Pensive girl thinking in winter

The Facebook Post on Anxiety I Wish I'd Put Up Before I Graduated High School

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Recently I graduated high school, which was a huge achievement for me. After being bullied throughout primary school and into the first few years of high school for issues such as my sensitivity, weight, and extreme shyness (which I later learned was tied to my anxiety), finishing high school was a huge goal of mine, one I successfully completed.

I learned of my anxiety during the summer holidays between year 10 and year 11, and everything finally made sense, the missing puzzle piece. I told my closest friends, my best friend of 13 years and my close school group. I also told my parents. I kept it hidden from everyone else. It felt like a secret. I felt ashamed. I thought my anxiety made me weak when in fact it made me strong. It felt like a weight on my shoulders always dragging me down.

Halfway through year 12 I realized my mistake: I had let anxiety, my deepest darkest secret of the time, consume me. So I spoke up. I told more people. I applied for special provisions for the Higher School Certificate (Australian end-of-school exam exams which determine whether or not we get into university), as exam conditions make me extremely anxious. At first I was rejected because none of my teachers knew of my condition; my mistake was made more evident. Eventually I was accepted after speaking to each of my teachers and explaining my situation. I drafted a post which I intended to post on my Facebook account for all my peers to see. I never did post it because I was too scared. It went like this:

Anxiety (noun): a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.

I have something I have been wanting to share with you all for a very long while… I have anxiety, and just like my hair, my nose, and my eyes are all part of who I am, my anxiety is part of me too, but it’s also important to realize that I am not my anxiety!

Some may think this is a post to draw attention to myself when in fact it is not. I would much rather not talk about this… but the stigma surrounding mental illness needs to change! I am not my condition! My anxiety does not define me! Yes, sometimes it controls me, but it does not define me!

I just want people to know that mental illness is not something to be ashamed of! Yes, mental illnesses are ugly. Yes, mental illnesses have a detrimental effect on the lives of individuals, but in no way, shape, or form should one be ashamed by this or judged by this!

We need to speak up! We need to help each other!

Be patient with those who have anxiety (and other mental illnesses). It’s hard to talk about and explain to someone else whats going on in your head when even you yourself don’t know.

I wish I had posted this before I finished high school. No more hiding. No more running from myself. I’ve learned to accept the anxiety and I wish I knew it was possible to do so when I was first diagnosed.

Anxiety does not make you weak. It makes you stronger.

Anxiety has made me who I am. It has shaped me.

Anxiety is not something to be ashamed of.

I am now moving on with the next phase of my life. I do not wish to announce to the world that I have anxiety, but I will not hide it. It will not become a secret that I bury deep within myself only to manifest over time.

I read this quote when I was little: “those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.” Don’t let your insecurity regarding anxiety (or any other mental illness for that matter) stop you because it is a part of you and you should not be ashamed of it. This is what I wish I had told my high school self.

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Image by Antonio Guillem

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Deciding to Go On and Off My Anti-Anxiety Medication in College

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When I was finally diagnosed with anxiety I decided to read as much as I possibly could. I didn’t know why this was considered a diagnosis because didn’t everyone get anxious? I knew I would begin to hyperventilate when I could no longer control my anxiety, but I thought it was something I could learn to control. People can learn to help control their anxiety attacks, but it takes practice. I didn’t understand how much practice, and I quickly realized that instead of getting better I was actually getting worse.

Because I thought my anxiety stemmed from being around my parents, I assumed once I went off to college I could get a better handle on my issues. I couldn’t. I was put on an anxiety medication that was supposed to control my depression as well, and after the first two weeks I noticed a major difference in my life. I no longer had my daily anxiety attacks and my depressive episodes were minimized.

Two months into my first semester as a college student, I had passed all of the tests I had taken with very few anxiety attacks. I felt much better. My daily life had improved significantly. Because everything was going so well I thought I could slow down the medication. I thought I could slowly wean myself off the pills because I hated taking something every day and feeling controlled by a medication. I didn’t want to be a “weird” person who spent her entire life on medication for some “weird” mental disorder.

I had been on several dates, and since the pills were always in my purse, after the third or fourth date, the guy would see them, get concerned and eventually leave. I assumed no guy would ever like the girl who needed anxiety meds. So I stopped taking the pills. Cold turkey. I had read online that most people did not experience withdrawals from the medication I was on, so I wasn’t even looking for symptoms. But I soon noticed the depression return. I began feeling constantly anxious. I would shake just because I had to walk through a crowd of people.

