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4 Things That Define My Anxiety

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So awhile ago I wrote about having depression in your 20s and the response I got was amazing! I didn’t do it for myself. Instead, I wanted to give others the confidence to admit what they are going through and not be ashamed. I struggle with depression that’s pretty minor compared to how prominent my anxiety is. I know lucky me, right? Depression and anxiety? I’m basically collecting them all.

What’s it like to have anxiety? It’s one of those things that is difficult to explain unless you have been through it yourself. However, I think it’s important to try and explain what it’s like so people around you, your friends, your family and your loved ones are sympathetic, and more importantly, understand you aren’t your anxiety. It’s just a part of you.

Everyone’s anxiety is different. I’m going to explain mine. What better way to write this than now, when I’m having a rough week of anxiety attacks.

Have you ever woke up from a night of heavy drinking, where you can’t remember what you’ve done the night before? Did you dance on a table, say something silly or just be a drunken mess? You know that panic you go through where you imagine every bad possible outcome? Well, that’s what it’s like to have anxiety, but intensify it by 10 and having it 24/7.

1. Anxiety attacks are sporadic and seemingly without reason.

My anxiety can come at any time in the day. Sometimes, I don’t have it for weeks at a time. Then, bam! Anxiety attack. A constant stream of tears, hyperventilating and the feeling of being suffocated. I can’t tell you what’s wrong because I don’t know, and I can’t fix it. This is the worst part for your friends and your loved ones because they want to help you. It’s natural, but how can someone help me when I don’t know what sets it off? Sometimes, there is no reasonable explanation for it. Personally, I’m still working on figuring out my trigger.

2. It’s a daily struggle.

On a daily basis, my anxiety means I’m constantly overthinking, but I’m not actually concentrating on anything. Sounds bizarre, right? I can be in work, but I will be on autopilot. Instead, my mind is working at a 100 mph thinking about anything and everything at once. It ranges from random thoughts, such as what shall I do at the gym to what am I doing with my life. It’s exhausting. I used to be the most organized person who would take on as much as I could and get it done no matter what. Now? I forget everything. I find it difficult to concentrate. Instead, I procrastinate like a university student doing exams.

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Sleep? That’s a thing of the past for me. I get about three to four hours of sleep a night, and I always wake up at least twice. If on a rare occasion I do sleep, then I’ll wake up with scratches on my face from when I’ve been anxious, I sleep walk or have nightmares.

I’ve got into this bad habit of over exhausting my body and not allowing myself five minutes peace because five minutes to myself just means I end up in my head. Whereas, if I’m constantly busy, then I’m distracting myself. I don’t watch television. I can’t watch films and most of the time, people think I’m ignoring them when I’m not. I’m just thinking about other things. Yet, I’m learning to deal with it. I have found it so helpful to talk about it. Luckily, I have the most amazing friends and family who are supportive and understanding, even during times when I am the worst person to be around.

3. It affects your ability to be “normal.”

“Normal” 20-year-old girls love going out with their friends, working and dating. All these things come so natural for most people. You don’t even think about it. You just do it. Social anxiety is a b*tch. It’s so easy to cancel plans and stay “comfortable” in your own surroundings. No one can judge you there, right? You’re safe. Nothing can set you off. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

My friends are understanding when I cancel on them now, but my best friends make the effort to get me out of my comfort zone. Something I’m always grateful for. Dating? Well that’s is a no go for me. I recently found someone who understood what I was going through and was so supportive of my episodes.

And what did I do? I pushed him away of course. In my mind, no one wants to date that girl with anxiety, right? I made things so much harder than they should have been. I wasn’t honest about how bad my anxiety is, and I couldn’t control it. I don’t blame him for walking away, and I don’t blame myself for the way I am.

4. Music helps create a blank space during anxious moments.

As cheesy as it sounds, music is my little savior. It’s the only time I can get out of my head, stop thinking and instead focus on the words. My song lyric knowledge is impeccable. If I ever feel anxious, then I put my headphones in, whether it’s to sleep, in work or at the gym. Headphones on. World out.

I have anxiety, but I’m not my anxiety.

Image via Thinkstock.

This story originally appeared on The Law Foodie.

