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What It’s Like to Be in Love When You Have Anxiety

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This piece was written by Jazz Crosby, a Thought Catalog contributor.

“Chill out.” “There’s nothing to worry about!” “Nothing bad is going to happen.” “You worry too much!”

We’ve all heard one of the above statements at least once throughout our lifetime. But, for someone with anxiety, the smallest things can conquer our thoughts and lead us to panic. As terrifying as it is, about 40 million people are affected by anxiety. After being disregarded many times by my own friends and family, I was almost certain I was just going “insane” and that nobody would or could deal with what I deal(t) with for many years. But then, in November of 2013, a handsome man fell deeply in love with me and changed my belief.

As long as I can remember, I have dealt with anxiety. I’ve been going to therapy for over two years now, and recently started taking medication, but it’s still there and alive in my brain. I can feel its presence every day, a wave of discomfort that causes me to question everything I’ve done at the most inconvenient of times.

My anxiety doesn’t care that I’m happy, or that I’m in a very, very, happy, healthy relationship with someone who truly cares about my mental state and well-being and makes sure to tell me how grateful he is for me numerous times a day. I am very appreciative of the nights he stays up until 2 a.m. listening to me list off dozens of reasons why I’m worried about something as silly as why someone didn’t respond back to me. I am immensely thankful for all the steps he has and continues to take to discover how to better understand what I go through every day. He fills me with hope and drowns me with endless love and support when I torture myself questioning every past and future action of mine. He never fails to take care of me, and never asks for explanations. Still, I question how I got so lucky to have someone that goes miles to better understand something that many do not.

This fierce sensation of love is terrifying, because every day, I repeatedly worry that one more late night of reassurance or one more “are you sure I have nothing to worry about?” will drive him to his breaking point. I know my unreasonable, compulsive thoughts upset him, but with time, and lots of tears, I reassure him that none of this is in anyway his fault, but a result of my own catastrophe of my thoughts. Though he isn’t always convinced easily, I still try with every ounce of energy I have left. And, some nights, I’m left with a “Get some sleep. Goodnight, I love you.” text. Overall, I’m just so grateful that he’s happy to continue the long journey of my recovery with me.

Each day is a struggle of its own. I am constantly on the edge of my seat, questioning past actions and future happenings, hopping from not caring what others think, to caring too much about what others think, to wondering when he’ll decide he’s had enough. He’s very quick to remind me how far I have come in the last two years, and how proud he is, but I am just as quick to be drowned in my own thoughts. We both know that my anxiety is beyond my control to a certain point, and I need to realize; if he hasn’t given up yet, he’s in for life.

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

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What You Don't See in My Favorite Vacation Picture

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This week marks 10 months of my relationship with a powerfully caring and understanding guy. And this picture is one of my absolute favorites of us.

woman and her boyfriend in laguna beach

Yes, we’re all smiles.

Yes, the scenery itself had us beaming in bliss.

Yes, we had a truly amazing time that weekend in Laguna Hills, California.

Nope, it wasn’t a perfect weekend.

It was wonderful, but it was far from perfect.

Why?

Because my very real battle with anxiety was as rampant that weekend as the waves we saw hilariously toss a couple out of a kayak one morning.

Who could be anxious about anything on a beautiful vacation in Cali?

Me.

And fight by fight, I’m understanding nothing’s abnormal about my toughing out rather normal things so many people battle — sometimes with far more secrecy than strength because of the stigma that plagues too many of us facing mental instabilities.

In fact, although everything had been prepared for me all week (he was on business there before my arrival) I almost didn’t meet him in California, as I had an all-out panic attack about taking a flight at night.

Yes, I’ve flown at night before.

Yes, the weather was great.

However, those details unfortunately matter not when anxiety screams louder than your rationale, and nerve wracking thoughts suffocate you to the point you think nothing and no one is a safe place for you.

From driving along the coast with the top down in our fun convertible, to exploring through the rock formations in Corona del Mar, I battled ridiculous fears and irrational feelings all weekend long. There was no explanation I could fully give my beau, as the internal battle of panic and anxiety seems to tie the tongue in expressing the tormenting thoughts of your mind.

