Party horn blowers and confetti

The year 2016 has been a rough one for me personally, and I know it has been for many others as well. Among the many things that have been going on in my life this year, I know I haven’t taken care of my mental health or dealt with my anxiety as much as I should have.

While I’ve never been a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions, in 2017 there are a few things I need to work on to try and make it a better year for my metal health. These are the top three goals I want to work on in the coming year.

1. Reach out more and ask for help

One thing I struggle with a lot as a person with anxiety is opening up to others about how I’m feeling. Even when I am having a particularly difficult time with my anxiety and I know that I could use help, I still typically opt to keep these feelings to myself. I’m not sure why I have this tendency to downplay my feelings and keep my struggles quiet, but I’ve been doing it as long as I can remember. I don’t even like to talk about these things with family or close friends. I think it has a lot to do with not wanting to seem “weak,” or worrying that I will be judged negatively.

I know, logically, that my family and friends would be supportive if I reached out to them, and when I have in the past I have never been met with judgment or criticism. I also know that creating a support system is crucial when dealing with a mental illness. So this year, I want to try harder to reach out to those close to me and ask for help and support when I need it.

2. Forgive myself.

My anxiety makes me incredibly hard on myself a lot of the time. I know that I am overly critical toward myself for things I have done in the past and I dwell on mistakes way past the point of being helpful. I also get a lot of anxiety whenever I feel like I’m not doing enough, not working hard enough or accomplishing things fast enough. I start to worry that I’m not meeting goals that I’ve set for myself as quickly as I would like, and then my mind takes that and spins it into thoughts like, “Well, you haven’t even managed to complete this one goal yet, so obviously your career will never work out and you’re going to be a failure. And also you’ll die alone.”

These negative thoughts make it hard to move forward, because instead of focusing on what needs to be done, I’m focused on the anxiety. And when the anxiety feels like it’s holding me back, I get more anxious and more critical of myself. This year, I want to be less hard on myself, understand that my life isn’t on a path of failure, and forgive myself for the times that anxiety has consumed me and made it hard for me to move forward.

3. Take things one day at a time.

A big source of my anxiety is worries about the future. What am I going to do next month, next year, five years from now? I get so anxious about what’s going to happen in the future that sometimes it paralyzes me and makes it impossible to make decisions about what is happening now. It makes it hard for me to be present in the moment, because I am constantly thinking about what comes next. In 2017, I want to work on taking things one day at a time, appreciating the here and now and not letting fear of the future keep me from living in the present.

While dealing with anxiety and working toward better mental health isn’t easy, I know that it’s worth it. I hope anyone else who is resolving to work on their mental health in the coming year find the strength that they need to do it. Here’s to hoping that 2017 is kinder to us all.

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Time and time again I’ve had people tell me to my face or over text that “everyone has anxiety” and that I “just need to learn how to deal with it.” Hearing those words always makes me feel sad because people don’t understand the struggle I live with every single day.

I get it — everyone has experienced anxiety, but some people struggle with it every day. I, for example, have to take medications for my anxiety because my anxiety can get out of hand. I’ve been dealing with my anxiety for years, and for years I’ve been learning how to cope with my anxiety and even my panic attacks.

It’s not easy for people like me who have a mental illness because I feel like I can never get others to understand. Sometimes I’m fighting with myself on a daily basis because I’m so overwhelmed with my thoughts and what can happen. It’s a constant battle, every day.

Not everyone has to go through what I have to go through. Not everyone has to be on medications and go to therapy to learn how to manage anxiety. Not everyone can understand how bad a panic attack is and how I feel like I’m dying because I feel like I’ve lost all control. And not everyone has to decide whether or not getting out of bed is worth it because you’re so emotionally and mentally drained by anxiety.

The next time you tell someone “everyone has anxiety,” please think about what you are saying. It’s a slap in the face to me when people tell me that, and it hurts. Anxiety is a monster that hovers over me wherever I go, and sometimes it acts like a tornado because it destroys everything around me with my emotions. Instead of telling me everyone has anxiety, next time just tell me I’ll be OK or things will be better soon.

