A woman blowing glitter out of her hands

8 Things I Want My Family and Friends to Know About My Anxiety

I have anxiety. Not the kind where you hear people say, “Oh, I have a test today. I’m super anxious!” Then, it goes away. No, my anxiety is severe, debilitating and at its worst, crippling. I try my best to mask it on social media and in life so no one knows I’m secretly losing a battle with my own mind. I think I even try to fool myself too, to make myself think it’s not so bad but it is.

Anxiety ruins my life, every single day. There’s not one day that passes where I’m not thinking about how I would do anything to make this go away, to end this war going on inside my head. It’s so hard to go to sleep at night, knowing the demons and beasts I dealt with all day today will be waiting to greet me in the morning. I have anxiety, and this is what I want my friends and family to know.

1. I cannot control the irrational thoughts.

I know when I ask you for reassurance constantly, it gets annoying. I know I really don’t have a life-threatening disease when I feel a headache coming on. I know my irrational fear of not being able to drive anywhere by myself isn’t normal. Here’s the thing: all of those irrational fears and thoughts I have aren’t my own. They are the thoughts of my anxiety. Even though I know all of the irrational things I think aren’t true, I can never convince myself it’s false, that it’s all in my head. So please, bear with me as I fight this battle with my own mind.

2. I don’t cancel plans to avoid you.

When we make plans, I really do have the best intentions of showing up, visiting with you and having a fun day full of laughter and smiles. However, you need to understand the amount of fear I get as the time gets closer for us to meet up. You’re at your house, and all you’re doing in getting ready and probably thinking about what you’ll make for dinner after you get home.

Me? I’m on the floor in my bathroom sobbing and rocking back and forth because I can’t physically bring myself to do my hair, to do my makeup or to make it to the front door to drive to see you. When I do cancel our plans, please believe me when I say how hard it is for me. I don’t spend the time we would have spent together binge-watching Netflix or eating my favorite junk food. No, I’m in my safe place, curled up in a ball on the floor of my shower, crying because that’s the only place that drowns out the sounds of my anxious and fearful thoughts. Believe me, I feel bad about canceling for several days after.

3. I’m afraid of my own mind.

I know, people say this a lot, “I’m going crazy! Oh my mind is going to turn against me one day.” To me, mine already has. To me, my mind isn’t my friend. I’m my own worst enemy and my own worst friend all at the same time. I never tell myself I look good. I never tell myself I’m a good artist. I never tell myself anything good. It’s all negative.

You could be skinnier. You really could be smarter. You are so silly for being an artist. Don’t you know you aren’t good enough to make a name for yourself?

Every day, I fight a constant battle with my mind which is always, always trying to tear me down. Not only does it tear me down, but I always convince myself I’ve done something wrong or someone is mad at me because they took too long to call me back. I know that sounds illogical, believe me I do. Yet, to my anxious mind, that fear is completely rational.


4. Some days are better than others.

I know it may seem weird, that one day I can go out to the store with you and walk off by myself to go pick out my favorite snack. Then, the next day, I have to wait in the car because I had a panic attack on the way to the store or to the restaurant, and I can’t stop myself from hyperventilating or uncontrollably crying. I wish there were more of the better days than the bad ones. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case, but I promise, I still love you just the same on both days.

5. I really do feel like I’m dying when I have a panic attack.

I know from an outsider’s view, a panic attack must not make any sense and seem pretty scary. I appreciate that you take the time to tell me to calm down or to just breathe. I need you to understand just how scary and real a panic attack is to me. My panic attacks come out of nowhere. They are usually noise triggered or when my nervous system is just overloaded.

When I have a panic attack, it feels as if I’m locked inside a small glass cube, and all of my friends and family are sitting there staring at me, as water is rapidly rising. So I start to hyperventilate, and it feels like I’m actually suffocating. So I start gasping for air, although my oxygen levels are perfectly fine.

My throat starts to tighten as well as my chest. My hands, feet and face start to tingle, and then, my hands go into temporary paralysis and are locked into two claw forms, begging to be released. All the while, you’re still sitting there, outside of my little glass box, telling me to calm down, while you don’t see the water slowing getting up to the top.

I start rocking back and forth and sobbing because I know this is the end. My heart is going 100 miles a second and sweat starts rolling down my face, and I can feel the end coming. I let out a scream because everything just hurts so bad. Then, I can breathe again. Suddenly, the water starts to drop, and the box is slowly opening. I start to get feeling back into my extremities, and I’m able to say, “I’m OK.” In that moment, yes, I am OK. Yet, I’m also terrified of when my next panic attack will show it’s ugly face because with every attack I have, I grow more and more fearful of them happening again.

