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Escaping the Deep, Dark Pit of Anxiety and Depression

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I wake with a start and jerk upright. Eyes wide, searching around my room frantically. I crane my head around the edges of my bed. Searching. But for what? A sigh of relief and shame as I realize I only woke up due to my anxiety disorder. A ray of sunlight pokes through the window and spreads across my chest. It desperately tries to reach me. My depression, however, refuses to let the light in. Refuses to let the light shine through. I’m essentially a deep, dark pit.

It gets very discouraging and grim on my worst days. You could tell me world hunger was solved and I would smile, nod curtly and return to the hurricane swirling and raging in my head.

It doesn’t matter. Everyone will die eventually. You and everyone you love. And after exhausting those thoughts, my brain will totally switch gears on me. Did you really lock the door this morning when you left your house? I don’t think so, my dark passenger says to me with the crooked smile I can imagine is on its face. So, how can I destroy your happiness today? Oh, I know! I will torment you by making you think everyone you care about is suffering because of you.

I am at work and it hits me. I can feel the storm begin to surge in my head. I do not think you fixed that problem correctly. I mean come on. Do you really think that is how it is done? Why did you even choose this profession? How did you even drive to work today on your own? Why the hell did you even get out of bed this morning?

I get out of my chair at this point. My head is pounding. My heart is racing. I feel myself losing all control of my emotions, my thoughts, my self… I walk into the bathroom, wave and smile at a coworker and ask them how they are. Then I dart into the bathroom and shut the door and lock it behind me. I look at myself in the mirror in disgust.

Is it nausea? I feel sick. All the while this storm rages in my mind, holding me hostage. It pokes me in my locked cage with thoughts of doubt, self-loathing, shame, guilt, despair and the feeling of being completely and utterly terrified.

On my better days, it goes a little something like this: Alright. Let’s see what’s on my list of things to use against you. Guilt and shame were used yesterday, I’ll put a pin by those two since they are so effective. How about a panic attack?

It starts almost instantly. I can feel it coming.

Wait!” I tell myself. “You will be absolutely fine! You have a wife, family, and friends who love you and care about you so very much! You are not defined by your illness, silly! You and only you can define who you are! I guarantee whatever happened today will pass like every other storm and you’ll rise above this. You. Can. Beat. This.”

Bam. I can feel my heartbeats slow. I can feel the hurricane begin to cease inside my head. My neck and shoulders are killing because of the stress, but I did it. I survived.

If there is anything I have learned from depression and anxiety, it’s that you have to celebrate the battles won. If you don’t you will never begin making progress on dealing with the illness you have.

At the end of the day, my illness does not define me. My anxiety, my panic attacks and my depression consuming my mind like a vast black hole do not define me.

No. No. I define myself.

I get to decide what choices I make. Even when I can’t realize it on my bad days, I always have a choice. I am choosing hope. I am choosing faith. I am choosing love. I am choosing to never give up and let this illness win. I am choosing not to be completely consumed and destroyed by my deep, dark pit.

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The Anxiety Before the Storm

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My anxiety voice is strong in my head tonight. It’s storming here in Alabama, and it’s supposed to get bad. The lights at work flickered a few times, and the traffic light near my work went out for awhile. My lights in my apartment have flickered a few times, and the street lights outside my apartment went out about an hour ago.

Inside my brain, the storm is raging just as much as it is outside.

“If you go to sleep, the power will go out. Then, your phone will die, and you won’t wake up for work!”

My anxiety screams at me.

“It’s better to just not sleep!”

It yells in a panic.

I try to ignore it and go about my nightly routine. My heart is racing like there is no tomorrow, and I can’t stop moving my hands or my feet. Sometimes both. As I type this and my fingers fly across the keyboard, my foot is also tapping rhythmically, even though there is no music playing. I put my pajamas on and curl up in my bed but that seems to make it worse now that I’m not pacing around my apartment.

I’m trying to be still, but my body needs to move. I don’t want to be alone if the power goes out so I call my closest friend in the area and pray she’ll be able to come sit with me. She always calms me down.

As the phone rings, my anxiety shouts again, “Why are you calling her? You’re such a burden! She’s got a life. She doesn’t have time for you! No one wants to come sit with you so you calm down! You’re crazy!”

