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What Goes On in an Anxious Mind When Someone Asks to Have a 'Quick Word'

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“Could I just have a quick word with you in my office?”

An innocent, harmless little sentence but one which strikes fear in to my heart. With my anxiety I tend to live my life one hour in to the future. If I have a situation coming up which I know will do a “spinal tap” on my anxiety dials, I need to know at least an hour beforehand. That’s how long it usually takes for the meds to kick in. Hearing this sort of instant request disrupts my plan for the day, and it brings instant terror.

As I walk towards the office the anxiety starts to build like the painful wail of an air-raid siren. Gradually getting quicker, stronger, more unsettling. My mouth dries, the fidgeting starts before I’ve even reached the room. My mind is already assessing temperature (both of myself and the destination); if I have anything on me that can be used as a distraction tool e.g. notepad/pen, glasses, keys; the possible duration of the “quick word;” if I’ll be able to stand or be forced to sit face-to-face and how loud that air raid siren is screaming. We’re told that manufacturers of computer processors design lumps of silicone that can handle millions and millions of bits of information each second – that ability has nothing on the anxious mind! That’s how the inside of my head feels at times like these. To the other person I may appear to be listening, giving information and asking questions. From the inside it is a completely different story.

When I speak I often feel as if it isn’t me somehow. Sure, I’m operating the jaw and muscles and words are coming out, but a part of my odd brain is asking, “Who is speaking? Is this my voice?” There is also the continual swirl of questioning what the other person is thinking about me. Do they think I’m waffling and talking rubbish? Do they think I look anxious? Are my clothes hanging OK? Do I look fat? Can they see my discomfort? Judgment is a big part of my world and has been since I was a boy.

When sitting in an airless room with the door shut and no distractions, all the questions and judgment assessments go in to hyper-drive. Like I said, a supercomputer is but slate and chalk next to anxious grey matter.

Less painful but still uncomfortable for me is meeting people in the street whom I may not have seen for a while. It’s as if my whole nervous system gets a strange kind of shock. The sort of shock you get when you have a sleep twitch. My brain seems to instantly split in to three concurrent trains of thought.

  • I haven’t seen this person in ages and I’m interested to hear what they’ve been up to.
  • Oh no – I don’t want to be trapped here on the street, I don’t want the anxiety, and I don’t want to hear all about your interesting life because mine pales in comparison and it makes me feel boring, inadequate and worthless. I want this encounter over ASAP – I want them gone!
  • Guilt, self-loathing because of thinking the above point!

They seem to last hours, and I then spend ages afterwards analyzing them in nauseating detail. Even a supercomputer must plug in to the power supply somewhere, and there must be an Off switch. How I wish I had one of those.

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Thinkstock illustration by Digital Vision.

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5 Things That Helped Me Through Spending Thanksgiving in a Psychiatric Hospital

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Thanksgiving had always been a holiday I would look forward to all year. Family meals, watching the parade, and eating my grandma’s pecan pie were traditions I had kept since I was a little girl. The holiday as I knew it changed when I was 21 years old. In 2013, I spent Thanksgiving in a psychiatric hospital four hours away from home, struggling with a severe anxiety disorder. When I was admitted that November, I knew I wouldn’t be home for the holiday for the first time in my life.

What I thought would be the toughest day of my life ended up being the day that taught me the most about the strength of my support system, the importance of caring people who work on the holidays, and my ability to remain thankful for what I have even in a difficult situation.

These are the 5 things that helped me through spending Thanksgiving in a psychiatric hospital:

1.  Keeping traditions

One of the ways I could take some control of my Thanksgiving was to continue some of the traditions that had made me happy each year. I spent time with the other patients doing things I would’ve done with my family. We all watched the parade and football games together, played cards, and watched a holiday movie at night. It was helpful for me to keep my mind busy with activities, and I was also able to keep my favorite traditions alive.

