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Getting Over 'Halloween-Phobia' When You Live With Anxiety

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Everybody loves Halloween, right?

Nope. So much nope.

A big trigger for me is when I can’t see someone’s face when they’re speaking to me, which is why it’s so hard for me to have phone conversations. (Sometimes even texting is hard!) Living with anxiety can feel like you’re prey. We are always 100 percent aware of everything going on around us. We have to be because anxiety can feel like always being in danger. You don’t know why you’re in danger or from what. All you know is you must always be on guard. Always.

Halloween revels in scariness. To be terrified is kinda the whole point of the holiday. Thanks, but daily life is terrifying enough for me. So why on earth would I enjoy parading around to houses covered in spider webs, where a scarecrow on the porch may or may not come alive or have the door opened by a zombie from “The Walking Dead” in full makeup. Also it’s dark. Everyone’s wearing a mask, and you have no clue who anyone is. Have fun!

Nope. Nope, nope, nope and nope.

When I was little enough, people felt bad about scaring me or my brother. So I could stay really close to my mom and dad, until I got to fifth grade. At my fifth grade Halloween party, we all got to change into our costumes. My tablemate had a dark robe on with a skeleton chest. He had a hood, but we weren’t allowed to pull them up or wear a mask. I thought I was safe.

He sat down (with me in my fairy costume), and I probably had my nose in a book when he said my name. When I looked up, he had on the mask from the painting “Scream,” and pressed a button to make fake blood run down his face. Apparently, he liked the look of abject terror on my face. Since I was a trusting and naive little child, he was able to do it three more times before I ran to my best friend and refused to look at anyone else for the rest of the day.

I avoided Halloween parties, trick or treating or anything to do with the holiday. I said I was “too old” to be doing that stuff anymore. Secretly, I felt like I was missing out.

When I was in eighth grade, I moved to a different school, but my best friend and I lived within walking distance. So we still saw each other regularly. In early October, she begged me to come with her to a Halloween party. All my friends from my old school would be there, and I really wanted to see them. But Halloween.

As a smart anxious child, I figured out all ways to hide my anxiety. I told my friend my mom wasn’t a fan of Halloween, and so I wasn’t even going to bother to ask. Since my best friend is also highly intelligent and knew I was full of sh*t, she asked her mom to ask my mom to let me come. My mom agreed and was overjoyed I was going out on Halloween.

It’s really hard to pull one over on my mom. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been able to fool her (and all of these events have gone as well as being a crane operator in a lightning storm). She bought my “too old for Halloween” excuse for approximately zero seconds.

I see my anxiety as the other personality living in my brain or a “brain buddy.” When October rolls around, Megan stops being part of the conversation and Anxiety takes over. Anxiety makes all the choices, whether I like them or not.

My mom told Anxiety she would stay at the party. That she would walk with us during trick or treating, even reminding Anxiety about the big bag of candy that comes at the end of the night. The final thing that allowed me to get back control over my anxiety was when my mom said she would bring my dog with her. I agreed to go to the party. Anxiety was not pleased.

Halloween night rolled around. I spend most of the day alternating between panic and excitement at seeing my friends again (whom I hadn’t seen since the summer), but it was mostly panic. Finally, my mom and I drove over to pick up my best friend and go to the party together. Upon arrival, I was relieved to see there were no masks or face paint on anyone (I think there may have been threats involved).

During trick or treating, my mom walked slightly behind with the rest of the mothers. Anxiety was OK with that because I positioned myself in between my two best friends and right in the middle of the pack. Although there were a few times I walked so close that one of them tripped on me, I survived the journey. We all cheerfully ignored the houses with billowing smoke machines and creepy porch ornaments.

When we got back to the house, a little after dusk, we all poured out all our candy and traded among ourselves so everyone got their favorite types and replaced all the broken and unwrapped ones with candy our hosts had purchased. We had moved on to the movie “Monster High” when my mom called up that it was time to go home. I was shocked at the time. Halloween was almost over, and Anxiety hadn’t crashed the party!

While a great experience, this party did not cure my Halloween-phobia. I still dread the appearance of decorations in stores everywhere, and the copious amounts of candy that fill every aisle. Yet, this one experience taught me that my anxiety doesn’t always have to crash the party. The Halloween party taught me scary things doesn’t mean I have to hand control over to Her.