Going to class was awful. I couldn’t stand the thought of being stuck in a room with 200 other people who were all staring at me. The worst part of it all is that logically I knew no one looked at me and no one even knew who I was, but that didn’t stop the feelings. That is the issue with anxiety. It isn’t logical.

The nightmares began,and then I gave up. I couldn’t handle the distress. I started taking the pills again. Going back on them was awful. I had forgotten how in the beginning I had no appetite — that I didn’t care about life and that my depression had actually been worse before it was better. I couldn’t do anything about it at this point. I had to struggle through it one way or the other. I chose to go back on the pills. Maybe I could just hide them better, I thought.

A month later, more failed dates occurred after revealing I was on medication. In reality, I can look back and realize those men obviously were not right for me if they couldn’t support me in some of the darkest situations of my life. But at the moment I was angry. I threw out the rest of my bottle so I couldn’t go back to the pills. This time I would have to quit, I thought. I could do it. I was strong. I couldn’t. The anxiety and depression was too much for me to handle.

Bottom line: I need my medication. That is just a part of my life right now, and maybe some point down the line, I won’t need it, but for now I do. That is normal, and if you’re struggling with quitting, you should never do it alone. Do it with the help of your doctor and your therapist. Make the decision for you, but don’t follow through by yourself; it won’t work. Medication may be the route of several hardships because of your day-to-day life, but it also significantly helps others. Weigh your options, and decide what is best. Right now, I know I’ll get through it… with the help of my meds.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

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Thinkstock photo by Design Pics

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To the Paramedic Who Called Me 'Crazy'

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I get it. I needed help for my anxiety because I was so distraught I became a danger towards myself. I was a mess, but I was not “crazy.”

I lay there in blue scrubs in a hospital bed waiting for the emergency medical services (EMS) team to come pick me up and bring me to my next location. I was a nervous wreck, and I had no idea what was going to happen to me, nor how long I was going to be away from my home and my loved ones. I couldn’t concentrate on anything, and my thoughts were attacking me. I felt like I couldn’t survive this.

I heard my night nurse say, “Vanessa, get up. Your ride is here.”

I looked at her and then looked at the two EMS girls. I slowly got out of my bed and walked over to them. They helped me get on the stretcher, and then they strapped me down. I was rolled out of the ER and into the lobby where other patients were staring at me, and all I could feel was myself slowly dying inside.

To the EMS girl who sat with me in the back of the ambulance for 30 minutes — I was not “crazy” like you called me. I was quietly sitting there looking out the small window in the claustrophobic, hot ambulance, and I remember you turned to me and said, “I need you to sign this.”

I was confused about what I was signing, so I said, “What am I signing for?” I sat there, strapped down and scared out of my mind, and you had the nerve to say, “Don’t worry, the worst part is already over. You’re crazy, and you’re going to a mental institution.”

I was already feeling depressed, and you made it even worse. You made me feel so low about myself, and you were supposed to make me feel better. How are those words supposed to make me feel better? There was nothing comforting about that. I learned throughout my life that words are sharper than actions. A bruise can heal, but words can never be forgotten. I will never forget what you said to me that rainy afternoon when I thought my world was falling apart. I will never forget how you made me feel in that moment, and how I wanted to be gone from this world. I will also never understand how anyone, especially a paramedic, can say something like that to a person. You made me feel smaller than I already felt.

What you don’t know is that I’ve gotten better mentally since I’ve been out. I’ve been making good choices and taking care of myself. I don’t think I will ever be able to forget what happened to me when I was hospitalized, but one thing I know for sure is I’m a lot stronger now, and I will not let people make me feel terrible about my mental illness. I struggle with mental illness, and I’m learning how to cope with it one day at a time.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Helping My Daughter With Anxiety by Addressing Its Physical Effects

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My daughter is 11 and has a diagnosis of autism. Anxiety is an everyday challenge for my daughter and has been for as long as I can remember. Her heart beats double time, she panics, and this can lead to a meltdown.

When my daughter was around 9 years old, I purchased a cognitive behavioral book for children to see if I could help support her in understanding her worry. I bought it hoping, with some understanding, her worry would reduce. But at the time, my daughter just was not ready for that level of understanding. She found it difficult to grasp, and it didn’t have any impact in helping her with her anxiety beyond being able to identify what anxiety feels like within her body.

This made me realize understanding cognitive processes is difficult for everyone, and there must be a more practical way of relieving anxiety than looking solely at the thought patterns behind it. The more I read and researched anxiety, the more it dawned on me that the body has a distinctive physiological reaction when in fear. We all have a fight-or-flight response, and although not everyone will have the same reaction to the same thing, we tend to have similar physiological reactions when we experience anxiety.