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How Running and Harry Potter Changed How I View My Anxiety

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I’ve become a runner. I’ve always enjoyed being active, but never on teams. Hello competition anxiety! No, I have always enjoyed challenging myself: swimming, hiking, rock climbing, and more recently, running. I often find when my anxiety is up and I begin to feel restless and desperate, taking it out on the pavement is one of the best things for me. I like to be outside, and I love the solitary time to be with my thoughts. You can run anywhere with only a pair of good shoes.

I’ve also become someone who has committed to regular therapy. My therapist and I have been working through some of my anxiety triggers through the use of eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. In a nutshell, EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to help me process traumatic experiences. The bilateral stimulation can be done with your therapist by tracking a pencil left and right with your eyes or by slowly tapping alternating sides of your body, among other methods.

As we’ve begun this intense inner work together I found myself continuing to feel like the experience was opening up other things in my subconscious. Other processing started to happen that I wasn’t even fully aware of. I have moments where suddenly a multitude thoughts and memories collide. Fragments of memories from lectures in college from a decade ago would suddenly integrate with a line from Harry Potter. At times it was so intense that it would take my breath away. It still does.

I didn’t realize this at first, but I was having these intense moments while out running. And wouldn’t you know it, running is also a form of bilateral stimulation. In one specific instance, I went out running after being triggered by hateful political rhetoric. I was so upset and I was thinking about how awful these people were to say such things, and then suddenly it hit me: these hateful things that people say, it’s like what my anxiety says to me. It tells me I’m not good enough, not strong enough, not worthy. It leads me to dark thoughts, dark places, even suicidal places.

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But then I heard the voice of Sirius Black telling Harry this: “We’ve all got both light and dark inside us. What matters is the part we choose to act on. That’s who we really are.” I realized that even though there’s this hateful, self-deprecating voice of anxiety inside me, it doesn’t define me. I might find myself in dark places, I have dark thoughts, but I can choose to not be what my anxiety tells me I am. It is hard work, so fucking hard, but I can choose to focus on the light. It takes practice, and like running, I can’t do it every day, but I’m building up my endurance.

What’s more, I have profoundly grasped the impact of the words of others who have told me over and over again that this is all in my head. Of course it’s all in my head! The anxiety, the depression, the darkness and the light. I thought again of Harry Potter, and I had an intensely validating moment from good ole Professor Dumbledore. There’s that moment in the final Harry Potter book — when Harry had just been hit by the killing curse for the second time and it wasn’t clear if he was dead or alive in that instant. Harry was waiting and talking with Dumbledore, and Harry asked if this was real or all in his head. Dumbledore responded, “Of course it’s all in your head, but why on earth should that mean it isn’t real?”

Image via Facebook – Harry Potter

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Some Do's and Don'ts for Living With Anxiety

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Hello, my name is Anxiety!

woman holding up a sign that reads: Hello, my name is anxiety.

At 27 years old, I began to live my life for the first time. Everything before this was a blur. Every sight, sound, touch, smell and taste was only something I had heard of. Every experience was mediocre. Life was bland. There was no substance. There was no sense.

It’s hard to put these feelings into words, but I will try. The best way I can describe anxiety is going through each day feeling as if you’re under water. Nothing is clear. All of your senses lack functioning. You’re overstimulated, and the only thing you can do is shut down. I cried a lot and it helped a lot. It was my outlet. I allowed myself to feel, to be vulnerable.

Anxiety is something that is too familiar to me. Since age 5, it had haunted me. It had controlled me, and it had torn me down more than once. It didn’t come alone. It came hand in hand, like peanut butter and jelly, with depression.

Depression. You know that rainy day that feels like it’s never going to end? Your mood is sad. You’re exhausted. You can’t get out of bed? It’s like that, only times 1,000! It’s not just one day, two days or even three. Sometimes, it lasts for months, sometimes years. You start to become a sucky person, flaky, insensitive and just over all a buzz kill. Not yourself.

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From age 5 to 27, until the day I hit rock bottom and had no other choice but up, anxiety robbed me of my freedom. I’ve been to dark places. Imagine if you must. Never physically hurting myself, but, I’ve sunk into a few deep black holes where scary thoughts laughed at me while I wept.

Anxiety disorders are debilitating. No, I couldn’t just stop worrying. No, I couldn’t just relax or just breathe. I couldn’t just get over it. Trust me, I wish I could, but I couldn’t.

