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How Looking Back at My Darkest Days Helps Me Through Present Anxiety

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I am anxious a lot of the time. I will never say it is a good thing in any way shape or form. But it has done one thing for me, something simple that often takes years to develop. It has taught me perspective. Before I talk about perspective, let me give you some.

I worked for one company for a long time. It was perpetually high-pressure, frenetic chaos, not unlike using an explosion to force out a cannon ball. I worked long, hard hours and stressed over everything, because I felt I had to. When I left work, my phone rang daily with urgent problems that needed sorting. The stress drove me past breaking. I was grateful for 12-hour “short” days. I never received gratitude or recognition. At the desperate encouragement of family and friends, I searched and searched for a new job. Hundreds and hundreds of applications.

Then, I got an offer. A good one. Thirty fewer hours a week, much less stress, I am liked by my customers, my boss and my team. I am good at what I do, and I get recognized for it. If a meeting runs late at the end of the day, they apologize for making me work late. I tell them it is not at all a problem; it is still a better day than my best day at the other place. I had one co-worker tell me to stop comparing what I do now to what I did then. But I cannot, and more to the point, I feel I should not.

Comparing my pile of good things (to steal a line from “Doctor Who”) to my pile of bad things does a couple very important things for me and my anxiety. It keeps me grateful and it keeps me humble. Being an anxious mess today might seem so overwhelming that I can barely breathe. I do not get through it by telling myself there are brighter days ahead. No, I get through it by looking back at the darkest, longest, most excruciating days and remembering I came out on the other side. For me, good things in the future mean nothing compared to the bad things I had to scratch and claw my way through. I can make it through this, not because karma will give me a treat for doing so, but because I have seen worse.

It lets me be grateful for my pile of good things. I am so grateful not to be working where I was that I am in a perpetually better mood at work (which means I also do better at work). Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. I hoard good memories and close friends and I cherish them because I have had some sh*tty days. I look calm and in command at my new job during stressful situations, because I have built up an immunity to it.

So when your anxiety rides towards you in dark, icy waves, know it will still be hard. It might just suck. But even if your pile of good things is small, they can shine brighter. They won’t even have to be great good things; they can shine out to you simply by comparison. Cherish them when they are there. That one friend or movie or park or song or whatever your talisman against the darkness is — be grateful for it. My stress and experience and anxiety gives me perspective. It helps me value my good things. I can face the dark times more head on, because I have seen worse. There are plenty of bad things out there, that is certain. So it is my practice to try, little by little, to create a good thing or two to toss out there. I invite each and every one of you to do the same.

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Tips for Business Meetings When You Have Anxiety

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As an introvert with anxiety, the ability to work from home has been a godsend. There’s no elevator small talk. Meetings are accomplished over text and email. The phone stays off, and my mind stays steady.

It may sound reclusive, but the truth is I do work better this way, because I’m not anxious about making a good impression. The computer doesn’t judge, and I don’t have to second-guess anything but the words on my screen.

There are times, however, when venturing out into the business world is unavoidable. When that happens, there are a few things that I’ve found can help take the edge off.

Before the Meeting:

Research. Use LinkedIn to look up those you’ll be meeting with. Not only can you get a better feel for their background, you can also find out what they look like, which may help ease the anxiety of meeting them in person for the first time.

Write it down. One of the worst parts of social anxiety, I feel, is that my brain tends to go blank during conversations. Knowing in advance what you need to discuss — and seeing it on the paper in front of you — can help keep things on track.

Dress the part. This might not be the best time to try out a new look. Rather, keep it simple, work appropriate, and most of all, well within your comfort zone.

The Day of the Meeting:

Do something special. Small comforts can make a big difference: a cup of your favorite tea, a new book, a cuddle with your cat — anything that takes you out of your mind (and your worries).

Remember. Think of something that makes you laugh, and take a minute to fall into that feeling. Then walk through the doors with a genuine smile on your face.

In the Meeting:

Take notes. Jot down the main points of what’s being discussed while continuing to pay attention to the speaker. This gives your hands something to do and can help you stay focused on what’s happening in the moment.

When in doubt, say so. Don’t be afraid to use the phrase “I don’t know,” followed by “I’ll research that and get back to you.” It’s better than panicking for a few minutes, searching for an answer.

