Young boy crying

A story regarding one woman’s idea for dealing with upset, unruly children in public went viral recently. The gist of her idea is that there should be a “special signal” parents can give to other adults, inviting them to intervene if their child is having an uncontrollable meltdown in public.

There are a few reasons one can surmise as to why the writer came up with such an idea. Children do tend to listen to strangers often. I watch in awe as my 2-year-old daughter follows her ballet teacher into dance class and performs every request without a single complaint. I’ve watched her follow the directions of complete strangers when attending events, casting calls, as someone comes and asks her to follow them and stand in a certain space, repeat words and take a seat.

There is something about the power of a stranger that can at times surpass the influence of a parent. Perhaps this is because children know their parents so well that they are aware as to how much they can get away with.

The author of the post said her idea for strangers to intervene and yell at “unruly” children would do three things: shock the child into shutting up, teach “stranger danger,” and allow the child to understand that the rest of the world isn’t going to stand for “bad” behavior, even if their parents do. While the woman behind this idea may have been partly in jest, I do have some concerns as to the idea of being taken seriously.

When reading this article my first thought was, “What sort of effect will this behavior ultimately have on a small child?” Allowing a stranger the liberty of yelling at our children is to invite an onset of social anxiety that could have long lasting, negative
effects. Children scream and cry in public for a variety of reasons. At times it may be because they are tired, or perhaps they don’t want to go grocery shopping; they may feel ill or afraid of something they have seen. Is it right to address a child in distress with something that may distress them more?

Having dealt with anxiety, I’m no outsider to the experience of an anxiety attack in public. It does not matter if I’m surrounded by the security of friends and family; anxiety strikes when it wants, and one is forced to deal with the feelings of fear, embarrassment and stress. When I think about a child growing up with the additional worry of having a total stranger approach for the purpose of yelling at them I cannot see how this is a positive lesson at all. Sure, it will enforce the idea of “stranger danger”  but it will also enforce the idea that people are unkind and even a little scary. I don’t want my daughter to be afraid of going out in public because the last time we went out someone came over and yelled at her. I doubt she would be the friendly child I know and love. If anything, I would imagine she would shrink away from meeting anyone new and even from going new places. Teaching children about strangers is important, but keeping them open enough to socialize is important as well.

To allow another person who is unknown to a child the ability to discipline, scold and possibly scare would be detrimental to the development of the child. They could easily develop a fear of people, crowds, and leaving the house. While I know being a mother can be frustrating at times, I don’t believe handing the reigns over for a stranger is the right answer.

Rather than signaling another adult to scold the child, perhaps the positive solution would be to ask for a second pair of hands to help in comforting the child. This would teach children there are kind people in the world — that there are those who wish to help, thus making them less fearful of unknown persons.

It’s inevitable that children are going to have their share of meltdowns, or even tantrums, in public. It’s part of growing up, but I say it’s better to have the occasional public meltdown than dealing with a child having a meltdown because they are afraid to leave the safety of their home or afraid to be somewhere new.

I can wholeheartedly empathize with any mother dealing with a child melting down in public. I’ve been there, holding my breath as I carry my flailing child out of the store. It’s exhausting, and there are at times needs for some assistance. Some of the greatest stories friends have told me were about the kindness of strangers during a moment of weakness or frustration when dealing with their child. There is no need for strangers to yell at our children who will undoubtedly have feelings of stress and fear.

I would never wish for my child to be afraid of going out in public places, or being in crowds surrounded by mysterious people, and I hope she never experiences anxiety attacks. Children are such impressionable little humans. Do we want to leave an impression of fear and threat of anxiety in their young minds? One has to ask whether the risk is worth the reward, and in this case it most certainly is not.

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Today, I want to talk about something that has been on my mind constantly: my inner critic. You would think having an inner critic would be good, right? It can be, but to a certain extent. When you’re depressed and anxious, your inner critic can tear you to shreds. Many people may not realize anxiety and depression are illnesses. It’s something that can physically and mentally wear and tear on you every single moment of your life.

