are few, and relatively far between, it doesn’t change the impact they have once they decide to surface once again.

It’s difficult not to feel self-conscious when experiencing an anxiety attack in public. The truth is, the people surrounding us may not even notice anything is wrong at all, as much of the trauma is happening within. For mothers, there is an added stress because we often feel we are expected to be super human. With the responsibility of caring for a young one, there is less room for mistakes, less forgiveness from those believed to be standing in judgment. But it’s important to realize that everyone has a low point. People are not robots. We are filled with emotion, flaws, worries, and stresses. Though it may be a challenge, it’s important to try to keep in mind that you don’t always have to display an image of perfection. It’s OK to have a miserable human moment; though it may be terrifying or embarrassing at the time, it’s important to give ourselves a pass. No one can keep it together every minute of every day despite the pressure we place on ourselves.

It’s part of being human — there is no shame in that.

Image via Thinkstock Images

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This Is What My Anxiety Feels Like. This is My Pompeii.

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This is my Pompeii. The dust settling after the eruption. Cataclysmic tremors that continue to reverberate, leaving me wondering if the ground will ever stabilize. Just when things start to seem like they are steadying out, the suffocating remnants make their way down. Like rain. Infiltrating everything and burying me.

I function well in crisis mode. It has become a default. For almost as long as
I can remember, I have been in a constant state of heightened awareness. It has
all been fight, flight, or freeze, with little wiggle room in between. My
system has become hardwired for hypervigilance and I have learned to
immediately react in a heightened manner – one way or another – with little
delay, no matter the circumstances. But the aftermath, the hours and days and
weeks that follow, leave me feeling gutted, exhausted and overwhelmed. I
replay scenarios over and over in my head. I question the choices I have made.
I wonder how it could have been different and if my decisions, made in the heat
of the moment, were indeed the right ones. I panic. I cry. I rage. I pace back
and forth. My sleep is pockmarked and restless.

Anger and anxiety find their way in no matter what defenses I mount against
them.

It all swirls and twists and turns, weaving itself around my bones and
into my cells.

All of the daily minor inconveniences are magnified infinitely.

A broken mixing bowl feels potentially disastrous.

The electric toothbrush that suddenly stopped working is proof that things are horribly awry.

Children who are out of sorts, rambunctious and overtired are proof of my tenuous grasp. I attempt to push the more devastating violations and betrayals further and further away, denying the reverberations they are creating. Permeating every waking minute, edging into my dreams, and leaving me exhausted, cantankerous and dragging around a devastation that feels too heavy for the circumstances. The precipice feels imminent and daunting, like I am walking a razor thin line, continuously wary of the fall and the potential damage from impact.

All in all, I know there is little I can do. And perhaps not even anything I
would have done differently. But this knowledge does little to assuage the
panic. The anxiety continues to mount and build until it towers over me. I find
myself feeling as though I have been flung from a high branch and all of the
wind has been knocked out of me. I am gasping for air as the tightness around
my chest constricts further and further. The ashes continuing to fall in
torrents.

It was the day after the volcanic eruption in Pompeii that was indeed the most
deadly, the time when people mistakenly thought they were safe. It was only
then that they were assailed by the plume of ash from Mount Vesuvius and frozen in place.

I am not frozen. Far from it. But as I move through my days, I am struggling to breathe all the same.

I want to be able to say it is all OK.

That it is alright.

This is just how things go sometimes.

And while all of those things are true, there is so more to it than that. Much of what I believed in and held to be true and relied upon has been called into question. My faith in others and my trust have been put to the test in ways I would never have anticipated. I feel betrayed. And violated. I am angry, but more than that I am frustrated and I hurt. The series of events have been an undoing and in addressing them I have borne witness to the reopening of old wounds. I am far better at seeing them and tending to them than I was in years past, but they are still there pleading for attention. Because they deserved better. I deserved better. A few unanticipated and unforeseeable events have set so very many things wildly spinning in my head.

I keep waiting for the ride to be over so I can pause, find my footing, wait for the ashes to clear, and hope that the landscape will come back into focus.

