young girl talking on mobile phone while sitting alone in coffee shop

To the Friend I Stood Up Because of My Anxiety

563
563
2

Dear friend,

I’m sorry.

This isn’t the first time this has happened, and even though I’d like to deny it, it probably won’t be the last.

I didn’t show up.

Trust me, I had planned to. In fact, in my head, I already had: We were sitting in that little coffee shop, right in the middle of wealth and big business. Our initial embrace was a bit awkward (you know with me, it always is), but after I politely turned down coffee (in favor of taking what I thought were hidden sips from my Nalgene), we were back to our old rhythm. We talked and laughed and even cried about life — about how it didn’t turn out at all like we planned. How although we were unsure of what our next steps would look like, it was going be OK, because at least we knew we weren’t alone.

But my dear friend, I’m learning dreams and reality are two very different things.

While I did put a great deal of effort into accounting for the steps I would need to take to physically get to you (even factoring in potential monkey wrenches along the way — you know: detours, traffic jams, train delays and even my inability to effectively use a map), I forgot to accurately account for the one thing that proved to be (once again) my downfall: my mental state and my anxiety.

See, having lived for so long in a world of my own making, I can sometimes overestimate my ability to cope with intensely stressful situations. This mainly includes situations with factors outside my control, like navigating planes, trains and automobiles (OK, maybe not planes). And unfortunately, included in this “intensely stressful” category — and even more nerve-wracking than the aforementioned transportation issues — is meeting up with friends I haven’t seen in months. Did I say nerve-wracking? Perhaps paralyzing is a more accurate description.

Yes, I knew my anxiety would surely spike right before I needed to leave to meet up with you, but I truly thought I had been proactive in taking the necessary precautions to control it. After a lifetime of both talk and behavioral therapy, I feel I should’ve known better than to allow my extremely negative thoughts to have power over me. I knew ruminating was my “kryptonite” and I would need to just turn my attention to something else — something like cloudy skies, green pine trees a la Bob Ross, and the raging ocean smacking up against the rocky shore — all signposts of my “happy place.”

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

Not surprisingly, however, despite the vivid images I was able to conjure up in my mind, my anxiety still emerged the victor, taking me down in the process. The morning of our meeting, I intentionally ignored all 15 alarms I had set on my phone — each with a different sound — and I pushed away the intense sense of guilt that coursed through me each time I attempted to return to my anything-but-peaceful slumber. At least if I was able to fall back to sleep, I would be able to offer you a legitimate excuse as to why I didn’t show up.

No, I am not proud of this. I am completely aware “I didn’t wake up to my alarm” or “I’ve been so busy, I’m so sorry, I completely forgot” are tired excuses. And when I remove my layers of rationalization, I’m able to see they are also lies.

Nevertheless, for me (and for so many others who struggle with debilitating anxiety), it’s so much more complicated than simply a decision to “show up” or “not show up.” From all external appearances, I know it can be difficult to see that. It’s likely difficult to understand the way being presented with an invitation to “catch up,” even if it’s just over the phone, makes my brain go into overdrive, frantically searching for answers to questions that have not yet been asked — or the way my heart beats faster and faster until it feels like it might actually burst from exhaustion.

This isn’t an isolated incident. I’m not sure if you are aware this sequence of events has been my “normal” for as long as I can remember. From kindergarten Polly Pocket play dates to high school graduation parties, this is the “dance” I perform, the game I play time and time again.

But no matter how intense my feelings or how paralyzing my fear, I treated you poorly. I wasn’t honest with you about my situation. I didn’t trust you would understand. But that’s not fair. Because you have also experienced the depths of life and witnessed your fair share of fear, pain and heartbreak. Because you have also tried to cross the ravine and build that bridge between will and action. Because you have also struggled to get by in this game of life.

So dear friend, I’m sorry. But I pray you understand now, and that you give me another chance.

Image via Thinkstock.

Follow this journey on Danica’s website.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

563
563
2

RELATED VIDEOS

TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How MercyMe's 'Welcome to the New' Changed My Life as a Christian With Anxiety

43
43
5

Mental illness creates all kinds of challenges for those affected. Although faith is a great comfort, being a Christian with a mental illness comes with its own unique set of challenges. Church members who don’t understand mental illness may tell you if you had more faith, it would go away or all you need is to pray more. Being a Christian with clinical anxiety and a sometimes-dysfunctional conscience has, at times, made me my own worst enemy.

Since long before I realized I had anxiety, I have struggled with a confusing conscience. Whenever I woke up with that vague yet overwhelming sense of unease, I thought it must be because I had done something wrong. I would spend hours trying to figure it out and apologize for everything I could think of. I would second guess myself on even the simplest decisions, such as what to wear. I remember so many days of feeling like God must be mad at me or like I was a disgusting human being. Once I realized I was struggling with my mental health, I felt that if I were a strong enough Christian, I should be able to handle this on my own with no outside help.

