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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.

I’ve been making New Year’s resolutions every year for as long as I remember, but the motivation for them usually fizzles out within a couple of weeks. Two years ago, I resolved to learn a new task or skill every week for the rest of the year. I think I made about three weeks in and then promptly forgot about it as life was taking its toll. And when that happened, it felt like a failure, even though no one knew about it and I didn’t have anything to prove. 

Because of my anxiety, every mishap can feel like a complete failure and that it’s the end of the world, even though my rational mind knows this is not the case. Life is hard and difficult, and the older I get, the more responsibility I have: saving up for my own place, talking to my parents about having my own personal space despite living at home, learning not to become obsessed with eating habits when my life feels like it’s unravelling… and when I fail to achieve a goal, no matter how small, it’s easy to feel like I’m a complete failure after all.

Which leads us to New Year’s. This year, my resolution is to not make any resolution. Why?

If you Google “resolution,” one definition is: the action of solving a problem. I am not a problem to be solved, and I am not broken. I know resolutions exist for a reason. It’s easy to “start fresh” with the whole “new year, new me” mentality. And with that same logic, many people vow not to start new habits or challenges until the first of a month or the next Monday. I used to do the same — only to get nervous and anxious and fear failure, leading me to drop out of change completely.

I am not obligated to be the same person I was five minutes ago. This New Year’s, I vow to focus on the now. To take each decision and challenge as it comes and to learn that everything is a process and has a learning curve. To try and control my anxiety rather than let my anxiety control me.

This year, I am vowing not to make New Year’s resolutions because I don’t need there to be a new me. I am learning to accept that it is OK to be the same me, and if I choose to make any changes, it is because that is my choice.

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Growing up, an unexpected knock at our front door was received differently by parents. My dad hated it while my mom loved it. This caused a confusing divide in our family. Do we greet or retreat?

My mom loved when people came knocking so much that she would occasionally hear phantom knocking at the door. “Do you hear someone at the door,” she’d ask. To which I’d remind her, “No mom, we’re in the car.” Whether invited or not she relished in the opportunity to welcome guests into our home. I think this was in large part because entertaining gave her a reason to light the many candles that adorned our home. My mom had only one rule when it came to her candles. They were only to be lit for guests. Those of us living in the house, weren’t candle-worthy. “I don’t wanna waste a wick,” she liked to remind us.

My dad, on the other hand, chose to flee any time someone came knocking. Sometimes even when we invited them over. As my mom ran to the door like a kid on Christmas morning, my dad would jump up from his Lazy Boy recliner, hurry past her and say, “Don’t open it until I get downstairs, Eileen.” My dad treated an unexpected knock at our door like he had just heard tornado sirens. He hid in the basement (his man cave) to protect himself from being swooped up by a funnel cloud of socializing.

Although we were a house divided, when my mom wasn’t there, my brother and I didn’t answer the door. Instead we stuck to my dad’s plan of acting like no one was home. “Close those curtains,” he’d insist upon hearing footsteps walking up our front stairs. Then we’d all head downstairs to hide.

When my brother and I were home alone and someone came knocking, we assumed it was the end. Death was imminent. We’d hide and pray. This was the only time we embraced Catholicism. We’d huddle together and recite the Lord’s Prayer in a whisper hoping God would carry our souls to Heaven, a place I was told during catechism classes, was anything you wanted it to be. All I wanted it to be was a place where no one ever comes over unannounced.

For almost 22 years of my life, I didn’t answer the door. Unless it was a friend whom I was expecting. And even then they’d have to either call/text me when they arrived or yell through the door, “Hey Joleen, it’s (insert name of non-murdering friend).” It wasn’t until I saw my door response through the eyes of another outside of my immediate family that I realized this was an abnormal response.

During my senior years of college (I say years because it took me five to get my bachelor’s degree), I lived in an apartment with my then boyfriend. A few months after moving in, there was a knock at the front door of our apartment. Naturally, I froze and then hid behind our couch. I assumed my boyfriend would do the same. I was shocked when he started walking toward the door.“Where are you going? Just be quiet and they’ll go away,” I whispered. He ignored my request, walked to the front door and opened it. I couldn’t believe it. This dude was trying to kill me. I closed my eyes and just accepted the fact that I was destined to be an episode of ABC’s “20/20.”