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10 Pro-Tips for Loving Someone With Anxiety

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I’ve seen a good number of articles  about living with anxiety and what people should know about it, but I wanted to shed some light on romantic relationships where one partner has anxiety. The struggle of having anxiety and being in love is vastly underrated. Here are some pro-tips for those of you who love someone or are falling for someone who has anxiety:

1. If you’re going to go to battle, know what you’re fighting against.

Anxiety is a battle between your mind and your mind, literally. And sometimes the battle can get heinous, especially when it steps outside of your mind and into your body as a panic attack. Anxiety and panic attacks can get better with time, but it is a condition that your partner lives with forever. Loving someone with anxiety can be difficult. You need to look within yourself and determine if this is something you are capable of doing. 

2. Sometimes there is nothing you can do, and you have to accept this.

Once a panic attack begins, there is nothing you can do to stop it. It has to run its course. With anxiety, there are ways to stop it, but again, sometimes your partner just has a bad day and can’t reach their methods and thought-stopping processes in time. I would encourage you to be supportive, patient and loving during these episodes. Often times, people with anxiety can recognize when their thoughts are going dark, but at the same time, they may not be able to pull themselves out of it before the point of no return. Do not become frustrated because you cannot help. You help us the most by just being there.

3. Learn everything you can about your partner’s condition.

I cannot emphasize this enough. You will have a difficult time communicating with your partner if you cannot understand what anxiety is or what it feels like. Look up people talking about it, for example. Read everything you can about the condition. And even so, some people end up in counseling themselves to try to understand how to help themselves deal with their partner’s anxiety. If you make the effort to understand, your partner will appreciate it more than you know.

4. The worst thing you can do is shame us about our anxiety.

There isn’t a more horrible feeling in the world than someone telling us to “just get over it” or to “just relax.” These statements show a blatant misunderstanding of the nature of anxiety. Believe me, if it was that simple, we would have done it already. We know our anxiety makes everyone around us feel upset or frustrated about it, but if we could help it, we would. Would you tell a depressed person to just stop being sad?

5. We know how much of a burden our anxiety is, and we do not need a reminder.

This is not to say that you can never express frustration or anger about your partner’s anxiety, but there is a way to say it nicely and lovingly. If you say it in a negative way, then you’ve triggered or increased the ever-present worries. Sometimes, in the moment, things slip out or aren’t meant to be said. But these are extremely damaging to us, like getting kicked when you’re down. If you want to speak about it, be as gentle as you can. And no, tough love doesn’t feel like love to us.

6. Having a backup plan will make your partner feel a little easier when out in public.

Anxiety and panic attacks wait for no one. These things can happen in public. Anxiety attacks when it wants and where it wants. What happens if you’re on a double date, for example, and your partner suddenly has an anxiety attack? Develop plans with your partner about what to do when these situations happen, like having a signal or key word to indicate that things are heading downhill, and an escape plan to get out of there just in case. This way, we don’t have to have anxiety about our anxiety, which can lead to said anxiety, if you followed me there.

7. Do not speak about your partner’s anxiety unless explicitly given permission to do so.

Mental illness is still very much stigmatized in our culture. We are seen as crazy nuts, or people who just let their mind run wild and don’t bother to control it. One of the more interesting judgments that have been passed upon me is that I have no reason to have anxiety, since I have a roof over my head and clothes to wear. I lack nothing, what is there to worry about?

Mental illness does not discriminate. The last thing I want is for your family and friends to pass judgment or alter their opinion of me because you told them about my anxiety, the exception being when it’s highly visible, such as a panic attack.

8. Sometimes you will be the trigger. Do not take this personally.

No, our anxiety will not magically skip over you just because we are dating you. If anything, being in a relationship adds to the anxiety. There are constant questions about how to reply to your text message asking what we are doing, what happens if we upset you, what does our future look like and so on. But do not blame yourself in these situations. Do not feel guilty about any anxiety or panic attacks that stem from you. Anxiety is something we have to live with and deal with, in all aspects of our life.

