Woman wearing long coat, leaning against tree in park

I’ve been asked so many times, by therapists, parents, friends, and others to explain my anxiety as well as other mental illnesses so they can better understand what I’m going through. I always get frustrated and irritated, stumbling over words that never seem to fit. The problem for me is that my anxiety, as well as my other mental illnesses, are not static. The feelings and presentations of the illnesses seem to change. Not just change in response to different seasons of life, but even just day to day.

My experience of anxiety is fluid, changing and morphing based off an unknown variety of factors both in and out of my control. Describing something so mercurial and inconstant as my anxiety seems so difficult and pointless that I often just refuse entirely. Refusing isn’t helpful and only perpetuates the habit of silence surrounding my experience I am trying so desperately to break.

Tonight it feels like ants crawling over my entire body. Little light, crawling sensations making me check every inch of my body because I am convinced there has to be something there. I feel itchy and tingly, and I can’t sit still. Sitting seems like an insurmountable task. I can’t stop itching the back of my neck. I feel increasingly desperate for a shower to scrub this feeling off me.

I search desperately to find a position in which my arms can sit and feel comfortable. Arms crossed right over left — nope. Left over right? Nope. Left hand over stomach at approximately 90 degrees, right arm diagonally down towards my hip – no, try again. I go through the same 15 or so different variations to similar success. I repeat the process for what feels like hours.

Tonight my brain isn’t moving at the speed of light; well, not constantly. Hyperactivity in terms of thought creation and processing isn’t always the case with my anxiety. Tonight it’s a cycle of five or so minutes that feel like 10 million thoughts a minute, and then at least one minute of just… blankness. I’ll be in the middle of trying desperately to function and complete a task. I stop mid-sentence, unsure of where it was going. I forget the word for satellite or roundabout or fork; my own name looks wrong scrawled on the sticky note in front of me. Then it’s back to scrambling through endless incomplete thoughts and tangents — too quick to finish or process any individual one thing.

I am shaky, and I am sure something is wrong with my heartbeat. I’ve had at least four ECGs a year because of check-ups or weird reactions to medications. I’ve had an “outlier” ECG that said I had an irregular heartbeat. Further tests found nothing, so it was dismissed. But tonight? Right now that’s doctors dismissing it when I could really have it. I’ve had three hip surgeries and been diagnosed with FAI (femoral acetabular impingement), five total labral tears and chronic pain — but that was after four years of doctors and specialists telling me I was fine and telling me to stop lying for attention. So what if this is something, too? What if they just didn’t do the right tests or don’t know all the symptoms for a disease?

It’s escalated to a full panic attack.

I’m in my closet, crying, hyperventilating, choking on air as I’m desperate to breathe — convinced my heart keeps stopping.

Tomorrow the anxiety may look different, but it will still be with me.

I may always have anxiety, but that doesn’t mean it will always control me.

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A good day is when I wake up with self-defeating thoughts, 
and I make my coffee anyway.

A good day is when my brain feels like mush,
 but I do my best anyway.

A good day is when my best doesn’t look like much,
 but I’m proud of myself anyway.

A good day is when instead of being brave, I hide,
 and I forgive myself anyway.

A good day is when my mind is a battlefield,
 and I march onward anyway.

A good day is when I feel disgusting,
 but I maintain my self-care anyway.

A good day is when I feel like a big ball of fear,
 but I go to the event anyway.

A good day is when I’m afraid of what they’ll think,
 but I answer honestly anyway.

A good day is when I feel like a sorry loner,
 but I reach out to a friend anyway.

A good day is when I want to curl in a ball on the couch,
 but I make myself go for a walk anyway.

A good day is when other people make me shrink in fear,
 but I get the errands done anyway.

A good day is when my heart is pounding for no reason,
 but I remember to breathe anyway.

A good day is when I imagine near-death scenarios,
 but I believe they’ll come home anyway.

A good day is when I think I’m a terrible person,
 but I choose to be kind to myself anyway.

A good day is when I’m ashamed of myself,
 but I write about my feelings anyway.

A good day is when my thoughts terrify me,
 but I remember my thoughts are separate from me anyway.

A good day is when I’m different from everyone else,
 but I choose to love myself anyway.

A good day is when reality is ugly,
 but I choose to accept it anyway.

A good day is when I stay home sick,
 and I work on a project anyway.

A good day is when I feel weak and confused,
 but I find something healthy to do anyway.

A good day is when there’s a change of plans,
 and I go with the flow anyway.

A good day is when I know I could have done better,
 but I accept myself anyway.

A good day is when I think I’ve failed before I’ve even begun,
 and I decide to start anyway.

Inspired by Mother Teresa’s poem “Do It Anyway.”

Follow this journey on The Wishing Well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you for being here.

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“What is anxiety?”

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

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

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

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

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Thinkstock photo by Sjale

Dear Anxiety,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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