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Telling Me I’m 'OK’ Doesn’t Change My Anxiety

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Recently, on our way to work, I told my boyfriend my therapist asked how I was dealing with the possibility of his death. I hadn’t intended to broach that subject with him. It’s morbid and pessimistic. He, however, brings it up regularly. I’m the optimist. He’s the pessimist.

My boyfriend needs a kidney transplant. At first, the timeline for his transplant seemed like it would be in a year or two. That timeline soon became six months, and now it needs to happen as soon as possible. It’s a lot to try to comprehend and prepare for.

He asked why my therapist had brought up that topic and if she was concerned about him. I laughed and emphasized she’s concerned about me. She’s concerned about how I will handle it and about how I’ll deal with it on top of everything else that’s going on in my life at the moment.

She wants me to be prepared for the possibility. She also knows I’m worried I’ll get to the point that I somewhat jokingly call “losing it.” This is the point where I know that everything has become too much, and I need to ask for more help in the form of inpatient programs or other interventions. Those are the things I am trying so, so hard to avoid.

Anxiety is a thief and a liar. More precisely, panic disorder with agoraphobia, is a thief and a liar.

My boyfriend looked at me and said reassuringly, “You’re fine. You’re doing OK. You haven’t lost it.”

I paused, then said, “No, actually, I am not OK.” He said it again, confirming what he thought to be true.

I replied, “No, I’m not, and your saying that I am isn’t helping. Saying I’m OK doesn’t actually make me OK. It doesn’t make it better.”

He looked at me, puzzled, and said, “But you seem OK. You seem fine. You’re… you.”

That’s what I do. I can compartmentalize with the best of them. I can be outwardly OK while my inner monologue is a mix of primal screams and a repeating chorus of how not enough I think I am. Some days, I am certain I’m going to be found out, that someone is going to notice my not so put-together side is showing.

Someone is going to tell me I am, in fact, not capable of handling this or anything. Someone is going to tell me I possess a character flaw that guarantees I will lose it at any moment. I am equally worried someone will judge me for not being “not OK enough,” for not falling apart as much or as quickly as I should be.

I can even fail at having enough anxiety. Seriously, anxiety? The door is that way.

So, when you ask me if I’m OK, I might say I am. For that moment and for that interaction, I am. It’s not a lie, but it’s not the entire truth. If you ask me if I’m OK, and I say that I’m not, know I trust you enough to know that about me. Know I trust you enough to understand while I might not be OK, I’m OK-ish. Know I trust you enough to not judge me for my “not OK-ness.”

Know I trust you to not judge my problems as “not real problems” or to not tell me that “things could be worse.” (Did I ask for your opinion, judgment police?) Know I don’t need your pity, but I do need you to know I’m doing the best I can every single day. Know I’m doing my best even when my best is watching 10 episodes of “Veronica Mars” in a row because that’s all I can handle.

And that? That is absolutely enough. That is definitely OK.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Illustrator Jag Nagra Draws Other People's Anxieties for 'I Still Have Anxiety' Series

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It doesn’t matter how long ago it happened — anxiety over a particular event, thing you said or awkward encounter can keep you up at night even decades later. To help herself, and others, dispel these anxieties, Canadian-illustrator, Jag Nagra, is drawing them. She shares the illustrations as part of a series called “I Still Have Anxiety.”

“I initially started this project as a joke to document the embarrassing things I had said or done in the past that still gave me pangs of anxiety even years after they happened,” Nagra told The Mighty. “While many of those things were seemingly small and laughable, they still caused a lot of internal anxiety that I couldn’t seem to shake off.”

As part of the series, each illustration is paired with an anonymous short story detailing where the anxiety came from and how long ago it happened.

Illustration of a luggage tag that says "MEX"

10 years ago, at a staff Christmas party, I heard my boss tell someone that he was going to surprise his wife with a vacation over the holidays. As I was leaving, I accidentally blurted to her, “Have a good trip!”

I still have anxiety about this.

At first, the series began with submissions from family and friends. From there, the word spread and others began sending Nagra their stories. “I very quickly realized this site was incredibly cathartic to read,” she said. “Releasing my anxieties, and reading what others submit, it was very freeing and comforting to know we’re not alone in our struggles. And very surprisingly, the things that caused me anxiety — things I held on to for years — posting them on this site has helped me let go of them in some way. ”

Illustration of a rotary phone

14 years ago, I put my manager’s name on my resumé as a reference without telling her. When the new company called her for a reference, she was so shocked that she started sobbing on the phone call.