6. I’m not rude or being anti-social, I promise.

When I’m having a really bad anxiety day, I get stuck in my head. I hardly notice the world that is going on around me, and I have tunnel vision. All that seems to exist are the constant worries and fears dancing around in my head.

Do I feel OK today? I just got a random pain in my foot. Do I have foot cancer? I shouldn’t have said that thing last month. That was not smart. What if no one likes my artwork I posted on Instagram?

I promise you, when you talk to me and I come off as distant, I don’t even notice I’m doing it. I’m too focused on my mind and making sure to cover all of the worries and fears to make sure I didn’t miss one.

7. I miss me.

I know. I’m still here physically, but mentally, it doesn’t feel like I am. I don’t feel like the same old girl who was carefree, spontaneous or adventurous, who you used to know. Now, I just feel scared, worried and anxious, every single day of my life. There hasn’t been one day that hasn’t gone by where I haven’t cried because of how miserable I am and how desperate I am for this all to go away. I hate this part of me, and I hate that you have to deal with it too.

8. I’m still here.

Yes, anxiety has taken over my life. I can’t go fill up on gas when my gas light comes on by myself. I can’t drive myself to get a haircut. I need you to drive me because I’m worried about driving on the highway. I have to run out of the movie theater when I have a panic attack triggered by loud noise, and we can’t finish the movie we paid $12 to see. I seem disinterested in our conversations, or I just seem like I’m not in the mood to talk. I can’t work up the nerve to go to a networking event that could greatly benefit me as a thriving artist. I can’t go out to eat with you without needing to get out my medication to calm me down before I break out into a panic attack.

I can’t do a lot of things the way I used to anymore, but I’m still here inside. The girl you knew that was so full of life and loved to make everyday adventures. She’s still here. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I am. I try so desperately to break free out of this web of anxiety that is robbing me of my happy life.

So this is me, and I have anxiety. But you know what? Anxiety does not have me. I know I will overcome this, and I know I will come out strong. This may be the toughest battle I have ever had to fight, and it may be a long and excruciatingly painful one, but I will win this. My anxiety doesn’t define me. It’s just a part of me, but I refuse to let it take me down. I refuse to let it make me sink.

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Image via Emily Cromwell.


Close up view of young woman holding pills

When You're Afraid to Admit You Need Medication for Your Anxiety

My journey with mental health, especially anxiety, hasn’t been a smooth ride. It took me a long time to come to accept my issues and the use of medication, and that wasn’t an easy thing to admit to.

I was offered but declined antidepressants when I was in my early teens, not wanting to go down the route of pills. I was first prescribed anti-anxiety medication when I was about 19, but not for the same reasons. After I took and failed my first driving test, my instructor suggested I talk to my GP, as he thought I had high anxiety. I managed to pass the theory with flying colors, but the practical was another matter. I declined, thinking I didn’t need pills to get me through anything. I tried and failed again. After a few attempts I realized I wasn’t just nervous. It wasn’t worry over passing that was getting to me. It was the shaking, the desperate itch, the repetitive thoughts, the twitch in my leg that meant I couldn’t keep my foot on the clutch. My instructor had said later on that I could have passed first time if I had sorted out the physical aspects of my anxiety, as my driving skills weren’t the problem.

When I saw my GP and explained what I was going through and the symptoms I was experiencing, and had experienced for a while, added to what a psychologist had already diagnosed years previously, I had to face up to it. I had high anxiety, and I could either keep putting my head in the sand and failing all of my tests, or try medication and see what happened. After fail number six, I accepted. Test number seven went smoothly, though nothing had changed other than taking the medication, which stilled my leg, stopped the shaking and calmed the itch of the anxiety.

Since then, it’s been a bit of an uphill struggle with medication. I have hated to admit that it helps me. Knowing it makes a positive difference battles with the other part of me that doesn’t want to be on pills. I don’t want to admit I need them or have a use for them. I don’t want to feel powerless over my mind or my body in this way. I don’t want to seem weak or inadequate or be labelled as having “mental health issues.” High anxiety was something I was embarrassed about for a long time, but back then it wasn’t as widely acknowledged either. And so it went, with me being on/off them for several years, struggling to accept and admit to having an issue and taking medication for it.

I’m the first to admit I’m a bit of a hypocrite. I’m someone to whom the phrase “Doctor heal thyself” applies. I can say all of the right things to someone else; I know what to do, the advice to give, the way to treat someone with compassion. I just can’t apply the same thoughts and knowledge and advice to myself.

