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If Only You Knew Me Before My Anxiety Did

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From the time I can remember, I’ve always known deep down I was different. I had fears that didn’t cross most children’s minds. This made me different, but it didn’t take away from my childhood. I was free and I did as I pleased. Captain of the soccer team, a dancer, a honor student, leader and an art club member. I was different, but being different never held me back.

As I started to grow, I don’t know how I went from being this free girl to the person I became. I went from being a leader to not playing the game. I went from being at dance practice three times a week to none at all. I went from an honor student to barely reaching B’s. I was no longer this free girl who had the drive to reach her full potential.

I wanted that girl back so badly I spent most days walking backward though my life. I wanted people to see me how I used to be. The medals in my room always proving I used to be a winner. When you give in from what’s pulling you down, you start to drown. Everyone around me seemed to be living. It felt like I was standing still as laughter was all around me. You start to break the surface, but you get dragged back underneath.

People are always going to judge, because we’re human. We all do it, so maybe the world should stop saying we don’t. We are judged every day based on our clothes, our jobs, our cars and our families. I feel judged every day because I’m different. I’m different because I live with anxiety.

Normal tasks are hard to complete. Hell, even getting out of bed some days is hard. I think most people who live with anxiety will agree they wish people saw them at their good points in life. No one wants to be remembered by their dark days. It’s not possible to walk backward through life. I learned this the hard way, after spending some time trying.

Instead of searching for the person I was before my anxiety took control, I needed to find the things that made me happy. I found a soccer team, started to dance with school, found leadership opportunities and accepted the fact I was different. I’ve known I was different for the longest time, but I let that get to me.

There are days when I wish people knew me before my anxiety did. I struggle to get through the day. I’m the most outgoing person, but some days I don’t want to be. I would love if people only could see me when I was anxiety free. It would be nice if people only saw the good in me.

Maybe I want others to have met me before my anxiety. If someone can’t accept me for who I am at my worst, then they don’t deserve to see me at my best. There are times in life where you lose yourself. You don’t realize it, but years later you do. I didn’t realize how much I changed from middle school to high school. Now that I’m in college, I realize I may have changed. This change may be because of my anxiety.

I have changed, but this change, which I thought was so bad, made me understand some of the biggest lessons in life. One day can change your life forever. Your problems may seem huge, but someone is going through something bigger. Your family is your support system. If you lost friends because of your illness, then they’re not your friends.

Life isn’t fair, but we’re all going through it. You may not be able to find who you were 10 years ago, but that’s OK. We all change. Some of us like who we become, and some of us don’t. The best thing about this life is your free will. If you don’t like your direction, then you can change it. Do you want to know why? Because you’re not a tree. You’re not stuck to one place. It doesn’t matter how many physical trophies or medals you collect. It’s all about the moments in your life when you feel like the winner. Be brave and accept the fact that you can always change.

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7 Ways to Help Me When I Have an Anxiety Attack

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I’ve grown up with anxiety. I’ve always had it, and I may continue to have it. Four years ago, I had my first real anxiety attack. I didn’t know what was happening and how to stop it. I still remember what I was wearing, where I was and what happened on that day. Because that was the day that everything changed for me.

From that day on, I had at least one anxiety attack per month, if not more. My teachers didn’t understand at first, but eventually they realized if I got up and left, I was most likely in the nurse’s office. I got to know my nurse, and she understood how to help me when I was down. But besides our nurse, no one really knew how to help me. So I decided to create this list for all my family and friends and others so they can help me and possibly their other loved ones.

1. Let me know I am safe.

When I have an anxiety attack, my body goes into fight-or-flight mode because it thinks I am unsafe. So letting me know over and over again that I am safe really does help.

2. Give me my space while still being there for me.

Even if you are just sitting in the room with me, it really does help. Sometimes when I’m alone, it takes a significantly longer time to calm down.

