female student walking to school wearing a backpack

My anxiety has always been a part of my life, always. Usually it’s just like a dull hum, always there but easy to ignore.

I finished my first year of university at a school only an hour away from home. After getting through the year only having a few panic attacks during exam season, my only thoughts were about how excited I was for my second year.

Now, here I am, less than 30 days since I started my second year, and I’m seriously debating if this was the right choice.The last 30 days have been good. Don’t get me wrong. I love living with my friends, and I love my school.

To everyone around me, that’s all they see — the happy me. Everything externally was going so well. I was eating right, working out, being social, balancing school, but internally, it was like there was a war going on against myself.

The me no one saw was the realest me. It was the real me having panic attacks almost every day for the past 30 days. The real me was on the phone with my mom every night, in tears about how miserable I was.

Living in a state of constant anxiety is exhausting. And that’s what was happening to me. I was constantly anxious about everything and everyone. It’s not just that anxiety you get before a job interview or exam, not even close.

It’s like the feeling you get when you’re leaning back in your chair. You go a tiny bit too far, and you’re about to fall back. You get a jolt of panic in your chest and a pit in your stomach for a few seconds. It’s that feeling but constantly.

This feeling has consumed me over the last month. I have felt like I have no control over my life and like my world is crashing down completely. Yet, I have to go about my life like everything is fine.

The feelings of anxiety soon morphed into isolation. My anxiety has kept me hostage in my bed, waking up every morning and immediately wanting to sleep all day. I began to either feel angry and frustrated or feel nothing at all. It was a terrible cycle of anger, emptiness and so much anxiety.

All this was happening at hyper speed, and I had to juggle school, living with five other people and family issues on top of it. I had no room for anxiety. I had my life to live.

I knew I wanted to be at school. I loved my friends, and every part of my wanted to be there. I was ready, and I was looking forward to the year. However, my anxiety has a different idea. My anxiety just hasn’t caught up to me yet.

Seeing as it’s only been 30 days, I have no idea what I’m going to do. Maybe I’ll stay. Maybe I’ll go, but that’s for me and my anxiety to figure out.

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On my way to pick up my son from daycare, I started getting ideas for my writing projects, and of course, I’m couldn’t write those ideas down. My anxiety started to build, but hey, I’m a pro at this by now, and I could handle this. Suddenly, like a sign from the stars who wish to cut me some slack, the school bus in front of me stopped to let off some kids, and I had a quick moment to jot my ideas down on the random Post-its I have in the center consul of my car. Thank you, Mr. or Mrs. Bus Driver, for giving me a break. You managed to settle my nerves for a whole 15 very welcomed seconds.

The thought, or rather revelation, I had was this: I have an evil twin, and her name is Anxiety. She sucks all the time. She makes me feel “crazy,” and she makes me physically nauseous. I go through moments in my life where I need to make choices, even simple choices, and she appears. She is trying to take over my life. She is trying to conquer this body I was given. I remember being one person as a kid and without notice, this second person crept up on me. It’s like the movie “The Body Snatchers.” One minute I’m my own person, and then bam! I’ve been taken over by my evil twin, and I can’t seem to shake her out. She’s made herself comfortable, and after 20-plus years, I believe she’s here for good.

I started recognizing her existence when I’d get stomach aches and feel shaky and uncomfortable for whatever reason, but I always set it aside. I’d think, “everyone must feel this way most of the time, right?” Wrong. It wasn’t for another few years that I understood what those symptoms meant and that I had an annoying visitor in my head.

Slowly, I started understanding that when I anticipated something, I’d feel anxious. I thought it was what anticipation felt like until I started experiencing that same feeling all the time in different scenarios. I refused to talk about it or tell people because I thought they’d think I was ridiculous for being that excited about going to a house party or a movie. I thought it was strange too. I didn’t get why I was so excited or nervous. I now see it wasn’t me. It was her. These were my friends. I knew them, and they knew me. She wasn’t their friend, and they didn’t know her. But that didn’t matter. She doesn’t care. It happened all the time, and I kept it quiet. As I got older, I
came to terms with those feelings and accepted that I was just constantly anxious. She has refused to move out, and now I live with functional anxiety, and let me tell you, it’s a peach!

Anxiety is constantly around, hovering over me, waiting for something else to get me all riled-up over. She never leaves me be. She’s there with her head held high taking over the most basic parts of my day: Do I get myself or my son ready first? She swoops in at the excitement that a choice needs to be made. She gets her fix, and I get the shit end of the stick. She’s choking me. Ridiculing me. Putting me in constant discomfort.