The call goes to voicemail, and I hang up not even bothering to leave a message. I text her instead. I still feel like a burden. She’s at work and will be for a few more hours. I tell her it’s fine and pretend I’m not as desperate for company as I actually am.

I stop pacing and try lying down in bed again. I turn on a movie. It doesn’t help. I can’t focus anyway. I make a few posts for Instagram and get excited when they quickly get liked. I post to Facebook. I try the movie again. Still no focus.

So now, here I am. Writing. It’s helping a little. Writing always seems to calm me down. I get my thoughts out and feel slightly more normal. Already my heart is slowing and my fingers are flying a bit slower. My foot on the other hand just keeps tapping.

I pause from writing and put some Stress Away essential oil in my diffuser. I take a big, deep breath, and my whole body stands still for just a second. I breathe deeply again, and suddenly, I think I can process my own thoughts.

I sit back down in bed, and my foot stops tapping as I continue writing. I wish I could think of my oils first and not as a last resort when I’m feeling anxious. I’ve been in this whirlwind for two and a half hours, and I just now turned on my diffuser, which is always my saving grace. I need to remember to tell my friends to remind me to turn it on when I’m freaking out. Maybe eventually I’ll be able to remind myself.

Perhaps, now I can watch this movie. I put on “Twister.” It’s the movie my family and I watched every time it stormed back home. It reminds me of them, and I hoped it would calm me down. It didn’t make me worse, but it didn’t help either.

Writing seems to have helped a bit, along with my oils. I’m glad I’ve learned so many coping mechanisms since I began therapy. At least, I can think of things that might help. One step at a time. I will get through this, and you will too.

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When You Have an Anxiety Disorder Amidst a Crisis

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fires in israel

Firstly, let’s just clear something up: I live in Israel, and coping with terror attacks and crises is just part of my daily routine. Over the last few days, there has been a major suspected terror attack going on. Bigger than the usual ones. Suspicious fires have spread around the country, lit in random cities, and then the wind — which is at its worst at the moment — just did its job. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated, and thousands of people have lost their homes and pets. Entire cities have been completely burned down, not to mention forests and wildlife.

I haven’t seen any coverage of this on the international news, but let’s not take this post to politics. Let’s take it to mental health, because that’s why we’re all here. How does a person with anxiety cope with all this? She doesn’t. She curls up in bed and cries and cries, shaking, terrified of losing everything she’s got — all her diaries, her letters from loved ones, everything she’s ever written, or worse, her dog and herself. She takes her meds, but they barely help; they keep her calm for a few hours, but then suddenly it’s all back. She takes more, and again she’s OK for a few hours. But then she hears the fire is getting closer and closer to her town. She wants to take more pills, but she’s already accidentally taken more than the recommended daily dosage.

She tries to find someone to comfort her. She turns to her friend, but her friend is stressing out just as much as she is and snaps at her. She doesn’t want to comfort someone else when she’s barely coping on her own. She snarls a bunch of swear words, and the girl becomes sorry she even asked. She feels hurt and scared, not to mention lonely. Although the fires are somewhat under control, the girl is still terrified. The little voice in her head keeps telling her that although now it’s calm, it’s going to get worse soon. The voice is telling her that for the second time in her life, she is so close to losing it.

All over the country, people are opening up their homes for those who have been evacuated. The girl knows all she needs to do to be safe is pick up the phone and someone will take care of her — but her anxiety is holding her back. Not letting her move. She’s frozen to the spot and can’t do anything. She’s terrified.

I want to get help, but my anxiety won’t let me.

Lead image via Thinkstock.

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12 Ways to Help Loosen Anxiety’s Grip

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Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.” – Jodi Picoult

Sometimes, I feel a nonstop sense of panic. It feels as though something bad is coming, although I don’t know what it is. This is when I know anxiety has a grip on me. Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.

I often wonder what it would feel like to not worry. My doctor once said, “Anxiety is an owl looking for a place to roost.” A person with an anxiety disorder can always have something to feel anxious about. People with anxiety feel like they are trying to save a drowning person, who has a grip on them, but they can’t let the person go to save themselves.

