woman sitting by a window

I struggle mostly with depression but also experience anxiety. Sometimes I find myself contemplating which is worse. But without a doubt there are some unbearable nights where anxiety is in control. Many times it not only makes me feel bad emotionally,
but physically. I get a pounding headache, I feel like I’m going to be sick and on a few occasions I actually was sick.

When you eat something bad and throw it up later you may feel somewhat better, but with anxiety you only feel worse because now on top of your worries you feel sick, and then your anxiety somehow convinces you you’re dying.

I want to tell you what it’s like for me at night time as someone with anxiety. Although each night is different and the thoughts and feelings vary, I want someone out there to understand what I — and tons of other people — are going through nearly every night.

I wake up in the middle of the night with my heart racing. I hear a little creak in the house. I’m suddenly wide awake, my heart beating harder than ever. I feel cold and hot at the same time. I’m shaking and sweating. I’m scared. I’m alone.

“There’s a burglar in the house,” my mind tells me. “He’s going to hurt you. He’s going to hurt your dog.”

A takes a few minutes, sometimes even hours, for it to sink in that if the dog’s not barking then no one’s in the house.

I try to go back to sleep but can’t. The voices inside my head are still talking to me.

“Don’t forget you’ve got to get up early in the morning. If you stay awake all night you won’t be able to function properly in the morning”

“Hey, remember that time you were with that person and you… well I bet that person still remembers and is still mad at you. She’s planning a cunning way to get back at you. You’ll be sorry.”

I go on Facebook and start a conversation with someone else who’s online to try to calm myself down. They don’t answer straight away. In fact, they go offline.

Immediately the voices start up again.

“You get on her nerves.”

“She can’t stand you anymore. She’s just not blocking you because she feels bad for you.”

No one really likes you or cares about you.”

I toss and turn trying to get back to sleep, but more thoughts come in to my head.

“If you carry on like this all night you won’t be able to get up in the morning, and you’ll miss your bus. You won’t be able to get to work, and then they’ll fire you just like when you got fired from your last job due to your crappy mental state.”

I get up and turn on the light. A rush of relief flows over my body. I go back in to bed slightly more relaxed now, but still feeling a little uneasy. I close my eyes and try to get back to sleep.

“If you fall asleep with the light on you’ll run up a large electricity bill.”

I get up and turn off the light, still hoping to get some sleep before it’s time to get up.

Eventually I fall asleep moments before my alarm rings, and it’s time to face yet another day.


The anxiety — and the depression — are still there throughout the day. But for that I can write a whole new post.

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While I’ve spent the last nine months fighting anxiety and a recent episode of depression, the last three months have been fairly easy. Depression can be episodic, so it recently fell by the wayside, but I still remember what it’s like to be in the full swing of it. While I feel better, I can sense it lurking somewhere not too far off in the distance. For me, anxiety isn’t necessarily episodic. It can be more intense at times, but for the most part, it’s always there.

Recovery is never easy. It isn’t always easy to put coping mechanisms and other strategies in place when you’re in the throes of mental illness. The last few months have allowed me to practice coping skills, setting my own boundaries, deep breathing, mindfulness and implementing routines. Mental illness isn’t a “take a pill, feel better” sort of illness. It’s a full-time job that forces you to change your habits, thinking patterns and life in order to survive.

You know how you start going to the gym on a regular basis? You’ve been going for two weeks, and you’re starting to like the routine. Then, something comes up or you aren’t feeling up to it. So you slack off for a day. Then, it’s two days. Before you know it, you are restarting the routine a month later, kicking yourself for letting it slide. It’s hard to start new things. However, slacking with coping skills when you have a mental illness can be dangerous, not just a small sense of guilt for not doing something healthy.

So what happens when you’re implementing everything you know to fight mental illness, but it finds a backdoor anyway? I can be mindful of my thoughts, breathe deeply until I feel more at ease and take my medication. But what about when I am sleeping?

When I was dealing with my worst episode of depression to date, I realized after a while I never remembered my dreams. When I did sleep, it was a blackout kind of sleep that left me feeling more exhausted when I woke up. When I started to realize I was dreaming again, I was excited. I found myself smiling in the morning at the ridiculous and funny things I dreamed about. Dreams were another aspect of life that had somehow been hidden from me, but I hadn’t noticed its absence until I had them again.