This is my first but not my last attempt at describing anxiety. My mission is to educate those who are dealing with it and who have loved ones who struggle with it. There is help, and there is hope. I’m so thankful this experience has allowed me to turn my mess into a message.

Here’s what I learned to be the do’s and don’t of anxiety:

1. Do speak to someone!

Anyone, a friend, a therapist, your significant other or even me!

2. Don’t think it’ll just pass on it’s own.

Sometimes we put too much pressure on ourselves, thinking we can fix everything. It’s OK to ask for some help.

3. Do everything possible to try to stay positive.

Show gratitude. Show compassion.

4. Don’t compare yourself to others.

Not on Facebook. Not on Instagram. Not in the magazines. Not in real life. Trust me! If everyone threw their problems into a pile, then you would act fast to grab yours right back.

5. Do redirect your thoughts.

Distract yourself. As soon as a negative thought attacks, be prepared. Think happy. Singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” works for me! (Judge if you want.)

6. Don’t forget: Out of your vulnerabilities, will come your strength.

7. Do what feels good to you.

If you feel like you need to stay in, then decline the invite.

8. Don’t be embarrassed to see a therapist.

Here’s a few sentences from a book I read and really found helpful when I was going through my funk: “No study has ever suggested that people in therapy are, on average, more troubled or demoralized than people who are not in therapy. Rather, they tend to be distinguished by the fact that they have chosen to confront the problems of poor self-esteem and inadequate contact with the self. They, thereby, offer us an opportunity to learn of great deal about the psychological condition of the general population.”

9. Don’t forget to be.

Be self-aware. Be present. Be yourself.

Love,
Yana

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Maybe It Doesn't Get Better

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When your worst enemy is yourself 

When you overthink every decision 

When everything is wrong

When happiness is elusive

When silence means judgment

When pain feels normal

When feel like a burden

When you are alone in a room of people 

When you are never enough 

When your panic erupts

When your heart races

When the tears fall uncontrollably 

When your vision narrows

When you need to run

To escape

Certain death

And then 

When it couldn’t get any worse

It doesn’t.

It fades.

You focus on your breath.

In for four

Out for four

You continue to live.

You take the next step.

You do the next task.

You pretend you are OK

Until you are.

No one knows 

And you’ve mastered the art

Of faking it

Until you make it.

Because no one knows

Your debilitating fear

Of yourself.

And maybe it doesn’t get better

But you know

It doesn’t get worse.

Image via Thinkstock.

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To My Dog Who Is There on the ‘Bad Days’ With Anxiety

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Dear Stella,

You are, without a doubt, one of the best things that has ever happened to me. There were a lot of people who told me not to get you. They said I wasn’t ready for you. They said it wasn’t the right time. They said having you would complicate my life, and I would regret it. They were wrong. Because while you have made my life more complicated in certain ways, you have made it a million times better in just about every way.

You see, Stella, before I brought you home, I was sad and lonely. My anxiety made doing even the littlest things much, much harder. I had days when I felt scared to leave my apartment because the thought of going out by myself made me extremely anxious.

Basically, Stella, I was in a bad place, and I needed to get out of there. Seeing a therapist and taking my medicine was helping, but it wasn’t enough. Something was missing. That something was you. You turned my life around, and I just want to say thank you for everything you’ve done for me.

Thank you for getting me out of the house every day. Regular exercise and getting out in nature are both beneficial to my mental health, but it can be so, so hard to motivate myself to do this on my own. Left to my own devices, it’s a lot easier to hide under my blankets and feel sorry for myself than to get outside and work on feeling better. You don’t let me wallow all day, do you? As happy as you are to join me under the blankets and snuggle, eventually you’ll let me know it’s time to go outside and play.

Thank you for sticking by me whenever we go out. Sure, you like to go off and sniff stuff. You don’t always come back immediately when I call you, but you’re never too far away. You’re always happy to be there with me. This makes an enormous difference in how confident I feel going outside on those days when the thought of leaving my apartment makes me anxious.

It was never really the being outside that made me anxious. It was the being by myself in a place that wasn’t my space. Having someone with me can really make all the difference. On my bad days, I used to dread even walking a block and a half to Subway for a sandwich by myself. With you by my side, I have the confidence not only to walk around our neighborhood, but to take you out hiking and exploring the city and to go on adventures I never would have gone on alone.