But I prevail! I continue like a soldier in war. I fight the good fight. But she’s played a trick on me, you see. She’s there even when she’s not there. She leaves behind her dandruff. She leaves behind uncertainty. She leaves me not knowing when she’s going to return. She’s sneaky and she’s vicious. I get things done, and I go about my day, ensuring my family is taken care of. We constantly fight over my mind frame, and she does have her winning moments. Sometimes I give in to her in the hopes that she’ll lay off, but she’s not that nice. She leaves when she’s ready to leave, and I’m left picking up the pieces. I’ve gotten better at taking control over the years, but I believe I will live in a constant battle with my evil twin.

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My wife and I love movies. We go to the cinema at least once a week and watch plenty more at home. As my wife’s anxiety sometimes makes it difficult for her to go out, it’s great to have something she looks forward to every week. Our favorite are horror films.

The movie “Lights Out” looked great, and it seemed to have a particularly scary premise. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, it is about a creature who can only be seen with the lights out. Therefore, we went to the cinema excited about the film.

I looked uneasily at my wife as the protagonist in the story called her mother crazy, and then asked her if she had taken her pills. From that moment on, the film was filled with cringe worthy moments diminishing the reality of mental illness, from the way antidepressants work to the attitude of the mother’s family.

When I got home, I read up about the movie, and it turns out the writers actually planned the movie to be a metaphor of depression. They clearly didn’t do their research. The worst thing about the movie (spoilers coming up), was the ending. The mother kills herself to be rid of the “monster”and save her family, and everyone is happy and relieved. What a message to send to the public about mental illness and to people who are struggling with feelings of worthlessness surrounding their own mental illness.

The actions of the people involved in this film spoke volumes to me about the stigma surrounding mental health and will only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes. If done slightly differently, then it could have actually have had a positive message, much like “The Babadook.” Unfortunately, this was not the case.

While this was an extreme example, it is sadly common to see poor interpretations of mental illness in popular culture, whether in direct use of a mental illness story or in careless use of language. This, unfortunately, greatly diminishes the effects of films and television shows that are written in a positive and caring way.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Screenshot via “Lights Out”

The hard part about mental illness and all invisible illnesses is that you’d never know the battle each person is fighting. You don’t know what they have to do to get themselves out of bed and moving each day. Not many people know I take a stimulant medication for my attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and an antidepressant for my anxiety. I always have an upbeat, positive attitude but inside things aren’t always so great.

Many people take their brain functioning for granted. They’ll never understand what us neurodiverse people go through. I love my medication for what it allows me to do when I’m on it. Yet, I hate when I don’t have it in my system, I’m a mess.

My meds allow me to think more clearly, get organized and be alert, but this only lasts a small portion of my day. I love that I don’t feel as worried about things. I don’t have as much social anxiety. I can reach out to friends and others to see how they are.

However, this doesn’t always carry over when I’m not on my meds. I can plan for my day, make lists of what needs to get done, but meds don’t tell you what to focus on. If your brain strays elsewhere, then you will certainly not get that list done.

At the end of the day, when those meds wear off, it’s not always easy. I want to get myself ready for the next day, but I’m not focused on that. It’s exhausting to try and get things done sometimes because my brain just takes so much more energy to direct its focus where I need it. Sometimes, at the end of the day I’m just so tired.

I love that there is something there to help me, medication that eases my mind’s wandering and anxious thoughts, allowing me to be the person I know I could be. Yet, it’s a battle. It’s not always easy.

I wouldn’t change my life because this is who I am and who I was meant to be. I am carving my path as I go. I may encounter a few bumps on the road, but I will never stop.

Anyone else out there who is having a tough time with meds or invisible illnesses, just remember, tomorrow is another day. There will always be another tomorrow. Keep going, keep trying and do your personal best each day.

It doesn’t matter what others can do and are doing. Do what you can and you need to do. You are strong and smart. You can accomplish your dreams, even if it takes longer than others!

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I’m awake, but my eyes are still closed. Maybe, I can go back to sleep if I don’t open them. Maybe… and before I can think about anything else, there is a rush of sadness with its claws out, slamming against me like an angry wave.

It’s like a punch in the gut, and it knocks all hopes and strength out of me. The claws scratching your insides, while the wave has smashed you so hard against yourself that it feels like death, but death never comes.

Instead, there is more pain. There is less air, and your heart feels like it is beating so hard it will burst out of your chest. Your hands and feet start to freeze, as if they no longer belong to the same body that feels on fire. You feel light headed, and your breath becomes shallow. It feels like it will never end.

The doom that has surrounded you as you’re falling through yourself and in a black hole, where nothing familiar exists, stretches you so far that you feel like breaking. I feel like I’m being held by an invisible hand over a massive cliff, and I just won’t die. If it lets me go, then it could all end. It would be painful for a bit, but then black and into what I think will be a blissful nothingness. Instead, I’m hanging in mid-air, arms and legs flailing about, too scared of the darkness that surrounds me.