Anxiety clings to you and pulls you down. Intellectually we know there is nothing bad coming. Yet, emotionally we are waiting for the next terrible thing to happen.

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength, carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” – Corrie ten Boom

Carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength means carrying the worries of things we can’t control. We can’t control the things we worry about and we worry about things that are beyond our control. We use up a great deal of energy worrying and feeling anxious. It can be extremely exhausting. I get most anxious when I am faced with something I can’t control, like the reactions of other people, trying to find a parking spot or driving somewhere and getting lost.

What can we do about living with anxiety? How can we live a full life when we are in a state of worry and apprehension? Here are some tips for coping with anxiety.

1. Learn relaxation techniques.

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This might mean meditation, breathing exercises or muscle relaxation techniques.

2. Challenge your negative thinking.

One of my biggest worries is about my car. I am always sure it is going to blow up or get a flat tire. I manage it by talking myself through the scenario. Will my car actually blow up? No. Cars don’t spontaneously explode. Could I really get a flat tire? Yes, it could happen. Will it kill me? No. It will suck, and I will be OK.

3. Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake.

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Both alcohol and caffeine can make your anxiety worse.

4. Get enough sleep.

When you are sleep deprived, you are more prone to worry. When you are in a state of anxiety, you need more rest.

5. Exercise.

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Something as simple as going for walks can really help to manage your symptoms.

6. Be mindful of what you eat.

Eating foods high in antioxidants like blueberries, almonds, dark chocolate, fish and pumpkin seeds is said to lower the hormones responsible for stress. I don’t know if this is true, but there are no negative effects to eating these things. So go for it.

7. Say no.

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Seriously, say no. It is important not to become overwhelmed by commitments. We lead such busy lives, and we over commit ourselves. Learning your limits and respecting yourself enough to enforce them is a wonderful gift. This might mean staying home on a Friday night when all your friends are out having fun. That is OK. You don’t have to do everything.

8. Keep a journal for times when you are anxious.

This can help to identify what you are feeling anxious about. As you journal and discover what is causing your apprehension and fears, you can uncover the things that are within your control. Then, you can make changes to the situation. Of course, there are situations beyond your control, and you can focus on the things that you can change.

9. Set aside “worry time.”

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I give myself 20 minutes each day where I allow myself to worry about everything. I can stress, freak out and run every situation over and over again in my head. When the 20 minutes is up, I am finished. There is no more worrying allowed.

10. Have an uplifting distraction.

I put in my earphones and listen to happy music, music that makes me feel good or music that has positive memories tied to it. When I feel like it, I dance along. It is almost impossible to feel anything but happy when you are dancing and singing along to “Sweet Home Alabama.”

11. Use positive thoughts to challenge the negative ones.

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It important that these thoughts contain the word “and” instead of the word “but.” The word “but” negates the first part of the sentence. Challenging negative thoughts doesn’t mean erasing them. It means allowing them to exist while acknowledging there are other possibilities. For example, “This is scary and I will be OK,” or “This is awful, and I have some strategies to deal with it.”

12. Ask for help.

If anxiety is running your life, then seek support from friends and family and potentially from a health care professional.

Living with anxiety is really challenging. I get it. It sucks. Thankfully, there are ways to manage your anxiety, and you don’t have to do it alone. Remember to be kind and compassionate with yourself.

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Images by Kira McCarthy

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3 Strategies That Have Helped Me Take Control of My Anxiety

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To the outside world and the majority of my social group, I’m a fairly outgoing person. I’m happy to chat to people in social situations. I can be funny and occasionally even charming, and I generally appear comfortable interacting with others. For the past five to six years, however, I’ve struggled with an increasing level of anxiety around things that most other people would look forward to. The idea of holidays or travel can set off minor panic attacks, and anything that breaks my usual routine can result in a day or more of feeling generally anxious.

Of course, like many people, I’ve become good at hiding it. Except for a couple of extremely close friends and my girlfriend, nobody would know I struggle with any kind of anxiety. Over the years, I’ve become adept at covering my symptoms with a mask and generally pretending they’re not there. Yet, recently I’ve been trying to take a different route. Rather than simply hiding or trying to ignore my anxiety, I’ve been attempting to adopt strategies that not only allow me to cope better, but allow me to control or reduce my symptoms as much as possible. I’d like to share the most effective of these strategies with you here.

