Smiling woman

The Monster I Hide Behind the Laughter

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Many people would describe me as someone who never stops smiling, always makes people laugh, has the ability to instantly light up the room and just seems to effortlessly go through life.

They have no idea I have practiced that smile for so long that I do not even need to think about faking it. That the reason I make people laugh is not just to be funny but because I do not want people to feel the same thing I feel. That I light up the room because I fake happiness so nobody will constantly ask me what is wrong. That nothing I do is effortless.

No one knows I live with a monster in my head.

But I know.

It starts with a sense of panic. The panic means the monster is slowly working its way up into my chest. Once it is there, the monster grips my chest so tight that it feels like I am suffocating as the air is squeezed out of my lungs. This feeling gets stronger and stronger until I feel like I am drowning.

I scream. Scream for help.

But no one ever hears me.

This happens every day. Sometimes the monster is provoked, but other times the monster springs out of nowhere. Either way, there is no stopping it.

The monster is invisible so it may not seem real but…

It. Is. Real.

It is not something made up, it is not a cry for attention and it is not an excuse to avoid responsibilities to make life more convenient.

My anxiety is real.

It’s hard to make other people realize how real anxiety is.

Many people say, “Well there’s nothing to worry about…” or “Just stop worrying about it and you’ll be fine…” or “Why would you even worry about something like that? It’s so insignificant.”

I know.

I know some of the things that trigger my anxiety are minuscule and can sound ridiculous.

I know that, but I can’t help it.

I cannot stress this enough: I cannot explain why I am anxious 0r why this or that makes me anxious.

Sometimes it is for no reason. Sometimes there is no reason for my anxiety.

Now, I do not expect people who do not have anxiety to understand, but please be patient with me and do not look at me like I am “crazy.” I already feel like I am crazy and I have little patience with myself half the time.

On behalf of myself and many others with anxiety: Please realize my monster is not imaginary. It is real.

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When I Deal With Losses as Someone With Anxiety

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As I sit in my room, feeling the plagues of anxiety soaring through my body, I wonder — why is it so hard to maintain? Experiencing losses while battling depression and anxiety can be life-, mind-, body- and soul-consuming. As someone who’s very spiritual, it explodes inside of me like a volcano forever erupting. I’ve found that keeping busy helps, but the moment I stop moving, it takes over.

Every night at the same time, I’m plagued with the anxieties of the day. The simplest of moments can become a tumbling episode that lasts for hours. Losing friends, losing jobs, losing lovers can turn into losing myself. Anxiety takes over and rips through me like a wave crashing on the shore. I can’t manage a simple goodbye. I can’t manage a simple sever of a relationship. I can’t manage a simple loss of a job when I can easily find another. It’s too much.

Why wasn’t I good enough? What did I do wrong? Why didn’t it last this time? Why? When? How?

The plaguing questions of anxiety. My mind telling me I’m not enough. The soul being crushed inside of me — the light draining from within me — and I lose myself.

Why is this happening to me?

I’ve tried everything at this point. I’ve walked. I’ve tried to talk, but the words escape me. I’ve tried to pull myself together, but the anxiety has taken over. I can feel it in my bones. Nothing seems enough.

As someone who deals with anxiety, I don’t just lose friendships or lovers — I lose myself. I don’t just lose jobs — I lose my will to keep going, to keep fighting. Everything stops. My world crashes. I can no longer function. Because something inside me says, “You lost it. This is your fault. You can’t come back from this.” My mind play tricks on me. Constantly.

At this point, anxiety doesn’t just plague my mind, it plagues all of me. It stops me from making new friends. Finding new jobs. Looking for new love. Looking for other pieces of myself. It stops me from being who I am, because something inside me tells me I can’t go on, I can’t keep moving. I have to stop everything I am doing, and I have to panic.

Anxiety is more than just breathing into a bag and overreacting. It’s more than sweaty palms and short breathing. It’s a mindset. It’s a way of life. It’s consuming. It’s all I feel I am sometimes. But it isn’t the only part of me. It is only a piece — though at times, it can feel like every part.

When confronting loss, anxiety consumes my mind, it consumes my body, and I am  lost. All I can do — all I try to do — is fight.

In cases like these, it can be hard for others around us to know exactly what to do to help us through. Here are a few tips to ease that:

  • Don’t panic. Be gentle. Stay calm when we can’t. Talk us through it. Ask questions like: “Are you OK?” “How can I help you through this?” “Is there anything I can do?” “What can I say to ease your mind?”
  • Ease our minds. Remind us we are valuable and things may be hard, but — as always — we can work through them and get back to our best selves.
  • Don’t tell us it’s not a big deal. Instead, remind us things happen and even though our minds may play tricks on us, we can work through it.
  • For some, physical comfort can be a huge help. Make sure it’s OK to hold our hand, touch us, or rub our shoulders.
  • Remind us to take deep breaths and take them with us. Breathing patterns can fluctuate during panic attacks, and we sometimes forget to do the simplest things — like breathe.
  • Remind us of our coping skills — writing, reading, painting, going for a walk — and help us to get them started to help ease the pressures of the anxiety and pent up energies.