Since that time, I have learned so much. I now know that my Jesus does not speak through general senses of guilt — anxiety does. I have learned that His love for me is not based on how I feel that day and I do not have to face my problems alone or “have it all together.” The past few years have been a journey of recognizing and becoming better acquainted with my mental health.

One of most influential helps I have received came in the form of a new CD by my longtime favorite Christian band, MercyMe. Take the time to listen to a few of their lyrics, and I think you’ll understand why.

“Now I know that on my worst days, how You love me simply will not change. It’s never really been about what I do, but what You did. Oh yes it is! This ain’t wishful thinking, it’s just how it is…” from Wishful Thinking

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

“Bring your tired, and bring your pain. Bring your guilt, and bring your shame. Don’t you know that’s not your name? You will always be much more to Me…”

“Every day I wrestle with the voices that keep telling me I’m not right, but that’s all right, cause I hear a Voice and He calls me redeemed, when others say I’ll never be enough…” from Greater

“You are holy, you are righteous, you are one of the redeemed, set apart, a brand new heart, oh you are free indeed…” from Dear Younger Me

“No matter the bumps, no matter the bruises, no matter the scars, still the truth is… the Cross has made you flawless. No matter the hurt, or how deep the wound is, no matter the pain, still the truth is… the Cross has made you flawless.” from Flawless

And my favorite line of all…

“Take a breath, smile, and say, right here, right now, I’m OK, because the Cross was enough.”

In other words, I don’t have to pay for any sins because Jesus already has. When He looks at me, He sees me as flawless. Even on the days anxiety freezes me, even on the days I can’t handle human interaction, even for the hours when I’m walking in a fog. These songs give me truths I can cling to. They have spoken so much healing into my heart and mind. I don’t know whether the songwriter has experience with mental illness, but I do know his music has helped me to differentiate between my mental and emotional health, and my worth as a child of God. And for that, I am so grateful.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

43
43
5
TOPICS
, , , , , Contributor list
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

When Anxiety Comes, I Tell It Stories of Better Days

324
324
0

This morning I woke up at 7:18 a.m. and the first thing I saw was the time, the first thing I felt was the anxiety. Here’s what I feel: shaky, unwound, overwhelmed, overstimulated. Here’s where I feel it: in my stomach, in my arms.

If my anxiety were an animal, right now it is a baby koala hugging my stomach begging me to fold over and just start again tomorrow.

I don’t have that choice though. I have a to do list, I have work, I have the life I love to live on good days, and need to actively immerse myself in on bad ones because it’s my form of self-care. Doing things that make me happy serve as a reminder that good days exist, even if today isn’t one.

One of the most frustrating parts of having anxiety, depression or the feels  —  whether you’ve been clinically diagnosed or not  —  is how little control you have over your ups and downs.

I’m not choosing to feel like this today, or any day I have bad anxiety. Shit, I’m coming down from a really good yesterday. I not only published my most vulnerable essay, but on top of that I decided to share it with a couple of people in my life who are new, and I’ve never chosen to open up to in that way before.

Maybe that’s what I’m coming down from. Regardless, here I am and for as overwhelmed as I feel right now, I’m grateful I sat in yesterday as much as I did.

I didn’t let the day just pass me by. We live in a world of back-to-back moments of instant gratification and authentic moments of triumph get lost in them. Moving on to the next one is easy because the last moment taught us that the next one will come.

On bad anxiety or depression days though I don’t have the luxury of knowing. On those days I don’t know how long the anxiety will exist on top of me, I’m unsure of how long this episode of depression will last. So all I’m usually left with are reminders that on any given day this usually made me happy.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

I’m grateful I sat in yesterday as much as I did because right now I’m telling my anxiety the story of yesterday.

At 10 a.m. I texted my mentor this:

At 4 p.m. I g-chatted my friend this:

At 9 p.m. I was on the phone with my best friend telling her that the essay were thoughts I have only ever shared in therapy. I was writing like I was in therapy and it felt fucking amazing.

Writing was making me happy and anchoring me again.

Fear hadn’t stopped me. I chose to invite people into my uneven world and for the first time in a long time it felt like a choice I could make. Today I’m grateful for those small choices that led to a big moment of bravery for me because they led me here.

I’m in my apartment in New York City, writing in real time about the anxiety I’m feeling. I haven’t changed out of my pajamas, breakfast is a thing I will think of in a while. I’m anchoring myself in writing right now because the rest of the world is unsteady.