1. Meditation and breathing

It seems any guide to anxiety will likely list meditation as a recommended exercise. In fact, it was a blog post on anxiety coping strategies where I first came across it. Yet, I have to say it can be really effective, particularly if you’re willing to adopt it as a regular (or ideally daily) exercise. Every day at 5.45 p.m., I spend at least 15 minutes meditating, and I’ve found guided meditation especially useful. There’s something about the concept of mindfulness and forcing the brain, both consciously and subconsciously, to focus on breathing rather than the usual stuff that clogs up your mind that is extremely relaxing.

A word of warning with meditation: It can take a little while before you really start to notice the benefits. In the short term, the lack of noticeable results may put you off. It’s by no means a quick fix, but if you’re willing to stick with it, then it can be really helpful in the long run. For those willing to give it a try (and I would suggest you do so for at least a month), I would highly recommend Headspace. They have a free trial so you don’t have to pay to try it, and they have a specific program for anxiety that I found really helpful.

In general, focusing on your breathing is a really useful technique for controlling the symptoms of anxiety, particularly if you find yourself having a panic attack. You can do this without practicing meditation, but as a large part of meditation involves focusing on the breathing, it’s a great way of getting you into this habit.

2. Counseling

Initially, I was resistant to the idea of seeing a psychiatrist, but after trying for a few years to cope on my own, I decided to go down this route as my symptoms were becoming frequent, less predictable and more severe. Of course, not everyone can afford to talk to someone, but there are options available even if you can’t pay for a private psychiatrist.

For me, it felt like going to see someone was me starting the process of taking back control. No longer was I willing to lead my life around the anxiety, letting it control what I could and couldn’t do. I felt like I was being proactive and taking responsibility for my condition and on some level that I was admitting it to myself. It’s a slow process, but since I’ve engaged in counseling aimed specifically at dealing with anxiety, I have begun to gain back some control over my life. Even when I do feel anxious, I feel better prepared to face it head on. There’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of in talking to someone, and if that person is trained to help people cope with anxiety, then really you have nothing to lose.

3. Change the story you tell yourself

A little while ago I started reading about the stoics and their philosophy toward life, in particular their ability to understand that you cannot control external events. Instead, the only thing you can control is the way you react to events and your emotional response. While I was thinking about this, I came across an infographic about optical illusions, which is here if you want to have a look. In this piece, they talk about how our brains make assumptions about the world and how our perception of what’s happening is often different from reality. In essence, we don’t always see what’s real.

Think about this for a second. Our subjective perception does not always match reality, which to me that’s anxiety in a nutshell. Your brain is interpreting situations as being worthy of an adrenaline response when in reality no such response is needed. You are literally misinterpreting reality, and it’s this erroneous perception of danger or a cause for concern that is, in essence, the problem.

To me, this was something of a revelation. It led to a new found approach to my condition, one in which I would actively try to change my perception rather than simply accept it. We all tell ourselves stories every day about who we are and about how we react to things, but there is absolutely nothing to stop you from changing this story.

I used to think of myself as an anxious person, a person who tries to avoid parties or nights out and a person who can’t go anywhere overnight. One day, I decided to change this story. Instead, I now think of myself as someone who occasionally gets anxious but who is dealing with it. Someone who is getting better. You’d be amazed at the impact this subtle change in thinking can have.

If you’re interested in reading more about the stoic philosophy, our perception of reality and the stories we tell ourselves, I would greatly recommend reading “Happy” by Derren Brown. It can be heavy reading at times, but it’s well worth the effort.

To me, these three techniques have been by far the most helpful (and trust me, I’ve tried a lot of different methods). Ultimately, it’s all about finding what works for you and sticking with it. Personally, what’s had the greatest impact for me is simply refusing to accept this was “just the way it is.” I accepted my condition and made a commitment to get better, regardless of how long that might take. I’m by no means anxiety-free, but these days I find that I’m better able to control my symptoms and I’m definitely less prone to panic attacks.

Do let me know how you get on if you decide to adopt any of these techniques. If they prove helpful to just one person, then it was worth writing this post. I have a few other techniques I’d be happy to discuss.

