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How Anxiety Makes Me the Superhero of My Own Story

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Anxiety makes me a superhero.

In my darkest moments, I’ll sink to the bottom of that deep, dark place and feel as though I’m drowning, choking on my own thoughts exhausted from continuously chasing around the squirrels in my head.

When will it end? What went wrong? How did this beautiful day end up with me here in this pool of self-loathing and fear?

Anxiety was a dirty little secret I kept for years on end. I had no clue why I was convinced every person who looked at me differently hated me or that to have a good day only came if I asked an invisible force politely for one. Let’s not forget the countless bus rides in my teens spent tapping my thighs in counts of four because it was an even number that made me feel safe.

Four. It’s still my favorite number. I laugh about it today, but you get the picture. I felt like a little lost soldier, alone in her bubble of, “What the actual f am I doing right now?”

Yet, anxiety makes me a superhero.

Living in constant battle with my own mind does not mean I choose to sink to the bottom of that deep dark place and stay there. I’ll rise up like a phoenix every single time and take a lesson from what just happened, my head held high.

Did I get enough sleep? Did I eat enough? Was I true to myself in that decision? Am I serving myself as best I could be right now? Do I need a Netflix and chill day right now?

Every situation I make to this day is approached from two angles:

What would Emma do?

What would anxious Emma do?

I need to know who is calling the shots and work to fill this hole in my chest. By doing so, I evolve into the greatest version of myself every day.

Anxiety makes me powerful and determined to create a better way.

Anxiety makes me an athlete whose goal is to fall in love with movement time and time again.

Anxiety makes me love harder than Romeo and Juliet.

Anxiety makes me headstrong and passionate about standing up for the little person.

Anxiety makes me honest in my quest to raise awareness on a topic that has brought myself and others to their knees.

Anxiety makes me animated and creative as I prioritize to fill my days with joyful activities that make my heart sing.

Anxiety makes me ambitious, determined and headstrong.

Anxiety has made me an expert who knows her whole being inside and out and has me second and triple check every decision I make.

Anxiety makes me a superhero, rigid in her pursuit to make life incredible no matter how many times I fall down.

Because you see, we all have our authentic imperfections, the quirks that make us who we are. On a bad day, my quirk can crush me; however, I refuse to let it win. It can have its moment in the spotlight. Yet, I will continue to remain victorious and fly the flag for survivors.

For those of us surviving each time we rise up again. For those of us living our lives and functioning even when we don’t feel like it. For those of us accepting our anxiety and making it pull its own weight (because this is a two way street buddy. You better bring something positive into my life if you plan on staying.)

Anxiety makes me the superhero of my own story. Just like you’re the hero of yours.

Image via contributor.

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Why People Have a Hard Time Understanding Anxiety Disorders

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The stigma of mental illness still continues to be an issue in our world. Its impact will often delay a person who struggles with mental health from addressing their concerns the moment they have them. Other times, it has prevented a person from reaching out for help at all.

I went through both phases. I have encountered uglier monsters than the ones dwelling within my anxiety. Ones so hideous they have made my anxiety monsters cower with fear.

The stigma monster.

It surrounds mental illness and will dive head first into the chaos for the simple pleasure of creating more. Shame kept me silent for a long time, until the walls that concealed my secret finally crumbled under the weight it carried. Rather than be crushed, I became determined to gather every broken piece of my walls and use them instead as the foundation I would rebuild myself on.

My battles are with anxiety disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I was diagnosed with anxiety in 2009, and it became the breeding ground for the other two. It has also been the disorder I have received the most judgment for and what I have experienced the most barriers with.

How?

Over the years the word anxiety has been thrown around loosely. Often generalized as stress, the real meaning of anxiety continues to be lost in translation. Without firsthand experience, the impact this disorder has on a person’s life is difficult to understand.

After reading personal stories of those who struggle with anxiety disorder, I found many have been belittled with the same nonsensical belief that their disorder is an excuse and not as bad as they make it out to be, because “everyone feels anxious when they’re stressed.”

While I may agree that stressful situations can increase anyone’s anxiety, for many with anxiety disorder, the colors of their experience paint a different picture than the one society has on display. Unfortunately, because stress has become the “accepted” anxiety experience among the general population, it has cast the dark cloud of stigma over this disorder and those who battle it every day.

To be quite frank, I have reached my limit with trying to maintain peace by letting the stigma roll off my back. I have reached my limit with the constant degradation. I have completely reached my limit with anyone trying to downplay my anxiety disorder simply because they do not understand it.

I discussed this with a close friend, who is on the other side of the disorder, to gain some insight on how they understand anxiety and what may have influenced the way anxiety disorder is perceived.