Anxiety releases adrenaline, which makes our hearts beat faster, and in turn our breathing may increase. We may get a tingling sensation in our arms and legs. We may get a headache or a stomachache, and we may feel hot with our palms becoming sweaty. Having a written list of what anxiety feels like has helped us put strategies in place to address the physical symptoms as they arise.

We started with breathing — simple breathing exercises have helped us greatly, and I say us because everyone in our house uses them. It is a fast and simple way to start the calming process. We also started practicing a muscle relaxation meditation that contracts and then releases the muscles in turn to help them relax. Lastly we realized the need for space! A timeout from whatever we are doing can be so important for everyone, especially my daughter. Sometimes social situations and certain busy environments become too much for her. Simply having a five- to 10-minute timeout in a different room can make all the difference.

We choose to practice these strategies when my daughter is anxious as well as when she is not anxious so she can try to stop the anxiety from building up. I do think having an understanding of the cognitive side of anxiety does help and hope to visit that side with my daughter as she grows into her teens. But for now, using strategies to combat the physical elements of anxiety works for us.

Learning more about anxiety and how it presents physically in our bodies has helped everyone in my house greatly. It can be a scary time for anyone to have an anxiety attack, so having practical solutions to some of the symptoms helps take some of that fright away. My daughter may always have anxiety, but as her mother, I will try my best to help her manage it so it doesn’t hinder her achieving, and she feels confident enough that if she is feeling anxious, she will know what to do to reduce it.

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The Dictionary Definition of Anxiety vs. How Anxiety Actually Feels to Me

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Anxiety is a feeling that’s had its hold over me so often these days, I can honestly hold my hands up and say it’s one of the only “feelings” I experience that makes me scared out of my wits.

I have, many times, described it as a feeling of “doom.” Just that single noun, as there is no other assortment of letters I can extract from my mind that has given it as much justice. That being said, it is not a feeling that can be described in just a single word. How do you describe such a powerful surge of emotion in something so static?

When my anxiety decides to knock on my door and barge its way into my comfort zone, from my inner bubble of family and friends I always get the conventional:

  1. What are you thinking about?
  2. Why are you worrying?
  3. Just shrug it off!

Hearing these comments has made me conclude that my anxiety might not actually be what is traditionally known as the term “anxiety” in general. Maybe it’s something else altogether, separate from what others — my family, my friends, my many many therapists — see as anxiety.

And from the ashes of these paranoid indifferent thoughts, I started coming up with the term “the bad energy.” The Bad Energy is in face not anxiety, and cannot be explained in terms of anxiety. It is something else altogether.

Interesting thought, right?

If I look up the word anxiety in the Oxford dictionary I get this:

A feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome: ‘he felt a surge of anxiety.

Let’s take a moment to analyze this.

A feeling of worry.

For me, this doesn’t apply. “Worry” is not the horrible “doom” defying feeling I feel at all, as my anxiety is illogical. I usually carry out my days (if not sunken down by depression) more on the optimistic side of life. It’s not that I’m just worrying and there’s a solution to stop this dreadful feeling. If “stop worrying” was the answer, then trust me; I’d f*cking stop worrying.

Does my “bad energy” come up when I sit there with my bills in front of me? A sickly feeling yes, but not “anxiety.”

Does my “bad energy” arise when I have a job interview, an exam, a test of some sort? A niggly nervousness (see quote) — yes, but not the anxiety I am accustom to.

Now, has my “bad energy” come up when I’ve been shopping at my local store pondering over what kind of milk to put in my basket? It has. Has my “bad energy” come about when I’ve been driving in my car, windows down, singing along to a playlist on a nice sunny day? It has, quite frequently. Has my “bad energy” come about while I’m having lighthearted random conversation over coffee with a close friend? It most certainly has.

To call it a feeling derived from “worrying” is flawed in my case. This is the reason I get so worked up when people ask me what I’m thinking about and/or why I am worrying. I am not. It just is. You don’t blame the presence of a stone for “being” there because the person next to it is worrying about it, or because you thought the stone up in your mind. It’s just there.

Nervousness.

Yeah, I get this one. There are a few butterflies flapping about (although, I have described it once upon a time to my therapist as black heavy moths of lead flapping about viciously with little tiny razor blades on their wings), but we come back to the ultimate question again: What are you nervous about? Absolutely nothing.

Unease.

OK, this is more like it. That might be where the “doom” description came from. Unease, I do feel. If you count feeling uneasy as feeling like you’ve been repeatedly whacked with a sack of bricks.

