Mother and son sleeping on a sofa

Like Mother, Like Son: When Anxiety Is Inherited

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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.

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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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To the Anxiety That Tried to Control My Thoughts About Myself

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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.

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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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The Biggest Thing I've Learned So Far After Weaning Off My Anti-Anxiety Medication

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 Editor’s note: This story is based on an individual’s experience and shouldn’t be taken as medical advice. Please talk to a doctor before starting or stopping mediation. 

It has been about a month since I made the conscious, sober, uninfluenced, clear-headed decision to start easing off of my meds, and tonight I sit here wondering why.

So, I realized I better write about this. I better capture this in everything that it is so I can continue growing this conversation. So I can continue reminding people why it’s important, and reassure people that it’s OK to feel and share raw emotions. That we can learn so much from them, and grow so much as individuals. We can learn from each other, support each other and be inspired by each other to keep going, and I don’t want to stop being a part of that.

The biggest thing I’ve learned so far is that patience is a virtue.

I made my decision based on a few factors. One, is that although I’ve been on this medication for about four years, and it has certainly helped, I feel it may have plateaued for me. Two, I am in the best place I’ve ever been in in my life. I’m more confident, more happy and more inspired than ever, and I’m in a healthy relationship with a woman I love. I have a job I’m excited about, and wonderful friends and family to share life with. Three, it’s not yet the dead of depressing winter. Four, I just felt…ready. My instinct told me it was time to try leaving the nest.

However, it also reminded me to do it slowly.

After talking to my doctor, I eased into taking three-fourths of a pill for about two weeks, and then half a pill for about three weeks. Now, I am on one-forth a pill and have been for about two weeks. I think I have about another two weeks to go. Easy does it, that’s for sure! I can’t stress enough, you should never go cold turkey on your medication, especially without first talking about it with your doctor. In my case, my doctor told me late last year that when I felt ready, I could try easing off, but to do it gradually. The idea was always that I wouldn’t be on this medication forever, just for awhile. I had one brief episode two years ago where I quit cold turkey, got depressed, tried switching to a new SSRI immediately and then had vertigo and suicidal tendencies for a few weeks.

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So this time, patience is my greatest virtue. And so far… it’s basically worked!

I’ve had the odd, blue day, and when stress hits me it hits me harder. I have turned both my apartment, my girlfriends’ apartment and my desk at work into the place where to-do lists go to die. I have to constantly rearrange things to feel the sense of control I need. And today, I heard familiar inner voices making me feel less than, making me feel small, making me feel confused.

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Luckily, I have 10 plus years of living with mental illness under my belt, and a “tool box” full of techniques I have learned through experience and counseling to help me work through the tricky moments. I also have a wonderful support network, and they keep me strong and grounded.

The other thing I have learned rather quickly is that vulnerability is allowed, and it is in fact more of a strength than the weakness it is often perceived as. My vulnerabilities when it comes to my mental illness are (surprisingly) not so much to do with the stigma of having mental illness; I’ve made my peace with that, and am obviously happy to be quite open about it. My vulnerabilities are that I second guess everything I say or do, and then I lose any sense of confidence I have worked so hard to find. Mental illness strips me of that. It makes me feel lonely, unacknowledged and unwanted even in a room full of the kindest people. It makes me feel less than, and it makes me question if anything I put my efforts towards is worth it. 

As I go off my meds, slowly but surely, some of this vulnerability and insecurity has been resurfacing. It’s scary, it’s frustrating and it’s confusing. But enough of me is still in control that I can acknowledge this is not weakness. I can see that it’s teaching me a lesson about what it means to be strong. It’s teaching me about worthiness, and about finding my voice again. It’s teaching me that I am not the only one scared shitless in this world, and I think we all need to talk about that more. Cause we’re all awesome, we’re all vulnerable about something and we can all learn and grow from that. 

Tomorrow is a new day, friends, and I will feel refreshed and ready to take it on in the morning. Tonight, I acknowledge that it was a hard day, and I acknowledge everything I felt so deeply, and every scary thought I had.

I also acknowledge this is temporary. It’s a transition back to the light, and back to myself. Although I never left, and I’m not leaving now either.  