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My 7-year-old son is in the first grade and struggles with anxiety. He is typically quiet and not the emotional type. He gets along with almost everyone and enjoys going to school.

A few months ago, I overslept and was running late taking the kids to school. I could sense a little panic in my son’s behavior, but I didn’t think too much into it. When we arrived at their school 10 minutes late, my son refused to get out of the car. I was running late for work myself and was in a rush to get the kids to their classrooms. I could see his scared face and body tense up so I parked my car and walked him up to his classroom. Thirty minutes later, my son, his teacher, the principal and myself were sitting outside his classroom trying to get him to relax and walk into his classroom. I have never seen this side of him before. This was more than just being shy – this was an anxiety attack.

I recognized his symptoms and behaviors and have seen them in myself. He wasn’t crying or throwing a tantrum or screaming because he just didn’t want to go to class. His body was shaking. He just stood there moving his hands in front of his face back and forth, trying to breathe and work up the courage to walk into his classroom. Eventually, I was forced to leave and let the teachers handle the situation. I felt like utter crap walking away. (Worst. Parent. Ever.) I wanted to take him home and talk to him about what he was thinking and what his fears were. It was an extremely difficult moment for me as a parent.

After this incident, I did my very best to leave the house early and always arrive a few minutes early so he could get to his class on time. Well, just last week we left the house at our usual early time and hit traffic. There was a horrible car accident, and I knew we were going to be late for school. Because I was sitting in traffic, I had some time to come up with a plan to help my son face his fear. I kept quiet about the time until he asked me in concern if we were going to be late. I said we were and that I was going to be there by his side to help him get into his classroom.

I had to make this as distracting and fun as possible. Sure, it may sound ridiculous, but it was all I could come up with in such a short time. Right after he asked me if we were going to be late, I mentioned the movie “Inside Out.” I asked him to tell me the five emotions that the movie talked about: Fear, Disgust, Anger, Sadness and Joy, he responded. I said, “Great! Right now, in this moment Fear is taking over all the other emotions in your mind and trying to stop you from going into your classroom. Let’s tell Fear to step aside for a moment so you can handle this yourself. But – don’t tell him to go away! We need Fear. We don’t want to never see him again. He’s an emotion we can’t and don’t necessarily want to get rid of.” My son laughed and said, “OK, Mom.” I looked in the rearview mirror and could see him in deep thought as if he was actually picturing the emotions in his head just like in the movie. It was cute.

Perhaps I went a little too far, but I was having fun with this scenario so I kept going:

Me: Can you tell me what Disgust is saying right now?
Son: I hope we don’t have carrots for lunch today! Gross!

Me: Haha great! Now what is Anger telling you?
Son: Stupid traffic! People need to learn how to drive better!

Me: No kidding! Now, what about Sadness?
Son: I hope everyone in the car accident is OK. (So sweet, right?!)

Me: I was thinking the same thing! Now, what about Joy?
Son: Recess is going to so much fun!

Me: “Awesome, now let’s remember to tell Fear it’s all going to be OK. I’ll be with you every step of the way.”

He seemed incredibly distracted at this point. So far my plan had been working. Of course, it helped that his big sister was engaged as well.

We pulled up to the school, I parked and walked my son to his classroom while trying to remain positive and discussing such Fear. My son was giggling and basically looking at me like I was the silliest person. (Let’s face it, I was.) It came down to the moment of drop off, and he started to tense up and shake. I got down on his level and looked him in the eyes and said, “What do we tell Fear?” He replied, “Step aside!” Then he grabbed the door handle and walked into his classroom – just. like. that.

Wow. It actually worked.

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I recently visited a new primary care doctor, and part of that process of filling out the piles of paperwork was to include any particular symptoms that may be currently concerning me. When I finished I had circled about 85 percent of the mental health symptoms and nothing else.

After we got through the general meet-and-greet and sorting through my more recent serious medical history of thyroid cancer, we turned our attention to those symptoms.

I shared the little bit of history I had with my mental health, which mostly was saying a counselor I met with a few times in college told me I probably had general anxiety disorder and that I hadn’t followed up to get anything confirmed or even attempted to ease my symptoms. I also shared how in the past year or so the symptoms have seemed to increase in severity, basically after I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.