Thankfully, my guy did nothing more than remind me I wasn’t alone in anything and nothing less than confirm he cared far more than my fear insisted he wouldn’t.

Because I’m aware there’s so many who don’t have consistent support and understanding in mental health battles, I can’t help but gratefully acknowledge my love, who’s not only stuck by me as I figure out how to claim more victories than defeats in this battle, but who’s also never made me feel like I’m stuck in dealing with it all alone.

Every day I pray those who are hurting in more silence than strength will find the courage to accept help from caring and committed sources.

Every day I wish those who have more opinions than compassion about what they can’t understand about mental instabilities will learn that inconsiderate opinions don’t have an impact on lives. Loving support does.

Every day I’m grateful that while there may never be one specific pill, potion, or prayer that can wipe out the feelings of toughing out mental challenges, it’s worth every bit of effort to obtain the waves of healing and help available.

Every day I hope more and more people will care less about others’ opinions of their struggle, realizing nothing matters more than living your own truth more triumphantly than you ever imagined.

Annette Funicello said it well when she stated “Life doesn’t have to be perfect in order to be wonderful.”

I get it.

Although I certainly haven’t got it all together, I get it.

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What It's Like to Give a TEDx Talk About Anxiety as Someone With Anxiety

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As someone who experienced severe anxiety and chronic panic attacks, the idea of putting myself out there was at the top of the “Do Not Attempt” list. But if I was going to hold true to the promise I made to myself, I didn’t see any other way around it.

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” I told myself. “If it scares you, you have to do it!”

These words seemed to mock me now. Personal mantras that once held so much power and positive motivation now seemed to be a cruel prison of my own making.

How could I say no when I had committed myself to saying yes to things that scared me? After all, so many wonderful things had already changed in my life by following this new idea of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Maybe this would be the same.

I had just been asked if I would give a TEDx talk about my personal struggle with anxiety and panic attacks. My first thought was, “Who was I to do a TEDx talk?”

I wasn’t anyone special. I had no book to sell. I had no psychology degree to offer as collateral for my advice. I was just someone who struggled through some of the most painful years of my life and managed to come out the other side better than I went in.

Just the idea of standing on stage made my stomach flip.

Then I remembered that one simple question that had changed my life.

“What advice would you give your daughter if she came to you with this same problem?”

I paused and thought about it.

I would tell her that she should do it. That it could be an amazing experience. It would be something she’d always remember. And it would be a chance to possibly help someone else who was going through the same thing.

If this is what I would say to her, my only daughter, and hope that she would listen, then I had no choice but to listen to my own advice.

I heard myself say, “Sure, I’d love to talk at TEDx.”

I felt nauseous.

I had three months to figure out what I would say. In that time, I wrote at least 10 versions of my talk, each one seemed worse than the previous.

What if I have a panic attack on stage in front of everyone?

What if I embarrassed myself and let everyone down?

This is how anxiety works in the mind. Every “worst-case scenario” plays out over and over again. You convince yourself you will fail before you even try. This was a feeling I knew all too well. It was a feeling I had worked tirelessly to overcome for the past five years, but had suddenly all come rushing back.

But now I had my tools. I had my breathing exercises that helped me relax my body and mind. I had my meditation practice that helped keep me centered. I had my practice of being mindful and present, rather than worrying about the future.

I focused on writing my talk first. I’d worry about giving it later.

The group that organized the event, TEDxAmoskeagMillyard, is a great group of people. They have a process in place to help each person craft a talk that is honest, authentic and unique to the person giving it.

Each speaker is assigned a speech coach to help you write your talk. I was lucky enough that my speech coach was someone I knew already. She is a co-worker, a friend and not coincidentally, the person who nominated me to speak in the first place.

Her name is Pamme Boutsellis, and I can honestly say I wouldn’t have gotten through this talk without her.

After countless emails and cups of coffee together, she told me I didn’t need to try and solve everyone’s problems or present myself as an expert in mindfulness or meditation. I just needed to share my story.