2.  Keeping connected with loved ones

Even though I was far away from my family and friends on Thanksgiving, they figured out a way to make me feel included and loved all day. I received calls from different people in my support system throughout the day, and I never knew who would be on the other end of the phone when I answered. I was able to speak to everyone I cared about and would’ve wanted to celebrate with. Just hearing everyone’s voices and knowing people were thinking about me provided the comfort I needed and reassured me I wasn’t alone in my struggles.

3.  The hospital providing normalcy


The big Massachusetts psychiatric hospital I was in did their best to make Thanksgiving in the hospital feel like Thanksgiving at home. The staff wore casual clothes, ate, and watched TV with the patients. We knew it was part of their job to provide extra support, but they felt more like friends on that day, and that feeling of people genuinely caring was what most of the patients needed. The hospital administration also contributed to the day. At lunchtime, they organized a feast for everyone with all the food you’d find on a Thanksgiving table, including various desserts. That night, we all had leftovers from the feast made into sandwiches. The people at the hospital really wanted to make the day feel like a normal Thanksgiving, and for many people, that was the best Thanksgiving they had since becoming ill.

4.  Wanting the best for my family


Being four hours away from home on a holiday is difficult, and as much as I wanted to see my family, it was important to me that they still celebrated Thanksgiving like every other year. My whole family had been through a lot of stress since I developed my mental illness in May. I wanted my parents and two younger siblings to relax and enjoy the day as much as they could. I know my family would’ve driven to spend the day with me, but I truly wanted to keep the holiday as normal as it could be for them. My family and I decided together that they would come to visit me on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, so even after the holiday was over, I still had something to look forward to. Although other patients had visitors that day, it was comforting to know my whole family was safely feasting together at home.

5. Remembering what I was thankful for


Every Thanksgiving, I would reflect on what I was thankful for in my life. Being in the hospital made it more difficult to focus on the positives, but throughout the day, I realized that even during the hardest part of my life, I had a lot to be grateful for. I had family, friends, and mental health specialists who supported and believed in me, a home I would see again in just over a week, my physical health, and I still had my whole future ahead of me. Finding things to be thankful for, even while hospitalized, reassured me I will never lose my hope.

That Thanksgiving was was of the most defining days of my life. I learned how devoted my support system was. I saw people who worked at the hospital who did all they could to help the patients have a happy holiday, and that inspired me to begin educating people about how they can show support to those in psychiatric hospitals. Spending Thanksgiving in the hospital made me realize the depth of my strength, and for that, I’m thankful every day.

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Thinkstock photo by monkey business images

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10 Songs That Pack a Mighty Punch to Anxiety

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Music has always been my escape from reality. As a music blogger, I take my favorite songs seriously and whenever I’m in dire need of a pick-me-up, there’s always a perfect track ready and waiting. When you’re living with anxiety, it often feels like nothing can save you, but once a certain song starts playing, there’s no describing the comfort that it brings.

I’ve put together a playlist of some of my favorite songs that help me through those particularly rough days. Hopefully, they can bring some comfort your way too. Hang in there!

1. “The Trick Is To Keep Breathing” by Garbage

I cannot even count how many times this song has saved my life. Shirley Manson has been my inspiration since I was 14, and whenever I’m in panic mode, I remember those six simple, yet powerful words to keep me going.

2. “Beautiful Day” by U2

This one has always been a favorite, and I love how calm it makes me feel. It brings me back to a time when things were much simpler. Bono’s words of, “What you don’t have, you don’t need it now,” are so reassuring when you have the tendency to need everything to be perfect all the time.

3. “Anybody” by Redlands

This one is perfect for those times when you feel isolated and like there’s not a soul on this planet who understands the turmoil going on in your head.

4. “Electric Indigo” by The Paper Kites

It was love at first listen with this one, and their entire album, “twelvefour,” is a dream. You’ll be relaxed in no time.

5. “Cry Baby” by The Neighbourhood

If anyone understands anxiety, then it’s The NBHD’s Jesse Rutherford. This one comes in handy on those cold days when the world feels as if it’s falling apart and you can’t trust a soul.

