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I’ve been reading a lot lately about “high-functioning” depression and anxiety. I possess both. Most of the time I am able to be a high achiever and people who don’t know me well don’t realize how much I struggle to keep on the straight and narrow. One aspect of this I have seen over and over in my reading, and was recently made aware of within my own counseling sessions is imposter syndrome, or feeling like a fraud.

Trapped in seemingly successful achievement but shrouded in self-doubt, it is almost impossible for us to accept any success. In school, if I made a 98% in a class I kicked myself because why wasn’t it a 100%? At work, if ever I am called into a meeting with the supervisor I am filled with dread that I will be fired or chastised for something… often I don’t have any idea what it may be for, but I expect myself to fail and fail big. It gets to where I am working in a job, a career I love but am terrified to actually go to work for fear of screwing up, or more precisely, for fear of being pointed out by my boss that I am a total failure.

I spend so much time trying to prepare myself for these punches that I never notice if I am getting a raise or if I am proud of my own work. It is never-ending expectation of failure. I feel like an imposter. I have imposter syndrome.

When people tell you not to forget about those of us who succeed but are incredibly depressed or have insurmountable anxiety, they are explaining that while to you we may be succeeding, to us we are complete failures. And no one ever validates our feelings or recognizes we are feeling that way at all. We are constantly disappointing ourselves, but we hide behind a calm veneer. We feel we should be doing so much better. We go home to stare at the empty walls of our minds where all our achievements are supposed to hang, but we’ve torn them all to shreds.

We beg you to see us! We beg you to tell us, “You may not believe it, but you’re doing a great job! And if you need me to, I will continue to remind you of that for as long as you need.”

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Thinkstock image by Digital Vision.


There was a time in my life that I had so much anxiety and so few words.

To articulate what I was experiencing required some sort of understanding, an understanding I had not yet achieved.

How could I describe the mental battle that took place each time I left the house? How could I articulate the racing thoughts that often washed over me like a warm ocean wave, leaving me drowning, lost, and gasping for air? How could I find words for the bodily sensations I often experienced – the lightheadedness, the feeling of my stomach dropping to my knees, the feeling of my cheeks burning hot, the nervous nausea? How could I articulate these things when I did not understand them? How could I articulate these things when I was still in denial that they were happening to me?

A simple conversation or circumstance could send me to a mental and physical place that was completely indescribable and thus a place in which I was truly isolated – a place I did not yet have the language to escape from.

I wish I had the words then.

I wish I had the words to tell my dear friend why I left her house so early, why I spent most of our time together sitting in a chair in her kitchen, white knuckles gripping my phone. I wish I had the words to tell her I was experiencing a panic attack (or maybe I was actually dying?) and that I wished with all my heart I could just “get over it.” I wish I could tell her I knew the trigger that caused my panic attack was irrational (I mean, I rationally knew it was not a life-threatening thing) but that my body somehow didn’t understand, my body was on a downward spiral of panic that was moving fast and didn’t stop. I wish I could tell her I so deeply appreciated her invitation, her hospitality, her friendship.

I wish I had the words then.

I wish I had the words to tell my college roommate why I seemed to suddenly be busy when she was sick. I wish I could tell her that sickness was a trigger for me. I wish I could tell her I wanted so deeply to stay and care for her, to bring her soup and crackers, to tell her she would be OK, but my anxiety was so incredibly overwhelming that I did not know how to fight it. I wish I could tell her that each time my hand touched a public surface my thoughts would become fixated on the germs I was inevitably carrying and the extreme urge to remove them. I wish I could tell her the urge would not go away until burning hot water and soap hit my hands, until I breathed in the alcohol smell of hand-sanitizer and felt it burn my sore chapped skin, entering into the cracks and making me feel clean again. I wish I could tell her that sometimes when she left the room I Cloroxed every surface, breathing in that fresh lemon scent and for the first time breathing deep. I wish I could tell her I wanted the kind of friendship that thrived the same in sickness and in health but that it didn’t seem possible for me.

I wish I had the words then.

I wish I had the words to tell my professor that I missed class because I thought I was dying.

I wish I had the words to tell my sister that I dropped her off early and went home because I was having a panic attack.

I wish I had the words to tell my friends that I stayed in another night and missed another event because I was struggling. I wish I had the words to tell them I wanted more than anything to just get over it but that instead I had to fight through it and I needed them to fight through it with me.

Somehow over time, I found the words.

Holding tightly to a warm cup of coffee, with a shaky cracking voice, speaking soft whispers to my dear husband, I found the words. In the plush chair of my therapist’s office and on the crinkly wax paper laid on the doctor’s table, I found the words. Slowly, not eloquently, I found the words.

As I searched and stumbled for them, the words began to find me. I learned names: anxiety disorder, panic attack, trigger. I learned humility. I learned to say: I need help.

As I began to speak, I began to understand. As I began to speak, I began to accept myself, to allow myself grace. As I chose to pursue the bravery of speaking my truth, I began to understand my truth, to understand myself, my story, my experience. Listening ears and fixated eyes received me, words of validation fell soft from careful lips.

I wish I had the words back then.

But I am learning the words now.

And I promise to try to speak them.

Even when I don’t fully understand – I promise, I will speak. Even when I am ashamed, even when I am afraid, even when I feel alone, I will speak. I will speak to the people in my life, and we will find the words together.

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Thinkstock image by Victor_Tongdee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thinkstock illustration by Digital Vision.

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

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

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

1.  Keeping traditions

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

2.  Keeping connected with loved ones

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

3.  The hospital providing normalcy

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

4.  Wanting the best for my family

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

5. Remembering what I was thankful for

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

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

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Thinkstock photo by monkey business images

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

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

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

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

2. “Beautiful Day” by U2

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

3. “Anybody” by Redlands

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

4. “Electric Indigo” by The Paper Kites

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

5. “Cry Baby” by The Neighbourhood

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

6. “A Change of Heart” by The 1975

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

7. “Roman Holiday” by Halsey

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

8. “Scars” by GEMS

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

9. “Outskirts of Paradise” by Bad Suns

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

10. “In Our Bones” by Against The Current

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

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Image via Thinkstock.

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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