“Trust me,” she said, “If I didn’t think you had something relatable to share, I wouldn’t have nominated you.”

She had taken a chance on me and I didn’t want to let her down. I have a great amount of respect for Pamme. If she believed in me, who was I to doubt it?

The day before the event, all the speakers got together and met for the first time. We each did a walkthrough for our talk so we could get a feel for the stage, the lights and the timing. I was surprised to find that all the speakers were nervous. For some reason, I thought I’d be the only one.

We were told the order in which we’d be speaking the next day. I held out hope that I’d go first, allowing me to relax and enjoy the rest of the days talks. I was informed that I would be closing out the event. I was the last speaker of the day.

“Sure, make the guy talking about anxiety go last!” I said, half-joking.

That next day was a blur of emotions. I sat and listened to so many amazing talks. I met so many amazing people. I was so impressed with all the speakers and all the stories that I almost forgot I still had to deliver a talk myself… almost.

As I stood on the side of the stage waiting for my name to be announced, a flood of emotions overtook me. I thought of all the friends and family that had come to support me. I thought about my wife who had to deal with the past three months of me walking around talking to myself (even more than usual). I thought about everything that I had been through over the past 42 years and how each experience had somehow culminated in me about to take the stage at a TEDx talk. And then the wait was over.

The next 18 minutes became a blur.

I very quickly realized I was not going to be able to keep my emotions contained. 42 years of anxiety, fear, hurt, pain, failure, success, love, support and determination all came out.

My voice cracked as I talked. I didn’t care.

I felt tears in my eyes. I didn’t care.

I just let go and shared my story — and it felt amazing!

When my talk was complete, I looked at the crowd and tried to capture that moment in my mind. The feeling is still hard to put into words. It was as if I’d been carrying a heavy weight around my entire life and I had finally set it down for good, in front of a crowd on that stage.

That is what you can do when you learn to face your fears and not be afraid to love who you are. You can accomplish anything.

You can watch Steve’s TEDx Talk in the video below:

If you’d like to learn more about Steve, please visit www.stevezanella.com. You can also follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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When You Live in a Constant State of Anxiety

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The constant fear of something that may not even exist. The pain that goes through your stomach when thinking about the smallest things that may not even happen. It becomes harder and harder to breathe and there’s nothing to stop it. You’re living in a constant state of anxiety.

You go to bed worrying about what kind of day you will have the next. You tell yourself everything will be fine, but you know it’s not the truth. You pray for a good day, with only a few anxious thoughts. Yet, most of the time it’s a bad day, with racing thoughts and attacks taking up your time. You wake up knowing what day it will be right away. You feel like you’re paralyzed. You lay there waiting for the attack to come on. You know it’s coming. Yet, sometimes there’s no way to stop it. No matter what, you’re living in a constant state of anxiety.

You wonder why you’re not like the other people who get up and live their life with no fear. You want to be like them. You pray to be like them, but no matter what you do, you’re not them. You wonder what it’s like to be able to wake up every day with no fear in your mind. You want to go to school. You want to go do things everyone else can do. You just can’t get yourself to do it.

You try, every day you try, but no matter what, you’re not normal like everyone else. Normal people get up and go to school every day. They live life to the fullest, without fear, without attacks. They are normal, but you’re living in a constant state of anxiety.

People wonder why you’re like this. They think it’s just an excuse for not wanting to do something. They don’t know how real it is and how serious your problems in life are. You try to explain it, but you just are told everyone has issues and you just have to suck it up. You can’t suck it up. Anxiety isn’t something that can be sucked up.

You try to push through. You try to get yourself to do something, but just because you try, doesn’t mean you can. People don’t get it. They think you can do everything they can do, but you’re living in a constant state of anxiety.

You don’t know when they’re coming. You could be fine one second, and the next, you’re not. Your chest gets tight. Your stomach is in knots. You’re shaking. You’re crying, and everyone is just staring at you.

An anxiety attack is scary. You can’t stop it. There is nothing you can do other then wait it out. People think you’re just freaking out about nothing. They don’t get you’re living in a constant state of anxiety .