So, despite the terror, I go anyways. I do Halloween parties. I hand out candy. I’ve even gone trick or treating with friends. I still walk close enough to my best friend that she sometimes trips on me, and I won’t go without one of my dogs with me, but I go. Despite the triggers that abound on this night of the year, I even have fun. Because I’ll be d*mned if I let one of my brain buddies take away walking around with friends, laughing and, of course, a huge bag of candy!

This post originally appeared on Not Your Neurotypicals.

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'You Have Nothing to Be Anxious About!' That's the Problem.

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I often have people tell me I don’t have it all that bad, so what could I be depressed or anxious about? I have a steady job and a roof over my head, so what could I possibly have to worry about? I couldn’t agree more. Why then, am I still afraid and worried all the time?

Just because I do not have a “real reason” to be anxious doesn’t mean I am not anxious. After all, if I had “real” concerns I was worried about, wouldn’t that be the healthy response to those concerns? The very problem with anxiety is that I am worried about anything and everything I can be, rational and irrational. I decided to keep track of the anxious questions that wash over me as a single day rolls by.

From the moment I wake up in the morning:

What time is it? Did I oversleep? Have I worn this shirt too many times to work? Will people notice? This is the shirt I am wearing in my ID photo; people will think it is the only shirt I wear. Should I try to do something new with my hair? It’s too boring; it’s the same hair I have always had. People will think I am boring. Is that too much cologne? Will people think I am trying too hard? Are my windshield wipers going too fast? Does it look like I am overreacting to the rain? Am I going to be pulled over? I should turn my music down because if others hear it they will think I am weird.

That’s before I even get to work and interact with anyone. Let’s continue:

Will someone notice I am just sitting at my desk? Will they report me for wasting time? When will they realize I don’t know what I am doing? Do people think I walk funny? Are people taking advantage of how nice I am? Am I letting people walk over me? Am I being too nice to this person? Do they think I am flirting? Will I get taken to HR? Am I being creepy? I feel like I am not doing enough. Am I being lazy? Do they know I have no idea what they are talking about? Should I have taken this job? Maybe I should have stayed where I was unhappy but at least knew what I was doing. They will find out I am making it all up as I go.

I need to stop spending money. Why can’t I stop spending money? Why can’t I lose weight? Do people think I am fat? Do they make fun of my height? I need to stop texting my friends. I am being overbearing and annoying. They have real lives, and I am bothering them. Does the waitress think I am rude for looking at my phone? Do I come here too often? Does my roommate think I am too loud? Do I bother him when he wants to be left alone? Why is my room such a mess? Why can’t I keep it clean? Why haven’t I finished reading that book yet? Why do I look at Facebook? No one is talking to me. They have their lives, and you are bothering them.

This all seems petty, mindless and pointless, right? That is the point. It wouldn’t be a problem if I was constantly worried about important things. The constant flood of stressing over the unimportant things is what makes my anxiety what it is. I know just as much as the person telling me I am worrying over nothing that I am doing just that. The part that annoys others, that they are so ready to dismiss as not a “real” problem is exactly what the problem is. So now, in addition to the myriad of other little worries raining down on me, tearing me apart like a storm of needles, I have to worry that I am bothering you with these other trivial concerns.

Please understand I know more than you do that I should not be worried about these little things. Please also understand that is exactly what anxiety is. When you dismiss my anxiety, you actively participate in confirming all those little fears and insecurities. Instead of adding to the pile of worries of someone you care about or even do not care about, remember that if I had rational fears it would be a survival instinct. It’s the irrational fears that make it a sickness. Please consider that, and act accordingly.

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Why I Dread the First Week of School as a Student With Anxiety

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So, a new year at my university has started, and my initial dread has passed. I wasn’t dreading my classes — I was excited to start learning and going to class. What I was dreading was the “introductions week” and the class presentations I knew I’d have to do.

I kept thinking about last year when I started my classes; how we all had to stand up one by one in front of the entire class of 100 student and six tutors to introduce ourselves. We had to say our names, where we were from and some facts about ourselves. It was mortifying as I couldn’t think of anything and I had an accent that was noticeable there.