It’s just a shadow dance in limbo, reminding me of how far I have come if anything.

But it’s a long dance, and I still have much to learn from it. This time, I have candlelight to face the shadows. I am prepared, I am willing to face it and I more confident in myself that I can. I think my beautiful mind is coming back to itself, even if it took an odd, dark detour in this transition. So it keeps telling me to push forward and continue this journey — to see what I’m really capable of this time.

Only time will tell! I’m thankful I have so much of it.

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I'm Tired of People Telling Me I'm Too Reliant on My Anti-Anxiety Medication

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I am so tired of people telling me I am reliant on pills, that being on medication for my anxiety means I am just masking the problem. I am tired of being called “crazy” because I use medicine to help me manage my day-to-day life. I am tired of being the person who has to justify myself to people who tell me “you don’t need medicine, there isn’t even anything wrong with you” and “it’s all in your head.” Because that’s the problem isn’t it?

People continuously tell me that anxiety is made up in my head. It isn’t real. If I just tell myself that, I’ll see that everything is totally fine and come to my senses and say “You know what? You were right all along. I can’t believe I just tortured myself for so many years when the answer was right there. All I had to do was think, and boom. Wow. Thank you so much for all of your help!” Except oh, that’s right, anxiety is a real medical condition. Bold print. Italics. Underlined. In blaring lights over every highway in every state in every country in the world. Whatever I have to do to make you understand. It’s real. It’s out of my control. It is a medical condition.

You see, what I just can’t wrap my head around is the fact that there is an actual stigma surrounding the need for medication manufactured to treat a legitimate and extremely common medical condition. I have even had my doctor, that’s right my doctor, question my need for medication. So I am going to throw some medical facts at you real quick. Anti-anxiety and anti-depressant medications are often the same type of drug. These are called SSRIs (serotonin re-uptake inhibitors). SSRIs allow serotonin (a mood-enhancing hormone) to circulate properly and help stop a depressive or anxious state. In layman’s terms – this is a medicine that helps a body part function the way it should.

Makes sense right? Something in your body hurts, is broken, or doesn’t work right… go to the doctor, get the right medication, take said medication, feel better. Bada bing, bada boom. There you have it, folks. Modern medicine in its simplest form. But here’s the kicker. People will read this and think, “whatever, she’s still crazy,” “whatever, I’m not going to listen to someone who has to take pills every day for her brain,” “whatever, she just relies on her medicine and doesn’t even try to be happy on her own.” Every single day I encounter people who have those exact reactions when they find out I am on medication for my anxiety.

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News flash! I am on this medication because I need it, because it helps me control my anxiety, and because it makes it easier for me to work my way through each day and continually make it so I can in fact, be happy on my own. And the thing is, just like many other medications, most people do not stay on this medicine their whole lives. It is a way to manage the pain that comes with anxiety and/or depression while we find other things that help us cope and heal. For me, being on this medicine has helped me come to terms with my anxiety, seek out a counselor, and begin a much healthier and happier lifestyle.

Recovery is always a process requiring multiple factors. Just as you would go through the medical steps of treating a broken leg, I go through the steps of treating my anxiety. You wouldn’t say a cast is just a quick fix for a broken leg now, would you? You wouldn’t tell that person they are taking the easy way out and if they just tell themselves their leg is healed, they’ll see all along they had just made up the fracture and imagined all of that pain, would you? No. You absolutely would not.

So quit acting like an injury in my brain is any different. Stop perpetuating the idea that mental illness “isn’t a real thing.” Stop making me feel inferior to you because I am doing something to help heal my body. Stop calling me crazy, psycho, reliant, addicted, unstable, a flight risk, nuts, a loose screw. Stop. And if you hear someone else doing it, stop them too. Educate yourself. Understand that a medical problem is a medical problem and pain is pain no matter what part of your body it is.

Just stop. Stop yourself, and put an end to the stigma. I for one, have had enough. Have you?

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tips for Business Meetings When You Have Anxiety

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

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

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

Before the Meeting:

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

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

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

The Day of the Meeting:

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

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

In the Meeting:

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

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

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

After the Meeting:

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

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

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

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