You try to explain to your teachers that it’s hard for you. They don’t understand, nor do they care to listen. You want them to understand. It would make your life so much easier, but they don’t get it. They expect you to answer questions in front of your class, to read papers out loud and to show up to school every day. You can’t do that. You don’t know how to explain it to them. You want to tell them how it makes you feel when doing those things, but you can’t put it into words. So they end up thinking it’s just an excuse, but really you’re living in a constant state of anxiety .

Your friends ask why you’re not in school all the time. They wonder why you break down at random times and why every little thing makes you anxious. You don’t know what to tell them. You don’t want to embarrass yourself. You want them to understand, but it’s not that easy. So you end up telling them you were sick. You aren’t sick though. You’re living in a constant state of anxiety.

Every day is the same thing. You go to bed worrying. You wake up worrying. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, you’re always worried. You don’t know how to explain it to people. So you make excuses, and you end up being judged for it. Everyone wonders why you’re like this. There’s nothing you can say other than, you’re living in a constant state of anxiety.

Just because you’re living in a constant state of anxiety, doesn’t mean you’re alone. You have people by your side and people who care about you. You are loved and appreciated. You can get through this, one day at a time.

Image via Thinkstock.

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We All Have the Power to Fight Our 'Inner Voldemorts'

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When I was little, I had an intense phobia of being kidnapped. Every evening, I had a routine I had to complete before I would feel safe enough to get in bed. Then, once I was under the covers, I could not and would not even consider getting up before morning. I’d lay awake, convinced I heard sounds of an intruder, quivering in fear.

Eventually, I grew out of it, and now I often find myself joking, playing it off as immature paranoia. However, I can still remember the fear I felt every single night that I could not overcome until the sun came up.

These days, I often experience anxiety in waves. I have a “worst case scenario” state of mind when it comes to new experiences. I tend to get overwhelmed in certain social situations. However, I’ve been working hard over the last few years to overcome the fear that bubbles inside me. Recently, I found inspiration in perhaps the most unlikely of places, the mouth of Albus Dumbledore.

Now, if you’ve read any of the “Harry Potter” books you’ll know Dumbledore had a knack for inspirational quotes. He liked to drop them on Harry and walk away, like the wizard equivalent of dropping the mic. In doing so, he often left the reader speechless and Harry confused and longing for a straightforward answer.

If you’ve never delved into the “Harry Potter” world, in books nor movies, then let me give you a minor background before I continue. Harry Potter is a wizard whose parents were killed by another, evil, wizard named Voldemort. Before he was born, it was foretold that Harry would become Voldemort’s greatest threat.

Just after Harry’s 1st birthday, Voldemort hunted him down to prevent the prophecy from coming true. Voldemort killed Harry’s parents. However, Harry survived and it blew everyone’s mind, including Voldemort’s. Oh and Dumbledore is the head honcho at Hogwarts, a school for young wizards and witches. He’s the only other person Voldemort has ever feared, and he’s a low-key badass who has a pet Phoenix.

OK, now that we’re all caught up, back to Dumbledore’s mind-blowing rhetoric. In the second to last book of the series, “Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince,” there is a moment when Dumbledore is explaining to Harry how the prophecy affected Voldemort, how his fear of defeat got in the way of his quest for victory. He explains that Voldemort himself created the enemy who was now equipped to defeat him. After hearing the prophecy, he had taken matters into his own hands, assuming he could vanquish its foretellings by killing Harry before he had the chance to grow up. In doing so, he unknowingly set the prophecy into motion.

In our everyday lives, an assumption or a rumor can present itself as a prophecy of sorts. We hear of something that might happen or we take a guess based on the circumstance, and we send ourselves into a frenzy of panic and anxiety. This works for any emotion that controls our actions: anxiety, fear, addiction, sadness or low self-esteem. They all act as our own personal Voldemort living inside our heads. They react quickly and rashly, neglecting to pause and let other opinions be heard. They look at the smaller picture, the one stop solution. They act to prevent bad, while also deflecting the possibility of good.