6. “A Change of Heart” by The 1975

This one has accompanied me through a lot of turmoil this year. From the long bus ride home after being left out in the cold by a guy I thought was perfect for me, to that glorious moment I realized someone I had loved for a long time wasn’t all that great, Matty Healy’s word remain a comforting companion, reminding me that things always turn out for the best and it’ll all get better.

7. “Roman Holiday” by Halsey

This one is an instant mood booster as it reminds us that no matter how bad things may be at the moment, there are always adventures and better days ahead.

8. “Scars” by GEMS

This one is for those people in our lives who just get us and who know our scars yet still love us unconditionally. If you don’t have that yet, then don’t worry. You will. The opening line of, “Baby, I can’t bear it alone,” gets me every time.

9. “Outskirts of Paradise” by Bad Suns

This one has been helping me be more present. I tend to just go through the motions whenever I’m stressed, but it’s important to be mindful of every aspect of our lives so we don’t miss out on the good times because we’re constantly worried about something. “When the time comes, separate yourself, integrate yourself.”

10. “In Our Bones” by Against The Current

This one is empowerment in a bottle. We hold so much strength within ourselves, more than we know. Keep going. You got this!

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Image via Thinkstock.

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How to Love a Guy With Anxiety

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So I was browsing The Mighty, and I came across this wonderful article called “How to Love a Girl With Anxiety.” I thought it was a brilliant article, but I also decided that especially with the extremely small box of masculinity that our society and culture paint men in, it would be a great idea to write an article about “How to Love a Guy With Anxiety.”

My Personal Experience

Reading that article got me thinking back to one of my more recent exes. It was probably one of my happier relationships, but she never really understood my anxiety and panic attacks. One of the hardest moments I had to deal with in that relationship was when we went to a wedding together. At the reception, she told me her ex-boyfriend was there. I’m not particularly sure why my anxiety chose that particular time for me to have a panic attack, but it did.

I wasn’t afraid; I still can’t explain what it was that triggered me. But then again, I can’t explain most of the things that trigger my anxiety or panic attacks. Basically, as she introduced me to him, I shook his hand and then noticed my body was feeling really, really hot (one of the symptoms for me is sweating, and when my body gets all hot like that I know it’s coming). I had to “gracefully” make an excuse that there was “an important phone call I had to make” and go out by the street to chill (it was a massive lake house property, but there was nowhere to “hide” exactly).

I felt this was one of the most horribly emasculating moments in my life. I wondered what on Earth was wrong with me. I’ve never been afraid of a confrontation/fight, and there was literally no tension whatsoever. I couldn’t even stand next to my girlfriend with her ex there, let alone protect her if there had been an issue. My girlfriend called me a few times (I didn’t answer) and texted me worriedly when I didn’t come back for almost 30 minutes (I had texted her that I needed to be alone for a bit).

The anxiety didn’t go away for the rest of the day, and I missed the champagne toast as well as pretty much everything else. My girlfriend kept giving me weird looks on the ride home, and when we got back to her place, she asked me to tell her what was wrong and said she was there for me no matter what. I explained my panic attacks and anxiety (at the time, I wasn’t an activist or a blogger, so telling someone, even a romantic partner, was a lot harder!). Unfortunately, instead of understanding she tried to “educate” me on ways to get past the anxiety. I know she was just trying to help, but I’ve already tried working out and meditating. Hell, I do both of those things every day! It just bugged me, and when I saw the article about loving a girl with anxiety, I knew I had to write something for guys with anxiety.

What to Do

Please don’t try to give us tips to deal with it. Unless you struggle with serious anxiety yourself, you probably don’t know what we’re going through, and chances are we’ve tried everything you’re suggesting already anyway.

Comfort us. Even if we act “tough” and “manly,” we can be hurting on the inside, and we want your love and attention.