I’m a person who might be considered “sensitive.” Any little comment or input on who I am as a person, I take as a personal attack. The person who makes a comment might not intend this, but their comments make me fall apart. I analyze them over and over, and I think to myself, “What if I really am these nasty things?” Others might say, “Of course you’re not what they say.” But I am so self-loathing that I begin to doubt myself.

This happened recently; something I said was taken out of context, and a rumor was started. I got so down and depressed I began to cut, and eventually I thought about attempting suicide — but last minute, I changed my mind. I saw flashes of all who I loved reacting to my passing, and I just couldn’t bring myself to end me.

I was still depressed for a long period of time and even let the people who were bullying me make me believe I was all they said I was. I apologized for things I knew deep down I didn’t do, because I was desperate for support.

No matter how desperate one can get, I hope no one stoops to the level I got to, believing they’re something they are not. I struggle with this daily. Many sensitive people do. We don’t want to be disliked; we don’t want to be hated or misunderstood by anyone. But by giving into what other people think, we only dig ourselves deeper into this never-ending abyss of darkness.

Don’t let the world tell you who you are. No matter how much your confused, anxiety-ridden mind wants to think everything is your fault, the majority of the time it isn’t. You have to stop blaming yourself and just accept that not everyone is going to like you — but that doesn’t matter. What matters is there are people who do love you and care for you and see you as you want to see yourself. Will I ever see myself as the people I love do? I honestly don’t know. But we have to try. We have to keep going despite what eats away at us in our alone times. We all may be breakable, but we should never let ourselves become broken.

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If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

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Anxiety affects my life in a lot of ways, many of which people wouldn’t expect. Everyday
situations like a new relationship, stress about work and money troubles can spiral quickly into a vortex of worry. But what about when the stress isn’t even from one event in your life, but from a mass event affecting many people around you?

At my alma mater, the University Currently Known as Rhodes (UCKAR) in the Eastern Cape, a spate of protesting has broken out, in line with the broader #FeesMustFall movement in South Africa asking for free and inclusive tertiary education. Much has been written on these protests, but for me, seeing them happen again brings up incredibly overwhelming anxiety.

Being part of a social movement, any movement anywhere in the world, is daunting as someone with a mental illness. Protests mean crowds, a lack of control and the threat of violence from police. This fear makes the anxiety I feel on a daily basis grow exponentially, while at the same time in my heart I support the cause whole-heartedly. This leads to a difficult see-saw in my head.

There is a lot of stigma around those who are within a group and then choose not to protest. Other students, in this movement’s case, are often quick to deride those who are not physically present as “armchair activists” or not good enough for the cause. However, what people often don’t realize is that to be part of that environment physically is incredibly draining mentally and emotionally. I feel on the edge of panic constantly when in a crowd, especially one charged by emotion.

My breathing becomes shallow, my chest tightens and I know I could have a panic attack at any moment. If you have an anxiety disorder with associated panic attacks, your brain panics when it registers your environment as an immediate threat and the part of your brain (your amygdala) that registers fear goes into hyperdrive. You become a small-range nuclear bomb of fear. If you have never experienced a panic attack, it feels like death has suddenly arrived. You cannot breathe, your body spasms and you are sure you may not make it. All of that happens within a few minutes, but in the eye of the storm it feels like years.

Having a panic attack in public is incredibly traumatizing. It’s humiliating to lose control in front of people, never mind that at that moment your brain is registering the environment as something that could kill you. The atmosphere in a protest is very much hardwired to trigger this response because of the volatility of the situation and your fear about how it may unfold.

With many tragic world events constantly happening around us today and accessible through social media, it becomes difficult to separate yourself from this fear even when you are miles away only watching. The fear still lingers in your head and it makes it hard to be engaged because your very sanity becomes more fragile in the face of so much hurt, anger and pain.

