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Try to Understand My Experience With Anxiety

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Those struggling with mental illness do not just want to be heard. There is a want and a need to be listened to. There is a difference. It is appalling how little is known about anxiety, the associated “attacks” or physical ramifications of it.

A panic attack. One of the most terrifying physical and psychological manifestations that can occur. When those like me who struggle say our anxiety is high and we’re horrified of an attack occurring, this is what we mean. This is how it can be experienced.

For me, it starts out with slight nervousness. A knot in my stomach. I have to clear my throat. Then comes the tingly sensation all over my body. My limbs refuse to move. Then, it hits. I am slammed to the floor. It’s crippling, and it takes over.

I can’t run. Everything within me seeks escape from this assault, but there is no such thing. It’s a trap. The walls close in. The air grows thinner and thinner. I’m frozen temporarily, but, in that moment, it’s never ending.

I can’t breathe. I forget how. Hyperventilation becomes my meager attempt at respiration. My chest tightens. The capacity of my lungs seems to decrease. My heart pounds erratically to the rhythm of overwhelming terror. Dizziness comes first. Then nausea.

I can’t speak. On the inside, I’m screaming for mercy, for prayer, for help, for some kind of relief. My jaw is clenched shut. My throat unable to produce speech. The utterances that make it out are feeble stutters and cries.

I can’t regain control. I’m frustrated. Every muscle now becomes rigid yet spastic, moving or rather twitching on its own accord. My body is not submissive to my control.

I can’t locate the trigger. I don’t know why this is happening. Again.

I can’t calm down. I tried the “grounding” technique I’ve read all about in textbooks. I tried to harness my senses. I tried to hone in on the tangible. It failed.

I can’t stop. So, I give in to it. I’ll let it run its course. It has won. I can’t stop. It keeps happening. I can’t stop. The most horrifying 10 to 30 minutes possible whenever they choose to appear.

This is a panick attack. It is only one facet of many mental illnesses.

I hope you understand a little bit better now. It is no exaggeration. It is horrifying. You may not understand firsthand, but you can certainly try to understand. That is all anyone could ever ask.

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Desiree Nunez.

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It's All a Domino Effect: How My Anxiety Leads to Other Things

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Editor’s note: This post contains language about self-harm and suicidal thoughts. If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Anxiety. It rules my everyday life. I can’t escape the hands of anxiety. It makes sure to make its presence known every second of every day. With my heart beating fast, hands clenching tightly, and mouth as dry as cotton balls, I sit and wait with anxiety as my wingman. No matter what the situation, anxiety is there to help me fall faster.

anx·i·e·ty (aNGˈzīədē) [noun] – a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

It’s not like anxiety can be turned on or off. I have no control of how anxiety will trigger my actions or emotions. Anxiety is a mental illness of the mind. The overwhelming, mind-numbing worry that consumes the brain is heart-pounding, breath-taking, ground-shaking in all the wrong ways.

“Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior.”

Anxiety is a barrier I must overcome. Not only does it limit my social ability to communicate but it destroys my connections with other peers and my friends and family. It’s also not like I’m afraid of just one thing in particular. I’m not afraid at all in total honesty. It’s the worry that drags me down. I worry unnecessarily about little things such as paying bills (which I don’t need to worry about because I can’t contribute to paying the bills, which worries me about trying to find a job and help my family) or presenting a project to my class (which is just pointless to worry about because if I want the grade, I have to present). I worry about things I have no control over, things such as global warming, the end of the world, racism, sexism, riots, protests, etc. Because of anxiety, I’ve missed out on opportunities I’ll never get the chance to have again. Anxiety has pulled me away from events and other things I’d love to have participated in, but I worried so much about such things that I talked myself out of participating.  

wor·ry (ˈwərē) [verb] – give way to anxiety or unease; allow one’s mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles. 

Along with my anxiety came depression and insomnia, as well as an anti-social personality. Depression can happen from an overwhelming amount of stress or anxiety that wears people down and makes them dejected about most things. Insomnia happened because not only was I worrying extremely during the day about everything, but at night, my mind would kick into overdrive and start thinking about all the little things I could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done or how I could have made a choice in a better way. I’ll plan out my day for tomorrow in my head. I’ll think about every step of the day, how to not mess up or find embarrassment, and I’ll retrace my steps a thousand times to make sure there’s no way I could make a mistake in my planning.  

De·pres·sion (di-ˈpre-shən, dē-) [noun] – a state of feeling sad; a serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way.

Along with depression came mental and physical scars. Mentally because I had completely ruined my mental state. Obliterated it. My mind doesn’t function the same way it did before nor does it function the same way as yours. Physically because my mind leads me to think certain things were acceptable to do to my body because I thought I wasn’t right. I thought I was messed up. Broken. Unrepairable. Beyond acceptable. With the mental scarring and my physical being had been worn down, came suicidal thoughts.  

“Suicidal thoughts are thoughts about how to kill oneself, which can range from a detailed plan to a fleeting consideration and does not include the final act of killing oneself.”  

It’s not like I wanted to think about how I would kill myself or why I should kill myself. It wasn’t healthy, and I knew it wasn’t healthy but my mind told me I was OK. This was what I deserved and I needed to go through this. Not everyone who has suicidal thoughts attempts suicide. I was 15 the first time I tried to kill myself.  

sui·cide (ˈsü-ə-ˌsīd) [noun] – the act of killing yourself because you do not want to continue living.  

Anxiety, depression, insomnia, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, attempting suicide… the list goes on and on. It was a domino effect for me. But that doesn’t mean we can’t bounce back from a negative thing. You can always rebound, make it better. Instead of letting it drain you and take your energy, you look it straight in the face and give it the middle finger while walking away, showing your confidence in yourself and saying you can do this because you can.  

re·cov·er (riˈkəvər) [verb] – return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.  

And yes, there may be hardships and difficulties that you must face, but it is so worth it. Nothing is ever worth you giving up on life. People care, whether you think so or not. You will be missed. You may relapse back into your negative habits, I know I have, but you can always come back from that. And you know what, screw those people who say you can’t come back from it. You can. I did, you can, so can everybody else. You want to stop self-harming and be a more positive person, you can. You want to stop drinking alcohol to avoid problems, you can. It’s not easy, but you can.

re·lapse (ˈrēˌlaps) [noun] – a deterioration in someone’s state of health after a temporary improvement.

I have been through so much crap in my life ranging from drug use, underage drinking, underage smoking, sexual assault, rape, abuse, neglect, and even more, yet here I am, drinking water and studying for an AP test and singing songs with my best friend. Anxiety and depression and insomnia will always be a part of my life, I know that and I know I can’t be rid of them, but I also know I can’t let them control me. I have to overcome them to find the true me. Where I can find and be the real me is when I’ll be at my happiest. So if I can overcome my difficulties and hardships, can’t you? Anyone is capable of anything. All you have to do is try. 

be·lieve (bəˈlēv) [verb] – accept (something) as true; feel sure of the truth of.

I believe in you.

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

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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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Emily reading a letter.

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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