Luckily, we all have the power to be our own Harry Potter. Granted we don’t have the whole wizard thing going for us, but Harry learned magic wasn’t the biggest weapon he had against Voldemort. Love, selflessness, bravery, trust, joy — these are all qualities Voldemort could never possess. These are all qualities our own Voldemorts shy away from when times get hard.

In the “Harry Potter” series, Voldemort is the most feared wizard of them all. The things he can do, the way he uses people to get what he wants, the horror he inflicts upon entire cities at the mention of his name. Anxiety, fear and addiction all have the power to do the same to each of us if we give into their grasp. While our attempts to grapple with our own Voldemorts might be feeble at times, it’s the resistance that counts. No tyrant lasts long when the resistance starts.

I encourage you to fight, in whatever way best suits you. If it’s simply taking a moment to breathe or seeking a doctor, then take the steps necessary to start your own fight against the dark wizard inside your head. You never know what you’ll find within yourself when you take the time to start digging.

Image via Harry Potter Facebook page.

This post originally appeared on Kimberlee K.

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Flat psychologist office

Notes for the Therapist Who Did Not Make Me Feel Understood

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As I sat before her, my mind was swirling with thoughts. Overwhelmingly, I needed help. My brain was screaming through the fog of my depression that I desperately needed her to connect with me. I needed her to understand the different chasms my anxiety and depression had opened before me.

“You understand that if you devoted all the time you do to worrying to something else, you could get so much done.”

I felt sucker-punched. Here I was in therapy, having dragged myself here through sheer will, and I was being told not to worry so much, to just let things go. Other hurtful comments followed. I shut down. She probably thought she was being encouraging, but for someone in the midst of a mental storm, those little offhand comments make it worse.

We’ve probably heard them a million times from random people in our lives. The last place we need them repeated is in the (hopefully) safe space of therapy. I picked up the pieces myself afterward, but here is what I wish she had said instead.

1. “Don’t worry so much.”

If I could stop worrying, then I wouldn’t be in therapy needing help. Instead of saying I should worry less, I wish she’d actually imagined what I was feeling. I wish she would have said, “I can imagine that being overwhelmed by those panicky thoughts must be draining every day.” This would have helped me feel understood far better.

2. “You’re wasting time worrying about things you can’t control.”

True. Of course it’s wasting time, but I cannot change the way my brain processes daily life. Giving me one more thing to feel I’m failing at is not going to help my currently shaky mental state. Instead, I have another hook for my anxiety and hopelessness, “My therapists said I’m wasting time. Oh my word, I’m failing therapy. Yet another thing I haven’t achieved this week.” If my therapist had said instead, “Losing time to panic attacks and worrying thoughts must make you feel even less in control, and that makes you feel powerless,” then I would have given her a smile and nodded.

3. “Are you doing anything to help yourself feel happier or calmer?”

Yes, I’m here in therapy right now, having left the house for the first time in days to get understanding. This took all my energy and a dollop of courage too because I don’t know you, and I would appreciate you acknowledging that. I do many other things to survive on a day-to-day basis, probably more than you know. At this point, it’s clear you probably don’t struggle with anxiety or depression because you don’t understand.

If my new therapist had said any one of these things or the sea of other options, then I could have felt understood. I could have known that dragging myself to therapy was worth it. That I had succeeded. Instead, I walked out smiling at her like the polite person I am, internally seething. I left feeling like I was on my own. It’s hard enough to get help when you have one or more mental illnesses. The last thing needed is a therapist who contributes to the harmful dialogue around anxiety and depression.

What I needed and want from a therapist is not advice but support. I wish all incompetent therapists could spend a day in the mind of their clients to know exactly how unhelpful ignorant statements can be. We probably have answers in our own heads, or we don’t and we need someone to sit with us while we deal with that. When we don’t receive this, we end up feeling more alone and more isolated than we do already.

So I want to end this as a love letter to the people out  there who endure days with mental illness and incompetent mental health professionals. I salute all of you for having the courage to go in the first place and to continue on your journey regardless of bad therapy, as well as those who get through another day without choosing to go to therapy. Going is a choice and there is no right or wrong choice here. There is right and wrong therapy, however.

Image via Thinkstock.

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