I still have anxiety about this.

Some of the anxieties Nagra illustrates are lighter than others, ranging from embarrassing moments to deeper concerns about mental health.

Illustration of a megaphone

As long as I’ve lived, I’ve had social anxiety and I don’t see it going away. When I have to speak to anyone or do anything, I’m often met with the crippling fear that I’ll screw it up horribly (and probably illogically), and sometimes it’s just too much. I’ve never broken under the pressure, but I’ve lost chances time and again because I couldn’t muster up the nerve to speak to someone.

No wonder I often seem better off alone…

 

So far, the reaction to “I Still Have Anxiety,” has been overwhelmingly positive. “I was talking to a few people one day about some of the submissions on the site, and we all realized that we had similar stories. We would read one out loud, and we could recall similar stories from our own experiences,” Nagra said. “It was that moment I realized that although we don’t always express our thoughts to those around us, we all have unspoken shared experiences as we work our way through our lives. While I won’t be able to post every single submission I receive, it’s still helping bring us together and it helps to know what kinds of thoughts other people are carrying around with them.”

Illustration of the Statue of Liberty

The last few months, I’ve been anxious about whether or not to drop my art and take a big job. I finally decided to take my savings and move to New York, instead.  Am I even more anxious now? Yup.

You can read more stories or submit a story for Nagra to illustrate through the “I Still Have Anxiety” Tumblr page.

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The Day I Realized My Son Was Becoming a Self-Advocate

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A few weeks ago was the first day of school. And predictably at the end of the day, the kids came home with the stacks paper – some of it actually needed my attention, and much of it went straight into the recycling pile.

Among the items that needed my attention was the reminder to send in an emergency kit for each child. Living in California, emergency prep means earthquake prep. Our school district requires each child have an emergency kit supplied by the family that includes basic essentials for up to 48 hours. There is an option to either purchase a pre-made kit from the school, or supply your own. I purchased the kits for both kids when they were in kindergarten and we just re-use them each year, restocking when perishables hit their expiration date. So as I was going through the folder full of paper my son brought home and saw the notice listing the items that should be included in an emergency kit, I almost didn’t look at it as I moved it the recycling pile. But then a handwritten note on the side of the page caught my attention, and I paused to read what it said. The note had been written by my son: “Include 48 hours of anxiety medication in emergency kit.”

I asked my son if his teacher had told him to write the note, and he said no. It was his idea. He told me, “My medication only works if I take it every single day. If something happens and I get trapped at school, I want to have my medication there.”

I was momentarily stunned.

I asked if getting trapped at school was something he worries about, “No Mom. I do worry about a lot of things, but not about this. But we do live close enough to the San Andreas fault that a major earthquake could happen. If it happens while I am at school, I want to know I have everything I need until you can get to me. The roads could be really messed up. It’s possible I could have to spend a night at school.”

OK. So he wasn’t worrying. He was being practical. And that means as much as he loathes going to the psychiatrist and to the psychologist, he knows the medication is helping him. He still won’t really talk to us about what he is feeling or experiencing, but he told me so, so much when he said, “My medication only works if I take it every single day. If something happens and I get trapped at school, I want to have my medication there.”

With those two sentences, he told me he knows how far down he had spiraled before starting the medication, and he told me he feels better on the medication. With those two sentences, he told me he knows he needs to do the work to help himself. With those two sentences, he told me he is beginning to self-advocate. With those two sentences, he gave me hope.

Clearly I do not want to see a day when there is an emergency so massive he does get stuck at school, but if that day comes he will be prepared, because he was brave enough to acknowledge his truth.

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6 Tips for Avoiding Anxiety Triggers While Using Social Media

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Anxiety.

Four mere syllables. Seven mere letters.

Yet s.u.c.h. a forceful nature. Bully-ish. Controlling. Consuming. Exhausting.

A word with which I am all too familiar. A word that has always been a major part of my life. Pushing me around, forcing my mind to spend hours at a time set on a closed circuit of “what ifs,” “whys” and “worst-case” scenarios without a stop sign in sight.

After wrestling with this relentless beast for more than 30 years, I have come to know its grasp all too well, most especially my “triggers.” But learning those triggers did not come with ease, nor without struggle and significant learning.

One of my most challenging years with anxiety was my fifth year of teaching. I had by far my most challenging group of students ever in my 12 years as an elementary educator. Not to mention throughout this same time we were trying to start a family of our own, which turned out to be more difficult and stressful than we could have imagined.