3. Distract me.

Although this may seem hard because I will seem extremely distraught, please distract me. If I am not distracted, I will not be able to come out of my attack. You can talk to me about anything in the world and it will help me, no matter how boring it may seem.

4. Don’t ask me the reason for my anxiety attack.

A majority of the time, my anxiety attack is triggered by something I don’t even know. I may not have or know a specific reason for the anxiety attack.

5. Don’t tell me I have nothing to worry about.

Hearing someone tell me I have nothing to worry about makes me feel even worse about having an anxiety attack.

6. Give me time.

It may take me anywhere from five minutes to an hour to get over my anxiety attack. This may see extreme to you, but depending on the severity of my attack, I may need a lot of time.

7. Tell me you love me. 

This is by far the most important part. When I have an anxiety attack, I feel like crap. Telling me you love me begins the process of me getting better.

Although these may not work for everyone, I think some of these things can be used in every situation. Always help someone in any way you can, especially if they’re in a situation where they need you.

Having anxiety is hard, and most who struggle may not come to you when they need you because they are embarrassed or afraid you will not know how to react. If you know someone with anxiety or any other mental illness or chronic illness, reach out. Knowing they have someone to go to in a time of need can mean the world to that person.

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The Problem With Wishing Away My Anxiety

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I’ve written before about my love/hate relationship with anxiety. I love that it keeps me organized and conscientious of others. I love that it has heightened my sense of empathy. I hate that it makes me feel nauseous. I hate that I can’t always enjoy important moments. I hate that it makes simple things really difficult.

My biggest fear when I started to deal with this was: What’s going to happen in the future? Am I going to be able to walk down the aisle without having a panic attack? What about when I have a kid? Am I going to be able to handle parenting when I’m crying and feeling nauseous and like I’m not myself?

Those thoughts scared me a lot because I just wanted the anxiety to go away. I didn’t want to have to deal with it anymore. My main goal was to figure out how to get rid of it once and for all. I wanted to get back to life without anyone knowing. Anxiety felt like a black hole had taken up residence in my chest. It was only a matter of time before it turned me into someone unrecognizable. (Or until Matthew McConaughey tried to use it to send a message to his daughter.)

While this attitude gave me the motivation to start therapy and read as much about anxiety as possible, this is not a healthy way to approach it. Wanting to eradicate anxiety is a form of resistance. It leads to more tension and more anxiety. It’s the classic fear of fear. I was so worried about having an attack in specific situations that I didn’t realize I was keeping myself on alert in every situation. Thus, I was making things worse for myself.

My therapist asked me last week what my ultimate goal would be in terms of my anxiety. She said, “What does the best possible outcome look like?” Well, that’s easy. It’s completely gone. I don’t want to approach it with that attitude because it will make me feel like I’ve failed every time my anxiety shows up. I told her what I really want is to have a set strategy in place. This way when I feel it start to get bad, I will know exactly what to do.

I want to approach this like I’m going to live with it all my life because I probably am, one way or another. Knowing that it’s not going away actually helps me cultivate the accepting attitude that’s so important in anxiety and panic management. Assuming I’ve got another 60 or so years of this ahead of me, helps me to make room for it. Maybe what’s most important is it normalizes it. I want to get to the point where, when anxiety pops up, I’m just like, “Oh, it’s you,” and go back to whatever I was doing.

I’m definitely closer to this than I was a year ago. One of the things that’s been really helpful has been learning how to depersonalize the anxiety. This is helpful in trying to be an outside observer. It allows me to view anxiety as something that is happening to me versus a character flaw. While my reaction used to be, “Oh my god, What the f*ck is going on?” — it’s now more something like, “Oh, well this is annoying but I’m pretty sure I’ve got this.” Honestly, I’m pretty darn proud of that.

It’s been a long time since I was crying uncontrollably and feeling like I was going to puke at any second. These days it’s mostly some nausea (sniffing peppermint oil is an amazing help for that by the way), a rapid heartbeat and some tightness in the chest. If I can’t get to a quiet place, then it can escalate. Usually, I can make that happen or at least stand in the back of my classroom and breathe for a minute or two while my students work.