She asked me if I have ever taken medication or wanted to try medication as an option for these symptoms, and a thought that had been in the back of my mind for a while clicked in that moment.

I knew I didn’t like having to take medication for my thyroid, but I brushed off how becoming dependent on a pill to live actually affected me besides giving me the hormones my body needed.

I already had these anxious feelings to begin with, but that little pill had pushed me over my tipping point to a place where it’s much more difficult to get through my day, and I have a feeling other people with conditions that require this sort of daily reminder probably also experience similar feelings.

I wish someone had told me I needed to make sure I was emotionally and mentally OK to deal with what I had to do to be physically OK. I wish as I was going through treatment I had the foresight to talk to a professional, not about how my neck was feeling, but how my head was.

I think when someone goes through a huge medical life change (or really any kind of big change) it should be standard to have them talk with a mental health professional, even if they don’t feel like they need it. If you’re going through the hard work to make sure your body is working the best it can, you should also make sure your mind is too.

I now have some steps to take that will hopefully push me in the right direction.

There’s never a bad time to help yourself feel better, and now I need to do exactly that.

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Yesterday evening, I was doing the dishes, with a nice upbeat playlist playing. I was feeling pretty pleased I’d completed my workload for university before Christmas break starts. It was then I felt the heart palpitations, I felt the shaking of my hands as I was drying a plate, and my legs felt really weak. It was then I felt this dread of anxiety come over me. For absolutely no known reason.

This is my reality of living with anxiety.

Sometimes, I know what sets off my anxiety. I know crowded places can make me really anxious, I know using public transport can make me really anxious. I have learned what can trigger my anxiety, and I’m learning how to cope.

But sometimes, it hits me when I least expect it. It hits me when I think that I’m having a good day. It hits me when I’m washing the dishes.

This is the side of anxiety some people don’t know or understand. It’s the side of anxiety that hurts me the most, because it can be so hard to understand yourself. I’ve had anxiety for five years, and I still don’t feel as though I understand it all. I still avoid certain situations; I still find myself frozen with fear.

I needed to go into a building in university today because my tutor meeting time was on my tutor’s door, but for some reason I found myself dreading to go in there. There was nothing to worry about, all I had to do was look on the door of my tutor’s office. Yet this caused me huge anxiety. I still did it, and in the process bumped into my friend and we then went to the library together to study. Nothing bad happened. I knew nothing bad would happen, the worst thing that could have happened is I bumped into my tutor and had to say hello — and my tutor is lovely, so there’s no reason to dread this at all.

I don’t understand why I was sat in my two-hour lecture this morning with heart
palpitations and anxiety so bad I could hardly concentrate. I only managed to make notes for some of the slides as part of the lecture was a complete blur to me as I was concentrating on keeping my cool.

I’m currently in the library writing this post, waiting for my meeting, feeling absolutely sick to my stomach with anxiety.

The feeling of anxiety is so hard to describe, so hard for somebody who hasn’t felt it to understand. But I’ll do my best to try and describe it:

It’s like this heavy weight on my chest. It almost hurts; it feels as though I can’t breathe properly and it’s dragging me down. It weights down on me more and more, and I don’t know why, and I can’t seem to stop it either. It gets into my head, makes me start to second-guess things. I start to think of worst-case scenarios for situations that don’t need one. My heart beats so fast that sometimes, I swear, it skips a beat; it feels as though it may take off if it goes any faster. I shake; my legs feel like jelly, and I feel as though I can’t grip anything with my hands. It can make me feel nauseous, lightheaded, and completely lose my appetite.

Now this isn’t all the time. Usually my anxiety isn’t this high, and it’s got to the point where I’m used to my “normal” level of anxiety. This is what it feels like when I have an anxiety attack, and this feeling can last for a few hours or a few days after the attack. But this. For me, this is what it’s like to have anxiety.

It’s not just little worries every now and again. It’s not made up. It’s not me just overreacting. It’s something I can’t help. It’s something that affects me not just mentally but physically. It’s exhausting. Truly exhausting, and very real.

This is the reality of anxiety for me.

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Talking anxiety, finals, and the holiday season with Emma Eldredge.

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