Thank you for being my sounding board and practice audience. One of the issues with my anxiety is I sometimes get nervous when I have to do things extemporaneously. If there’s a phone call or presentation I have to make that I’m feeling kind of nervous about, then you’re willing to sit there and listen to me practice my script before I have to do it for real.

Thank you for bringing joy and laughter into my life. Living with mental illness can be a lot of hard work, drudgery and forcing yourself to do things you don’t want to do. It can be hard to let go of all of that and just laugh. When you came into my life, you brought with you your cute face, curious spirit, comical antics and love of life. Not a day goes by that I don’t have a good laugh or feel a moment of pure joy because of you.

Thank you for being calm and quiet when I just need someone to sit with me. Sometimes, that’s really all it takes to turn a bad day into a good one. For those times when I need my “alone time,” but I don’t actually want to be alone, you’re more than happy to lie on the couch with your head in my lap while I rub your belly and watch “Murdoch Mysteries” on Netflix. When I can feel an anxiety attack coming on, stroking your fur gives me tactile grounding to help me get through it.

Most importantly, thank you for loving me and letting me love you. Because one of the most important things people living with mental illness need is to love and be loved. The unconditional love you have shown me is a precious gift for which I will always be grateful. You are the best dog ever, and I love every day I get to spend with my little star.

Love,
Mommy

Author’s note: I adopted Stella from a rescue organization called Operation Paws for Homes, and if you live in Virginia, DC, Maryland or southern Pennsylvania, you can adopt an OPH dog of your own at their website.

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When Mental Illness Is Hereditary

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As a child I remember my mom constantly saying “my nerves are bad.” I didn’t know that “my nerves were bad,” along with the little pills she took — and her alcoholism — were personal attempts to alleviate the anxiety and depression she felt.

Back then it wasn’t talked about. Children were seen and not heard, and that was just how it was. It was very confusing as a child. I didn’t understand why my mom was not happy and why her “nerves were bad.”

I struggled with anxiety long before I even knew what anxiety was. I just felt different than everyone else. I did not know the feelings and thoughts I was experiencing were what my mom had also been experiencing. Anxiety takes on different forms and manifests in different ways, and mine didn’t look exactly like hers. She cried a lot and I didn’t. She seemed so sad and for the most part I loved life.

By the time I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, I was already trying to find ways to cope. I sought help in many forms; counseling, life skills classes, psychiatry, doctors and self-help books, as well as writing journals and talking about it. I was doing all the things I had not seen my mother do, in hopes I would be able to ” get over this” and one day be free from the anxiety I felt.

As the years went on practicing and engaging in these strategies, my attempt to cure my anxiety has been relatively successful. There have been times where my anxiety is a mere faint existence and I can function with ease, and other times it has been debilitating, along with everything in between.

I learned to live and sometimes thrive with anxiety.

I thought because I was a living example of a good role model, and a different mother to my children than my mother was to me, my children would not go through what I have.

Wrong!

My daughter was 15 years old when I ripped apart her room in desperation to find out why my full of zest for life, spirited child was now depressed and crying all the time. I found bottles of Gravol and cough syrup which I learned that day were her ways of trying to deal with anxiety and depression. We spent the next three hours in the emergency room. The same psychiatrist my mother and I have seen was now seeing my daughter. I left that night with my daughter being admitted.

How was this happening? This was not how her life was supposed to go. She wasn’t supposed to feel and experience the things my mother and I had. I had made our lives different.

Where did I go wrong?

I went wrong by believing I had some super power over mental illness. I went wrong by believing being a great mom would prevent my children from having a mental illness. I went wrong by thinking I could love my children enough that mental illness wouldn’t “get them.”

I never wanted my children to feel what anxiety feels like, and although I tried to keep them from the struggles I had with it, I know there were times they knew and they witnessed my mental illness.

This didn’t make my daughter have a mental illness, too. It is not my fault. Sometimes I still have to repeat that to myself to make myself believe it.

I have three children. She is the only one who has been diagnosed with a mental illness.
Although environmental factors can contribute to mental illness, genetics is something I understand to be a huge factor in our family along with the environment. I have since learned about the long history of mental illness on my mom’s side of the family.

We always want to know a reason. As if knowing the why and how will make it better somehow.

Whatever the reason my mom, myself and my daughter have been diagnosed with a mental illness, the fact remains, that this is an illness, and no one is to blame.

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