After what seemed like an eternity, my boyfriend returned to the living room alone and asked, “Are you OK?” I shook my head no. He looked at me confused. “It was just our neighbor. He locked himself out and needed to use my phone. What are you so afraid of?” Without hesitation I replied, “Everything.” This was the first time I had ever been honest with anyone about my anxiety – even myself. I felt both ashamed and free at the same time.

Now, 14 years later, I have yet to shake all of my door demons. I am; however, finally able to answer the door (on occasion) when unexpected visitors come knocking. But I keep the metal screen door shut and locked just in case. I also throw in a piece of the Lord’s Prayer for added protection.

Give us this day, our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. I forgive you unsolicited guests.

Follow this journey on Moody Girl.

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Brandon Brooks is a Philadelphia Eagle which means, as a diehard New York Giants fan, I shouldn’t, under any circumstance, like him. And while I will never root for him on the field, today he has my utmost respect.

I live with anxiety. As young as age 3 I showed signs of the mental health disorder, and it has reared its ugly head in various intensities over the course of my life. I developed an eating disorder at the end of middle school and since this event, anxiety has never separated itself from my being.

With experience and a low dose of medication, I’ve been able to become comfortable living with this addition to my life. My mental health is a piece of who I am. The panic attacks and social anxiety are something I live with every day.

It wasn’t always so easy for me to be accepting of my diagnosis. Not that I was personally made uncomfortable by my condition, but I was fearful of the reactions I would receive from others. I hadn’t been brought up in a community and greater society that was honest about mental illness. In health class, we talked about stress and the physical changes that were occurring within our bodies. But depression was glossed over. OCD was ignored. Eating disorders were minimized. It seemed like anything beyond what was considered a “normal” level of feeling was taboo. The emotional changes that come with adolescence are perhaps more important than any development we can see on the outside. And the negative education of these issues is just slightly even more powerful than saying nothing at all.

Slowly this has started to change. Celebrities have begun to share their experiences with all forms of mental illness, from bipolar disorder to depression. But even as Hollywood has become a more welcoming place for these revelations, it feels as though the professional sports world is still many years behind.

Mental health brings with it a feeling of shame because very often it is linked to this idea of weakness and that somehow falling victim to a mental illness symbolizes the very opposite of strength, a trait most athletes are fighting to promote. Over the years, coaches and managers have preached mental toughness on and off the field, demanding their players overcome. Not to mention the fear of losing confidentiality for players who are particularly famous. As a result, many choose not to come forward, refusing to admit to their coaches or even to themselves that they need help.

It can often go unnoticed until it’s too late. Some players fight the “mystery ailment” and experience debilitating symptoms for years without ever knowing the true cause.

But on December 14, Brandon Brooks took a step to change that…. in an 11-minute meeting with the press from his locker, announcing he has been diagnosed with an, “anxiety condition,” one which sidelined him from two games with the Eagles this season, as well as with the Houston Texans in previous seasons.

In his announcement to the press, Brandon was unapologetic of his diagnosis. He didn’t keep this piece of himself from the public, although he had every right to. Brandon wasn’t going to run from his truth because he knows it is nothing to be ashamed of and it doesn’t mean life is over for him. Rather a new, better life will begin because of the tools he now has available to him.

On both game days and off days alike, Brandon would wake up around 4 or 5 in the morning plagued by uncontrollable vomiting. No medication helped to ease it, and the episode would last for a full 24 hours before ceasing. Afterwards, he was left so weak he, “didn’t even have the strength to stand up.”

He had experienced this symptom on and off for years but recently decided to find out what was wrong. After one of his missed games with the Texans a couple of years ago, Brandon was diagnosed with an ulcer, leading him to assume subsequent episodes were also caused by an ulcer or something physical in his stomach. It wasn’t until he received help and evaluation from the Eagles’ medical staff that he learned his symptoms were actually caused by severe anxiety and his desire for perfection.

