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What I Would Say If My Anxiety Would Listen

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Dear Anxiety,

I grew up a happy little thing – cautious, but happy. I loved to laugh and smile and sing, and I wore bright colors every day. I had never met you and, honestly, I had heard of you, but I didn’t believe the stories. I thought people could just “get over” encounters with you. I thought they could just “calm down” or “stop worrying.” But then I met you.

You came into my life uninvited. You gripped me by the neck, threw me to the ground, and then mercilessly sat on my chest trying to force the air out of my lungs. I cried “uncle” over and again, but you did not let up. You thrust your vicious claws into my heart, you grasped it, squeezed it and tried with all your might to rip it right out of my body. You covered my eyes and left me in the dark, and then you screamed so loudly I could no longer hear anything else, even my own screams for help. Your raspy and selfish voice chased away my logical thoughts, my explanations, the assurances from the people who cared about me. I could no longer hear happiness, and I was afraid I would forget what it sounded like. You wanted to survive, and you needed me to do that. But I wasn’t going down that easy. I was sure it was just a phase, that you were just a visitor, that it would end soon enough and you’d be gone. So I shut my mouth and decided to wait quietly until you left.

You were in charge for months. The battle between my thoughts and your screams was a battle I would lose daily as I collapsed to the floor, waiting for the panic to stop. I would sit on my bed, trembling in a cold sweat, not knowing if I would be able to make it through this time. I would kneel and call out to God in prayer as my heart pounded within me and my whole body turned hot with panic. You were relentless, giving me just enough time to take a breath so I would be alive for your next round of torture. I didn’t have words for what I was feeling. I didn’t even let the question cross my mind whether or not this would last forever. I was not ready to ask that. And I was sure as hell not ready for an answer.

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But I was not alone, and the people who loved me most saw my scars and the fear in my eyes. I told them I was fine. I was sure I could win by myself. But I couldn’t. And that’s OK. But I didn’t know that then.

Slowly, day by day, the light at the end of the tunnel dimmed. And then you invited your ingrate friend Depression to shack up in my life. I thought about ways to escape… but I was afraid of suicide and I was too “tough” for therapy. I didn’t even know your name! Could therapy make you leave? Could anything run you off?

I finally sought help. The words coming out of my mouth sounded ridiculous as I spoke them. I spoke faster and faster as I detailed my obsessions, the things that made me feel like I was losing my sanity, the rawest and most intimate details of this misery you had put me in. I couldn’t look at her, for fear of her reaction. Shame rose hot on my face as my cheeks turned red, my eyes were cast downward, and the tears raced down my cheeks.

But then she told me your name.

She reacted lovingly, and she wasn’t shocked – in fact, she had met you herself. And in that conversation and through a plethora of Google searches thereafter, I gained the power to lift my eyes. I looked at you. You had been large, hairy, sharp-toothed, and dark. A beast. Your hot breath fell heavily on me, and your glaring eyes caught mine no matter where I looked. You had entrapped me and terrified me in a way I had never before known. But you had a name now. And that name made the façade fall apart faster than I could have ever imagined. And for the first time, I saw you as you really were. You were not that beast. You were small. Your eyes were sunken in, and your tiny, frail fingers were intertwined and powerless. Scrawny, weak, sallow… conquerable! You were no threat to me, but you lingered anyway. How did you have so much power over me? Where did you come from? Were you ever going to leave?

I was starving for answers. And when I found them, I devoured them. The answers were out there, and I was amazed. I found words to describe the things going on in my head and my body, and those words gave me strength. I thanked God every day because no matter how alone and “crazy” and unreachable I felt, I was not alone. I didn’t have to fight you alone. I had an army on my side and, answer by answer, we were rallying.

It’s been three years since we first met. It’s easier now. And even if I have to fight you every day of my life, you will never be that beast again. Call it the power of a diagnosis. Call it empowerment. Call it what you will, but I will call you “anxiety” — with a lowercase “a,” the cheapest and weakest form of the monster you tried to be.

