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A Letter to My Anxiety W(o)rriers

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To my anxious friends,

We are warriors. Strong and beautiful in our differences, mighty and courageous in our similarities. But we are often also worriers. And with that comes the responsibility of acknowledging that sometimes, we have an innate ability to escalate someone else’s emotions or actions through what we thought would be a normal conversation.

While we are well built for understanding the emotional complexities of others (sensing fear under anger, resentment under tears), we can let our feelings escalate up to a mountain levels – when yesterday they were mere molehills. I do it – we all do it – not because we mean to but because our mind propels us in that direction. We ride the roller coaster of thoughts (“What are they really thinking?” “Why won’t they message me back?”) at a speed where brakes aren’t effective – we are used to just holding on until we feel it slowing down.

A lot of the time, there’s nothing we can do about it – we have so much going on in our heads, a wild thought swarm of buzzing, stinging bees trying to be heard. We can’t change who we are, but we can change the way it manifests in our reactions.

It sucks to admit you’re wrong, especially when you know the incident was motivated by your own anxious feelings. You have to remember it’s OK to be wrong! It’s OK to make mistakes! None of us in this world are perfect (except puppies, they can do no wrong), and you have to accept your flaws to be able to move past them. This starts with surrounding yourself with the best people – and I mean, the best people. The people who treat you with respect, the friends and family who love you and will fight for you. Those are the people who will help you when you’re riding the roller coaster; they can help you notice the triggers and guide you through understanding your own reactions when things get hard.

Don’t settle for less. While we need to understand our own reactions, we can also be too passive in situations, in fear of starting an anxiety cycle. Stand tall, and don’t let your beautiful self be walked over in a situation where you are treated with malice or disrespect. You deserve the respect you give to others.

In saying that, it’s important not to disrespect those who don’t understand your anxiety. Chances are, they’ve never (knowingly) dealt with a person with an anxiety disorder. They might tell you to “calm down,” or “stop taking things so seriously.” These phrases can be hurtful and overwhelming to process. But take into account they were probably not said with the intention to hurt you. It can be hard to dissect the intentions of words, but we can acknowledge that some phrases have completely different meanings to people living with and without anxiety. But we can educate. We can teach. The great thing about having anxiety (I know, how can you pick just one from all the great things?) is that we can help others understand their own diagnoses and help them not to feel lost on the roller coaster.

Worriers, we are strong. We are powerful. And we can use that power to educate others – because in today’s world, there’s no better time than now.

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Thinkstock photo by Yue_

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A Letter to Children With Anxiety: You Can Change the World

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Dear sweet child,

I see you. I see your anxiety disorder. I know you don’t quite understand how your mind works. I didn’t understand my mind at your age either. You are strong. You will learn how to cope, and I know you already are. You are beautiful, and you are worthy.

There will be dark days, but there will be bright days too.

I see the things that go on in your mind. I know the irrational thoughts rushing through your head. You cry when you cannot buckle your own seat belt like you could yesterday. I see that it’s not about the seat belt at all. It’s a fear of failure. When you melt down in your sports practice, I see your embarrassment. The “tantrum” you’re throwing isn’t about the exercise you didn’t complete. It’s about not measuring up.

I see you chewing on your jacket as we wait to talk to your teacher after school. You chew on your clothes. When I was your age, I chewed on my hair or bit my nails. I would do it without notice until a parent or teacher got on to me, and I would stop for as long as I could remember not to. You’re not chewing on your jacket because it’s a bad habit and you’re choosing to be defiant; the chewing on your jacket is an outward expression of the anxiety bubbling up inside you that you aren’t able to understand or name. You don’t even realize your brain is wired differently than others’.

I see your struggles, your fears, your deepest insecurities behind your behaviors. I know you can’t explain it, but we both know it’s there. And I will love you through it.

Your anxiety can drive you forward. It comes with its challenges, but it is also an extremely motivating factor to achieve great things. You are so smart. If you weren’t ridiculously intelligent, you wouldn’t be able to analyze all of the pieces of your environment that cause your anxiety. You have a big heart. You care, and you care deeply. I don’t know what you will do yet, but I do know you will change the world.

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What My Everyday Struggle With Anxiety Is Like

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Anxiety is always being scared you won’t fit in.

Anxiety is not going into places because you’re scared you will get weird stares.

Anxiety is having to talk to yourself and calm yourself down every second of your day.

Anxiety is a constant struggle. Not many people understand what I feel like, and they judge me.

