two young women sitting on a bed in their dorm room

To My Roommate Who's Witnessing My Anxiety Attack

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I know this probably wasn’t what you were hoping to come home to today. I know you may not want to see me this way. And trust me, I don’t want to be this way.

I notice your expressions of shock and concern. I see that you want to do something, that you want to help, but maybe you don’t know what to do. You might think it’s best if you just leave me alone, but I actually need you more than ever right now. So here’s what you can do:

Let me know I am safe. There is a profound disconnect occurring between my brain and body right now. I feel as though there is a very real, very imminent threat to my safety that is not grounded in reality. All logic has gone by the wayside, and my thoughts are racing at a million miles an hour. Let me know the contrary is true, that I am safe and OK. Help bring me back to reality before my thoughts consume me.

Hold me. I’m not saying this because I am desperate for your affection, I say this because it works. Studies have actually shown sustained physical contact can help slow biological rhythms. So if I’m panicking, hold me. Don’t let go until I come back to reality.

Just talk. I am desperate for anything to distract me from all the noise in my head. I may not be able to hold a conversation with you, but please keep talking. Tell me about your day, or find a funny story to chat about. It helps more than you might think.

Ask me if I’ve taken my medicine. Chances are I neglected to think about the benzodiazepines I have for emergency situations like this. Ask me if I’ve taken my meds, and if not, where to locate them. It also may be a good idea to grab a paper bag in case I hyperventilate before they have a chance to work.

Just be as understanding as you can. I know it can be hard to wrap your mind around this. I know you may not understand why this is happening or why I am this way. I don’t understand why I am this way. I know it can be easy to jump to conclusions, and I don’t blame you for that. Just, if you can, try to be empathetic.

Know that this will pass. And let me know that, too. This is only temporary, and everything will be OK.

Thank you for being here.

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Anxiety and the Fear of the Future

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“What is anxiety?”

When I hear those words, I panic… it’s what I do. Then I think (that’s also what I do). I respond, “Well, it’s having no desire to go to sleep because then I’ll have to wake up and face tomorrow. It’s thinking too much about things.” Once that conversation is over, I remember things I should have said. I think of things more in depth and go back to them or have that conversation again like a broken record, but anxiety, to me, is the fear of the future. When you have a fear of the future, you think about everything that could happen even if it’s impossible. Fearing the future is saying “just in case” a million times a day.

I also have a fear of the past and deal with depression. I fear past events, anxious that my past problems or days or anything from the past could shape me or set a reputation for me.

Fearing the past and fearing the future are difficult when you’re stuck in the present day. Top that all off with high school — the “greatest” days of my life. The endless visits to the counselors to tell them again and again I don’t need them to pull me out of class. Teachers knowing I’m depressed or anxious and feeling bad for me because I’m crying and don’t know why. Classmates staring because I look like a kiss up.

I think I will forever fear the future, and that’s OK. Fearing the future is anxiety. So, next time someone asks me, “What is anxiety?” I can continue to try and explain it until they pretend to understand, or I can simply tell them, “well, it’s my fear of the future.”

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Dear Anxiety, Let's Work Together

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Dear Anxiety,

You and I have not always been on the best of terms. In fact, you have been my enemy as far back as I can remember. Your warm cocoon of “what if” catastrophes has wrapped me in waves of heart racing, chest tightness, dizziness and short breaths. Your tempting aura has kept me out of the present moment and brought me into parts of my head I didn’t even know were there, parts I wished with all of my being weren’t there.

Although, I’ve always resented you, you’ve been with me since the beginning. You kept me safe when I was a kid, and you kept me out of trouble in adolescence. You pushed me to do well in school, to follow the rules and to be nice to everyone. If I may, however, it sometimes feels like you’re encroaching territory on which you don’t belong, like when your panic and tears postponed my high school Honors Physics exam for fear of falling into the black abyss of a C. (Update: The C didn’t ruin my life).

Recently though, I have to tell you, you have seriously overstepped your boundaries. You’ve forgotten about the things we used to do together, hand in hand, like yoga, traveling and time spent with family and friends. You used to love these things and now they set you off, like you’re in danger doing the things that once made you feel safest.

I get it, adulthood is scary, but from what I hear, adulthood can also be pretty great. There are parts of my mind not tainted by you that believe life is joy, love and happiness in its fullest and most well-rounded definition. There are parts of my mind that seek to spread compassion to all I meet and, most importantly, to love myself abundantly.