So I dreaded the first day of class. I cannot deal with standing up in front of a class if I have time to prepare myself, let alone if it is sprung on me there and then — it practically cripples me. I understand we have to introduce ourselves and get it all out of the way. But I wish teachers planned this with student mental health in mind. A person without anxiety might get nervous at the thought, but people who have anxiety can literally feel sick at the thought – and yes, I have actually vomited once when I had to do a presentation. It was the most embarrassing moment of my entire life, having to run out to the bathroom to vomit.

This is starting to keep me up at night thinking about it. It shouldn’t, but it does and it is unbelievably frustrating. I also know some of the modules are graded on presentations. I’ve even been told the work isn’t what’s graded the most — we are actually graded on how we present it. Surely the content of my work should be more looked into. When I present, I can’t look at everyone, I can’t stand tall and confident. I shrink away, I shake like a leaf, my voice becomes unsteady and as I internally panic I can be quite difficult to understand. A teacher once said to me after a presentation, “Wow, I don’t know about the class, but I’m glad you had your presentation on the board because I didn’t understand a word of that.”

Needless to say, I’m fairly sure I’ll fail if I have a presentation graded on performance. I
do understand everybody has a different learning style, and the whole module cannot realistically be graded on just exams, because some people really struggle with exams. But because anxiety isn’t really talked about in school, people think we’re just overreacting. Someone laughed at me and said I was being silly when I was panicking about a presentation. They didn’t realize my heart and head were pounding and I couldn’t control my shaking hands. They didn’t understand the only thing my mind could concentrate on was the panic.

I just wish we got a choice. At least a choice in presenting; if we really have to do this presentation, does it have to be to the entire class? Surely that isn’t fair, when some students literally get sick at the thought of it. But, what do I know? I’m only the student with anxiety.

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5 Tactics for When Anxiety Makes You Feel 'Weak'

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Anxiety can have a way of making us feel unable to do everyday things. It can sneak up on us and make us feel weak, alone. The truth is, though, we are stronger than our fears and we can overcome our obstacles. We just need to prove this to ourselves. How do we do this? I suggest following these five steps:

1. Face your fears in small, manageable steps.

By facing your fears in small steps — steps that you choose — you can prove to your anxiety that you are stronger than it is.

2. Practice facing your fears on a consistent basis.

Like with exercising, the more you face your fears, the better you can become at it. By consistently doing things to get through your anxiety and over your other obstacles, I believe you can show your anxiety just how much you want it to leave you alone and how you won’t let it control you.

3. Track your progress.

By tracking the progress you make by writing it down, you’ll be able to see all you’ve accomplished. Not only is seeing your progress in writing proof you can do what it takes to be successful, but it can also help motivate you to do more and more to improve yourself every day.

4. When you feel like you can’t get through your anxiety or like you’re unable to do something, remember all of the progress you’ve made so far!

Being able to recall your most recent progress is a great way to remind yourself you can get through your anxiety and you are stronger than whatever is trying to hold you back.

5. Even if you don’t feel like you can do the main thing you want to, do something smaller.

Sometimes, we simply don’t feel like we can do something. Our anxiety can become extremely overwhelming, and we just can’t seem to break away from its hold. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t do anything. Try to do some light exercises or something smaller in order to help build your confidence!

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To Those Who Haven't Talked About Their Anxiety

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I’m 18 years old and a senior in high school. I have a good life, I’m a happy person, and I struggle with anxiety.

Anxiety is something all of us will experience at some point in our lives. It’s that jittery feeling you get before a job interview. It’s the butterflies you get before a first date. It’s the fear of failing that big test. It’s the voice that warns us of potential threats and stresses us out just enough that we work a little harder, that we be a little more careful.

For most people, the anxiety goes away once the interview or date or test is over. But for people like me, it doesn’t go away. Instead, it sticks with me, making me analyze all the little things, making me think of all the “what ifs” that could’ve happened but didn’t, making me think about all the other tests and interviews and dates I’ll have to face someday. And so instead of smiling because I rocked that interview or said all the right things on that date or aced that test,  I’ll cry myself to sleep because life moves so fast and there’s no time to appreciate this one good day because I have hundreds of other days ahead of me that offer the same opportunities to mess up.