Apologize. We’ve all probably said or done things in a moment of anxiety that made us cringe. I personally tend to cut people off — not because I’m a rude person, but because I’m nervous and trying to compensate by showing my understanding of the topic. I think the best thing to do when you make a mistake is say, “I’m sorry.” Then sit back, take a breath and listen.

After the Meeting:

Be gracious. When the meeting is over, make eye contact with those around you and say, “Thank you for meeting with me.” Everyone is busy, and recognition of that fact is most often appreciated.

Finally, let it go. When you’re driving home and all your brain wants to do is replay every single second of the experience, don’t. Turn on some music, roll down the windows, and let it go.

I know, easier said than done. But try to remember that with every experience (no matter how nerve-wracking) comes knowledge — knowledge we can use the next time we have to venture out into the big, bad world.

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7 Books That Helped Me Through My Toughest Times With Anxiety

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I’ve had anxiety for a long time, and I had my first panic attack when I was 14. I went through a bad episode that lasted a few months when I was 17, in which my anxiety was a lot more persistent.

It’s easy to forget the pain once it went back down. Yet, whenever it spiked again, I vowed to myself to never forget how real and unpleasant it could be. Through my persistent anxiety, distractions were one of a few things that would help. I would watch movie after movie in an attempt to distract myself, mainly children’s movies and Charlie Chaplin movies. I would also read, but nothing really stops the feeling of fear that lingers.

Nevertheless, distractions can ease the pain for a short moment. Through the years, I have collected quite a collection of books that I can often go back to and read when times get tough. These seven books helped me through my toughest times:

1. “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This intelligent and funny book entertained me, distracted me and made me laugh. It reminded me not to take things too seriously, even when my anxiety told me otherwise.

2. “Dracula

This well-written classic has a story that captures interest through centuries and kept my mind busy through hard times. Having been to Transylvania, this book is extra special to me.

3. “Clan of the Cave Bear

As an anthropology student, this book could capture my interest, even in high school. It is particularly well-researched and based on real anthropological and archaeological findings.

4. “Lord of the Flies

Another classic that managed to distract me from the non-stop fear that started to feel like a permanent part of me.

5. “Man’s Search for Meaning

Written by a psychiatrist who lived through a concentration camp, this book encourages people to find a meaning in life in order to avoid feelings of emptiness. This therapy is called logotherapy.

6. “The Collector

A story about a fictional kidnapping, reading this book about someone else’s pain made me forget my own for a short moment.

7. “Flowers for Algernon

Though this book’s main character deals with mental health related issues but does not identify as having a mental illness, I could identify with the issues it brought up.

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2 Simple Requests for the People on the Front Lines With Someone Battling Anxiety

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Thirty years.

Of tying up my shoes.

Of lacing up my gloves.

Of giving myself pep-talks.

Of building the best “team” possible, to remain ever-steadfast in my corner.

Ready, once more,

To go head to head with this relentless, seven-letter beast.

Going round, after round, after round,

Until I am too exhausted to fight anymore.

Taking a break.

And then preparing, yet again.

Literally living in limbo.

From fear to fear.

Worry to worry.

Panic to panic.

Always guarded.

Always preparing.

Always building that next “false” bridge.

While the one trailing behind crumbles to pieces.

For others like me, those living with chronic anxiety, our entire existence is about preparing ourselves for, pushing through and then, subsequently analyzing, those same “what ifs,” hiccups, speed bumps and mountains that for most, are simply shrugged off. For those able to embrace a more lighthearted and relaxed existence, it may be difficult, or even impossible, to understand what it’s like for someone struggling with day to day anxiety. Not to mention frustrating, exhausting and discouraging.

Believe me when we tell you, we understand. Because, how you feel about my anxiety? If there was a way to multiply that feeling by infinity, then you might possibly have a small glimpse into our hearts and minds. Into our daily battle. Through our latest “round.”

For those on the front lines with someone living with anxiety, those heading the charge hand in hand with a loved one against this ruthless and unyielding monster, there are two simple requests we have of you. Two tiny acts, that in the “heat” of the moment, are the perfect ways to show just truly how much you care.

1. Please, don’t ever dismiss me.

To you, it might be the most minuscule thing to worry about in the world, but to me it is greater than any mountain imaginable. To be told I am “silly,” “crazy” or what I am worried about is “nothing,” is completely heartbreaking. When you have anxiety, those “nothings” are everything. When you do dismiss me, it only causes an even more intense bottling up of worries and emotions, racing on a closed circuit track through my mind.