I’ve been awake for two minutes, and I am drained. I roll over to my side and open my eyes wide open with the hope that… and there is another wave, bigger and stronger. I am frozen. I feel like I’m drowning in painful memories of yesterday and in thoughts of the real world that awaits me today. A world where no one knows I’ve already drowned, I’ve already survived and I wish I had just died before I’ve even had the chance to turn off my alarm.

I fall deeper through the black hole as it occurs to me I have nowhere to go. There is no safe place to go and hide for the day. There is no safe person who isn’t at least slightly confused and annoyed by my dramatic emotions. I feel cold while I feel like the blanket is strangling me. There is a buzzing sound in my ear. You know, the kind that you get when you are some place abandoned and secluded, where there isn’t a single sound.

I feel it fill my head and start making it more difficult to breath. I feel like the walls are closing in and I might suffocate, but I don’t. I want to run away.

I want to sleep, I’m so exhausted. Sleeping isn’t an option when waking up is so terrifying. I want to scream, but that doesn’t make sense. I’m not “crazy”… I’ve just lost myself — or am I?

I start to think of people who can help, but I’m not sold on the idea. It will be hours before I can reach out to anyone. What would I even say? I am scared to be alone with myself. I feel alone and terrified. I feel like a child who has had a nightmare and needs to be consoled. I want to sleep, but I need you to be here when I wake up because that’s the hardest part. I want to die.

I can’t say any of that. None of those things are acceptable to say, even if you are in excruciating pain. I am not bleeding or physically broken. I do not have a fever, even though I think my insides are on fire. There is nothing visible to show for the hell I’ve just gone through. My head is pounding, and I feel like vomiting everything that is boiling inside of me, but nothing comes out.

Instead, with the fear of the world that awaits, with the fear of the wrong things I will hear, fear of lack of support, lack of love, lack of compassion or understanding, the fear of the invisible hand that will dangle me over the edge of the cliff time and time again, I put every ounce of energy I have into lifting myself out of bed.

I sit there for a short while, and I can feel hot tears stinging my eyes. There is something sharp that is squeezing my throat. At that moment, I feel so sorry for myself, so sorry for carrying all this pain and so angry for not being able to let it go. I want to scream again.

I want to know why? Why doesn’t it get better? Why doesn’t anyone see? There is no answer, and I feel just a little more alone.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

Image via Thinkstock.

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This piece was written by Sarah Hughes, a Thought Catalog contributor.

I just finished my fifth year of high school (barely) and I am beyond excited for the next chapter of my life. This, however, hasn’t always been the case. You see, I used to be afraid of the future. This fear was merciless, suffocating me from the inside out, and it dictated my entire life. Later, after many visits to doctors, therapists and a psychiatrist, I learned this kind of fear has a name.

“Sarah, meet Anxiety,” the world of medical personnel declared. At first I was intrigued, happy to be able to finally call this intruder by name. Maybe we could get to know each other better. Maybe we could learn to coincide instead of constantly indulging in disputes over whether or not people liked me or how I failed to meet my ridiculous expectations of perfection once again.

Anxiety, unfortunately, had other plans in mind. Continuously coming over uninvited and completely ignorant to social cues, Anxiety became infamous for overstaying its welcome. Neglecting all duties of an acceptable hostess, I tried to make it obvious I wanted this houseguest to leave. This made Anxiety lonely. Vengeful. It had to do something. It needed back up.

“Sarah, meet Depression.” I tried to tell the world of medicine I didn’t need any more friends. I told them I already had plenty. This, however, was obviously a lie as I had become a recluse, refusing to leave the familiar four walls of my bedroom. Many saw right through the twisted web of lies I had carelessly woven. I’m not going out anymore, because I’m sick. I’m not trying in school, because I don’t care. I’m honestly fine. I think I knew these were not believable, but one of my other acquaintances, Apathy, reminded me it didn’t really matter if I lied. It didn’t really matter if anyone believed me. Nothing really mattered.

I never got along with Anxiety, but my relationship with Depression was a whole different story. We despised each other. It was a deep loathing I had never felt before. We had formed a brutal rivalry, the only casualties on my side. It was every man for himself. Depression was a lot worse to me than Anxiety ever was. I think it’s because Depression had me brainwashed, kind of like the older guy you date in high school who you’re madly in love with, but he has you believing the entirety of your self-worth is dependent upon what he says.

I was hopeless, worn out and at times suicidal. This dynamic duo was relentless. I began to fail classes, lose friends and become fixated on self-sabotage. I even went as far as taking an overdose that landed me a two-week hospital stay in the mental health unit at the local hospital, but that’s a story for another time.