It’s silly, also, that I know the underpinnings of anxiety medication through a psychology degree and my personal interest in mental health. I know the biochemical aspects of SSRIs and how they work. I can appreciate the factors that cause and contribute to anxiety, depression and other mental and behavioral activities. I know, I know, that anxiety is real, that there are things going on in your head and in your physical make-up that form part of the cause and effect. I understand CBT and reframing thoughts but also how this doesn’t always impact and improve issues such as anxiety, that sometimes the neurological and biological elements can override them to some extent. I therefore should be able to accept that, as a human being, these factors apply to myself too. I’m no different to anyone else. These things can affect me, I can’t always change how I feel by changing my behaviors and thoughts. Sometimes there’s something bigger at play, something medication can reach when you cannot.

The psychological and physical impact of anxiety, and indeed depression, has been quite forceful as it affects day-to-day life from minute to minute. It’s not just worrying and stressing. It’s overthinking. An obsessive need for control that gives way to nervous worry and painstaking indecision over the smallest of things. Repetitive thoughts. Dizziness and heart palpitations. Panic attacks that make you feel as though you’re suffocating. Shaking. Poor sleep and concentration. A metaphorical itch you can’t scratch.

Just because you can’t see the anxiety inside your head doesn’t mean it’s not there. You may not be able to show someone the imbalance of brain chemicals, the firing of neurons, the regulation or serotonin and noradrenaline. You may not be able to give a reason for having anxiety. It may or may not form part of another issue; it may be generalized anxiety, or it may be part of post-traumatic stress or a result of social anxiety disorder. It may just be, just because it is.

I can’t truly pinpoint mine. I had a degree of OCD when I was much younger, though it was never known back then what it was. I was simply rather frustrating at times and a little odd. I still remember now the painstaking time it would take some mornings to get my shoes on in the morning before school, with my mum having to keep taking my shoes off as one was slightly tighter than the other, and then one sock was slightly off-center, and then because she had touched my left foot she had to repeat the exact same action with my right foot except it wasn’t quite right so shoes and socks had to come off to start all over again. While some remnants of this remained, the OCD style behaviors transformed in to more repetitive thoughts as I got older. I had social anxiety when I was younger, the kind that was terrifying when you’re entering high school and can’t even cough in public. Depression and anxiety took over from there and still affect me to this day to differing extents.

But what has changed over this period of time is society. Conditions such as anxiety and depression and OCD are now more widely known and accepted, more talked about. On top of that, more famous faces are speaking out about mental health. Amanda Seyfried has recently commented on how she has been taking anti-anxiety medication for the past 11 years and believes mental health, as an invisible illness, should be taken as seriously as physical health.

It’s a shame that despite the increased awareness and therapies, both psychological and pharmaceutical, available, that stigma and judgment still abound. As with other invisible illnesses, mental health conditions can’t be seen until they affect overt behaviors, and most of us can get pretty good at covering them up and plastering over the cracks. I think we need to challenge how we look at medication too. Everyone is different; some will benefit from the likes of CBT, some will benefit from exercise and dietary changes, and others will benefit from medication for the biochemical and neurological elements.

One thing I have found really difficult to come to grips with is the sense of being out of control, that I can’t fully control the anxiety myself through the things I do or the way I think. But taking medication isn’t giving over your control. It’s not admitting there’s nothing you can do and now need to be reliant on taking pills. Quite the opposite. It’s about realizing mental health conditions can be viewed and treated akin to physical conditions. There are times when medication can work in conjunction with other forms of therapy or self-care. It doesn’t make you weak, you are not simply at the mercy of your brain chemistry. You are taking control of your life by admitting there’s an issue and doing something to help yourself. And that is something to be proud of.

Follow this journey on Invisibly Me.

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Stock photo by diego_cervo

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When You Can't Outrun the Pain of Anxiety and Grief

For years, I ran and ran. I ran because I thought it’d fix my problems. I ran because I felt if I stopped, I’d have to deal with the pain, anxiety, the grief and the deep, raw feelings. I was afraid I’d have to finally accept things I wasn’t ready to accept about myself and my story. I spent years running in circles, determined not to let these things catch up to me. I believed running was easier, that repressing the scary things in my brain and not accepting them or dealing with them was easier. But I couldn’t run forever. I was exhausted; I finally found that out when suddenly everything I didn’t want to deal with was now weighing down on my shoulders, and everything I didn’t want to face made me crash into the pavement.

I thought I was a pillar of strength for being a kid who made it through tough times and had carried on with a smile, but really I was just running from my problems and my past. I never realized what strength was until I was dealing with all these emotions, the grief and the trauma, all at once. I knew what pain felt like, but I was unable to express it because numbing myself from the pain was so much simpler.