Show us you don’t think we’re less of a man. One of the first things that always runs through my head when I first tell a girl I’m seeing I have anxiety issues or depression is: “Will she think I’m weak/cowardly/less masculine/etc.?” Men in our society have a very small box we’re supposed to fit into by “societal standards,” and anxiety often is not in that box.

When he says “I’m OK” and puts a smile on, please realize he may be saying that for your benefit as much as his own. The trembling hands, the shaking knees and his insides churning — he can’t control it! Just hold his hand, and let him know you’re there for him no matter what. In my last relationship, my girlfriend knew just what to do when I had panic attacks/anxiety (she was a bit older than me and a nurse, so she knew her stuff). You can help. Just make sure you’re helping in the right way!

Image via Thinkstock.

Follow this journey on Ostomy Bag Swag.

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When You're Afraid to Take a Break to Deal With Your Mental Health

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It would be a little bit of an understatement to call me “over committed.” I actively participate in a wide range of activities that take up a lot of my daily life, such as rowing practices every morning, (supposedly) practicing the flute daily, and volunteering in various manners. This, along with keeping up with school, can get to be a lot.

I was diagnosed with both anxiety and depression half a year ago, but I can’t remember a time where I haven’t experienced my symptoms. I have pretty frequent low periods that can last as little as a few days to as much as a full month. In between those periods, going to school, sport practices, music rehearsals, and volunteering is manageable. In fact, these commitments tend to fuel me and push me to be the best I can be. But during my low periods, everything I’m normally able to do becomes a crushing weight that keeps me in bed and convinces me to push everyone around me away. This turns into a vicious cycle, where I am overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work that occupies my daily life, then tear myself apart about not being able to keep up and feeling weak. A constant reel of “you’re just being lazy, you should be able to handle this, other people have it worse” plays in my mind, pushing me deeper into a low mood and further away from everything I love. I begin to dread waking up and going to rowing practice, I put off practicing the flute, my school work is haphazardly done, and volunteering feels more like a chore than a fun co-curricular.

For months my life was in a turmoil. All of my after-school activities used to be what I turned to for stress relief, but they began to be the things causing almost unbearable amounts of stress and anxiety. Missing practices, rehearsals, and volunteer sessions didn’t feel like an option to me. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I didn’t want to upset my coach, my teammates, my music teacher, my friends, the grade three classroom I volunteer with. I didn’t want to appear weak. I didn’t want to seem like I couldn’t handle all of my commitments because I didn’t want to be forced to quit anything. I ran myself ragged trying to keep up, when all of me just wanted to quit everything and disappear.

What I didn’t understand then (and what I often forget now) is that no one is going to blame me for taking time off for myself. The phrase “your mental health is what’s most important” still sounds fake, as I’m sure it sounds to a lot of people, but I have to keep repeating it to myself (with the help of the lovely people in my life) until it feels true. What I’m trying to learn is that resting during the worst part of a low period is just as important as taking time off during a physical illness. It’s OK to miss a rehearsal. It’s OK to skip an early morning workout. It’s OK to sleep in when the world is just too rough to face at five in the morning. The judgment and anger I was afraid to face from the people in my life is exactly the opposite. There is nothing but concern and care for my well-being from everyone around me. While I still often become easily overwhelmed with the amount of commitments I have dedicated myself to, one day I will have grown enough to realize I do what I do because I love it, and it shouldn’t be something I stress over or dread. Until then, I just need to know that cutting myself some slack is more than OK.

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What Am I Without the Monster of Anxiety?

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What am I without anxiety? That’s a good question…

As I sit here and ponder that thought, I think of a life without my mental illness, a life where I am strong, inspired, empowering, kindhearted, honest and a wonderful mother.

Am I not all of those things now?

People’s kind words tell me I am. I thank them with a half hearted smile, thinking to myself if only they could see the weak and angry monster I see. If only they knew the fears that go along with waking up every day, how the simplest of tasks can become a terrifying nightmare.

I ask myself, “Why not show them my monster?”