It was during my junior year of high school that my anxiety started getting worse. At first, it was just the little things, like taking a little longer to send a simple text because I wondered if I worded it right or studying for a few extra hours because I worried I wouldn’t pass that test. But it wasn’t long before my anxiety started interfering with my life. It felt as if I was carrying a giant magnifying glass with me all the time: a five-point math quiz became what would determine my final grade, which would determine my GPA, which would determine whether or not I got into college; a ten-second conversation with a coworker became my one chance to make a new friend and I probably stumbled on my words or didn’t make sense and now they probably hate me; or an ache in my arm meant something was terribly wrong and maybe I was really sick and just didn’t know it yet.

I started having panic attacks, and yet I still wasn’t saying, “I have anxiety.” Despite the fact that I felt disconnected from my surroundings, despite the fact that some nights I would look in the mirror and feel like a stranger was staring back at me, I wasn’t talking about my anxiety. Why? Because I didn’t feel like I had a good enough “excuse.” I felt as if I just needed to “get over it.” And I felt as if no one would understand, that if I did tell anyone they’d just tell me I was overreacting and asking for attention.

It wasn’t until someone close to me started talking about her anxiety that I realized I wasn’t alone. It wasn’t until I saw the difference it made in her life that I realized maybe I should talk about my anxiety, too.

Talking about your anxiety is not an easy thing to do – anything that involves confiding your feelings to other people is hard, really – because no matter how necessary it is, it means you’re out there, and that’s a scary thing. I knew I needed to talk about my anxiety, and so I started seeing a therapist, and I talked to my parents. But when it came to telling other people in my life, I couldn’t, because I was scared. Scared it would make me vulnerable. Scared the rest of my family wouldn’t understand. Scared people would view me differently.

These are the things anxiety will tell you because anxiety doesn’t want you to speak up. Anxiety doesn’t want you to get help. Anxiety wants you to stay silent because once you speak up, you’re harder to control.

So I ignore these thoughts, and talk about anxiety anyway. Because while I still have anxiety and while sometimes I have anxious days that seem to last forever, they are much easier when you’re not fighting them alone. Because anxiety is too much to keep to yourself. Because the right people won’t judge you, they’ll support you. Because it’s important to stand up to your anxiety. Because speaking up is the first step to getting your life back.

And maybe you’ll give someone else the courage to speak up, too.

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Try to Understand My Experience With Anxiety

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Those struggling with mental illness do not just want to be heard. There is a want and a need to be listened to. There is a difference. It is appalling how little is known about anxiety, the associated “attacks” or physical ramifications of it.

A panic attack. One of the most terrifying physical and psychological manifestations that can occur. When those like me who struggle say our anxiety is high and we’re horrified of an attack occurring, this is what we mean. This is how it can be experienced.

For me, it starts out with slight nervousness. A knot in my stomach. I have to clear my throat. Then comes the tingly sensation all over my body. My limbs refuse to move. Then, it hits. I am slammed to the floor. It’s crippling, and it takes over.

I can’t run. Everything within me seeks escape from this assault, but there is no such thing. It’s a trap. The walls close in. The air grows thinner and thinner. I’m frozen temporarily, but, in that moment, it’s never ending.

I can’t breathe. I forget how. Hyperventilation becomes my meager attempt at respiration. My chest tightens. The capacity of my lungs seems to decrease. My heart pounds erratically to the rhythm of overwhelming terror. Dizziness comes first. Then nausea.

I can’t speak. On the inside, I’m screaming for mercy, for prayer, for help, for some kind of relief. My jaw is clenched shut. My throat unable to produce speech. The utterances that make it out are feeble stutters and cries.

I can’t regain control. I’m frustrated. Every muscle now becomes rigid yet spastic, moving or rather twitching on its own accord. My body is not submissive to my control.

I can’t locate the trigger. I don’t know why this is happening. Again.

I can’t calm down. I tried the “grounding” technique I’ve read all about in textbooks. I tried to harness my senses. I tried to hone in on the tangible. It failed.

I can’t stop. So, I give in to it. I’ll let it run its course. It has won. I can’t stop. It keeps happening. I can’t stop. The most horrifying 10 to 30 minutes possible whenever they choose to appear.

This is a panick attack. It is only one facet of many mental illnesses.

I hope you understand a little bit better now. It is no exaggeration. It is horrifying. You may not understand firsthand, but you can certainly try to understand. That is all anyone could ever ask.

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This post originally appeared on Desiree Nunez.

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