The best part though? My encounter with you caused me to turn to God. I learned to trust the power and the joy of the atonement. I found that God answered me every time I called out to Him, and He heard the prayers I was too terrified to say. I became close with my parents and siblings as I leaned on them when I was too tired to face you alone. I found the friends who would love me no matter what my diagnosis was. I found there are people who devote their lives to helping people like me beat creatures like you. I learned to trust those people and find resources to help me be free from your grasp. And I relentlessly sought out things and ideas that would bring me joy. I am happy now, in a way I may not have been if not for you. I am brave.

I was one of the lucky ones. I had an amazing support system. I found answers. I learned you live here now – you are part of me. But I am the one who decides how much power you have. And believe me, I won’t let you have much.

Sincerely, 

Me

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

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To People With Anxiety Who Think They Can’t Date

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My best friends have done it. My mom has done it. Even 13 year olds have done it. So why can’t I do it? Why can’t I go on a first date?

The answer is pretty simple. My anxiety stops me. When I was younger I thought I would be in an awesome relationship by 24. I never dreamed I would still not have gone on a first date.

The idea of going on a date terrifies me to the point that if I think about it, my anxiety gets of control. I can’t breathe, my head starts to spin, my heart races and I start to sweat like I’m running a marathon. Most people get butterflies in their stomach before a promising date. I don’t get butterflies; I get a stampede of elephants.

I think my fear of dating has come from my fear of the unknown and fear of failure. What if I go on a date and he likes me? What if he doesn’t? What if I have a panic attack or start to cry? I know it seems like a pretty irrational fear, but I can’t tell that to my mind when I’m anxious.

The closest I’ve come to a date was when I asked a guy to get coffee with me. I then freaked out about it, and when the time came to go, I hid from him in a bathroom. Yes, you heard that right. I had a panic attack in a bathroom at the church we were suppose to meet at and then proceeded to avoid him by running out the back door along the side of the building. When I worked up the courage to finally go to coffee with him, I made sure to take my anti-anxiety pills. The date actually ended up being a lot better than I thought it would be.

If you’re like me and your dating life stinks because of your anxiety, know that you aren’t alone. It’s a problem many people have but few are willing to talk about. I’ve read tons and tons of books on anxiety disorders, but I found that only one talked about the realities of dating with anxiety.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

Getting anxious before a date is something that even people without anxiety disorders deal with. Try to remember that next time you’re going on a date. You can get through this and so will I. It’s OK if it takes baby steps at first. Remember you are putting yourself out there and trying something new – even if it feels painful at the time.

Who cares if the date ends up being horrible or you end up not liking the person? The fact that you went on the date in the first place is the real accomplishment. If you like them and they like you and you get an awesome relationship out of it, good for you! If not, then please know that you’re a real champ for even going on the date. Next time I go on a date, I will try to remember this.

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When I Realized These Physical Sensations Were My Version of Panic Attacks

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For so many years I had no idea what they were. It has only been in the last two weeks that I have made the connection of the physical sensations I’ve experienced and how they coincided with anxious times in my life. Everything I ever remember hearing or reading about panic attacks mention shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest tightness/pain and hyperventilation. I have never had any of these symptoms, so when I have had extremely anxious experiences, I thought they were not actual panic attacks. I would try to explain them away.

Recently, I was blown away when I realized that my trembling, sweating, nausea, hot/cold flashes, lightheadedness and dizziness were my version of a full-on panic attack. Thinking back, I can remember times in my life when these symptoms would come on inexplicably — most memorably when coat shopping at Macy’s when I was 23 and getting ready to travel north. I vividly recall sitting down with my back against the counter and thinking the room was spinning and I couldn’t decide if I was going to pass out or die of heat. The sensations were intense, and my mom was with me and very concerned. It passed in a matter of minutes, and I was able to return to my shopping, albeit a little more tired and disoriented.

This has happened before taking tests, giving presentations, going to parties or conferences, on the first days of school (both as a student and teacher), on airplanes, in crowds, at extreme heights (I should stop here as the list could go on and on)… and I never, ever associated them with my anxiety.