Danielle, why can’t you just come in with me? It’s not a big deal. Danielle, why can’t you just do this one simple task?

It’s sad when you don’t have an answer for it. You don’t know what about being out in public makes you so uncomfortable that you try to avoid it all together. You don’t know what is actually scaring you and making you so nervous. You have to think about your every move.

Sometimes, I look at other people and wonder why I am like this. Why can’t I just be “normal” like them? Why do I need a safety blanket everywhere I go? Why can’t I go anywhere alone and feel safe and comfortable with myself?

Anxiety is overthinking the simplest task or overcomplicating the simplest thoughts. People out there feel the same. You’re not alone. Always remember that.

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What It Means to Have a 'Self-Esteem Attack'

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Those who face anxiety attacks show different symptoms.

Sometimes, it’s talking fast or stuttering. Sometimes, it’s not talking at all. Sometimes, it’s unpredictable irritability. Sometimes, it’s clenching your teeth or wringing your hands. Sometimes, it’s sitting in a trance. Sometimes, it’s hypersensitivity. Sometimes, it’s not being able to stop crying or shaking.

There are many different types and causes of anxiety attacks. Some of the different forms include obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), social disorder, agoraphobia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For me, the anxiety attack I am most familiar with is a “self-esteem attack.”

For “normal” people, if they make some kind of mistake or get criticized by someone, they can think, “OK, I screwed up,” and then move on with their day. For me and for others who face self-esteem attacks, they don’t think this way. Instead of thinking, “I made a mistake,” they think, “I am a mistake.” When someone doesn’t like them, instead of thinking, “Well, that’s their loss,” they think, “There must be something wrong with me.”

For a few moments, a few hours or maybe even a few days, you’re filled with an all-consuming and illogical self-hate. You internalize a circumstance, thinking it’s telling of the kind of person you are when, in fact, it does not.

For instance, a couple weeks ago, I missed a meeting at work. I was selected to be on a jury in a trial, and I was so nervous I completely forgot to check my work calendar. As a result, I received an email to me and my boss from a pretty pissed off coworker, and I started to panic.

“I’m going to get fired. How did I even get this job? I am such an idiot. I’m so unprofessional. Everyone’s going to hate me. No one will ever respect me again.”

Guess what? It turned out to be nothing.

I called my boss, who told me, “You had jury duty, You had a lot on your mind, and you’ve never missed a meeting before. How many times have people stood you up? Seriously, don’t worry about it.”

I emailed the people who I missed the meeting with, profusely apologizing.

“Thank you for your email. It’s OK. It was only a half an hour,” they responded.

With my brain, I had completely blown things out of proportion. My palms started to sweat, my face was hot and I felt like I was going to be sick. I jumped immediately to the unrealistic conclusion that I would be fired, homeless and no one would want to hire me again. All  because of a simple, easy to correct mistake.

The Self-Esteem Institute describes a self-esteem attack as occurring “whenever a person with low self-esteem does or says something that he afterward deems to have been inappropriate, rude, obnoxious, off target or inaccurate. At that time, the person may experience immediate remorse, excruciating anxiety, his heart racing, his face turning red, a sinking feeling of embarrassment, depression and/or devastation.”

For me, when I’m having a self-esteem attack, for that moment, I can’t see anything outside of how bad I feel about myself. Even though in the back of my mind, I know the things my brain is telling me aren’t true, I can’t seem to stop. When I try to tell myself, “Stop it! You’re overreacting!” I only feel worse.

So, what should you do if you’re having a self-esteem attack?

Well, first of all, as I always say, know you’re not alone. Know you don’t have to feel this way alone. Don’t be ashamed and don’t apologize to anyone for your self-esteem attack. Instead, find a friend, a family member or a therapist to call when you feel like this, to be there for you until it passes.

Make sure it’s someone you trust. If anyone ever makes you feel like you’re a burden, know they are wrong. I have learned, for every person who judges you for the way you feel, there are even more who understand, who feel the same way and who want to support you.

Once you know there’s nothing wrong with feeling the way you feel, slowly and surely, you’ll start to realize that there is also nothing wrong with you.

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What a Night With My Anxiety Looks Like

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

7:28 p.m.

Dinner starts to wrap up, and where do I go from there? Everyone in my family starts to do their own thing, and I’m left alone to find something to distract my brain. Reading a book doesn’t help because it’s too quiet. Listening to music is just too much noise right now.

8:30 p.m.