2. Please, don’t ever humiliate me.

Oh, how much this one hurts. I understand. What I might be anxious about might seem absolutely ridiculous to you. But to me? It is totally and completely “real.” It has persona. It fills my mind to the brim. Every waking second of my day. To make me feel ashamed for this, only makes me want to throw in the towel. To retreat. To forfeit the battle and pull away from my life even more than I already have.

When it feels like things have become “too much,” and you are not sure you have it in you to stay around, please know each of these battles are new and different for each of us. Each “round” of its own kind and likeness. Each one caused by a different or possibly recurring trigger. We sometimes have absolutely no knowledge, no control and no prediction of when this ogre might sneak back in again.

Your support means the absolute world to us. However, your unkind words, when you feel the need to unleash them, are the most hurtful of all. Together, we have learned just what this thief is capable of doing and of taking from “us.”

More than anything in the world, please understand, even if you can’t identify with this emotional rollercoaster ride of daily anxiety, even if in no possible way can you relate, even if you loathe it as much as I loathe it, there is nothing someone struggling with anxiety wants more than to have someone stay with us, through it all.

As encouragement.

As support.

As a companion.

And as a friend.

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What I Wish I Could Say to Those Who Surround Me and My Anxiety

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Mental health problems can do many things to a person: bring feelings of shame, embarrassment, stop you stepping outside your front door. Most of all, it makes me lose a sense of who I am. It stops me from doing things I want to do, from saying what I want to say. But only if I let it.

It is time to regain my voice, to speak out against the feelings of doubt and fear that make it seem impossible. Here are some of the things I wish I could say to the people around me.

Dear Stranger,

Thank you for looking the other way as I sit on the station platform, a table in a café, a bench in the park, with my head in my hands, foot tapping incessantly on the floor while I breathe deeply. In these moments, I would love nothing more than to disappear, and you turning your head allows me to do just that — to remember that what is happening to me is not a big deal helps me fade into the background, feel normal, feel like part of the world.

Dear Friend,

Thank you for not judging me. Thank you for taking me away from triggering situations and getting me to a safe space. Thank you for noticing when something is wrong and asking if I’m all right, seeing past my pathetic response. You know just what to do to make me laugh, to make me realize a phase of bad anxiety is exactly that, a phase, merely another bump in the road. I would have forgotten all the good in life without you, all the things I love and new things to learn to love. If I don’t want to do something because I am not well, you understand and do not question it. Even if I don’t want to talk, knowing you’re there should I need to is more than enough. It’s like having an army behind me.

Dear Mum,

Thank you for helping me piece my life back together – until you helped me do it, I didn’t realize how broken it was. Thank you for pushing me to stand on my own two feet while still being there behind me to support me if I take a step back. Thank you for teaching me it’s all right to fail and that I will get to where I want to be so long as I try hard. You’ve helped me in ways you wouldn’t even understand, and for that I will always be grateful.

Dear Dad,

Thank you for trying to understand, even though it involved changing your whole outlook on life. Thank you for knowing when I didn’t want to talk about it and that a simple hug was enough. Thank you for looking after me and showing me there are decent people in the world who can understand if they try hard enough,

Dear Family,

I know it was difficult to grasp what was happening at first with so little information. I won’t lie, your first attempts at help made me want to punch myself in the face. You tried to lecture me about my own problems as if you knew my mind better than I did. But you realized you were wrong. Thank you for making an effort to understand, and cater for my needs. Especially you, Grandad. Thank you for standing up for me and letting me know I’m not the only one to go through these situations. It has made us all the closer.

Dear Boyfriend,

You didn’t know me before this all started. I used to sometimes think I wish you had – you’d see how different I was, going about life in my slightly odd but care-free manner. I probably wouldn’t even seem that different – I still sing to myself when I walk down the street, I still watch embarrassing TV programs, I still really want to have the perfect slow dance. But a lot has changed, not that you would necessarily notice – it’s all on the inside, most of which I try to hide from you. Except, because of you, I know I don’t need to hide it. Thank you for teaching me to acknowledge the traits of my anxiety make me who I am. You tell me you love those parts of me, that they make me kind and caring of others. And I’m slowly starting to believe it. Thank you for holding my hand when I didn’t even know I needed it and never letting go. Thank you for walking beside me and encouraging me to take steps I never thought I could. But most of all, thank you for staying when so many others wouldn’t. Knowing you’re there makes me want to be better, for us and our future.