As some stressors present themselves or I see them in the near future, my dreams have looked to my stressors as inspiration. I dreamed I had missed my first class of the school year, and the professor gave out a writing assignment. I had no way of knowing what I was supposed to write or do. I was going to fall behind already. My dream-self panicked. I found myself counting pennies in fours to try to calm myself down. Hello, weird anxious habit I have. But alas, it was not working.

I have had other dreams pretty similar to the one above. There’s always some aspect of me being late for something important. I can probably thank my career choice of journalism for that one.

I wake up feeling anxious even though the dreams weren’t real. I am worried my depression and anxiety will come down as hard as they did last semester. I am worried I will not do well, but I can cope with these emotions and thoughts when I am awake. Not so much when I am asleep.

The thing about mental illnesses is they are persistent. They take up residence in the mind, and so do the coping mechanisms. They’re going to find a way around them. That’s why mental illness recovery isn’t a one and done kind of thing. You have to cultivate your mental health. Spend time learning what helps keep you healthy, whether that be checking in with your thoughts, implementing new self-care routines, seeking out therapy, taking medication or a mixture of everything.

These dreams are just a part of my illness trying to gain back control. Mental illness can evolve, but so can the recovery process. So while dreams are a concern now, I can, in my conscious self, be aware of this problem. I haven’t quite learned how to stop or fix these dreams just yet, but I know I’ve made it through worse. These won’t keep me down.

Image via Thinkstock.

This piece was written by  Richard Lucasa Thought Catalog contributor.

1. Constantly feeling on the brink of death.

The truth is that we are not literally on the brink of death; in reality, we are quite safe. Nonetheless, our minds believe with great certainty each breath may be our last. When our brain believes, it becomes our reality. The feeling is real, and it’s something no person should have to experience.

2. Feeling like a “crazy” person.

Because the “reasonable” side of us knows we’re being irrational, it feels like we’re going “crazy.” Once we accept the anxiety and learn to manage it, we can accept this is a real illness. Having anxiety does not mean you are crazy.

3. Having nobody else know how you feel.

Because anxiety can manifest in so many different ways, it’s easy to believe that nobody else can possibly be feeling this way. It’s an extremely isolating feeling. The good news is that you are not alone. Now more than ever people are opening up about their anxiety, and if you do the same, I guarantee you will find someone who knows exactly how you are feeling.

4. Worrying any mild physical symptom means you have a terminal illness.

A headache means a brain tumor. Stomach ache? Cancer. Sore after the gym? Certainly a rare muscular deficiency that will leave you with only six months to live. Sounds a bit dramatic, but for those who have health anxiety, this is a daily grind consumed by a lot of worrying and a tremendous amount of Googling symptoms. Stay away from the search engines; if you have a real concern, go to a doctor. Self-diagnosis is never a good idea.

5. Only feeling safe at home.

For some, we simply cannot feel safe unless we are at home. Many have lost their jobs and relationships because they simply can’t leave the house. This can turn into debilitating agoraphobia and should be treated immediately.

6. Endless fear.

Fear is a natural feeling that puts your body on alert when you are in danger. It’s also a terrible feeling, and people who have chronic anxiety and panic know this feeling can consume them day in and day out. Imagine a time in your life when you have been truly terrified. Now imagine feeling like that every day. Welcome to anxiety.

7. Becoming a regular at the emergency room.

The nurses recognize you the moment you walk in and already know why you’re there. You know exactly what to expect, how long it will take and what the prognosis will be. But yet we go back again and again. Something about a clean EKG settles the panicked mind.

8. Medication, lots of medication.

We need it, and we hate that we need it. We long for the day when we won’t need to rely on these pills to get through life. We cart our drugs around as if we’ll die without them. If we forget them, all bets are off. Their absence alone will send us into panic mode.

9. Going to the doctor just to talk.

You call the appointment line, they ask what you need to be seen for, and you say just to check up. The person sounds confused because it’s the fourth checkup you’ve had in the past three months. Really all you want to do is talk and be told that you’re OK.

10. People rolling their eyes when your anxiety prevents you from doing something.

Nothing is worse than when you legitimately can’t go through with something because of your anxiety, and some person who doesn’t understand and is completely devoid of empathy rolls their eyes at you and say’s something along the lines of, “Oh, whatever, you’ll be fine.” These are not the kind of people a person with anxiety should surround themselves with. Begone, ye un-empathetic naysayers — we’re having anxiety here.