Once I finally was able to express my pain, I learned it’s tough and it’s so incredibly hard. The tears fall and fall, and sometimes I feel like I’ve cried enough tears to fill the Atlantic Ocean. And there are times when I just want to crawl up in my bed and isolate myself from the world. It’s not going to be easy and I know that, but I keep telling myself one day it might get easier.

I’m not going to tell you what works and what doesn’t. Because honestly I still don’t know what works for me. I’m a work in progress. What I do know is the work I’m doing on myself is harder than any academic class I’ve taken in college or graduate school. It’s more rigorous than anything I’ve ever done.

But every day is a new day, and every day my anxiety comes in different forms. I battle with thoughts of not feeling enough, not feeling worthy, and I wonder if I’ll ever get to a place where I love and accept myself exactly as I am. The eating disorder I developed at 14 years old has warped my brain. The scale is in complete control of me and has created a monster of irrational and self-loathing thoughts.

I often wonder if I’ll ever heal from the trauma of my dad dying by suicide when I was a child. The ripple effect it’s caused throughout my life turned into a tidal wave. The trust issues, separation anxiety, fear of the worst and just fear in general have become a large component of my life. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to trust someone, if I’ll ever be able to let anyone in. I’m so terrified of being hurt that it’s often easier to rely on myself and only myself, because I know I won’t hurt myself or let myself down.

I often wonder if I’ll always live in fear and be terrified of the unknown. If I’ll continue to think the worst of every situation — not because I’m a pessimist, but because I’ve been through the worst.

I got tired of running, and here I am. The past has caught up to me, the feelings and emotions stronger and more powerful than ever. I finally acknowledged the fact that I have severe anxiety and that it’s OK. I finally accepted everything and all I’ve been through, and I realized nothing I ever do will change my story. It’s all part of my journey.

I know running from your pain may seem like the easiest solution, but I’m here to tell you it’s not. Eventually your legs get tired and you may not be able to hold yourself up any longer. That’s what happened to me, and I crashed into the pavement.

Luckily, I was able to clean the scrapes off my knees, rise from the ground and begin to do the hardest work of my life.

Working on yourself is a marathon, not a sprint.

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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Rachel Bloom

Why I Respect Rachel Bloom After Reading Her Mental Health 'Glamour' Essay

No one really associates success with kindness. As you stand near the door to all you’ve worked for, butterflies should fly inside you; the good kind. But for Rachel Bloom, star and co-creator of the hit show “Crazy Ex Girlfriend,” the path to success wasn’t so great.

As she recalls in her “Glamour” essay, her anxiety began one sleepless night before she had to pitch her show to network executives. Getting a pitch meeting in the first place is an accomplishment on its own. In Rachel’s mind however, it was something “that started a spiral.’’

Recognizing anxiety as it starts is not something we’re all able to do. With work, relationships and life in its own, we often assume anxiety as nothing out of the ordinary. It was something Rachel hid from this point on, but after a reaction to birth control, anxiety became depression. She finally sought some help.

If there is something we can learn from Rachel’s story is that recognizing there’s an issue can be its own form of medication. Before her depression she met with some therapists. After the medication she turned to a psychiatrist. Rachel addressed every pinpoint in her journey with some action. And although she was alone in the beginning, Rachel said that eventually opening up to others helped her see “a lot of people have felt the same way.’’

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “At any point in time, 3 to 5 percent of adults suffer from major depression.” There are many ways to get help, but it starts by admitting you need it.

For that Rachel Bloom, I salute you.

woman sitting in a field of tall grass

How Nature Helps Me Stay Grounded in Moments of Anxiety

Today, I went for a walk at Mammoth Cave National Park. It was just a short trek around a small, marshy pond. After snapping a few pictures, I put my phone away and focused on taking in my surroundings. The scenery was beautiful.

I noticed a couple of spider webs suspended between trees and the sun shining through them. I listened to the laughter and chatter of my family walking behind me. I observed the different shapes and textures of the tree trunks. I watched a snapping turtle sneak a little closer to the edge of the pond, hoping for a cracker, a Cheerio or some other treat.

Journaling about the walk this evening, a realization struck me: The reason nature is so calming is that it grounds me in my surroundings. I have struggled with anxiety almost as long as I can remember. Some days are better than others. Over the last year or so, I have begun taking more control of my mental health.