Perhaps, I need one more really big anxiety-producing experience, akin to meeting my boyfriend’s parents or traveling somewhere I’ve never been. This way I can really see where I am. I’m sure this will happen in due time. I feel good most days though, and I’m really proud of that. I’m almost where I want to be. It feels really good not to have that black hole hanging out in my chest anymore. (But if Matthew McConaughey wanted to hang out there, then I’d be OK with that.)

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I Hate My Anxiety, but I Love Myself

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I hate my anxiety.

I hate the familiar dizzy, swollen feeling in my head when it’s coming and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. It starts when I think I disappointed someone (again), when I disappoint myself, when I have to talk about an uncomfortable subject, when I anticipate a confrontation, when I question whether I said the right things, when I face a decision and feel like no matter what I do, it will be wrong. It happens when I can’t trust my own thoughts because they contradict each other from one second to the next.

I hate when I breathe and it feels like the oxygen is not getting anywhere.

I hate when I want to be broken with other people, but I’m afraid they’ll reject me and I’ll be broken all alone.

I despise unfinished thoughts. And overdone thoughts. And thinking.

I hate being tired when I haven’t done anything. Just thinking about everything I have to do is exhausting. I hate not having it all together, even though I’m one of the most “together” people I know.

I hate feeling like I have to do everything right. Is there really a right or wrong way to eat, dress, brush your teeth, write in your journal, vent to your friend or feel? I want the freedom to make mistakes. I don’t want such a d*mn guilty conscience. I hate that even when I am relaxed, I know it’s not going to last. (Maybe the relaxed spells can get longer and more frequent and the anxious spells can get shorter?)

I hate that when I perceive conflict with someone, I cannot stop playing the scenario in my head. I purposefully turn my thoughts to other things. I pray. I tell myself how I’m going to resolve the conflict as soon as possible. Still, my mind goes back to repeat, repeat and freakin repeat. I hate how long it takes my body to calm down once I get worked up. I take deep breaths. I walk. I pray. I ignore, and sometimes, I have to sleep it off.

I hate when I almost passed out at work because my boyfriend was 15 minutes late to pick me up. Even though my mind knew he’d be there soon, my anxiety was sure he was going to leave me hanging. I hate the constant cramps and soreness in my shoulders, neck and back. I hate when the nerve pains shoot down my arm and make me think I’m having a heart attack. Even though I know it’s an anxiety attack, I take an aspirin just to be safe.

I hate never feeling prepared enough to start anything and always feeling like there’s something I forgot. I hate what a big part of my life this has become.

But I love my life.

I don’t love anxiety, but I love myself, and anxiety is an aspect of me. So I accept it.

I appreciate anxiety because it has shown me what I can overcome and how strong I am to always come back.

Although I hate the way people react to my anxiety (“You’re such a pretty little thing. You have a good life. What do you have to be anxious about?”), I appreciate my anxiety because it makes me more understanding. I am determined never to make another person feel small because of the way uneducated people have made me feel. I hope I never say things like, “If you just trusted God…,” “If you just took this herb or medication…,” or “If you just decided not to worry, then things would be better.”

Instead, I’ll say, “I know it’s hard. I understand, and I’m here for you.” I appreciate my anxiety because maybe my words and experiences can help someone else who feels like no one understands. Maybe I can be their “angel with skin on,” someone who is there for them. I appreciate my anxiety because, when I pour my anxious feelings out on paper, I produce some of my best creative work. Sometimes, I can write almost as fast as I can think.

I appreciate my anxiety because it forces me to spend some time, alone and quiet, when otherwise I would try to be busy and productive all the time. It’s during the “alone time” where I feel the most like myself.

I appreciate my anxiety because, although it does not define me, it is a part of my journey, and I love who I am in the making.