My anxiety peaked.

It’s not the only time it has done this. I’ve experienced it all throughout my battle with this monster: mountains, valleys and rolling fields of emerald-green grass. But that year in particular was the time when I became an expert in my triggers. Those same 12 months were also consumed with beginning to compare myself — our lives and our wants/needs — with those of others around us. Luckily, at that time and for four more years, I stayed far away from all types of social media.

A plethora of answered prayers, a whole lot of learning and two precious girls later, I found myself in a much more “settled” place. And with some pleading and encouragement at a holiday get-together with some close friends, I was finally persuaded to join the world of Facebook.

Little did I know I would also very quickly discover an entirely new type of anxiety — solely based around social media.

I’ve found when you are not surrounded by the constant flood of disheartening news stories, thought-provoking posts and beautiful, “picture-perfect” photos in a continuous newsfeed, the need to compare and question isn’t nearly as prevalent. But when these opportunities arise by the minute, it’s a completely different story.

And suddenly, an entirely new set of triggers arose…

  • Comparisons. Constantly. There were times when a simple photograph could leave a pit in my gut.
  • Fear. An introduction to an instant influx of horrid breaking news, bringing all of those “what ifs” to actual fruition.
  • Sensitivity. Continuous questioning and self-doubt. Why would someone like her photo but not mine?
  • Increased self-consciousness and need for my perfectionist side to rear its sometimes-ugly head.

There were — and still are — countless days of significant struggling. Days when social media is the sole cause of my ceaseless worries. I’ve spent six years becoming familiar with and learning to overcome a completely fresh set of switches that, at any given moment, could cause my sleeping ogre to awaken.

If I have learned anything from overcoming the “like” of Facebook and other social media outlets, it is this:

1. Keep my “friends” list to a minimum. I try to stay around 250 to 260, surrounding myself with those who I feel genuinely have my best interest in mind and would/will support me in life’s adventures.

2. Think carefully before posting. I am an over-analyzer by nature. So I tend to be very guarded, and when it comes to sharing on social media, I really don’t share much. The less I share, the more my anxiety tends to stay at bay. But I absolutely love being able to have that connection to family, friends and my favorite businesses, especially when spending so much time at home with four little ones.

3. Choose one or two social media platforms and stick with those. For me, it is blogging and Facebook. Trying to keep up with Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and beyond would not only pull me away from my daily routine and caring for my family and home, but it would also only feed into more opportunities to intensify my anxiety.

4. Try not to take things too personally. For a self-proclaimed people-pleaser like myself, this was a tough lesson to learn. Just because someone does not “like” my post, photo or personal page does not mean they don’t like me. There are times I am away from social media enough that I miss out on days of posts and pictures. Life is busy, and not receiving a “like” doesn’t mean you aren’t important to others! Your life is not meant to become a set of ranks or numbers. And your self-worth and personal value in absolutely no way should be based on a “like.” You are so much greater than that!   

5. If you are in the middle of a bout with anxiety, take. a. break. Step back. For as long as needed. Fill your time with other activities. Read a book. Take a walk. If you belong to a certain faith, spend that time strengthening your beliefs. Or perhaps plan something upcoming and fun, like next month’s birthday party or Halloween bash. And while you are “away”? Don’t consume yourself with what others might think of your absence. There is no need to explain, unless you feel like sharing: “I just needed some time with myself to refocus.” And leave it at that.

6. Use it all (social media outlets) for the greater good! I concentrate most of my time on blogging and sharing personal stories, struggles, triumphs and experiences in hopes of encouraging and inspiring others through my blog and my blog’s Facebook page. Those opportunities with social media not only greatly combat my anxiety, they also have an amazing effect on my spirit and mind.

From one person with anxiety to another, keep your head to the sky, beautiful soul. Overcoming the “like,” the opportunities for comparisons, the self-consciousness and the fear of missing out is no easy task. But always try to remember, you are greater than a numberYou are more than a post. 

You are an incredible person. Your value cannot be discovered within the intricate workings of a computer or the latest iPhone. No, sweet friends, your worth purely lies within your heart and soul.

Image via Thinkstock.

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A Simple Request for the One Who Will Stay With Me Through My Anxiety

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I know you see me, day in and day out.  My happiness fading. Exhausted. Irritable. Ashamed. You have been there through it all.

Through the flood of tears.

Through the pain.