One of the coping methods I have learned is called grounding. It involves looking around and identifying five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. This technique gets me out of my own head, so to speak, and it pulls me back into my surroundings. I am required to get in touch with my own senses and realize I’m still here. That reconnection with my senses, my surroundings and myself has sometimes been enough to stave off a panic attack.

Writing is another calming outlet for me. Naturally, when I was a child, my thoughts were less abstract and more concrete. My writings focused more on things I could see and touch. Specifically, I wrote a lot of poetry and prose about nature. As I got older, my writings began focusing more on my thoughts and emotions instead of observations. I began to journal about my worries, fears and what-ifs.

Now, that kind of journaling certainly has its place. When I am calm(er), it allows me to examine my thought processes and better understand the sources of my anxiety. However, when I am in a state of panic, focusing on the source only makes it appear larger. It sends me into a spiral.

I have discovered a way to help myself when I am in this state (or rather rediscovered) — the self-care I used as a child. I take myself, my journal and a cup of tea and I go to a quiet place outdoors. There, I sit quietly for 10 minutes and observe. I observe the trees, the weeds, the glow on the spider’s web, the ladybug persistently trying to climb a blade of grass and the hawk flying overhead.

Then, I write. I write what I see, hear, feel, smell and taste. I write what the wind in the trees sounds like, what the daffodils smell like and how the grass tickles my feet. I reconnect with where I am, and usually, I find peace. This method is not always enough to make the anxiety go away, but I can at least put it into perspective. The world is bigger than the panic I’m facing right now. I am more than the anxiety I feel right now. I am also a body, a whole person and a part of the world around me.

I recommend trying it. Make time whenever you can and as often as you can. Go to a quiet place in nature and observe what is around you. Use whatever form of creative expression is the most comfortable for you. Whether writing, talking or drawing, take notes on what you see, hear, touch, taste and smell.

Connect with your senses. Maybe it will do for you what it does for me: quiet the whirlwind of thoughts, reacquaint you with the beautiful things that exist in the world, or at least serve as a reminder that you are still here and things are going to be OK.

Image via Thinkstock.

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pills slipping out of a pill bottle

I Have a Life Preserver in the Form of a Little Pink Pill

I have a life preserver in the form of a little pink pill. I started taking it about four years ago when I began to understand the extent to which my illness was becoming a family affair. While I was willing to let myself drown in Lyme disease, anxiety and depression, I couldn’t bear to watch my husband and son go down with me.

And it worked. It worked like a charm. Within weeks, I found myself floating up to the surface of my illness and bobbing around like a red buoy on a sunny day. I was still in the water, but I could wave to my family toweling off on dry land. We could call to each other, tell jokes, sing songs and make plans for the future.

I don’t know how the pill works, but I do know when I’m taking it regularly I feel blessed, safe and at ease. I wake in the morning and think, “I love my life. I have everything I’ve ever wanted.”

When I miss a pill, I notice it immediately. Do you remember the Dementors who guard the wizard prison Azkaban in “Harry Potter”? They feed off human happiness. When you’re near a Dementor, your body goes cold and you feel like nothing in the world can ever be good again. That’s me without my life preserver.

At first, I worried the pills were distorting my reality. If I needed a pill to make me feel at ease, then could I trust that feeling? Was it real? With my doctor’s help, I tried going off the pills by reducing my dosage gradually over time, but it didn’t work. I noticed my family had stopped singing, had stopped waving happily to me from the shore and the water was getting rougher.

So, I take the pills. It’s not the only thing I do. I also practice yoga, meditate and nurture positive relationships with people I love. I count my blessings every day. I ride my bike. I call my mom.

I used to keep my life preserver secret. I swam around with it hidden beneath the surface of the water. I let others assume I was staying afloat all by myself. I let them believe it was the yoga and meditation that made me such a good swimmer.

Then, I noticed other swimmers with life preservers. Some, like me, had them hidden beneath the surface. Other, brave, souls held them up for anyone to see. I drew courage from their courage, strength from their strength. I decided to let my life preserver be seen too.

I’ll always credit yoga with being a huge part of my healing from Lyme disease, anxiety and depression. Through yoga I’ve learned, and continue to learn, how to listen to my body, honor my intuition and ask for help when needed. I used to think that needing antidepressant medication meant that my yoga practice wasn’t strong enough. Now, I believe without yoga I never would have had the self-knowledge and humility to ask for and accept this kind of help.

To my students who are challenged by anxiety and depression, know that I am too. To my students who think it’s yoga that keeps me buoyant, know that it is yoga, inasmuch as yoga allows me to approach my life with compassion and honesty. Let’s chip away at this stigma surrounding mental health issues. Let’s do it together.

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Erin Bidlake.

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