Taking a bath sounds nice, right? Wrong. I am alone, and I just think. I think of all the “what ifs,” and on difficult nights, this is when I might be tempted to self-harm. I know it’s not what I should do, but in those moments it feels like all I have.

11:00 p.m.

This is where my brain starts to play all of its mind games.

“You’ve messed up with your family again today.”

“He doesn’t actually love you; he’s using you. He will find a girl he actually loves to replace you.”

“Why are you even dancing still? You’re no good at it.”

“His parents don’t even like you. They think you’re ‘insane.’”

“Just leave.”

My brain hates me; it’s the biggest bully I have ever faced in my life. I am my own worst enemy. I tear myself down so much at night, and I never realize it until I am at the point of tears.

4:00 a.m.

I am drained at this point. I know I need sleep, but my brain keeps going on and on. It gets so bad I want to rip at my skin. I feel trapped too often and I want to escape, but I can’t figure out how. Sometimes, to help get rid of this feeling (if I can even do that), I walk around the forest around my house. Or I will eventually cry myself to sleep if I’m in my bed.

Every day is a struggle for me. I never know what the day will bring. If I get triggered, I’m done for that day and it makes everything worse for the next 24 hours. The biggest fear I have is myself, because I know what I’m capable of doing. I know how strong I am and how fast my brain can make its own decisions. It scares me, because I feel alone at night. But getting over this is the first step I’ve taken to recovery. Yes, I still have difficult nights, but not to the extremes I’ve experienced before. My brain is my worst enemy, but letting my true colors show has helped me become the person I was before this all started.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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8 Messages From Your Friend With Anxiety and Depression

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Dear my friend,

As you may or may not know, I deal with mental illness. It is as integral and innately a part of me as the color of my eyes, my distaste for mathematics and my love for breakfast burritos. In the moments when we smile and laugh and adventure happily, you may forget I am sick. That I am different than you. However, for each of those moments there will be moments when I sob in your arms or on the phone to you about something you’ve heard a hundred times, and you will be acutely aware that I’m struggling. While there isn’t a textbook or a checklist to being my friend or loving me when it’s rough, here are eight things I want you to know.

1. This isn’t a choice.

There may be moments when I am not as visibly sick or where the symptoms aren’t there, but there will be many moments –while you’re on a date, when we’re in class or at 3 a.m. — when it’ll rear it’s ugly head. And it isn’t my choice when or how it hits.

2. It makes me doubt myself.

A good dose of self-doubt can be healthy, but I have more than that. There are days when I doubt I’ll make it out of bed without a disaster. There are days when I fear failing everything. There are times when I think everyone hates me. Anxiety cripples my confidence, depression cripples my perspective. It isn’t logical or rational, but it’s real to me.

3. I smile through the pain.

There are many days when I’ll sit in class or a meeting or on your couch listening to you when my heart is breaking, my head is spinning and my sanity is slipping. Sometimes smiling feels like the only option, but just because I’m smiling doesn’t mean I don’t hurt.

4. I care, about everything, possibly too much.

There will be moments in our friendship when I annoy the crap out of you. When I will do the dreaded double (or gasp, a triple) text. There will be moments when I sob over something you find trivial. There will be moments when I feel too much and I won’t know exactly why. I care and caring is a wonderful gift — but it isn’t always easy (on me or you).

5. I need you to check in on me.

No matter how much I say I am OK or how much I push you away, I need you and want you in my life. Text me to say hi. Text to ask how I’m doing. Call to catch up. Accept my answers with love and don’t hold it against me if I don’t respond.

6. Know that if I reschedule I still love you.

My life is messy outside of my illness, know that as a base fact. Beyond that, know that when I make plans I have the best of intentions and do really want to hang out with you. However, some days I need to sleep another hour (cause I was up counting sheep all night), going out in public would be too much for me or I need to have a mental health day.

7. Be open and honest with me.

I know I can be a hard person to be friends with. The thing I ask for most is honesty. I would rather have the harsh reality than a lack of information (because that makes my head go to the worst place and back a few times). If my over-sharing is burdensome, let me know. If you think I need to work on something, holla at me. If you want space, just ask. If you need something for me, tell me.

8. I love you more than you know.

I may not always express it or thank you enough, but I’m so thankful for your impact in my life. Thank you for listening to me. Thank you for problem solving with me. Thank you for feeding me. Thank you for holding me as I cry. Thank you for being here. Thank you for loving me. I love you!

Love,
Your anxious (and at times overwhelming) but grateful friend

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