sad man looking out window while hugging his knees

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.

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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 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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Many people are feeling the sting from the announcement that Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States. Half of America is celebrating while the other half is worried about the future of the world’s superpower and the lives that will be directly affected when he takes office in January.

Most of the world is watching indisbelief because of legitimate fears for the future of America and its people (notably Hispanic, black, muslim, LGBTQ+, women and immigrants). We are glued to the screen, soaking up much of what we did while watching what appeared to start as a proverbial joke among Republicans. Trump aggressively played the media for free advertising and won at America’s self-made reality show – a spinoff to “The Bachelor” called, “The President”.

Those of us who feel hurt in our hearts for our American friends and family must take time to stop engaging in this year’s political circus. It is seemingly unfathomable to get this 180 degree turn of American politics out of your mind, especially when you understand the negative impact that could come of this presidency, with evidence based strictly on his divisive rhetoric.

But you must. Even if only for a bit, you must unplug from the chaos.

Humans cannot survive without anxiety because it keeps us safe and is a part of our survival instinct. Only in the last couple hundred years have we created the technology needed to keep our fridges cold, lights on and intruders out of our homes. Westernized society has been evolving for centuries in hopes of maintaining a structure of peace and equilibrium needed to survive together as a species. Most of us go to the grocery store for our food instead of hunting wild animals with spears, which means the threats that trigger panic are no longer physical to our being. Instead, the panic button can be activated by perceived or future threats to our safety — and it’s hard to shut them off because we keep our minds stimulated by inputting more information from polls or opinions from friends.

With unfathomable thoughts surrounding the radical instability that may be the future of the world, it’s hard not to feel compelled to productively contribute to the conversation, but by tuning into every element of this election we are forgetting about our immediate surroundings. These projected, and very real threats, do not physically manifest in this very moment. While reading this right now, you may be sitting somewhere with your laptop or waiting in the line at the grocery store with your phone trying to stay updated about various perspectives regarding election outcomes. This is because when we feel engaged we feel like we’re contributing when all it’s doing is keeping us away from the reality of our surroundings.

Log out of your social media accounts. Close your eyes. Breathe. You’re allowed to escape into yourself by tuning out the influx of information that keeps our anxiety fueled. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about those affected — it means you’re taking time for your mind to recharge, which can only be done by unplugging. Even if only for one hour or five minutes at a time throughout the day, shut off the news and social media and do something else. You deserve a conscious break from the alarm in your mind that is telling you to be afraid in this very moment. You are safe right now, which is what you have power over when you allow yourself to. For those negatively affected, it’s easier said than done.

Original post officially appeared on The Huffington Post.

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When my son was born, I worried about his future. Like every parent, I worried about if he was eating enough, if he was sleeping enough, if I should let him cry it out or rock him to sleep.

Of course, since I had anxiety, I worried about a good deal more. Things like where he would go to kindergarten in five years and what he would do if someday I would have to live in a nursing home and he didn’t have a sibling to help him deal with that. You know, totally things you need to worry about when your child is six weeks old.

Ironically, the one thing I never thought to worry about was if he would have anxiety like me.

Well, he’s got it. I tried not to jump to conclusions when he was 3 and started having a hard time falling asleep or when he turned 4 and suddenly he didn’t want to leave my side anymore to go to kid’s church. I was pretty sure all kids went through those things at some point.

Then, around the age of 6, he stopped wanting to go places he normally enjoyed and started wanting to stay home all the time. Next, nightmares became so common he hated going to sleep. About six months ago, he started overreacting to even small setbacks and mistakes. Finally, at the start of this school year, he developed an intense fear of scissors, and I couldn’t ignore my concerns anymore. We went to see his pediatrician, and she confirmed he had a problem with anxiety.

The astounding thing to me is how similar his problems are to mine. I know exactly how he feels when he says he’d rather stay home than go to a friend’s birthday party. He had a meltdown a few months ago over that exact issue. All I could do was think back to when I had one that was really similar when I was 15. I wanted to go, but I didn’t. My fear-induced indecision made me miserable, and I could see that misery written all over his face.

As of lately (in fact, I had to stop working on this to go talk to him about this), he has been having some of my long-standing worries about death. They come at the same time too, right as he’s trying to fall asleep. Does anyone else have overwhelming fears right before bed? If you’re out there, then I understand your pain, and so does my son.

Last night, he had another indecision meltdown. I was busy with an online class while his daddy was putting him to bed. He wanted to come say goodnight to me, but his daddy, not knowing what he was up to, told him I was busy. My son got upset. Seeing how much it meant to him, my husband told him it was OK, that he could go say goodnight.

However, it was too late. The idea that it was wrong already entered his brain, and no matter what my husband said, he couldn’t convince him that it was OK. So he cried for a while until his daddy managed to distract him with a bedtime story.

When I was done with my class, my husband told me what had happened. I peeked into his room, but he was already asleep. As I stood there watching him, it hit me just how much he would struggle with this his entire life. I cried a little. Then, as it was that time of the night, I cried a lot.