Through the replaying scenarios in my mind,

Over and over and over again.

Through my incessant building of “false” bridges.

Through the restless nights.

Through the shutting down.

Though the indecisiveness.

Through the backing out of plans.

Through “preparing” for yet another round.

I have gone head to head repeatedly with this seven-letter thief. You have tried fighting it with me, and you have also left me to face this alone. You have both taken it away and contributed to it tenfold. It’s been a roller coaster ride of epic proportions. Our crusade together is a hard-fought one. Yet, it is one that is not going anywhere, anytime soon. It is one that we are never going to “ultimately” win.

Sometimes, you words tear through me like a dagger.

“What in the world do you have to be so upset about?”

“You need to stop the ‘craziness.’”

“I don’t get it. All this worrying is such a waste of time.”

And try as I might, many times, I cannot offer an explanation that makes sense. As I fill with shame once more, failing once again to offer you any kind of justification for this invisible beast’s grasp on my existence, my defensive mechanisms kick in. I become almost angry, wishing with all my heart you could understand, for just even a mere moment, the inner-workings of my mind. Truthfully, sometimes I wish I could just scream at the top of my lungs.

“If you think I could control this, erase it, then don’t you think it would be gone already?”

My anxiety? It is something that has been a major part of me for as long as I can remember. It has managed to creep into every crack and crevice of my life, into every new experience and into everything that was meant to be enjoyed. It is a thieving expert. It has stolen every ounce of happiness from the world around me.

My anxiety? It is not something I can simply regulate. Ignore. Forget. Or neglect. Let alone, “delete” or make vanish.

My anxiety? It is embedded within my existence, to my core.

The truth? There is not always a explanation as to why I feel the way I do. At times, I genuinely don’t know why I am so upset, why I am so incredibly fearful or why I am once more finding myself on a closed circuit of “what ifs” and “why nots.”

The thing is, I am not asking you to understand. I am simply asking for your support. At times, I know my battle with this invisible beast can be downright exhausting, for you and I both. I wish I had a magic wand, so I could use my three wishes:

-To make it disappear altogether.

-To reinstate my happiness and peace.

-To erase every moment that it crept in to steal a precious piece of joy and beauty during our time together.

Unfortunately, the reality is I just can’t.

My request? It’s simple. For you to understand my anxiety is always going to be a part of me. It is a part of myself I loathe more than you could ever imagine. At times, it is less a part of me, and at other times, it will consume my existence. So, I simply need you to decide if this merciless mental illness that is part of me, can also be a part of you.

We know what it is capable of doing. More than anything in the world, I want you to know that even if you don’t understand, even if in no possible way can you relate, even if you hate it as much as I hate it, I want you next to me. As my support. As my coach. As my partner. And as my friend.

My greatest fear? Is that you will let your frustrations and inability to relate sway you in a direction far away from this grueling battle we have waged together. The thought of this reality literally tears my heart in two. Because, together, even if we can’t fully take this monster down, we can move mountains. One day at a time. Slowly opening our pathway to the splendors and joys of the life that we were meant to know.

Image via Thinkstock.

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How Getting a Dog Helped Lift Me Out of Anxiety and Depression

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I first began experiencing anxiety and depression at the age of 14 after being bullied at school for years. While at first it would come and go, anxiety and depression eventually became a constant presence in my life. It was like a perpetual cough that eventually starts to get better, only to come back worse than before. Only unlike a cough, where usually I am still able to function, anxiety and depression hits like a ton of bricks and even the idea of getting out of bed seems to be a goal that becomes less and less attainable. As time passed, more and more of my days started to be spent paralyzed by endless thoughts of regrets of the past and worries for the future.

I was so intent on finding the solution to overcoming my anxiety and depression that I studied mental health in school, from college to grad school for seven years. Yet, I still felt I hadn’t come close to grasping how to manage my own anxiety and depression. I felt confident about helping others, but horribly useless at helping myself. Something was missing, a piece to my puzzle I had yet to discover.

I tried everything, antidepressants, special teas, yoga, vitamins and anything I read about in books and from advice given by doctors. I bought a membership to the gym because of how beneficial exercise is for mental health. However, every day, I would drag my feet to the gym, hating every moment of it from beginning to end. Oh, how I loathe the gym. I even moved eight hours away from home in the hopes of having a new beginning, a new me, but that just seemed to make things worse. I felt isolated and lost in an unknown city.