Yet, this is another hat you wear, Anxiety. In the most ironic way, you are helping me grow these parts of my mind. You’ve brought to the surface my deepest and darkest fears, the harmful thought patterns bubbling beneath my consciousness and the minutiae of self-loathing and insecurity have come directly to my attention so I could not avoid them any longer. Thanks to the debilitating messages you’ve sent from my mind through my body, I am forced to confront what I’ve suppressed since I decided life was something I would live to the very corners of its possibilities.

I know you mean well, Anxiety, and I know now you are, at your core, a survival instinct. I am grateful to you for keeping me alive, well and safe for so long. However, now I am no longer just appreciating you, I am accepting you. I am giving you full permission to flourish as a part of my very being because I know now there is no part of me that doesn’t belong. There is no part of me that is less than worthy, and so I accept and honor your messages just the way they are.

I invite you to help me build the life of my dreams, to walk in stride with me as I face things that trigger you. Let us work together on those things. Let us not be separate or at war. We know now this only makes things worse. From this day forward, you have an open invitation to come into me and to join the love that I intend every day to emit to the world.

Thanks for everything, and sorry it took me so long.

Love,
Elizabeth

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3 Things I'm Trying to Remember This Thanksgiving as Someone With Anxiety

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Thanksgiving.

I never really understood this holiday. Actually, starting from about November through the New Year, I have always dreaded this sequence of holidays. The hardest always came first: Thanksgiving. Growing up, I have little to no memory of my family sitting down at the table eating a nice meal together (whether it was normally on a regular basis or during Thanksgiving). When I went off to college, I thought things would be different. Instead, I spent my first Thanksgiving in college laying on the floor of my tiny dorm room, eating a frozen meal, watching some Food Network on my roommate’s television. The next Thanksgiving was no different, spending it alone in the dorm room yet again.

After leaving my first undergraduate institution for my alma mater (I transferred after sophomore year, but that story is for another post), the flight became more expensive, the journey longer (now it is a four hour flight instead of one hour). I never did find a family to spend Thanksgiving with. I never did have friends who stayed behind. I wasn’t a part of any student organization or church group that hosted “friendsgiving.” I ended up just going into lab to work during Thanksgiving break.

Until two years ago. Everything changed. At the end of fall quarter my senior year, I met my mentor and dear friend. I saw her regularly as my senior year ended and my graduate studies began the following year. I remember the conversation vividly. We were sitting in her office – my sister, my rescue pup, and herself – chatting about the upcoming holidays and what my family did during that time. We were all on the floor trying to pet and play with my pup when she announced I would celebrate Thanksgiving with her family. I was shocked. I was stunned. I had never been a part of anything like this before. That was my first Thanksgiving ever. I had never felt more loved and cared about in that moment, standing in her kitchen, wearing a paper crown, holding my pup and surrounded by her kids. I helped win the pie contest that year.

This year I will be celebrating with them again. However, I do have a lot of anxiety surrounding the holiday. I am in anorexia recovery and struggle with severe anxiety, especially in large groups of people. I get scared of what people think of me – this happens when I am the only person of color or the different one in a group – and I start to busy myself with dishes, serving others, etc. I forget to stop and just be in the moment, to enjoy spending time with the people I love and the people that love me, for simply being me.

This Thanksgiving, here are some things to remember. Whether you are with an adoptive family, your own nuclear family, or friends, keep this in mind (these are as much for myself as for anybody reading this):

1. Be in the moment. This may be the only time the entire year your relatives and family
get together, or the only time your friends all see each other. So remember to stay in the moment and cherish the memories that are being made.

2. Let your guard down a bit. Just take a deep breath and think about how much people in the room love you. Remind yourself how much you love all the people in the room. Just be genuine, just be simply you.

3. Try to savor one bite at a time. I struggle with this, being in anorexia recovery. I still count calories and worry a lot about my body image. But try, please try, to not worry about the calories you are consuming and try to savor each bite of food this Thanksgiving. Don’t think about the fact that “I need to run this off the next day” or “I can’t have this extra slice of pie” because you are eating to nourish your body, to feed your brain the glucose it needs to keep you alive and well. And you are with loved ones. So please, cherish the moment.

Let’s try and enjoy this Thanksgiving this year. It’s the one time during the year where we are able to let down our guard and be surrounded by people we love and care deeply about.

Stay strong, keep fighting. Together we will make it through.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Coping With Holiday Anxiety

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The holiday season is upon us, and I am already anxious about my upcoming anxiety. It may seem silly, but ever since puberty when I was first diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I have predictably cried during every holiday, especially Christmas. It’s always for different “reasons,” but it’s ultimately the same: holiday anxiety. My family has a lot of October birthdays, and then with November birthdays (including mine) packed in with Thanksgiving and Christmas, I become overwhelmed. I both love and hate this season. It is my favorite and my least favorite.