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When My Day Starts With a Battle in My Head Between Anxiety and Depression

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The hardest part of my day every day is getting up in the morning. Saturday isn’t so bad depending on the week because I might not have to get up except to walk my dogs. But weekday mornings are terrible. I typically wake up two and a half to three hours before I have to leave for work every morning.

On a regular weekday morning, I start my day with a battle in my head. My depression tells me not to get out of bed at all because it’s not really worth the energy it takes to get out of bed. Then my anxiety chimes in and begins to argue. My depression often has a laid-back kind of voice, while my anxiety talks fast. Those of you who know me can probably tell when my anxiety is high because my outer voice begins to sound like the anxiety voice I hear inside my head. It rushes and is sometimes hard to understand. I know I am talking about my anxiety and my depression as if they are people living inside my head, but that is truly how I feel sometimes. The movie “Inside Out” depicts how I imagine the inside of my brain to be. It feels like I am run by several different people who live inside my head. Depression and anxiety happen to be two of those people.

My anxiety argues with my depression. In the mornings it tells me I have to get out of bed because if I don’t I will be late for work, and my boss will get mad. In reality, I know I have another 30 to 45 minutes until I actually have to get out of bed before late would even be a minor possibility, because I leave time for this argument. There are few days where I wake up and this argument does not take place. It is a back-and-forth argument that takes way too long. Eventually my bladder kicks in and I get out of bed to use the bathroom. Then I return to my room to get ready for work.

My depression tells me to climb back into bed because I have plenty of time. My anxiety says I spent too much time in the bathroom and I’m already behind schedule. They argue some more, and I pace around my apartment. I walk to the closet. I stand and stare at my bed. I walk to the living room where my clean laundry usually is because it’s folded nicely in the basket, but it still has not made it to the closet to be put away. I don’t look in the basket or the closet for clothes to wear for the day until the second or third time I walk to them.

My anxiety then kicks in again as I try to find something to wear. Jobs that require uniforms are much better for me because I know what I have to wear and I don’t have to make decisions. Part of me knows that no one at work is really judging what I wear as long as I am in work-appropriate clothing. My anxiety believes otherwise. My anxiety wants to be popular and look “perfect” everyday. I had the day off today, and I wore sweatpants all day. I had to drive a friend to work this morning, and my depression told me not to bother showering, so I wore a scarf on my head all day to hide my hair. When another friend FaceTimed me, I couldn’t answer because my anxiety told me my scarf-wrapped hair looked horrible and my friend was going to judge me for it. I know this particular friend would never do that, but I still couldn’t bring myself to answer. This is my battle of having depression and anxiety.

I’m usually ready for work 40 to 45 minutes before I need to leave for work. All I need to do in that time is eat breakfast. It takes me a while to decide what to have for breakfast. Some mornings I’m hungry, other mornings I’m not hungry at all. But I always make myself eat breakfast. Then, more often than not, I crawl into bed with my breakfast and eat while watching Netflix. Twenty minutes before work begins, an alarm goes off on my phone so I can force myself back out of bed, put my shoes on, get my work bag and head off to work. Some days it takes me five to 10 minutes to get myself out of bed again because the same old argument happens. Luckily I live eight minutes from work, so again I have time for the argument.

Once I am at work, I’m typically OK. Getting there in the morning is truly a struggle every single day. Approximately two to three days a month, I wake up having a fantastic day. On those days, I jump out of bed, find clothes easily and walk around with a smile on my face. On those days, I do dishes before breakfast. I clean my kitchen. I play with my puppy. I get stuff done. I wish those days came more often. I wish I had that much energy every day. I wish I could be more productive on a regular basis, but at least I’m able to make it to work. If I didn’t have anxiety about paying my bills and making ends meet, I probably would still be lying in bed.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. It’s taken me a long time to realize I’m not alone. I want you all to know you’re not alone either. There are people out there feeling the same way you do. We will all make it through this. Most days I’m completely exhausted because I get up so much earlier than I have to, but it works for me. I hope you find what works for you, too. I hope you find a way to manage your mental health. Keep fighting. Keep going. Things do get better.

Follow this journey on Essentially Hopefilled.

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