My point is, I didn’t just finish five years of high school. I just finished five years of high school with an all-consuming mental illness. As mental illness affects everyone at some point, I’m sure many of you already know how big of an accomplishment this is. I am proud of myself, and to everyone who has also graduated or who is currently attending school with a mental illness, you should be proud of yourself as well.

Fortunately, I am currently in a safe and stable spot in my recovery and would like to share some wisdom. Mental illness needs to be talked about. If I was in the hospital for some kind of physical ailment, you would all know. So, I think it is only fair that you know about this as well. I hope by sharing these pieces of advice someone will feel a little less lonely and a little more hopeful.

1. You do not have to be at rock bottom or have something horrible happen to you to receive help.

Mental illness affects many people for different reasons and how you feel doesn’t always have to have an accompanied explanation. In fact, you don’t even need to have a diagnosed mental illness to justify wanting to talk to someone or needing help. Remaining silent is how mental illnesses fester and turn into something unmanageable. Life is hard. Everyone needs help. Heck, even therapists have therapists.

2. Do not procrastinate getting help.

Yes, it is possible to recover from a mental illness on your own, but it is extremely unlikely. It usually doesn’t get better without help. Please reach out before things continue to get worse.

3. If the first person you reach out to doesn’t give you the response you want or need, don’t give up.

Friends and family can be a great support system, but you have to remember they are not professionally trained. I would encourage you to speak with a professional as they will be able to provide you with the tools and resources needed to begin your recovery.

4. Educate yourself.

You should talk to as many professionals as you can and do as much research as possible. The more you understand about your mental illness and how it affects you, the easier it will be for you to recover.

5. Mental health services can be extremely expensive, but please don’t let that discourage you.

Many places will offer a sliding scale where you can talk to people who are still trained, but do not have the exact same credentials as a seasoned therapist. They can still be helpful and be able to provide you with similar tools and resources.

6. Nobody will ever be able to understand exactly what you are going through.

Mental illness is extremely individualized, so sometimes you have to take what people say with a grain of salt. What helps them may not help you. It is also important to note, however, that even if someone doesn’t completely understand, they may be able to relate to some of your symptoms or experiences, which can make them a great form of support.

7. Do not feel bad for communicating your mental health needs.

If you break your arm and are unable to physically write a test, you receive extensions or are given the opportunity to illustrate what you have learned in a different way. Therefore, if you need extensions on assignments, or need to write your test in a different room to help direct your concentration, just ask. Guidance Counselors are often great advocates when it comes to your mental health and its corresponding educational needs.

8. You often have to indulge in a game of trial and error, and that’s OK.

If you opt to be on medication, it will often take a few tries to find the right kind and dosage that best suits you. This also applies to finding a counselor. Sometimes you may have to see a couple before you find one you’re comfortable with. Always keep going until you are content with your treatment plan. You will find what works for you. It may just take time.

9. Although mental illness can be fueled by external factors, it often is more internal than you think.

You often cannot completely cure a mental illness by moving to a different environment or changing who you hangout with. If these changes are positive, they definitely can help you along your recovery path, but they may not fix everything like you had hoped for, so don’t be discouraged.

10. Talk about your mental illness openly if you can.

You’ll be surprised by how many people you are secretly helping to feel less alone. You may even be surprised about how much talking about it helps you.

11. There is still a massive stigma surrounding mental health.

With this in mind, you have to recognize that many people will talk about mental health ignorantly and inappropriately and will not be empathetic or understanding to what you are going through. These people have not been provided with enough information (or the correct information). Don’t let this stop you from continuing to get help. You have to recover for yourself not for other people.

12. You are the only person who can save yourself.

Don’t get me wrong, there are so many people that can help you along the way, but you have to want to get better and you have to be willing to put in the effort.

13. Try and find something to believe in that is greater than yourself.

This doesn’t always have to be a religion. For example, I am not religious, but I believe that everything happens for a reason, and with this in mind, I find it easier to remain hopeful.

14. Create a crisis plan.

It is easier than you think to reach rock bottom, and when you are at rock bottom, rationality is not often present. With any mental illness, thinking is distorted and when you are at your lowest point this is magnified even further. It is helpful to have a plan you can refer to when you’re in this state so you can reach out to the right people and remain safe. There are many people you can talk to who can help you to create this, and you can even find outlines of these online.

15. It gets better.

It really, really does. Four years ago, or even last month, when I heard people say this I thought it was ridiculous. I thought my situation was different, and that there was absolutely no way it would get better for me. I always wondered how other people could say this not knowing my situation. How do you really know it will get better for me if you don’t even know me? How do you know I’m not the one person that it won’t get better for? You can always rework how you think, or find a solution to improve how you feel. Sometimes this takes a long time. It may even feel like it is taking forever. You must know though, the mind is a very, very powerful thing, and it is capable of so much more than you even realize.

Keep going.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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