9. Managing anxiety takes time and practice. Patience is greatly appreciated.

While I cannot speak for everyone, I regularly attend therapy where I talk about my most recent anxious moments and learn about cognitive behavioral therapy, a set of techniques used to manage negative thought processes, the very foundation of anxiety itself. Therapy is difficult and challenging, because you have to repeatedly wrestle with your anxiety to learn how to win. We get a lot of homework from our counselors as well. It is hard to cope with failure because perfectionism is in our blood. Be supportive of your partner both when they progress and regress. All battles are easier when you can face them with a partner.

10. Never forget that we love you.

Sometimes anxiety can evolve into rage or depression. It’s a shape-shifter; it takes on a lot of different forms. But in the midst of a bad episode or a difficult time, do not forget that we love you, we care about you, and we appreciate you more than you know. We appreciate you for standing by us when we are at our worst. Our supporters motivate us to keep growing and changing when things seem impossible. And having someone there who genuinely is interested in your well-being and happiness makes the whole “managing” thing easier. Thank you for everything that you do. We love you.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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When the Voice of Anxiety Is in Your Head

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Anxiety is depression’s evil twin. Where one can be found, the other lurks nearby. They work as a team, pairing up to make your path of healing follow longer, unpaved roads. Imagine you are sinking in sand. The depression is the sand holding you down. The anxiety is piling more on top of you to make sure you stay there. There is nothing to grab onto to pull you up, and no matter how hard you fight, you end up buried.

Anxiety is an emotion most people will feel at least once in their lives. For some, this anxiety is situational. When the trauma or loss has healed, the anxiety is either lessened or gone. For me and many other people, the same anxiety is not only heightened but prolonged. It does not always need a “situation” for it to occur.

Anxiety has its own unique voice in my head, which causes added stress and worry. It makes me overthink every moment of every day. It makes me question not only all the things I have done in the past but all the things I am doing now and plan to do in the future.

Anxiety causes me to doubt the simplest of decisions. It often prevents me from making any in the first place. It takes a normal situation like a resolved argument with a friend or family member and forces me to question if it is really resolved or not.

Something like a text not being answered in an “appropriate” time frame can blow my feelings disproportionately out of control. Imagine walking by a group of strangers who are laughing and your first instinct is not that someone must have said something funny. Instead, it is that they must be laughing at you. This is what anxiety can do.

The scale of anxiety ranges from a rapid heartbeat and tightness in your chest to a full blown, debilitating panic attack. I would like to say mine is somewhere in the middle; however, it is exacerbated by my borderline personality disorder (BPD), which slides me up the scale a bit. There is no chilling out, relaxing or even calming down. Telling me to do so is definitely an unwelcome idea.

Anxiety makes me think poorly of myself. It makes me think I am unwanted, unloved and reminds me constantly of the life I had “before” my illness. It makes me wonder if I am good enough to have friends and what they and everyone else thinks of me. It makes me afraid and nervous to attempt anything out of my comfort zone, with the dreaded fear of failure looming. It sometimes feels like the world is closing in on me, and there is nowhere for me to escape. It can be emotionally draining, frustrating and exhausting.

The stigma surrounding anxiety is not conducive to healing. Comments like, “Just cheer up,” “It’s all in your head,” or “Life’s too short to be sad and afraid,” all may be said with good intentions, but are the last things I want to hear. Do you not think if I, or anyone for that matter, could “just cheer up,” we would do so (as there is no enjoyment in anxiety)? There is no pleasure in keeping quiet in a conversation because I am afraid my words will be judged.

There is no fun in the fear felt when I am put in the spotlight or made the center of attention. The worst part about this relentless source of negativity and doubt is rationally you know it is lying. Yet, you just can’t quell the voice.

Image via Thinkstock.

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My Double Life as Child Therapist and Mom to Anxious Kids

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Parenting can be hard when you know all the signs and symptoms of every childhood mental health disorder. Every behavioral hiccup can be over evaluated and scrutinized. Every developmental struggle can be cause for serious alarm.

