Headache. Obsession. The stream of dark thoughts. Expressions, feelings and moods. Young woman suffering from dark thoughts.

What I Want Those Close to Me to Know About My Severe Anxiety

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I’d like to let you know how my anxiety and panic attacks affect me. I would like to explain why I can’t leave the house sometimes, why I might seem unreliable and why I might have to cancel plans at last minute. I’d also like you to know how you can help.

Firstly, I want you to understand what severe anxiety and panic attacks feel like. Anxiety is not about feeling nervous or worried about something. It’s more extreme and it affects me both physically and mentally. Severe anxiety is ongoing. It can last for hours, even days. These are the times I find it hard, even impossible to function. Panic attacks only last a short time, but they are more extreme and can happen anywhere, usually completely unexpectedly. They are terrifying, both for me and for those unlucky enough to be around me when they happen.

Both severe anxiety and panic attacks are awful, crushing experiences that feel like someone is piling paving stones on my chest or like there is a massive snake wrapped around me squeezing tighter and tighter. Then I often feel like I can’t get enough air, may faint, or become frozen to the spot. I always get to the floor asap and stay there until I am OK again. Sometimes I need medication, and sometimes I need someone on the phone with me. Sometimes it’s a combination of both. And sometimes, perhaps surprisingly, I need to be alone.

After severe attacks I am usually exhausted. I am unable to drive or do much at all. This means I often have to change plans at last minute. I feel exhausted and I feel like a mess. Oh, I look a mess too: such a pretty picture of a ghost like complexion, red eyes and mascara smudged down my face. I sometimes need help to breathe, to calm down and to get me to a safe place.

For a while after a panic attack or after a period of severe anxiety, I may need to rest completely. I may need to be alone. I may not be able to maintain contact with everyone immediately. This does not mean I do not think of you or that I care about you any less. If I can leave the house, I may need to stick to very familiar places and only be with a very small number of people I can trust unconditionally.

I hope I have helped you to understand severe anxiety and panic attacks and how they may affect me and others. As I have described, they can be horrific experiences both while they are happening and afterward. So I am genuinely sorry if during and after these times I cannot function properly. Again this may feel to you like I am making excuses, like I am avoiding you, or like I am letting you down. I’m really don’t mean to. It is just a part of my condition I have to live with. I really hope you can live with it too.

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10 Things to Remember for Those Battling a War Inside Their Heads

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For anyone who is battling a war inside of their heads, there is also an unfortunate, but likely battle to be understood. It can be a constant conflict to be understood by friends, family and loved ones, and sometimes it can even be difficult to understand what is going on inside of your own brain.

As somebody who has been dealing with severe anxiety for almost six years, I have found the only way to cope with mine is to write. So here I am.

Here are 10 important things to remember when dealing with anxiety or other mental illnesses:

1. None of this is your own doing, nor is it your fault. No matter how much you tell yourself that it is – or no matter how much other people tell you that happiness is a choice.

2. You aren’t “crazy.” Having a mental illness doesn’t automatically mean that you are of impaired judgment, or that you cannot be trusted.

3. Nobody asks to have a chemical imbalance in their brain, or to have experiences in their life that could potentially alter their way of thinking.You did not choose to be ill, but you can choose to help yourself.

4. You deserve to be happy.

5. The only way to make people understand what you are going through is to open up. I know, the idea of opening up to somebody is scary, but in the words of Chuck Palahniuk, “The Only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.”

6. It’s completely OK to put yourself first. Get the help you need. Pursue a hobby you are interested in. Take everything one step at a time – there’s no rush.

7. Never feel guilty. Anybody who makes you think you should feel guilty about the things out of your control, isn’t worth knowing.

8. Be kind to yourself. I think the best piece of advice I have ever come across was to think about the things you are saying to yourself – would you ever say these thoughts to a best friend or loved one? No? Then stop saying it about yourself. You deserve love and complete happiness.

9. Keep going. Although it feels like you are alone in how you are feeling, it’s likely that one of your family members or friends have experienced what you are going through. If you feel you can’t talk to somebody, I would recommend joining an online community that deals with your illness. I have been a part of four or five online communities for a year, and they honestly help me get through each day. It’s a relief knowing somebody cares and is in a similar situation to yourself.

10. You’re doing great.

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I'm Done With Minimizing My Hypochondria

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Hypochondrism seems to be widely downplayed in society compared to other mental illnesses. People throw around the term like it’s a new age fad.

“Oh, I’m such a hypochondriac. I think I have this disease or that disease.”

It has made it pretty easy for someone like myself, who actually has hypochondrism, to be part of the elite social club where you are not looked at too strangely. It allows me to laugh at myself and joke around.

When you tell someone you have generalized anxiety (GAD), it is often misunderstood and judged harshly. When you tell someone you have hypochondrism, it’s brushed off and minimized. This is my experience. It has allowed me to not give too much thought to the fact that it truly is a problem in my life, a problem that sometimes mentally consumes me.

I am consumed daily with thoughts of illness and diseases I might have for every little thing I feel physically. I self-diagnose constantly, and I joke about it at times with my coworkers. In reality, it can be overwhelming at times. Having Google to help me self-diagnose every little symptom into a worse case scenario causes me constant worry that I am dying.