There’s something about putting these words down that frees me of their weight  —  maybe it’ll take the baby koala off my stomach and turn it into a baby kitten.

This piece originally appeared on Medium

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

324
324
0
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Anxiety Is an A-List Actress Who Tries to Steal the Spotlight

30
30
1

Anxiety is an A-list actress. If anxiety were to audition for a role, especially one that involved imagining threat of death, feeling “insane,” and experiencing pain, anxiety would secure the lead. Because anxiety doesn’t just affect your mind, it inhabits your body too.

Something a lot of people might not realize about anxiety is just how much it hurts physically. People with anxiety don’t necessarily look different to anyone else. There’s no red flashing light spinning on top of their heads. But you know you’ve met a fellow person with anxiety when they get it: the intense sensation that makes it feel like your body is, quite literally, on fire — like someone’s taken a stack of firewood and a big old match and lit a bonfire in your belly, or legs, or back, or whatever body part it chooses to seize the most.

Anxiety is like that. It tends to favor a particular place and hang out there. For me, it’s my legs for adrenaline and my stomach for terror. For others, it might be their throats, that feeling of difficulty swallowing, of tightness, like your neck is a narrow tunnel and your adrenaline is in a traffic jam with your breath. For almost everyone, there’s muscle tension. And of course, at the center, in your most vulnerable place, there’s the heart of you beating like an out-of-control, twitchy metronome. Sound dramatic? Well, remember what I said: drama is anxiety’s favorite past time. Anxiety hates rest and favors fight-or-flight.

If it could have a career preference, anxiety might like to take up personal training, but not for well-being and balance. Anxiety prefers intensity and dominance. I remember once, in a particularly difficult period, beating my fists against my husband’s raised palms (don’t worry, he suggested it) and trying to box it out. With each blow I told anxiety how much I hated it. As it turned out, this only gave it more attention. The boxing match against my invisible foe ended with me collapsed in a stream of tears and it gloating in a corner with a celebratory drink. Fighting is not, I have learned, my best recourse to tackle anxiety, but we will get to what I have come to believe is in a moment.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

Anxiety always wants to be front and center. There’s that drama-queen again. And, if it can make you believe it’s all there is, that there is nothing beyond it, that you are no longer you but entirely dictated to, directed by, and controlled by it, then anxiety smiles smugly and calls it a good day at the office.

Forgive all the mixed metaphors, but, see, metaphors are what is needed to define anxiety, because, despite all its kicking, screaming, whining, wailing, beating, baffling, and curtailing… anxiety is not an it after all but a sensation. No, I’m not saying it doesn’t exist because believe me, it does, but rather than a permanent point of identity, a defining characteristic that renders a person little more than anxiety’s puppet, anxiety is a sensation. And sensations don’t define you.

I remember the liberation I felt rushing over me like a sea breeze at sunset when someone first told me this. You are not the subtotal of your anxiety. Too long it has sought to define you. But the truth is, you are more than it. You are bigger than it. No matter how much it seeks, like a machine pumping hot air to inflate you, to occupy not just your legs, and stomach, and mind, but all of you, anxiety is not the only song on your playlist, not the only player in your life.

Psychologists call this expansion. You are bigger than it. Sensations cannot overtake, no matter how much they threaten and cajole. And if you are a Believer, you are bigger because He is bigger. Which leads to another point: acceptance.

I, and many wiser people around me, have been studying anxiety for a long time now. And this is what it comes down to. Anxiety likes fight, it likes attention, it likes center stage, but what it doesn’t like is acceptance. You might try, then, saying something like this politely to anxiety when it drops by stamping, screaming, and frothing at the mouth: ‘Oh, hello old friend, it’s you again. Well, I hardly need to give you a guided tour, you know the place well, so, come on in if you like. But don’t expect royal treatment. Just take a seat. Yes, in my stomach, if you wish, or my legs. I’m not going to fight you anymore. Because I don’t have to.’

That fire, it loves attention, but it can’t stay aflame too long if I don’t keep feeding it. And if it does stay burning longer than I’d like sometimes, because it’s pretty stubborn and those embers hold a lot of heat, that’s OK too because I won’t be consumed by it. No, sir, not anymore. And then, a little while later, perhaps when I least expect it, I might even say something like this, “What, you are leaving? Well, OK, but don’t worry, I won’t even lock the door. There’s no need to. It’s big enough for both of us in here.”

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Stock image by Pitju

30
30
1
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How to Love a Girl With Anxiety

354
354
12

This piece was written by Lauren Jarvis-Gibson, a Thought Catalog contributor.

Don’t baby her. Don’t look at her with a worrying gaze every time she reaches her hand out to you. She isn’t broken. She isn’t mental. She’s only human.