The point I am trying to make here is that we must be gentle with those around us. You may not know why a person cannot be involved in something, a protest or any other event, because you don’t know what that event means to them. In their world, that situation may literally feel life-threatening and they have to take care of themselves or risk everything crashing down around them. Compassion and non-judgment is incredibly important. So take a moment and think to yourself whether you understand a person’s world before you think about judging them. Giving compassion is never out of place, and often may help someone feel safer when their mind is registering the world as anything but safe.

Image via Jordan Du Toit

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I want to tell my story, but I’m scared. What if it’s not good enough? What if no one reads it? What if people make fun of me based on the emotions I’m sharing in my writing? These were a few of the many fears and thoughts racing through my mind when I decided I wanted to share my story.

I’ve found reading stories written by others to be helpful and relatable, and as a result, I wanted to share my story, too. I sought to write something others could relate to, but I was nervous. This was how I felt about many things in life: I wanted to do it, but I was fearful.

Living with anxiety is living with constant fear. Fear for the future. Fear of messing up. Fear of bad outcomes. Fear of pretty much anything bad that could possibly happen. Now, I like to think of myself as a glass-half-full kind of person, but for some reason I always find myself thinking of the worst possible outcomes for every situation. Not because I’m a negative person, but because of the nagging fear something was always going to go wrong.

Yesterday was the first time I was told I’m a glass-half-empty kind of person. I sat there for a second letting it sink in as she looked at me and asked, “Have you ever been told that before?” I told her I hadn’t. I always try to stay positive, but then I realized she was right. I was a glass-half-empty person because I was always expecting the worst out of every possible situation, even perfectly good ones. This was the same person who helped me uncover many hidden things about myself I had never thought about before.

In the past few weeks, I’ve started going to counseling. I learned more about myself than I ever knew there was to know. The more I learned, the more the way I felt made sense. I was still no closer to feeling better about these things. No matter what, I was still in constant fear I wouldn’t be good enough.

However, she challenged me to fight the uphill fight. She challenged me to catch myself whenever I started to think too much. To stop it and replace the negative fears with good thoughts instead. She challenged me to change my, “What if it’s not good enough?” into “What if it’s great?”

Then, I began to think, what if tell my story and everyone reads it? What if people praise me for it and compliment me on my work? What if I can help comfort those who are in constant fear and help them feel like they aren’t alone? What if I stop fearing and start doing? Telling my story here is a small step in the right direction, I still have a long way to go. I am going to continue to fight the uphill fight against my anxiety.

Stability is like being tied down to the floor in a dank, cement room. At first, it may seem tight, but it is comfortable. So I often resign myself to complacency. I just live with it. You can be mindful, even when you’re tied to the ground. After all, if something isn’t hurting, then it might not require attention just yet. I kind of just let it ebb away in the background, unnoticed.

When I’m in this kind of psychological homeostasis, I can unclip the straps and move around the room. The room is still dark, and I’m technically imprisoned. Yet, the small amount of freedom is an illusory relief from what I know will come. I try not to think about it.

Then, the worries begin to gather like spider-webs in the corner of the room. They seem unnoticeable at first, blending into the grey, cement surface. They bother me because I like order and imperfections are irritating, but they can still be ignored. I make a conscious effort to press them to the back of my mind. I close my eyes. I open them again. Life moves through its daily cycles of everything under the sun, and I carry on swimmingly.

However, almost without any nuance, no warning, no stepping stone from calm to chaos, I notice a glaring scythe hanging from the center of the ceiling.  It is secured, and it is far away, swinging back and forth like a pendulum. It cannot slice my nose off, but it cannot be ignored.

The curved edge is sharp and even if I close my eyes, I can still feel its presence. I reach for the straps that bind me, but suddenly, they are stuck. I can’t undo them. I’m staying in this place. I writhe and I wriggle, but I cannot control this weapon that is moving rhythmically, back and forth, back and forth. I am scared. My complacent reality has gone from a safe haven to a death trap in a matter of moments, without warning.