Just as I have written about depression in the past and how my outward symptoms were not “typical” (although I am reading more and more about “high-functioning” and hidden depression, which I resemble incredibly), I shouldn’t be all that surprised that yet again my anxiety is different, too. My friends and family can attest that their is little to nothing that is “normal” or “typical” about me. My younger daughter proclaims on a regular basis, “Normal is boring.” However, I think I might like to try it sometime. I do think I will have to radically accept that’s not going to happen and move forward with a new awareness.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

Now that I know, I hope I can (remember and actually) do the following the next time I have a panic attack:

  • Give myself permission to acknowledge rather than question what is happening in my body.
  • Accept that something triggered my panic and not blame myself for bringing on the symptoms.
  • Wait and stay in the situation (for a little) to take the time to consider different options.
  • Breathe deeply, ask myself what are the odds of what I am fearing actually happening… And remember that I am fearing a future possibility and should try to reengage in the present.
  • And when it ends, I will be grateful that it has ended rather than critical of myself for having anxiety.

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Image via Thinkstock Images

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Taking a 'Sick Day' When You Have Anxiety

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I may look absolutely fine, but inside I have a knot in my stomach. My mind is racing with a million different thoughts. Most of them are about how to get to a safe place. I can’t breathe, and the panic is slowly building. I have to get out. I have to get out now.

Calm down, the voice of reason inside my head tells me. You’re OK. You’re just trying to have a panic attack. Now, breathe.

Breathe? That’s not possible right now. Oh, and did I mention I’m driving? Yeah, I can’t have a panic attack right now.

I start to try and slow my breathing, telling myself I need to calm down long enough to pull over. I’m half way to work. The closer I get, the harder it is to breathe. I’m not going to make it there today. I glance at the clock, 8:20 a.m.

Ten minutes until my shift starts. I shouldn’t be this nervous. My job is simple. I’m a cashier at a resale shop, and half the time, I’m just hanging up clothes. So why am I freaking out?

That’s the thing about anxiety. It doesn’t always make sense. Maybe it was the comment my supervisor made the other day. He probably didn’t even mean for it to sound critical. Yet, I took it to heart, and now, I no longer feel comfortable at work.

There it is. The root of my anxiety. Logically, I know I need to go in and go to work, but mentally and physically I can’t. At least, not today.

I’ve pulled over into a parking lot. Trying to breathe. My face is wet with tears. My hands are shaking. I don’t have any tissues (I never seem to have tissues when I need them), but I’m beginning to calm down. I’m letting myself not be OK. I’m letting myself not have to pretend I’m OK and go into work with a smile on my face. I’m giving myself a break.

Now, how do I explain this to someone who doesn’t have severe anxiety? How do I explain to my boss that I need to take a sick day because I physically couldn’t come into work today?

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

I’ve tried. I’ve tried to tell the truth when this happens. Then, I get the “talk.” I need to be more reliable, consistent, dependable. They can’t depend on me because I can’t predict when my anxiety will show up.

So, I lie. I text that I woke up with a cold. A stomach virus. Something physical that they can understand. When I go into work tomorrow, I’ll explain it must have been a 24-hour bug.

In reality? This anxiety is something I’m going to have to continue fighting for the rest of my life.

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Living With My Bipolar Life.

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On the right: A woman crying during an anxiety attack. On the left: A woman making a kiss face

What My Anxiety Is and What It Isn't

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Anxiety kills me slowly. I have good days and bad days. I feel alone even when I am surrounded by people. I am fighting an invisible battle that you will never see. I am my own worst friend.

Anxiety tells me I am worthless and I am hopeless. Anxiety tells me I am unloveable. Anxiety sometimes feels like my best friend because anxiety is evil and tricks me.

Anxiety tells me it’s OK to sleep all day because you’re tired and deserve rest. Anxiety tells me I don’t need to eat dinner because I am full with worry. Anxiety tells me to stay in on Saturday night so I can go to church Sunday morning. Yet, then, it tells me I am a loser for staying in, and there is no point in going to church.

Anxiety tells me to make a to do list so I feel better, and then, it tells me there is too much to do and I should give up. Anxiety tells me to use my time wisely and clean up before leaving the house. Yet, then it yells at me for being late to work. Anxiety tells me it’s too much work to go check the mail box. It’s probably bad news inside anyways.