When she has a panic attack, don’t assume she’s faking it. Trust me, she isn’t. Hold her through her shaking, and tell her she is going to be OK. Tell her everything’s OK. Don’t think that she’s doing this for attention. She can’t help this. She can’t help what’s going through her mind. She’ll just need you to stay with her and talk to her through it. She needs you to tell her you’re there for her.

Do not pity her. Do not keep her inside to shield her from the world. Let her live. Let her breathe. Have her face her fears.

Take her on adventures. Watch her smile light up at the world around her. Know that sometimes, her world is more beautiful than yours. Know that her world is more beautiful because you are in it.

Don’t freak out when she has a bout of anxiety for no reason. Don’t get mad, and blame her anxiety on just a bad day. Validate her feelings. Validate how she is feeling.

And don’t make it a bigger deal than it already is.

Respect her. Do not push her to over do it. When you notice her hands start to tremble, ask what is wrong. Ask what you can do. Don’t let her go into overdrive. And stay calm, because although she may look good on the outside, her insides could be screaming.

Understand you will never understand how debilitating anxiety can be. Understand you will never truly feel what it’s like to have a panic attack, or to have your heart beat out of your chest, and to have your throat close up.

Just do your best to be there for her. Listen. Respond. Take care of her. Soothe her. Ease her worries when she lists every single thing that makes her afraid. Tell her you understand. Tell her she isn’t insane. And tell her you will be there by her side. No matter what.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

Realize she wishes she wasn’t like this. She wishes she didn’t have these thoughts in her head. She gets scared sometimes, thinking that she’s too much for you. She gets worried you will one day leave her.

Show her that you won’t. Show her that you’re the type of guy to stay. The anxiety doesn’t matter. Show her that you love her too much to go. Show her you care too much to ever leave.

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

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.


354
354
12
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

10 Things Educators Should Know About Anxiety in Children

2k
2k
2

As a parent and an educator, I have sat through many meetings for other children and my own regarding anxiety. One thing I’ve learned is anxiety is a relatively new concept in the area of special needs. I’m continually surprised that most people sitting around the table truly do not understand how difficult it can be for a child to live with anxiety.

There is no judgment in this list I wrote. I believe teachers are superheroes. I also believe every child deserves an equitable educational environment. I’ve lived with anxiety my entire life, and my daughter was diagnosed with it years ago. Helping her manage her anxiety has, in turn, helped me manage mine. My girl is my biggest hero, but so much credit is due to the teachers who were honest with me about how much she was struggling. This list is my small gesture of paying it forward.

1. Anxiety is more than being nervous, worried or sensitive. It is a biochemical reaction in the body. It requires understanding, treatment and attention. If not watched, it can manifest into larger health problems.

2. Anxiety does not look like one thing. Every child with anxiety has different triggers, different levels of intensity and different coping strategies.

3. Anxiety can present itself in different ways in boys and girls. In my educational experience, boys’ reactions tend to be more behavior-driven, while girls’ reactions tend to be more internal. Both require different strategies of managing and teaching effective coping strategies.

4. Parents expressing concern about an anxious child need to be heard, even if that child has never presented anxiety in the classroom. Many children “keep it together” all day only to crumble at home.

5. Telling a child to “calm down” does nothing but potentially pour kerosene on the fire inside of them. They don’t want to be feeling the way they do, going through their anxiety and/or panic. They likely want more than anything to calm down. Telling them to do so might only bring more shame, fear, anger and frustration.

6. Approach an anxious child with a quiet, calm voice and a caring demeanor. Their insides are in massive turmoil, and just breathing can pose as a challenge.

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES

7. Develop a relationship with an anxious child. Know their triggers. Acknowledge that they may need some help, if they are open to it, from time and time. Draft a plan together about strategies that might work when they are in the thick of an anxiety or panic attack. Being understood and not judged can make all the difference in the world.

8. For younger students, help them to understand that their anxiety is not entirely them. Assign an animal, like a cat, to the anxiety and develop a way to help them “train” the cat to calm down when it starts to act up. For example, the child can take five calming, deep breaths if they feel the cat starting to get riled up. Take the cat for a walk. Distract the cat with a funny thought.

9. Older children may not like being singled out. Have an agreed upon and laid out plan in place for when their anxiety arrives. Allow them to take a two-minute walk around the building. Come up with a secret signal so they can communicate that they are struggling and may need a break.

10. Know that anxiety, while difficult, does not define them. Anxiety is a part of them, like freckles may be for another student. It should not be looked at as a deficit or a flaw. Most anxious kids are smart, observant and creative individuals. Focus on those parts of them. Acknowledge who they are apart from their anxiety.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Image via Thinkstock Images

2k
2k
2
TOPICS
, , , Contributor list
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

7,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.