The first few years after my diagnosis, I was so confused when Christmas day came and I was overjoyed but still always ended up in tears. Sometimes I couldn’t give you a reason, but sometimes, a perceived slight or self-criticism was at the core. Several Christmases I could not afford a lot for gifts. As I have a rather large family and I always want to make donations during the holiday seasons, I decided to buy bags of food for those in need and then give those “gifts” as gifts. I thought it was perfect, as my family loves helping those in need just as much as I do. But when the day came and they opened those envelopes, I was filled both with dread and complete confidence that it was the worst gift I could have given. Now that I’m an adult, I find myself getting emotional when certain traditions aren’t followed. It’s not until after my breakdown that I am actually able to verbalize what triggered my overwhelming anxiety.

Many of us hold the holidays close. Even when we don’t have high expectations, we often have hope — and for those of us with anxiety who must plan and prepare both in actuality and emotionally, it can become overwhelming very quickly. We may think of talking to family we don’t see all year and telling them all the good things we accomplished, only to fear we didn’t accomplish enough. We may try to practice strategies to keep from arguing with that sibling or aunt we always seem to argue with, only to fall into the same cycle year after year. We might think of how we’ve gained weight over the year and will be judged, or that guests will be attending the festivities who we feel we must impress. And nothing goes perfectly, and the strategies we’ve practiced don’t help. When it started for me in middle school, it was that I only really wanted one gift and it never came (or my brother got it instead!). But with the onset of anxiety, I became less capable of being able to steady myself in those tumultuous moments.

If you know someone with anxiety, you might check in with them and help them realistically adjust their expectations for the celebrations. You might talk to them about the people they are worried about interacting with and offer to try to be a part of those conversations to help steady them. Most of all, if they cry or escape the festivities, be understanding. Check in, but give them their space to steady themselves if they need. Let them know that you care, you understand, and you are there for them no matter what.

If you are someone struggling with anxiety during the holidays, know you are not alone! It is your anxiety causing your outbursts, not you, and those who love you are not going to abandon you because of a hard day. You have not ruined everyone’s celebration, and it is OK to be overwhelmed. I learned to take myself out of the hustle and bustle when I get overwhelmed and take private time to calm down. And when you feel like you’ve had enough and have to leave, leave and don’t feel bad about it. Choose someone you trust to tell that you need to leave and to tell everyone goodbye. Don’t blame yourself for leaving. It is your anxiety, not you.

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Dear Anxiety, Here's What You've Taught Me

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I know you can’t help it, no matter what others may say. All you want is to keep me safe, but this world has far too many things you think are deadly. Deadlines, relationship stressors, the bill at the end of the month — they might as well be an AK-47 trained against my temple. You, anxiety, are the panicked deer in the forest. See the unknown about to attack and you will do anything to react. Fight, flight or freeze is your oxygen and my fear.

You have left marks on my body, from the bittersweet love affair I have with foods I can no longer tolerate, to the etchings on my teeth where every night you wear away your worries. Your alert systems are always on the go, and my body battles to keep up with the demands at times. Yet, even in the dark of midnight, you always find the strength to keep wondering, worrying and wearing the night down. I admire your tenacity, honestly, even when I would rather be sleeping.

That tenacity keeps me going sometimes when I might not otherwise. When depression attaches lead weights to my ribs, you are what gets me up in the morning. You motivate me to show up and be a part of the world, even when that feels harder with you around thinking constantly how that world is reacting to me. You help me achieve my goals, get through tasks and see out days with the energy you give me. There are many things I may not have done without your push of “you should” nudging me over the line of doubt.

You have allowed me to know my mind and my body much better than I would have otherwise. I know the rhythms of my mind, what makes it run better and what stalls me in my tracks. I know the importance of air in my lungs, the depth I need to reach to find calm. I know the sound of my heart at rest and the sound of my heart trying to fly in a panic attack. I’m so aware of that because of you, and I appreciate how my body runs smoothly for the most part because of the times you’ve shown me what happens when it fails.

You have taught me how important the people in my life are and why I need to keep them close. You have taught me empathy, understanding and kindness. I can understand when someone else can’t communicate because of the noise in their head, and I know the peace a person needs to come back.

You are part of me. You have taught me lessons, some hard but worth it. You have taught me gratitude. Would I trade you? Depends what day you ask me. For now, I focus on what I can do because of you, what I can do despite you and not what I can’t do with you. That is how I find my peace with you.

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