Yet I’m 34, not 6, and along the way I’ve learned some coping mechanisms. I’ve learned to call my brain out on its BS. Instead of wallowing in misery over what my child had inherited from me, I asked myself what I could be thankful for about the situation. To my surprise, I came up with a pretty good list.

First and foremost, we have a bond because of this. No one understands his thinking like I do, and someday, he’ll be able to reciprocate that and understand me like no one else has before. We talk about our thoughts and feelings all the time, hopefully laying a foundation for a trusting relationship that will last for the rest of our lives.

Second, I can be his advocate in a way that no one ever advocated for me. My mother never even knew I had anxiety problems until after I had battled back a serious bout of postpartum anxiety. I can’t blame her. I didn’t even realize I had a problem until then because I had always had anxiety. I didn’t know life could be any different. Yet, I can speak up for my son and seek help for him while he is still young.

Third, we talk about our anxiety a lot: with each other, with other members of our family and with his therapist. All of that talk makes me more aware of my own internal processes. It also helps to normalize what is often stigmatized. Lord willing, he won’t have to feel the embarrassment I sometimes do over what goes on in my head.

Finally, his anxious thoughts aren’t the only thoughts he gets from me. He is an intelligent, creative and empathetic little boy. The deepest comfort for me was reflecting on how much I love my life, anxiety and all. I find so much joy in life, and hopefully, he will too.

I may not be able to take away his anxiety, but I can be there to help him with it. In the end, that’s enough for me. Even if it is right before my bedtime, and my brain is lying to me and telling me it’s not. Shut up brain. My son and I can handle this.

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Dear Anxiety,

It is not often that we personally address something which we cannot physically see, but I can feel you. I have been able to, for as long as I can remember. You’re part of me, and I dislike you as much as the lumps, bumps and flaws I’ve beaten myself up over for the longest time, which I can see. The lumps, bumps and flaws which aren’t even half as bad as you’ve had me believe.

I was even convinced at one point in my life I was too ugly to leave the house. I would spend my days in doors, hidden away from the world. I wasn’t too ugly, but I was too anxious.

I have periods where your toxic thoughts take over my mind, fill my soul with negative feelings and take away every bit of self-belief I have strived to gain. I have no photos of me holding my three children as babies, not one single photo. No visual memories of days out or birthdays with their proud mum, until this year. I did not want to look at myself, as I could not deal with the repulse I would feel. I hate you for that.

You’ve stolen hours, days, weeks and months from me, even a large part of my childhood where I struggled to make friends. The school days where I sat in my chair with my head down avoiding any kind of eye contact with the teacher during reading, filled with dread and fear that I would be asked to read aloud to the class.

My heart pounding. My head spinning. Sitting knowing the answers to questions, but not daring to raise my hand for the fear, the absolute humiliation of being wrong.

University wasn’t easy either. Believing I wasn’t smart enough to be on the course and I was heading for a fail from day one. Luckily, every single assignment I got back, proved you wrong. I graduated with a top marks, which I worked so hard to get, and I worked around being a single parent. I was good enough, and my confidence hit an all time high. I thought I’d beat you.

I hadn’t. You’ve been the most prominent part of my life for the last three or four years in particular. Where I have battled with you literally every, single day. You’ve made me tear myself up inside, to the point where when asked what it is I don’t like about myself, I had a list. I hated everything from the color of my hair to my overly bitten fingernails. You had messed with and taken over my mind to the extent that when I looked in the mirror, I didn’t see what everyone else saw. I only saw a horrific, distorted image.

You made me want to hide away. So I did. I isolated myself. I couldn’t deal with the world of thinking people are pointing and laughing at me. Thinking that everything that came out of my mouth was just plain, insignificant rubbish. I was convinced I’m unlikable and undeserving of friendships, which I find incredibly hard to make and maintain.

Eventually, I went for help. It’s from that help I was given the ammunition to fight you. I was put in a position where I had to identify and talk about my positive qualities and given the tools to challenge negative thoughts. I was given enough self-belief to realize I can be anything I want to be and began to pursue my dream.

I’m fully aware of you now. I can feel how you flood my thoughts and infest my mood with dark paralysis and despair. You are literally a demon.

I’m now at a place where I’ve become completely mindful. I’m finally in tune with my body and emotions. I can feel you creeping up on me.

As recent as three weeks ago, you had me convinced, yet again, that I’m a failure. You drained me for days. All the tears, the effort of pretending I’m fine when around other people whilst forcing a smile. The listening to my husbands words of positivity but choosing to ignore them, makes me exhausted, and him frustrated. Yet, I knew it would pass, and I just had to ride it out. You’ve gone now, and yet again, I’ve gained more strength. I’m winning.

So thank you anxiety, for giving me the courage to chase my dreams. I wouldn’t be writing this if it wasn’t for you. I wouldn’t be working my way towards a diploma in journalism, and I wouldn’t be taking care of myself and working out so much to release the natural endorphins, which help to keep your evil thoughts at bay.

I’m taking back my life, anxiety. So next time you try to worm your way in, don’t worry. I’ve got this.

This post originally appeared on Diary of a Cake Loving Fitness Junkie.

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