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

Sometimes my brain feels like there is a 360 degree vice grip on my head, pushing and crushing it until it feels like there is no possible way to condense my skull any more without bursting the inside. In those moments, if I close my eyes, it’s almost as if I’m no longer in the confines of my physical body, but rather am surrounded by a whiteness, and all I can hear is my own primal scream. I am usually sweating profusely, my heart is racing and I feel severe discomfort in my own skin, as if I want to unzip my body and dart out to escape the thoughts. I can hardly process one thought, before another chases it out of the spotlight, a cruel cyclical pattern, like a frustrating yet scary merry-go-round. In the heat of panic, are flashes of rage. Pure, fiery hot rage. My brain is protesting the vicious paralyzing attack, while utterly helpless to stop it. My anxiety has reared it’s very ugly head.

Anything could cause this feeling. Major things. Minor things. Things in between. It could have been that my boyfriend yet again walked by the garbage bag and opted not to take it out. It could have been that I saw a video on Facebook that reminded me of the pain I felt when my Dad passed away. It could have been that I couldn’t find a bathing suit I felt comfortable in. It could be everyday things that most people process and move on from within a relatively short period of time, but for me dig into my brain and set up camp.  

It starts innocently, and I never suspect any one thing will cause this mental freezing. A simple little thought can be the seed to a full blown anxiety tree and I’m none-the-wiser until it’s already too late. It goes a little something like this:  

He didn’t take out the trash — again. I can’t believe him. How hard can it be to take out the trash? I never ask him to do literally anything around the house, with the exception of taking out the trash. And yet, day after day, he walks by the same trash bag waiting to go to the dumpster, and doesn’t take it out. He knows he should, but doesn’t. It’s starting to smell, and he still doesn’t. I guess I’ll just do it myself — again. Why do I even put up with this? My Dad took out the trash every single night for the family when he was alive. In fact, if we didn’t have milk, he’d run to the store at 11 p.m., just so that my mom could have her cup of hot chocolate before bed, without hesitating. He’d do that stuff because he loved us, even if it annoyed him to tears. He did it because that was his way of contributing. It was his way of matching the efforts my mom put into their marriage. He was a great husband and father. I want that for myself, too. I deserve that! I wish my Dad was still here to give me advice. I miss him. I wish he hadn’t died so suddenly. That was the most earth shattering thing that could have happened to my family. And the scariest thing is that it can happen at any moment, to anyone. Even if you just lost a loved one three weeks prior like my family did, that didn’t stop the world from taking my Dad less than a month later. It could be hourly. I should learn to appreciate the people I have in my life. Here I am angry as shit about my boyfriend not taking out the trash, when he could have gotten into a fatal car accident on the way to work today. I’d never forgive myself if something like that happened.

And so begins the merry-go-round of thought.

Somehow, I’ve devolved my boyfriend not taking the trash out, to thinking about how a loved one can die at any time, within a matter of seconds. Once I’m there, it’s virtually impossible to stop the flood of thoughts that race through my mind. The mental energy it takes just to keep up with how quickly ideas race through in my brain is immeasurable.  These are the moments I wish desperately to escape from. I can’t accomplish anything.  Work doesn’t get done, housework doesn’t get done; there are even times when I find it difficult to shower or feed myself. 

Anxiety is the reason I second guess everything. Anxiety is the reason for my progressively intensifying fear of losing a loved one. Anxiety is the reason I have little patience and a hot temper — I don’t have enough mental stamina for any other emotional hurdles. Anxiety is the reason why I’ve distanced myself from people. Anxiety is the reason why home is where I want to be almost 100 percent of the time. Anxiety is the reason why it may seem like I don’t enjoy myself. Anxiety is the reason why I fake some of my smiles. Anxiety has prevented me from fully enjoying my life. The sickest part of this illness, is that it even attacks itself. I feel anxious about my anxiety. I put my entire world under a microscope and feel anxious about all that I miss out on or have not done because of my anxiety. It’s a self-perpetuating prophecy. It’s cancer’s cancer. It’s like the flea of a flea. It’s a mental prison, and I’m shackled to it unwillingly.  

My thoughts sentence me to days of what seems like “irrational worry.” Many people in my life are not able to understand why I think like this, or why I allow anxiety to grip my mind, as if it were my choice. I’ve been told a variety of cliché pieces of advice, the majority of which are along these lines, “take the broken record out of your head,” “just don’t worry about those things,” “you’re borrowing trouble,” or “think positively.” I’m so aware these people are only trying to help, but I can’t help but feel bitter in those moments of receiving unsolicited advice. I acknowledge they’re telling me what works well for them, but if it were so easy to do those things for me, I would have done them already. It’s almost insulting when I hear advice like this, because it is a painful reminder that mental illness is gravely misunderstood, even in 2016.  