I have had carcinoma in situ twice in my life. I have had surgeries go wrong and lost a third of my blood. I have had my share of medical realities. I am not sure if this has perpetuated my hypochondrism, but it certainly feeds off my GAD.

I can take a simple symptom I am having, like a second of vertigo, and I will convince myself I have a brain tumor. I can feel tingling in my legs and am sure I have multiple sclerosis. The list goes on and on.

I don’t run to the doctor for my every little self-diagnosed complaint, like others might with hypochondrism, only because I am well aware it’s probably just in my head. I’m also so embarrassed. I depend on my husband to gauge my overreaction and normal reactions as to see if I should seek medical attention because I can be irrational.

With that being said, we spent hours in the emergency department last week when I kept getting stabbing pain in my leg and my husband just really wasn’t sure why. Although he has a medical background, he isn’t my personal doctor. He wouldn’t want to tell me not to go and then it turns out to be a blood clot. It puts a lot of pressure on him to be my personal medical adviser.

I decide to go to the doctor myself if the obsessive thoughts on a particular symptom do not pass, and my anxiety is peaking as a result. I really just need the reassurance I am not dying of X , Y or Z. This is the first time I am writing about my hypochondrism. It is something I usually joke about and minimize. It is a real issue and people do struggle because of it. It’s not a joke.

So if anyone has done the same as me and fluffs it off and giggles when they talk about it, I totally get it. Sometimes it helps to not be so serious all the time and to laugh at ourselves. Yet, when it is interfering with the enjoyment of daily living it might be a good idea to be honest about it. The truth shall set you free.

Image via Thinkstock.

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The Contradiction of Living With Both Anxiety and Depression

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As you probably know, I have the misfortune of living with both a severe anxiety disorder and clinical depression. Firstly, to understand what living with both feels like, you need to understand them separately to understand how they dramatically contrast each other. This really makes everything just that much worse.

With anxiety (and this depends on the person and their specific anxiety disorder, so I’m going to be rather general), you worry too much. This is a huge understatement in itself as “worrying” doesn’t seem to do anxiety any justice. It’s more like this constant fear of everything and anything in your life that could go wrong, will go wrong.

With anxiety, you can’t just “calm down.” Telling someone with anxiety “not to worry” is rather pointless. If we could not worry, then we really would. It’s not as easy as people make it seem. It’s kind of like how you would feel if “Jurassic Park” were real and you were sitting in those stationary cars when the T-Rex makes its dramatic escape.

It’s the feeling of, Oh, God, what is going to happen? What am I going to do? How can I cope? What will people think if I pee my pants from fear right now? What if “X” happens? What if everyone hates me and blames me for the T-Rex’s escape? I know I didn’t do that, but what if I never get to tell anyone the truth? What if I do, and no one believes me?

What if I’m destined to be a failure? Maybe this is God’s way of telling me I’m a failure, by setting a T-Rex on me. Oh, sh*t, I just remembered there is a T-Rex and I’m worrying about being a failure. Will people even notice if the T-Rex eats me? Will they even care? My hands are shaking so badly. Will the people in the car notice? Will they think less of me because I’m not handling this as well as they are? Oh God, I just remembered that embarrassing thing I did/said eight years ago. Oh my God, I’m such a freak. And oh my God, there’s a T-Rex right in front of me.

Obviously, the T-Rex is a metaphor for all that anxiety bubbling to the surface and breaking through. Basically, with anxiety, you care too much. You’re often overemotional and too sensitive. You have a tendency to worry about anything and everything, no matter how ridiculous it seems. Quite simply, you care about everything way too much.

Depression, in many ways, is the exact opposite. With depression (and again, I’m being general, as there are so many different types of depression, and everyone deals with it differently), you often don’t care about anything. You don’t see the point. Why care, when everything is seemingly pointless and hopeless?

It’s like a black hole. Depression sucks in all the negativity, all the badness and forces you to focus on that. It alters your reality to make life seem worthless. The black hole, so capable of drawing in every bad word, bad moment, bad action and bad event, seems to effortlessly repel anything even slightly positive or hopeful. As you can already imagine, having both is torturous. Imagine caring too much while simultaneously not caring at all.

Do you know what it’s like to think, Oh my God, I need to do “X” because of “Y,” and then think, What’s the point? It’s not like it matters anyway. This thought process goes around and around again. Imagine being oversensitive, meaning anything and everything slightly negative is ingested into your black hole of darkness. Imagine the T-Rex is breaking through the fence, and you are simultaneously panicking with despair and fear. (You’re the guy running to the toilet in this situation). All the while, you are wondering what difference it would make if you were eaten. (The guy in the toilet also fits this, as he is eaten. *Spoiler, but really, if you haven’t seen “Jurassic Park,” shame on you.) After all, you tell yourself, would anyone even notice? Perhaps, it would be the best thing for everyone.