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10 Self-Reminders That Have Helped Me Through Panic Attacks

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There is little that provokes as much discomfort as lingering anxiety or a sudden panic attack. The cliche television portrayal of panic attacks shows pretty girls crying and hyperventilating (although somehow remaining absolutely stunning), taking deep breaths, and overcoming it within minutes, if not seconds. If you have ever had a panic attack or helped someone through one, you know this is far from accurate.

The signs and symptoms of panic attacks vary from person to person. No list of signs/symptoms is exclusive or finite. With this, there is no guaranteed, set-in-stone way of helping someone with a panic attack. Ah yes, this is the moment you feel like throwing a toaster at me, and for that I apologize.

Anxiety is a shapeshifter that manifests in so many ways, which makes it impossible to predict what will help. Due to this, my first recommendation if you’re struggling with panic attacks is to get professional help. However, I would like to share with you some of the self-reminders that have helped me and others get through panic attacks.

1. You are not dying.

2. You can breathe.

3. Anxiety/panic is not comfortable, but it is not extremely harmful.

4. You have survived this before, and you will survive this again.

5. This is not the end of the world.

6. It will pass.

7. Do not Google your symptoms.

8. You are not “losing it.”

9. This is temporary.

10. Your thoughts are not always your friend.

If you’re aware someone struggles with panic attacks, talk to them. Individuals know their own symptoms best and can tell you the signs they’re having a panic attack and how to help with one. Some people prefer fresh air and silence, whereas others may just want to pace and talk through it to you.

Be considerate of what an individual needs. Be patient while the panic passes. Remember to look after yourself first always.

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Why My Anxiety Means I Set My Alarm 30 Minutes Early

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I always set my alarm clock for 30 minutes before I have to get out of bed. Why? Most people think it’s because I have a hard time waking up, but really, the hardest part comes after I am fully awake. The hard part is when my heart is racing as soon as I think about placing my feet on the floor. It’s the twist that turns my stomach once I worry about if I’ll have enough time to get to work. It is the uneasy feeling knowing I must drive through the same intersection I got into a car accident at earlier this year. It is the worry in knowing that even seeing another car approaching could send me into a panic attack.

Yet, I get up and brush my teeth anyway. I shower anyway. I get dressed, put my makeup on and fix my hair anyway. Life isn’t supposed to be so hard. Life isn’t supposed to be so filled with worry, but it is. I’m trying the best I can to live it anyway.

I’m doing something a little different than I used to though. You see, I used to try to cover this part of me. I used to hide the anxiety-filled section of my heart and hope it didn’t find its way into the world where it could get hurt. Over the course of a year and multiple panic attacks at the grocery store, I’ve found the strength to talk about my mental illness.

Some days are easier than others. I have accepted life will not always have days filled with easy decisions and wonderful outcomes. There are days I want to be alone so desperately. Once I am, I cry because I’m so lonely and convince myself I am unloved. There are nights when I will get out of bed anywhere between one to six times to check and make sure I locked the doors of my house. There are mornings where I sing so loudly (and terribly) in my car, as the person stuck in traffic beside me stares, because it’s the only thing that will keep me from hyperventilating and crying.

We try too hard to cover the symptoms, but even with all of the therapy, breathing techniques and medication, this thing is still a part of us. This is not something that will go away if we try hard to think positively. This will not go away if we sleep more. (Chances are, even if we go to bed early, we still won’t fall asleep before 2 a.m.)

To the average person, I might seem “fine” or maybe a little frazzled on a bad day. Some people may not even think there is anything wrong with me because there isn’t. It’s time we stop treating mental illness like the elephant in the room. It’s time we stop being ashamed of something we can’t control. It’s time to start being proud of every beautiful, anxiety-filled cell in your body.

Your brain tells you to give up every day, but you get up and live anyway. So even though your days might be more difficult than someone without a mental illness, it doesn’t make you less of a person. A mental illness does not make you inferior to someone who doesn’t have a mental illness, but it might make you more brave. Keep fighting.

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