Anxiety is an invisible illness, but an illness none-the-less. The inability to see many of the effects of this illness makes it difficult for those who don’t suffer from it, to respect it as an illness. I was recently discussing anxiety with a friend, and they said, “I feel like you use your anxiety to get out of doing things.” I was floored. That casual sentence perfectly embodies the general public’s understanding of mental illnesses. Because my anxiety is confined to my brain and heart rate, it is somehow reduced to a scapegoat.  

I replied, “Anxiety hinders me, even if you can’t see it, and I’m not using it for anything. I don’t want to have anxiety, and it’s certainly not an excuse.”

I feel defeated when I need to explain this to people. Sure, I may appear to be an average person who has a good life, and good health, but many people neglect to acknowledge mental health is equally as important as physical health. If someone suffers from a mental illness, they are not weaker, they are not less than, they are not crazy. They have a mental illness. Period. Even typing that sentence made me cringe, because society’s view of mental illness has such a negative stigma, it is ingrained even within myself, a person who admittedly suffers from anxiety. I, and others like me, should feel no shame in our diagnoses. 

To those reading this piece right now, I won’t lie and tell you I’ve found an escape route out of this mental prison. Even if I had, everyone’s journey is personal and unique, so my solution would have no footing in your reality. I’ve been seeing a doctor for two years, and still feel like I’ve barely put a chink into the concrete walls imprisoning me. I will say I have hope that there will be freedom one day. I’m not sure what will do it, but I have to believe there is more to life than spending time thinking terrible thoughts. I see joy on other people’s faces and know I’ve been there before and will be there again. All I can do now is learn what works for me (baths — lots of baths), and what doesn’t. I may seem like I’m moving at a glacial speed throughout life, while everyone around me looks like an Olympic sprinter, but that’s OK with me. I know I am doing my very best given the circumstances, and that is all anyone can ask of me.

For now, it makes me feel good to share my experience with others, and educate those who are open to understanding mental illness. Hopefully one day there will be no negative stigma attached to mental illnesses.  One day, you will be able to talk about seeing your therapist or psychiatrist, without the whispers of judgment. There is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to health, whether it be physical, mental or both. Everyone is different, with different stories and different challenges. As soon as we can learn to respect each person for their individuality, the world will be a far better place in which to live.

Editor’s note: The following description of anxiety may be triggering for those who live with anxiety disorders.

Living with anxiety is not for the faint of heart.

It means continually living your existence “on-edge.” In limbo. From worry to worry. Fear to fear. Panic to panic. Guard constantly up. Terrified to let anyone in. Petrified to open yourself to new and uncomfortable experiences and situations. Always in waiting for the next “what-if” to come to fruition.

Everyone experiences anxiety to a certain extent. But the difference? Most people can make it through their day, brushing off those little triggers. Asking themselves, “What’s the use in worrying about this anyway?” Moving freely throughout their schedule, with an overall sense of calm and peace. Although hiccups and speed bumps may arise, generally, they don’t turn into the mountains that form in the mind of those struggling at the mercy of this seven-letter ogre.

Those of us with anxiety? Our entire existence is about preparing ourselves for, pushing ourselves through and then, subsequently analyzing, those same “what-if,” hiccups, speed bumps and mountains. For those who can embrace a more carefree lifestyle, it may be hard, or even impossible, to understand what it’s like for someone with anxiety. Even when living under the same roof, seeing it day by day.

First, I would like to reiterate, the degree and intensity to which we respond to our anxiety is vastly different. For me? I don’t have outright, full-blown, “can’t catch my breath” panic attacks.

You will know I am in the midst of an anxiety attack because I will completely shut down. My heart will race. My mind will spin out of control. I might feel like I need to find some fresh air or a glass of water. Tears may come to my eyes. My mood will most definitely shift. This could last from seconds to hours. Sometimes, you would look at me and never know I am in the middle of utter turmoil both in my mind and throughout my body.

So, how do I explain this to someone from the outside-looking-in? What it’s like to live with the disruption and unrest of daily anxiety?

Imagine. Standing in the middle of a glass box. There’s no opening except for one hole at the very top. It’s exactly big enough for you to squeeze through in an emergency situation.