For those who struggle with anxiety, here are a few helpful tips to get you through it as well:

  • Count to 10. It can take the mind off the sudden flow of thoughts that tend to bombard us.
  • Take deep breaths. Breathe in slow, breathe out slow. Breathing techniques can help to ease the heart and mind.
  • Write it out. Write what happened and what you’re feeling. It can help organize the thoughts and release the pent up energies the anxiety can create.
  • Reach out to your support system — people you can count on to help you through the anxieties. Tell them what happened and how you’re feeling. This can also help relieve the pressure and organize your thoughts.
  • Go for a walk. Fresh air, sunlight and/or the physical activity can help clear the mind and relax your body while lessening the physical pressure of your energies.

If you struggle with anxiety, everyday feelings and thoughts can seem like a plethora of pain. And this can be heightened when dealing with facing certain life events. Remember, you are not alone.

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5 Tips for Surviving Christmastime Busyness When You Live With Anxiety and Depression

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I have struggled with Christmastime for as long as I can remember. Everywhere seems so much busier, and there seems to be a lot more pressure to be happy and upbeat. There are more family gatherings and social events, plus the added pressure of buying Christmas presents. For someone with anxiety and depression, these things can make Christmas a nightmare.

Here are a few tips that will hopefully make Christmas a little bit better for you, if like me, you struggle with Christmas:

1. It’s still OK to have “down” days.

Just because it’s Christmas doesn’t mean it’s not OK to have down days. I used to feel guilty for feeling unhappy at Christmastime, but I have learned over the years that my illness is not just going to disappear because it’s Christmas. Remember: self-care. Do what you need to do to make you feel better.

2. Don’t be afraid to say no.

Like at any time of the year, if you don’t want to do something, then you don’t have to. Don’t put unnecessary pressure on yourself. I used to feel obliged to attend every single social event that I got invited to. I would spend the whole month of December feeling anxious about the events.

3. Don’t overspend on Christmas presents.

We have all heard the phrase,“Giving is more important than receiving,” but don’t take that too far. For many years, my anxiety made me feel like I needed to spend large amounts of money to buy an acceptable Christmas present. It often leaves me struggling for money for the next month or so and puts added financial pressure on me that I don’t need.

I have learned that very often the gifts I make by hand are often much more appreciated than the gifts I spend a lot of money on. I am not a creative person, but there are plenty of ideas out there on websites like Pinterest. If you do decide to buy presents, then set a budget with that person. This way you know how much to spend and don’t feel guilty thinking you have spent too little.

4. Take care of your eating habits.

For somebody who struggles with an eating disorder, Christmas can often seem like it is all about food. For most people, they see it as a time to eat whatever they like before “the diet starts in January.” It doesn’t have to be this way. I struggle with binge eating and used to always see Christmas as a time for me to eat large amounts of food in front of others without them questioning how much I’m eating.

Now, I find it difficult to eat anything in front of others. I find it even more difficult when all I hear being discussed at the dinner table is how many calories something has. Just because it is Christmas, don’t feel like you have to change your eating habits. Stick to your normal eating habits if that is what is going to work for you. If you do see Christmas as a time to overindulge, then that is completely fine as well. Don’t feel guilty about it. Remember that a few days of not worrying about calories isn’t going to harm you.

5. Do what makes you happy.

I often spend Christmas, like many others, trying to please everyone else around me and forgetting to take care of myself. Doing what makes you happy isn’t selfish. It’s self-care, and it’s important. I’m slowly learning this. Whether it is the days or weeks leading up to Christmas or it’s Christmas day itself, just do what makes you feel good. There are some days around Christmas I’ll put my Christmas jumper on, watch a Christmas movie, listen to Christmas songs and treat myself to a festive hot chocolate. There are other days where I want to forget Christmas even exists and will avoid anything Christmas related. Either one is completely fine.

The most important thing to do is take care of yourself. Don’t neglect any self-care techniques that you have, and do not put any extra pressure on yourself.

 If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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I'm Tired of Coming Up With Excuses for My Anxiety

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Anxiety disorders are extremely common, and odds are you know someone struggling with one and you don’t even realize it. Often, those with anxiety don’t share that they’re dealing with it due to the stigma. We can sit here all day and talk about how, “It’s OK to have a mental illness,” and “Mental health is so important!” Yet, so many people act like it’s not.

Mental health is important. You are important. I am important.

I’m tired of constantly having to come up with excuses for my anxiety to benefit those who don’t understand or don’t care to. I’m sick and that’s OK! If your brain is sick, then it’s OK.

It’s disappointing I’m more comfortable saying I have a stomach bug than having panic attacks all day. It’s disappointing I’d rather lie to my friends and tell them I have a cold rather than say my anxious mind is weaving its way into my thoughts again. It’s disappointing I’ve been told that “I’m crazy,” “I need to just relax,” and “It could be worse.”

Obviously, I know all of this. Try telling that to my anxious mind, would ya?