Dear Anxiety,

Thank you for making my life difficult because you have taught me to fight for what I want and never stop until I have it. You make me accomplish that little bit more than everyone else in getting there. Thank you for telling me not to do things because it makes me want to do them even more. Nothing feels as amazing as proving you wrong and showing I can do whatever I want. Thank you for making me overthink things because you allow me to put plans in place to keep you at bay and take control.

Thanks to you, I’ve learned who I am and more importantly, who I want to be. You’ve made me realize what I love about myself and what I need to change. You’ve made me realize who I am grateful to have in my life and who is not worth my time. You’ve made me remember why I wake up every morning and fight as hard as I do – for everyone around me.

A last final thank you – you’ve given me a voice to say what I’ve always wanted to. I hope you can do the same for others.

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Facing the World After Anxiety Kept Me Indoors

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In 11 days, I will be 24. In four and three-quarter hours, it will be midnight. The sun falling from view in a dozy 30. Five minutes and 52 seconds are left ticking by before my playlist switches tracks. There’s one cup of cold coffee on my bedside table.

Today was the first. It’s been 41 days of being inside, looking out. A spectator, not a participant. Somewhere in my 23 years and 354 days, I lost my admission pass, dropped my ticket stub. I twisted up the receipt until it was just a balled mass of black on white.

Somewhere in those years, I gently, and all-at-once, let go of my mind, and it’s strange. It’s strange how we are the puppeteers of our own thoughts, able to pull cords and tie knots in our own supplies of blood and air. How we have the ability to do everything and nothing, to live and breathe, to give up and let go.

It’s strange how your own mind can play tricks on you. How it can become a separate entity, detached and able to make you believe in the unnatural, the irrational, the inescapable.

It’s terrifying when you begin to realize how your mind can push you. To dread sleep for fear of not waking. Yet, it can dread being awake because every second is like the last, plagued with irrational fears conjured by your own Machiavellian creation.

Where food is poison. Sleep is impossible. Minutes seem infinite. Shaking is constant. You don’t want to cry. Yet, at the same time, all you want to do is cry. Your eyes are open, but the nightmare doesn’t stop.

Yet, today was the first. Forty-one days. Behind layers of glass and brick, letting my eyes live the life I want. Watching the raspy pull of branches billowing above the footsteps of neighbors. Trapped behind a window with envy for their life, their purpose, their simple ability to leave their home.

Yet, today was different. Today, the windows didn’t magnify the world. The glass didn’t encase me like a snow globe’s orb, rooting my body thickly in place in plastic and ceramic and dull glitter. This time, I wasn’t a motionless figure watching the outside dance in endless pirouettes, sixes and eights of tulle passing me by like the mist of affection in the arrivals lounge of an airport.

It’s been 41 days of the ordinary seeming impossible. Of rooms feeling smaller. Tastes being clumsy and mismatched. Days where love feels claustrophobic. Support feels like failure. Where life feels like a trap. Forty-one days where someone else’s mundane was my Everest.

I experience anxiety. I don’t “suffer” from it. It’s dripped into my chromosomes, melted into my blood and built up in the pigment of my eyes. I accept it as part of me.

Today was the first time in 41 days I felt able to leave home on my own again, and it was strange. Like stepping onto ice, and learning how to swipe your feet. My shoes felt odd. My arms didn’t know how to swing. I didn’t know where to look, and the sun seemed brighter than it should. Yet, I was outside, and I was alone. Surviving. Breathing. Overcoming fear.

In 11 days, I will be 24, and I’m still learning. How to live inside the body I have grown. How to shake someone’s hand firmly enough. How not to cry in public and how to turn around on a busy pavement when you know you’re walking the wrong way. I’m learning how to live with the thoughts that manifest in my head when something gets to be too much.

If I have to accept that the next 11, 20 or 50 days are spent learning how to cope and start again, then I will. Our feelings are fluid. Our experiences eternal. Memories can be lost, but the muscle remains. I’m training myself to live in a world that is evolving faster than we can see.

Anxiety makes you believe the unbelievable. The impossible. The bang-your-head-against-the-wall silliness. Yet, to you, it can seem as real as anything, as routine as a heartbeat. If today I experienced my first steps again for a second time, then I’ll learn how to start again.

I’m not ready to give up before my new chapter has even had a chance to begin.

This post originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

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