This was my life for more than 10 years, getting better just to fall again and start over. It felt like a constant uphill battle, swimming against the current. I started to feel like nothing was going to work. I started to believe I’d have to live the rest of my life with this dark cloud constantly hanging over me, rearing its ugly head just when things are starting to look up.

Until one day, I fell upon an article that talked about how dogs were able to help people with their mental health, like anxiety and depression. I had always loved dogs. My family had many growing up and they had always been wonderful companions. So I decided I was going to get a dog. I settled on the idea of getting a Pembroke Welsh Corgi because if they were good enough for the Queen, they were good enough for me. (Not to mention they are hilarious and cute.)

When I brought my little corgi, Buddy, home in November of 2014, I didn’t realize at the time how much he would truly change my life, but it didn’t happen right away. Once the new puppy excitement went away, the anxiety and depression crept back as it always had. I woke up one morning and felt those familiar feelings again. The weight on my shoulders, the nausea in my stomach, the feelings of hopelessness and worry. I knew the anxiety and depression had come back hard and felt depleted. I didn’t want to get out of bed. It felt impossible. I turned to pull the covers back over my head and give up for the day. What I always did. That’s when I came face to face with Buddy.

Buddy started jumping all over me, kissing my face, letting me know it was time to go outside. It was as if he was saying, “It’s no time to be sad. The world is awesome!” For the first time in my life, on a day when my anxiety and depression was present full force, I got out of bed. I put on my winter boots, snow pants, gloves, hat, scarf, coat and went for a walk in the snow with my new best friend. I realized at that moment, walking down the street in minus 30 degree weather, my life was changing. I really was a new person. This was my new beginning, my missing puzzle piece.

funnybuddy

Dog standing in the snow

It has been over a year and a half since that day and I have never spent another day unable to get out of bed. I have not cried myself to sleep or spent my days paralyzed by fear and regret. Sure, I still have days when I feel sad or anxious, but with my best Buddy by my side, I have finally learned how to manage these feelings and emotions.

I finally realized the answer to my decade-long question of how to manage anxiety and depression — exercise, laughter and love — all things that were unattainable for me before but were only achieved by getting a dog. The reason these three things are so key is they all trigger the release of the chemical serotonin, the feel-good chemical in our brains. By having increased levels of serotonin every day, symptoms of anxiety and depression can dramatically decrease.

Before Buddy came into my life, I was not able to get enough exercise because there was nothing truly motivating me to exercise, which made my attempts at changing my life to be more active short lived. I wasn’t getting enough laughter because as an introverted person, socializing is not my forte. So I don’t spend a lot of time with friends or doing activities that promote laughter. I had a lot of love in my life from my friends and family but not the kind of unconditional love you get from a dog. It wasn’t the kind of love that greets you at the door every day after a long day of work and just turns everything around.

A dog motivates you to get out the door for fresh air and exercise, even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing. A dog brings you so much laughter and joy, unlike anything I’ve experienced before, with their unique personalities and hilarious quirks (search “funny dog videos” and you’ll know exactly what I am talking about). Lastly, a dog brings you unconditional love, the kind of love that never stops. With these three things in your life, anxiety and depression can be part of your past as it has become a part of mine.

Getting a dog can dramatically change the way you are able to manage your anxiety, depression or simply your overall mental health; however, it’s important to consider many things before getting a dog. Thousands of dogs are abandoned at shelters every year because owners were unaware of how much time and money a dog requires. If you are considering getting a dog to help improve your mental health, then here are some things to consider:

1. Do I have time for a dog?

A dog requires a minimum of two hours a day of your time and attention. A puppy requires even more, around four hours a day. Not ready to commit to raising a puppy? Consider rescuing a dog in need of a home. Thousands of dogs are in need of homes.

2. What breed do I want?

If you want a dog who will motivate you to exercise, then pick a dog breed that requires the level of exercise you want to partake in. Dog breeds range from low to high exercise requirements. Also, dog breeds are known for different personalities. Pick one that suits you. I picked a Pembroke Welsh Corgi because they are known to be funny and loving.

3. Do I have the money?

While dogs do not need to be expensive, it’s important to make sure you have enough money to support their needs. This includes all of their accessories, training tools, food, treats and vet bills.

Getting a dog was the missing piece in my puzzle in helping me learn to manage my anxiety and depression and could be the piece that changes your life. No matter what your missing piece may be, whether you know what it is or not, never lose hope that things will get better.

“Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise.” – Victor Hugo, Les Misérables.

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

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