That’s when I lose the ability to think straight. The knot in my stomach tightens. My palms are sweating. I start scratching my scalp, my arms, my fingernails. Sleep won’t happen. How can you sleep when you have a sharpened weapon waving above your face?

My head feels like it is on a train that switches between full speed and rapid braking, starting and stopping the whole time, no time for recovery. I lurch forward in pain, but I have no option, except to keep staring at this weapon. All I can do is move through the experience. There is no way out when I’m tied to the ground.

It starts coming closer, closer, closer still. I want to vomit. The rhythm of the back and forth is pulsating in my ears, echoing and ripping through my skull. The whole experience has me in its grips, and for sure, I am going to die. It is the only thing I can focus on. My eyes are fixated, dilated. My whole body prepares for the inevitable. The scythe is less than a centimeter from my face. Swinging, back and forth, back and forth.

I am going to die.

I swallow. I wait. I sweat. I wriggle.

The sharpened edge is so close. I can feel the passing motion against my nose. I try to squeeze the back of my head as far back to the ground as I can, the pressure nearly crushing my skull. Nothing will save me. I am going to die. Unlike the Poe version of this story, there are no rats in the corner to chew through my straps and free me. It’s pointless now. It doesn’t bear thinking about. The scythe is closing in. I just hope it’s quick.

Just as I can nearly taste the sharp pendulum, it locks shut. It stops moving. It’s close. I can see it, but I will not die today after all. I have just fought off the physiological symptoms of death. I am still covered in sweat. My stomach is tied tighter than a nautical knot, and I am still paralyzed. Yet, I will live to see another day. I am relieved, but it’s exhausting to be back in these concrete gallows, day after day.

It may just be a task with multiple steps, a feeling or a fleeting doubt. For me, it is experiencing the physiology of life or death, just to get things done.

Learning to live with it means having the understanding that I cannot always control the swing of the pendulum, but at least, I know the scythe can’t kill me. I have to lean on that thought. Sometimes, the sense of security it brings is the only thing that keeps me moving forward.

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I took a girls trip with my mom over the weekend to Ft. Lauderdale, and we flew down and back. Our flight down was a breeze, but our flight back had my anxiety and panic disorder on high alert.

A small, packed to the brim plane with a screaming kid, no airflow and an hour delayed flight makes a stressful situation for anyone, especially if that someone deals with anxiety and panic. I noticed a woman on our flight who looked nervous. On our flight back home, I took notice of her again. She was the last one to get on the plane.

We sat on the plane for a solid 30 minutes before even backing out of our spot, with no airflow. It was taking everything inside of me not to freak out. Breathing and observing people are usually my methods for distraction because my biggest trigger is feeling like I can’t breathe fresh air.

The plane began rumbling with whispers when I heard, “Someone is having a panic attack,” and my heart dropped. I knew judgment was coming. I could feel the eyes rolling around me. I began listening to the women in front of me:

“Well now they have to make sure it isn’t terrorist related.”

“She is so self-centered.”

“Send her a bill.”

“I wonder how many planes that delayed.”

I could feel the lump in my throat because I felt bad for the girl. I can relate. I have been there many times. I had to bite my tongue to not lash out at the women in front of me. I knew if I lashed out, then I would have a panic attack myself and delay the plane even further.

Long story short, the lady got off the plane. I’m sure she had flight anxiety. (This was also an observation by the ladies in front of me, who said she should have never gotten on the plane knowing she had anxiety.) If we, as people with mental health issues, let our elements run our lives, then we would just sit in our homes in fear. And what then? Would we be called lazy?

I am still learning how to control my emotions when it comes to my anxiety. So I hate that I wasn’t able to muster up an educated response to the ladies in front of me. My only hope is they went home and out of their own curiosity researched panic attacks and learned something from the situation.

There are snakes all in this world. Ones that will put you down, tear you apart and judge you for your mental illness. The only thing we can hope for is through their own uneducated judgements, they will find clarity and understanding.

Image via Thinkstock.

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