Anxiety tells me I am a loser if I do not get my master’s degree, and then it tells me I am a loser for trying. Anxiety tells me I am blessed to have found a career I love, but I should feel ashamed because it is not a real job anyways. Anxiety tells me I need to take a bath so I can relax, and then it fills my head with what ifs. Anxiety tells me to use alcohol to relax and be social, and then it fills my head with regret the next morning because that was not the real me.

Anxiety is trying to pray to God, but not being able to drown out anxiety’s voice. Anxiety is not being able to choose what you want at the store, buying all of it and then feeling worse for spending money. Anxiety is waiting too long to make plans and to text back. Anxiety is watching the phone ring, letting it go to voicemail and then being too embarrassed to listen to the voicemail.

Anxiety is crying because you are crying, worrying because you are worrying and stressing because you are stressed. Anxiety is shaking uncontrollably because all of a sudden you do not recognize your own body. Anxiety is like watching yourself on the floor crying and not knowing how to help yourself. Anxiety is knowing what anxiety feels like but not understanding any of it.

Anxiety is feeling too overwhelmed to stop and get gas when the light comes on. Anxiety is wanting to do your hair pretty, getting books on hairstyles, pinning pins on Pinterest and building your own vanity just to sit there and not feel like trying. Anxiety is meal prepping and buying healthy food just to watch it rot in the fridge. Anxiety is making plans and then canceling. Anxiety is feeling motivated and inspired while stuck in quicksand.

Anxiety is a pounding heart, a sweating body and a fake smile. Anxiety is buying plants because they are suppose to relieve stress, potting them, placing them in the perfect spot and then over thinking something as simple as watering them so they die. Anxiety is forgetting to take anxiety medicine and then getting brain zaps. Anxiety is wishing for a quick fix.

Anxiety is tired of explaining what anxiety is like to love ones. Anxiety is wanting to run away and start fresh. Anxiety is stressing out after a dream that felt real. Anxiety is fearing the unknown and stressing about what’s planned. Anxiety is replaying conversations over and over in your head wondering if you said the right thing. Anxiety is being stuck in the future and the past and never living in the present. Anxiety is feeling overwhelmed by too many toothpaste options at the grocery store. Anxiety is not being able to choose what to wear and crying and sleeping instead of going out.

Anxiety is lonely. Anxiety is exhausting. Anxiety is hurtful. Anxiety is misunderstood. Anxiety is the shadow I am learning will never leave me.

However, I am also learning anxiety is not always right. Anxiety is not always in control. Anxiety is jealous and doesn’t want me to share. Yet, I am sharing because I know so many people are struggling like me. I always have been, and I always will, but having anxiety does not mean you have to do it alone. You are not alone. You are brave. You will be OK. This too shall pass.

Image via contributor.

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Anxiety: The Monster on My Land

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Welcome to the jarring world of anxiety,

The world of fear, what ifs and instability

Where no moment is ever yours to hold

“You can’t do it” is what you’re told.

Anxiety is the monster in my brain

It fights for sovereignty over my terrain

Day after day, night after night

It won’t give up without a fight.

A fight that has cost me dear,

Because anxiety won’t let anyone near

The walls it has built for me are too high

To get to me, well, why would you even try?

A shape shifter this monster is

Sometimes a thick heavy mist is what it fits

My mind and my heart in its fold

No moment, no memory is free from its hold.

Sometimes, strong black ropes it wraps around me

Tightly binding me so I can never be free,

“Stay with me,” it gently says

I obey, and watch my dreams waste away.

Anxiety is possessive, you see,

It wants me and only me

It has for me a world created

A world where I am always hated. 

It weaves around me a spell,

A world where no one wishes me well

Where I am no more than a fleeting thought

As relevant as an ugly moth.

Sometimes, anxiety becomes me.

It tells me, “This is who you will always be.”

It whispers that it will never leave

This is a lie I almost always believe.

It tells me, “I am you, you are me.

That’s all the world can see.

Broken, flawed and alone you are,

Stop the fight, give up the war.”

But anxiety, I won’t let you win,

Even when you wear me thin.

Bruised, broken and alone I will still stand,

Fight to protect my own land. 

Image via Thinkstock.

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