To get to that hole? A rope, dangling just inches above your highest vertical leap. If you really tried, with all your summoned might, then it could possibly find its way into your slipping grasp.

Now, imagine. An insanely hideous beast (absolutely indescribable) crawls into your box. Sheer panic ensues. You are stuck. You want to run for your life, but you are literally frozen in fear.

Heart pounding through your chest. Sweat dripping from your upper lip. Gasping for breath. Feeling as though you can’t pull in enough oxygen to remain conscious. Like sucking in air through a coffee stirrer straw.

Your throat is closing. Your face feels completely numb. Your mind literally spinning out of control. His overpowering nature begins pushing you here and there, taking over any extra room you had inside your box like a completely relentless bully.

Rope dangling. Just out of reach. It’s hot and sticky breath fills the glass enclosure from floor to ceiling leaving you in a state of utter terror. Alone. Gasping for air through a tiny tube. Walls closing in around you. Vision becoming blurred and spotty. Literally living a nightmare.

Now, you gain enough awareness that you look through your glass sides. You see everyone else out and about. They were able to grab their ropes. No straws in sight. Walking freely. Wondering what in the world you are so upset about. Because they can’t see the cause of your anxiety.

Suddenly the shame pours in. You don’t want anyone to know about this secret beast. You have tried so hard to keep him hidden. You wish with all your heart to flee.

From this monster. From this humiliation. From every single feeling rushing through your body. Yet, you. are. completely. frozen. You can’t move. You can’t catch your breath. Your heart is thumping. You feel faint. You feel lightheaded. You feel like this is it.

Your tears can’t fall fast enough. Your mind can’t catch a break on its closed circuit track of sheer panic. Then, somehow, some way, you realize, you pulled through. Seconds, minutes, hours later. Sometimes, you really aren’t sure how. Maybe it was alone. Maybe it was with a helping hand. Maybe with a familiar voice.

The feelings of “relief”? This break you are experiencing? You realize it’s all only temporary. You try to inhale as much fresh air as possible. You look up at your rope and realize it never moved. You look out of your glass walls, and realize you are still inside. You are too afraid to be happy, to be calm, to let go of those worries and to celebrate anything. Because you know it’s never over.

The monster? He’s no longer in sight. But you? You know he is still very much there. Around every corner. In every crack. In every crevice. Waiting for every potentially joyful moment to make his unexpected appearance, yet again.

And so you begin preparing, once more, for his next visit.

Image via Thinkstock.

Why did I grow up thinking I had to be perfect and do perfect things?

Where did this thought process come from in a 9-year-old child writing creative stories? Wanting to be the best in class, place first in competitions and win awards. Those were the first signs of my anxiety. As a kid, all you’re supposed to worry about is what you’re doing over the summer or if you have extra time at recess. I was worrying about an honors assignment for my teacher and how every answer to every question had to be phrased correctly and written well. I was worrying that if I failed any part of that homework assignment, my teacher would hate me and I would be a disgrace. Sadly this mindset followed me into my late teenage life, and I still feel the need for perfection, but this time it’s a personal goal. I don’t care anymore what others think, but I do care about what I think about myself.

Am I doing something to my own standards? Do I need to try harder? 

These questions buzz through my head 24/7. This is the anxiety that follows me around like a shadow, that makes me feel like I’m never doing my best and that I’m not trying as hard as I could. It’s something that is not easy to get rid of, especially when it’s in your head. Many people in life have expressed that perfection is important, and society pushes perfection on everyone all the time. But what does the fear of imperfection do to someone with depression or anxiety? It makes you feel like you’re not good enough. It makes you feel like you chose to be a failure, that you are a failure. Something as unreachable as perfection should not be influencing us like it has. We change our bodies, our personalities and our uniqueness just to reach the goal of perfection, an undefinable quality that no one has encountered in the history of mankind.

But why do we do this? We continue to push ourselves until we’re at our breaking point. People become worried about every detail of their life because they’re too afraid of what they’re not doing right, and forget to notice what they are doing right already. This endless cycle throws us around in a constant state of questioning if we could be better.

I don’t want to feel like I’m not good enough. I’m sick and tired of being told I need to change to make things better. I am not changing who I am to satisfy the unreachable status of perfection. We are not perfect in the eyes of society, none of us are. But we are different.

We are all unique, and that is the undefinable quality that makes us who we are. Not perfection.

I’m not perfect. I’m just me.

Image via Thinkstock.

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