This is what living with depression and anxiety is like. It’s both caring and not caring whether or not the T-Rex eats you. (I really feel as though I’ve pushed this metaphor further than it can go, but it sounded nice in my head.) Remember this before you judge someone, questioning their motives, their mental illnesses and their invisible ones.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Anxiety Is a Prison in My Mind

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Anxiety Inmate Profile:
I am a prisoner in my own mind. My inmate number is 300.02. I was arrested in 2007 by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders due to trauma. My felonies are worry, fear, irritability, lack of concentration and sleep irregularities. Headaches and insomnia are my misdemeanors. When you visit me, I’ll be wearing teal (anxiety awareness), smiling on the outside, but internally suffering from acid reflux, dizziness and secretly assessing for any signs of danger.

The Anxiety Prison:
When I’m arrested, sometimes my anxiety jail visits are for hours. Other times, it’s days or weeks. Just expect when you visit, I may not be myself. My mind may be overcrowded with obsessive or racing thoughts. When you attempt to visit, I may not want company at all and deny seeing you. I know it’s all in my mind, but it’s hard to rationalize when I’m feeling stressed, depressed or just not like myself.

My correctional officers (friends and family) protect me when I’m feeling down. They keep me safe, call or text, validate my irrational thoughts and testify for my love, character and loyalty. However, when I’m arrested, I must remain silent. Anything I say or do in my fight, flight or freeze moment, will definitely be used against me in a court of law (work, relationships and leisure activities).

You know, I do receive counsel from my lawyer (mental health professional). My lawyer maintains my mental stability through active listening, empathy and reassurance. My lawyer prepares me for the trial by giving me coping mechanisms. The trial is survival. It is daunting because it is a task I must work through daily.

There are days when I do not listen to my lawyer nor correctional officers. This is not because I do not want to but because I am mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. I have to live up to so many professional and personal expectations. I cannot always see my lawyer. She is really busy and has a huge fee! She assigned a probation officer (medication and alternative therapies) to help me cope and just simply to maintain.

Anxiety Rehab:
To my visitors, I have a criminal record and I serve time in my own mental prison. Although I’ve been both acquitted and found guilty, I can postulate I will commit another felony or misdemeanor. No worries. I am digging and creating a secret tunnel out of this mental prison. My tunnel includes self-forgiveness, advocacy, awareness, education, therapy and saying “No.” Dear visitors, I am hoping the next time you visit, I am no longer in prison but on the road to rehabilitation and recovery.

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Coping With Anxiety in Disneyland (and Other Crowded Places)

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Everyone struggling from anxiety knows anxiety doesn’t exactly back down when you’re wanna have fun… It would be so much easier if it did. Somehow the more excited I am, the more anxious thoughts float through my mind.  And I’ve not often been as excited as when I started planning our summer trip to Disneyland in Paris!

A few weeks before departure, my anxiety started its warm-up. My mind got clouded with awful thoughts where everything went wrong. Our booking didn’t come through. We forgot important documents. We got lost. I don’t speak French, so no-one would understand a word I would be saying… Do I need to go on? Serious question. Because I can. The list is endless.

When it was time to go, everything went OK. Perfectly fine. Obviously! And I had lost a lot of time – and what should’ve been a fun looking-forward-to period – to worrying about absolutely nothing. I regained my calmness slowly…

Until we left our hotelroom and visited the park for the first time. My anxiety started screaming again, almost instantly. Get out. Too many people. I so don’t wanna do this.

Waiting lines were the worst. Twenty minutes crapped up in a small place with 100,000 people (or at least that’s how many people there seemed to be) isn’t fun for anyone, let alone someone who gets panic attacks regularly when being surrounded by screaming, laughing people.

I skipped all attractions that could potentially contain any scary effects. And while getting my food at the buffet, I had to keep reminding myself over and over again that nobody was watching me and that it was OK to only eat pasta. No one was judging me on what was on my plate.

But.. I was so happy being in Disneyland! And despite all the anxiety, all the crowds and all the irrational thoughts: I was so proud of myself for being where I was.

Mickey Mouse was all around me, Disney tunes played literally everywhere and the delicious smell of fries or cotton candy hung in the air.

So, yes, we did spend afternoons in our hotel room because I got overwhelmed. And yes, I constantly needed to sit down for a few seconds, just to stay calm and regain myself… but nonetheless, it was incredible.

I usually try and avoid crowded, chaotic places, but Disneyland is an exception. I wanted to go so bad. I love Disney so much. I decided if those negative, anxious thoughts were going to keep me company during my stay, they’d have to be heard, but not always obeyed.

Crowded places will always be my weakness. I can’t deal with them, and I just wanna go home and read a book. But the great thing about places like Disneyland is you can set your own limits. I didn’t go on any (scary) rides. I didn’t stand in lines longer than 25 minutes, and we took a lot of breaks in between.

If you want to go to a theme park or any chaotic place, go. Take all the time you need. And don’t be afraid to set limits, whatever they may be. And don’t forget to have fun. You can do it!

P.S. If someone from Disney(land) happens to read this: Thanks for the lovely music around the park. It really made my anxiety bearable. Thanks for all the kind, smiling employees and the lovely vibe that’s just spread like a blanket. 

Image via Disneyland Paris

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