The world can be cruel. Not everyone understands mental illness. I’m afraid of the cold whispers that would leave their lips. “She’s not all there, she’s sick, she could snap at any moment, she’s crazy, why haven’t they locked her up?” Such harsh words spit out of the mouths of those who don’t understand, so I decide to keep the monster in the home it created in my head.

“Could it really be that bad?” I hear them ask.

Imagine every moment of every day being fully indulged in fear… It’s dark outside late at night, and I see a black strange car with no lights on pull slowly up my street out my window. My monster takes over: “Must be a someone coming to harm you,” and an instant play-by-play of these horrible things happening go off in my head. My body runs cold while sweat spills from every pore, my hands shake ferociously, my heart pounds so hard I feel it in my toes, and I’m frozen, barely able to breath.

The smallest of things can feed my monster in another situation. I’m cooking dinner for my family and I hear them chatting quietly. The television is on for background noise. I am caught up in the moment of the happiness my home holds at the moment, and so the soup boils over on the red hot burner, creating a smoke and steam rising from the stove. “Smell that? Something’s burning, no one else smells it, you must be having a stroke,” my monster tells me. My head spins. I float out of my body, my hands tingle, my heart races. My son! “What will happen to my son if I hit this cold kitchen floor?” I ask myself in a panic while feeling I have no control over the answer. The world stops for a moment. My monster lets me feel every bit of its painful attack before I hear my son call my name and I’m brought back to reality — just long enough to await its next strike.

I know the stories my monster tells me are blown out of proportion. They’re always stronger than reality. Despite my best efforts to listen to the logic, the monster finds a way to seep through the cracks. Every day I wake up and wait for the innocence of my daily tasks to be taken over by that cruel monster.

“Why don’t you just tell it to leave?” you ask.

I want to. So badly. Every day I wake up and tell myself today is the day I slay the monster once and for all. I silence the monster’s worrisome voice and as a twisted punishment for doing so it sends me into a cool sweat, shaking hands, heart racing, tingling running through my overheating body. I am exhausted and mentally drained. Lack of sleep, nightmares and the constant skipping of meals from being nauseated by the attacks the monster brought on the night before. My mind is strained and fuzzy from fighting this horrific monster alone in my head. My body aches, my eyes are heavy, my hair is left greasy from last night’s pool of sweat. I am worn thin, barely a person some days. I want so badly for it to leave. I tell myself every day that I will overcome this hideous monster. I have faith and love, and that is what I need to fuel my strength in the quest to cage the monster my anxiety has become.

How am I going to mange the fear and the questions?

Well, you see, I was once told, “You are still you no matter your mental state. All of the tiny pieces you’re made of will still be in tact once the anxiety is under control.” It is still me who loves to watch my son play with his toys, who loves the giggles he lets seep out as he  talks to his dinosaurs. My heart sings when he sings me his sweet little songs made up of bits of the songs I enjoy singing him on a daily basis. It is still me who loves to go for long walks with my friends and laugh about each other’s stories. Those smiles we share are lit from the happiness in my heart. It is still me who loves to sit at home on cold winter nights in my fuzzy pajamas watching girly movies with my mom, cracking jokes about our own encounters similar to those in the movie. It is still me who loves the late night snuggles with my husband while we indulge in each other’s simplicity. Those are the moments I strive for the happy laughs instead of the fake ones, the proud tears instead of the ones cause by sadness, the funny stories instead of the fearful ones.

Every day I remind myself I am in this moment right now. I have to live my days moments at a time. My anxiety is not the only part of me. It took me a long time to believe that. It was not easy. I still have days where I’m battling the monster for my mind. I give it my all every day because I am that strong, inspiring and kindhearted person! I am that wonderful mother. I know that when I look at my son, see the smile on his face and the amazement in his eyes. Anxiety can be a terribly horrifying monster and others may not understand what I go through every day. But I have hope. I need to keep inspiring people around me and doing the things I love.

What am I without my anxiety?

I am me and proud to be.

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