Not only did Brandon share the name of his illness and his symptoms, but he also spoke extensively about the way in which anxiety affects him, clearly and honestly dismissing some of the misconceptions and assumptions about this disorder in particular. He took the time to make sure the public understands. Because for some, anxiety is experienced as a form of panic and intense worry. For others, it is caused by social interactions.

“…[An] anxiety condition is not nervousness or fear of the game. I have like an obsession with the game,” he said. “I’m a perfectionist and anytime that I’m not perfect, in my head it’s not good enough. And it kind of just wears on me from there… I don’t remember good plays, I only remember bad plays, plays that I should have done them right. The film is constantly playing in my head.”

Additionally, Brandon did not shy away from sharing the treatment plan he has chosen to follow. While many find the issue of psychiatric medications to be a taboo subject and keep their choice of prescription drugs a secret, he shared that he is currently on two different medications to help his anxiety.

I think it’s immensely important to have public figures who are honest with their struggles, not just their triumphs. Brandon Brooks is one such individual. He signed a five-year, $40-million contract with the Eagles in the spring. For some, there is a belief that if you’re famous enough or wealthy enough, you are immune to mental health challenges, that if you reach a certain height, you can’t be touched. And that is just not true.

He also wasn’t fearful of sharing his choice to undergo counseling to help address his “unhealthy obsession” with football. So often there is a feeling of shame that can come along with seeing a professional for help, leading many to avoid seriously confronting the issues ailing them, and as a result, they never truly overcome their obstacles. To hear him say, “I realized I couldn’t defeat it myself” and needed to ask for help is a very sobering and inspiring action, one that can make it easier for others to seek assistance in battling their own demons.

There is so much maturity in Brandon’s story. In a league that has been chastised for incorrectly addressing a variety of issues, both internally and publicly, from domestic violence to concussion protocol, Brandon’s response to mental health and the help he received should not be devalued. Much was done right.

The reactions of Brandon’s teammates are also a wonderful example for anyone who is trying to support a friend through mental illness. After meeting with his teammates to explain his illness to them, he says everyone has been nothing but supportive. “I love the organization, the organization’s been great… The head coach, my position coach… everybody’s supported me. My teammates have rallied around me.” Brandon’s security in sharing this personal information without fear of repercussions proves just how safe you can feel in putting yourself first when you are surrounded by the right people.

Brandon Brooks and I are very much opposite. There is very little that connects us. He plays in the NFL. I have no athletic ability whatsoever. I’ve lived my life in the suburbs, while he grew up in the city of Milwaukee. Brandon clocks in a 6 feet, 5 inches, 346 pounds. Meanwhile, I am barely 5 feet, 3 inches, with a slim frame. He is black, and I am white.

When I look at Brandon, I don’t see a version of myself, someone I wholly identify with. Our experiences are very different. But his authenticity and normalizing of those with mental health challenges has no doubt earned him my admiration. I have personally begun to share my story and advocate as a person living with mental health challenges, hoping to end the stigma so many face. I am honest and unapologetic in the telling of my experience. And watching Brandon’s honest and candid press conference on Wednesday, where he encouraged questions and sought to educate, I happily welcome him into our community and acknowledge all he can do to further support the mental health movement.

In a world where speaking out about mental illness is still a fairly new occurrence, where the list of celebrities who are open about their mental health struggles is fairly short, there aren’t many who are positively affirming the normalcy of these issues, who are comfortable enough in themselves to share their truth with the world. And in being honest, succeeding in telling thousands of individuals out there living with these illnesses that it is OK.

I already found my strength and became comfortable with my diagnosis, largely without an example of what it looked like to live with a mental illness. But I do not for a second underestimate the power Brandon’s admission will have on the thousands of young adults who have been and will be told they have an anxiety disorder. His living and succeeding with anxiety tells them, you are not broken, shows them that if he can do it, you can do it, too.

And Brandon himself is chiefly aware of the role he can play in destigmatizing mental illness, particularly for the next generation. He said, “Hopefully, if I can reach some kids out there that are going through the same thing and let them know it’s OK, life goes on, fight through it. Just like I’m trying to do.”

Trying and succeeding. Thank you, Brandon.

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