Let’s say there is an individual, for reference purposes we’ll say “my friend,” with the ability to process the symptoms of anxiety. Through his experience, he believes the anxious feelings attached to a stressful situation are only temporary. Once the matter has amended itself, his anxiety subsides. This has become his understanding of anxiety.

It’s time to set the record straight.

There are those, like myself, without the ability to process the symptoms, without alleviation from the symptoms. For us, the anxiety lingers every day. It is an excessive, unrelenting, emotionally unpredictable and a mentally crippling disorder centered on expecting the worse in every situation, even with the absence of reason.

This does not mean I am unable to understand reason. I know when I am overreacting to a situation far more than the situation merits. I am completely aware my fears, tied in with my emotional meltdowns, are not rational behavior. After all, anxiety disorder is irrational.

Understandably, it is extremely frustrating to a person who can not make left or right of my behavior during a meltdown or my general anxious demeanor. Those who witness this should know they are not alone in their frustration. Anxiety is frustrating on both sides, for the one who witnesses and the one who is struggling with the disorder. I wish this common ground could unite us, rather than drive the wedge of judgment between society and those who have mental illness.

No one wants to live like this.

No one wants to feel like a prisoner of their own mind.

No one wants to isolate themselves from the world.

No one wants to live in constant fear.

No one wants to lose control of their emotions.

No one wants this. No one.

I have accepted it will take time to find the right method of treatment therapy. It will take time to know how to manage the symptoms. There will be days I feel defeated by my constant battle with my anxiety, but I will not accept complete defeat. I can’t. I won’t.

I do not expect special treatment from loved ones or the rest of society because I have anxiety disorder. I do, however, expect to be shown respect. My disorder does not devalue me. Yes, it has changed my mental state, but it has not changed the shape of my heart.

I am still a person. I am still me.

Image via Thinkstock.

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To My Teachers, From Your Student With a Visual Impairment and Anxiety

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To my teachers,

I am a student who is visually impaired, and I need accommodations for class. I need large print handouts, preferential seating, printed PowerPoints, and to write on the test instead of on ScanTrons. Because of my disability, I also have anxiety. I get anxious when working in groups, I get anxious when reading four inches from my face in front of people, and I get anxious when we have to spontaneously present work to the class.

My hope is for you all to understand what a day is like from my perspective, and to hopefully accommodate for the class, instead of for students like me. I still need my accommodations, but I would be more successful if class assignments were fair for all, and not stress-inducing.

I know that every class is different, but perhaps you can read my story and consider how to take my needs into account when making lesson plans.

On a typical day, as soon as I walk into class I have to find my name on the attendance sheet, holding up the line and causing many people to try to help me find my name. My confidence drops before class even starts. If I cannot even find my name on the attendance sheet, how can I even be successful in this class?

I sit in my seat and try to think positive thoughts.

Later in class we are split into groups, and we are supposed to read over new material and then present what we learned to the class on a poster. My anxiety skyrockets, and I just try to breathe. You see, when I present information to a group; it takes careful planning in order for me to make sure I can read it and present it for all to see, and then to mentally prepare to read in front of class.

Assigning a spontaneous assignment where a group has to create a poster of information and read to the class is extremely hard for me because of my vision. I cannot read the writing because it is too small, so I have to memorize it. But what if I forget it because I am too anxious? Then I am embarrassed in front of the entire class, even though everyone already knows I am visually impaired. That happened once, so now I dread these assignments.

Let me clarify, it is not teaching in front of students that makes me anxious; it is being in front of my peers. This is known as social anxiety. The hardest part of having a disability is not the disability itself, but how others react to me.

I cannot stress enough that the entire embarrassment can be alleviated by structuring the entire class in a way that is more fair, instead of making me try to memorize something, or find other ways to be able to read the assignments. Even if I wrote down my part of the poster and read it from a notebook when presenting, this singles me out. And instead of thinking about the material we are learning, I am trying to breathe through the assignment. There are other ways we can learn the material besides singling out students with disabilities, or adding to our anxieties.

Instead of giving us spontaneous presentations, you could assign PowerPoint presentations days in advance, or you could teach us the material and assign individual assessments. Students like me tend to prefer working alone because then we do not have to worry about others, or worry about how to accommodate other partners’ work.

Having a disability does not mean we cannot perform the same tasks as our non-disabled peers, it just means we have to find our own ways to complete the task, and this requires time to do so.

I cannot stress this enough – accommodating the entire class will elevate stress from singling out your disabled students.

Please consider each student and their needs before planning your instruction. The success of your students depends on it.

Sincerely,

Your anxious student

 

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The Problem With Suggesting Strangers Help Parents Discipline Screaming Children

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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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Image via Thinkstock – IPG Gutenberg UK Ltd

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When Your Anxiety Makes You Believe the Worst About Yourself

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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.

Image via Thinkstock.

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. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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What We Should Consider Before Criticizing Those Who Don't Attend Protests

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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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