My introduction to my own child’s issues came as I sat in a post-graduate class on infant and toddler mental health. I listened as the instructor rattled off signs and symptoms that should trigger a cause for concern. I looked around the room and asked, “Isn’t that normal? Don’t all toddlers do that?” Eventually I stopped asking questions and quietly took notes. I realized I was not just a student. I was a worried mom.

I quickly found myself on the opposite end of services. I entered the world of early intervention and in-home services. At times I felt judged. At times I felt demeaned. I vowed to never make any parents feel that way. I stopped services and decided to wing it myself – after all, I was supposed to be a professional.

My oldest child’s issues were predominantly sensory in nature. She had her anxieties, but it was her sensory struggles that controlled our life. Luckily with some patience and time, she learned how to adapt and grew out of her debilitating issues. She still buys clothes based on how soft they feel, but shoes are not being flung at me anymore, so I’ll take it.

It seemed just as my oldest grew out of some of her more debilitating issues, my middle and youngest children stepped in to take her place. Anxiety is rampant in my family genetics, and my kids did not win the genetic lottery.

New struggles popped up before I could catch my breath. One was afraid of the potty. The other was crying at night that there are bees in the bedroom. No, it doesn’t make sense, but neither does anxiety. We deal with what anxiety wants to dish out – stomach painssleepless nights, fear and avoidance.

I have practiced what I preach and preach what I practice. It has been eye opening. Sometimes I forget to take my own advice and make mistakes. My husband will ask, “What would you tell your clients?” “I wouldn’t tell them to do this!” I think. Sometimes when you are so close to a problem, you can’t see it.

I often feel like the universe is playing a joke on me – making me earn the title of child therapist. Making me live what I teach.

Just like any parent, I have good days and I have bad days. I have days when I am struck with fear (the apple doesn’t fall far from the genetic tree)! I have nights where I toss and turn wondering if this latest issue is going to debilitate my child forever, if he will have issues as severe as the thousands of anxious kids I have seen in my practice. I quietly make mental notes in my head about how other kids’ struggles mirror his own. A scary checklist starts to pop up in my head. He does that too. Check. Check. Check.

Lately, I have been talking myself down. Partly because my kids are teaching me how strong and resilient they can be in those brave moments when they face their fears and don’t look back.

My son recently started first grade. I saw the usual signs revving up. A few days before school was about to begin he started to say, “My stomach hurts” all the time. I have taught him to recognize a worried stomach and so he was able to articulate his fears. “I think I am worried about school because my tummy is nervous.”

Knowing my child has already shown signs of OCD and debilitating anxiety, my mental dictator took advantage of my concerns and flashed scenarios of the hundreds of kids I have treated for anxiety.

He won’t be able to go to school. He will throw up and be sent home. He will cling to me and won’t be able to let go. He will get stomach aches every morning. He will start missing school. He will beg to stay home. He will miss so much school he’ll have to repeat 1st grade. He’ll want to be homeschooled.

This is not my paranoia (OK, maybe a little), but these are true stories being played out in my head. These are real life scenarios that have unfolded in my office hundreds of times before. Will he be one of those children? Will his anxiety get as bad as the other kids I see?

Sometimes I wish I did not have this inside view. Sometimes I wish I did not have the gift of knowing the significance of every small fear, phobia and ritual and what beast it can morph into.

This year (so far) my son has surprised me – again. Just like my daughter – my son’s anxiety did not get the best of him.

Yes, he clung to me the first day. But, then he acted like he didn’t know me as he self-consciously sat himself down. In the afternoon I held my breath as he got into the car. How bad was it going to be?

“I had a good day.” He said nonchalantly.

And then I exhale, for now.

We are still battling a slew of irrational fears and thoughts. I have become part mother, part philosopher as my anxious children ask me about their death, my death and all the many dangers that can bring us both there quicker.

Like I teach others, I am taking this whole parenting thing one day at a time. I am no longer going to entertain What if thoughts that want to dominate my mind. I am going to soak up my children as they are and not worry about what’s to come. At least for today.

Do you have anxious kids at home? What’s your story? Share in the comments. Do you know someone who can benefit from hearing this story? Share this article with them.

Image via Thinkstock.

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