The word anxiety gets thrown around so much that it belittles the constant dread and fear the illness holds. I constantly hear the word anxiety being used as a synonym for nervous. News flash! It’s not. I’m not just nervous. I’m not just worried. This doesn’t just last sometimes. This isn’t situational. This is my life.

Anxiety is real, and it sucks. The more we keep holding anxiety under this stigma, the more it will take a grip on our mind and bodies. I want to be able to say I have an anxiety disorder and not receive judgmental looks and disapproving comments. This is real. Pay attention to it, and don’t stigmatize what so many of us have to deal with daily.

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15 Things You Need To Know About People Who Have Concealed Anxiety

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This piece was written by Brianna Wiest, a Thought Catalog contributor.

1. They don’t hide their anxiety, they hide their symptoms. To have concealed anxiety isn’t to deny having it – only to do everything in your power to ensure other people don’t see you struggle.

2. They have the most anxiety about having anxiety. Because they are not comfortable letting people see them in the throes of an irrational panic, the most anxiety-inducing idea is… whether or not they’ll have anxiety at any given moment in time.

3. They come across as a paradoxical mix of outgoing but introverted, very social but rarely out. It is not that they are anti-social, just that they can only take being around others incrementally (which is mostly normal). Yet, on the surface, this may come across as confusing.

4. They make situations worse by trying to suppress their feelings about them. They are extremely uncomfortable with other people seeing them in pain, and they don’t want to feel pitied or as though they are compromising anyone’s time. Yet, they make things worse for themselves by suppressing, as it actually funnels a ton of energy into making the problem larger and more present than it already was.

5. They are often hyper-aware and highly intuitive. Anxiousness is an evolutionary function that essentially keeps us alive by making us aware of our surroundings and other people’s motives. It’s only uncomfortable when we don’t know how to manage it effectively — the positive side is that it makes you hyper-conscious of what’s going on around you.

6. Their deepest triggers are usually social situations. It’s not that they feel anxious in an airplane, it’s that they feel anxious in an airplane and are stuck around 50 other people. It’s not that they will fail a test, but that they will fail a test and everyone in school will find out and think they are incompetent and their parents will be disappointed. It’s not that they will lose love, but that they will lose love and nobody will ever love them again.

7. It is not always just a “panicked feeling” they have to hide. It can also be a tendency to worry, catastrophizing, etc. The battle is often (always?) between competing thoughts in their minds.

8. They are deep thinkers, and great problem-solvers. One of the benefits of anxiety is that it leads you to considering every worst case scenario, and then subsequently, how to handle or respond to each.

9. They are almost always “self-regulating” their thoughts. They’re talking themselves in, out, around, up or down from something or another very often, and increasingly so in public places.

10. They don’t trust easily, but they will convince you that they do. They want to make the people around them feel loved and accepted as it eases their anxiety in a way.

11. They tend to desire control in other areas of their lives. They’re over-workers or are very particular about how they dress or can’t really seem to let go of relationships if it wasn’t their idea to end them.

12. They have all-or-nothing personalities, which is what creates the anxiety. Despite being so extreme, they are highly indecisive. They try to “figure out” whether or not something is right before they actually try to do it.

13. They assume they are disliked. While this is often stressful, it often keeps them humble and grounded at the same time.

14. They are very driven (they care about the outcome of things). They are in equal proportions as in control of their lives as they feel out of control of their lives – this is because they so frequently try to compensate for fear of the unknown.

15. They are very smart, but doubt it. A high intelligence is linked to increased anxiety (and being doubtful of one’s mental capacity are linked to both).

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

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15 Things You Need To Know About People Who Have Concealed Anxiety

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What It's Like Going to Class With Anxiety

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I get there 15 minutes early. I’m too afraid to be late. I’d much rather never show up at all than walk in late. My classmates start to spill into the corridor outside the classroom and engage in their own conversations. I can’t speak. I stand there, like maybe in a strange way I’m involved with them. But I don’t actually have any friends. I open my mouth to say something, and no words come out. My mouth is dry, and my throat feels like it’s closing up. “You shouldn’t go in there.” It’s that persistent voice inside my head. It’s the voice that makes it impossible to fight the urge to turn and run away.

I sit down in my seat, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone. Not because I’m being rude, but because I’m afraid that by making eye contact they’ll somehow see all of the flaws I’ve been trying so hard to hide. If I look them in the eyes maybe they’ll notice that my breathing is uneven, and my heart is pounding so hard that I’m afraid the girl next to me can hear it. Maybe they’ll notice I’m trying my hardest not to cry or throw up or that I have a million thoughts racing through my head. Thoughts so incredibly loud that I can’t hear what my teacher is saying. I’m shaking, and I’m sweating and my hands and feet are numb. “Don’t let them see what’s going on.” She’s going to ask me a question, I know she is. And there it is. I don’t know the answer, and people are staring at me. I’m so stupid. Breathe. Just breathe.

We’re allowed to leave. I practically run out of the classroom and take a huge breath as I’ve escaped that prison. I survived. I’ll have to go back there tomorrow, but for now I’ve made it through. And I’ll continue to make it. One day at a time.

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