So here is my shot at attempting to make up my own definition of what this anxiety/bad energy/razor moth doom feels like, for people who can’t seem to grasp the concept:

Imagine you’re skipping along happily on a great sunny day. Let’s make it better than great, maybe it began on an unexpected Monday morning where you got a phone call from your boss and he randomly gives you a day off. You are free in life enjoying yourself, with no where to go, no responsibilities to take care of, indulging in the sweet notes of upbeat music playing in the air and minding your own business when –

Darkness engulfs you. There is empty space all around you, and you cannot see a thing. It is pitch black, empty and cold. You don’t even know if you’re standing upright, or which direction you are facing, because all you can feel is the space of the unknown around you in the blackness. Your instinct is screaming at you to run, but you are stuck there with no sense of direction. Your skin starts to crawl, and you get a creeping feeling that something is about to happen. Something is going to jump out at you. But you can’t see, or feel or hear any sounds. Yet you know something is there, waiting for you in the shadows. Then, ever so slowly — so slow that it’s barely noticeable at first — you feel a faint breeze on the back of your neck. You are hit with a sudden shock of terror when you come to the realization that something sinister, your worst fear, is breathing its hot sticky breath beneath your hairline.

Now take that fear of yours, and materialize it… It can be anything, from a pit full of sharp needles, to the ledge off the tallest building you can imagine. From the darkness, you abruptly see it in front of you — your breath pauses from the shock of it appearing right there in your face. Then you realize you are at that pivotal point of no return, the point where the weight of your body tips over the edge of the ledge, the one where your brain says “no” and your heart stops beating. Keep that fear. Imagine it. That very moment of terror that makes time stop. Freeze it.

Now take that fear, that horrible electrically charged surge of emotion, and turn it dark. Turn it sour, almost to the point it is painful and sharp. More. Even more. Really fight to make it as nasty and as vicious as you can.

Now compress it. Compress that fear, and squeeze all that energy in to the tightest space you can. Feel it increase in weight, feel how heavy it feels in your hands, like a big hot ball. All that dense black energy all tight in one space, ready to explode.

Now put that nasty ball of compressed energy into your heart. Feel your back bend over and your muscles in your body squeeze and tense up with the weight, your heart still stuck in time paused on one beat, aching with the pain. There are no thoughts, no way out of it, your mind can’t even possibly register an explanation to why this is happening – your brain is still frozen in that singular moment with the fear of the shock, remember? Your breath still held on that one last breath.

Now carry that around all day.

And then, you sense someone who is still in that distant parallel universe where the sun is still shining, and the music is still playing, and they look over at you and ask:

“What are you worrying about?”

Maybe I’m not the “crazy” one after all. Maybe I am not the one who is indifferent. And maybe, more people in this world need to look up what anxiety actually means, rather than this globally passive term of “worrying” that people assume it is.

Follow this journey on The Manic Years.

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Separation Anxiety Doesn’t Just Happen to Children

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So apparently separation anxiety doesn’t just happen to babies and children. I know this because I have gone through it — you know, as an adult — very recently.

A little back story: my anxiety manifests itself in various ways; it shows up as actual anxiety/panic attacks, a short temper, that need to know (read: control) all the things, to having no appetite. The last one stuck with me over the course of the past four days. From the day my husband and children left on a road trip to visit his family, while I flew out to attend my cousin’s wedding.

Why was I nervous, why couldn’t I eat, why, why why? My children were perfectly safe, they were with my husband, he knows what they like to eat, what they like to do. He knows how to take care of them because, you know, he’s their father. And because he’s my husband, he knows what I need. However despite the daily phone calls, photos, text messages and video chats, my brain couldn’t turn off. And I let the anxiety control me, leaving me feeling like I was walking on a tightrope while our little family was apart.

Steady as she goes, I kept myself distracted, enjoyed the special time with my extended family, the gorgeous weather and the beautiful wedding. Meanwhile, my subconscious had a party of its own where my anxiety was the center of attention. The constant push and pull I felt as I walked into an empty house where I was alone just for one night. There is something about being alone with my own anxiety that creates even more anxiety, because apparently that’s a thing, too. But somehow I made it through, and I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy. I distracted myself, played music to tune out the quiet, read my book filling my mind with the words of someone else’s story.

And the anxiety lessened for just long enough. Maybe today is the day I can accept it and be with it. One thing I do know is that despite the uncertainty in each situation that life throws at me, I gain more realization, which prepares me for the next time and the time after that. With practice and patience comes acceptance. And each day I work towards that goal.

How about you?

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