Earlier this week, I woke up with anxiety so bad that I had to take a sick day.
While I was doing my best to manage my day, I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a positivity meme.
“I am in charge of how I feel and today I am choosing happiness.”
If you have a job (especially a Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 sort of job), every work day you wake up and decide to go to work. Maybe you don’t think about it this way. Maybe you just wake up and go to work because it’s the obvious thing to do. It’s part of a pattern in your life, it’s habit, it’s obvious that you have to go because you have to make money and live.
But you do decide to go to work because you could just as easily decide not to go to work. On Monday when I woke up, my anxiety was debilitating enough that I could not make the decision to go to work. For those of you who experience anxiety, you may know the feeling. Do you brush your teeth or not? Do you wear the black sweater or the white one? Do you put on pants or not?
Every little “regular day” thing you do suddenly becomes as overwhelming as making huge life decisions, and it becomes impossible to move through your day. Your anxiety physically makes everything harder.
So as I was sitting on my couch, watching “Community” (a show I find weirdly comforting on bad days like this) looking at this meme, I could feel myself getting frustrated.
Don’t get me wrong – I am all about being positive. I believe in mindfulness and living intentionally. Fortunately, I am an able-bodied individual in good physical health and can use yoga and other physical activity to help manage my mental health. I know my coping mechanisms and strategies. Most days, even if I am feeling anxiety, I know how to talk myself through it. I can still function.
But as much as I use these strategies, as unusual as it is for my days to get so bad that I don’t feel like I can go into work, they still come from time to time. I know life gets rocky, that applies to everyone. But while many can turn around and change their mindset, for people with depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges – it’s not so easy.
I’m not calling for an end to positivity memes, only for an understanding that for some of us, we can’t just flick a switch. For some, an average day can be transformed into an impossible one with no external factors. It’s not as easy as taking charge of the way I feel.
That day I managed to do a half days’ worth of work from home, do a small yoga practice, and eat. I was proud of this. Sure, there were a lot of moments where I started panicking about something trivial I had to get done and then forgot it two seconds later, but I managed and even accomplished some tasks despite the way I was feeling. I didn’t just go back to bed and sleep to escape the nerves. This was a definite win.
Some days, I can be positive. It’s good to be. But some days I can’t be positive. Some days, I just need to accept myself for where I am at in that moment and learn to live there.
Balance and progress.
How do you feel about positivity memes? Leave a comment below.
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While music isn’t a magic “cure” for mental illness, it can be a powerful coping mechanism for people who struggle with both anxiety and depression every day. When our own minds are constantly feeding us negative thoughts and worries, music can take us to a different place — whether we need a pick-me-up or something to cry to, it’s always there.
“This came on in my van as I sat contemplating suicide. It sounds cheesy, but listening to the words along with thinking about my beautiful babies gave me the courage to let go of some of my demons, even if it just meant having enough courage not to end my life.” — Carleigh W.
“Let it go, let it go / Turn away and slam the door / I don’t care / what they’re going to say / Let the storm rage on. / The cold never bothered me anyway.”
2. “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World
“Hey, don’t write yourself off yet / It’s only in your head you feel left out or looked down on. / Just try your best, try everything you can. / And don’t you worry what they tell themselves when you’re away.”
3. “Unwell” by Matchbox Twenty
“I’m not crazy, I’m just a little unwell/ I know right now you can’t tell/ But stay a while and maybe then you’ll see a different side of me.”
4. “Breathe Me” by Sia
“This song is honestly so relatable and it’s always really nice to hear a song that you can relate to and to know that someone so loved can relate to the kind of things you go through daily.” — Hollie W.
Ouch, I have lost myself again / Lost myself and I am nowhere to be found, / Yeah I think that I might break / Lost myself again, and I feel unsafe.
5. “Holding On to You” by twenty one pilots
“This song is what kept me alive last year. It was so comforting to know someone I admired and respected struggled with the same thoughts I did and managed to fight them.” — Abigail W.
“Time is slowin’ and it’s rolling still / And the windowsill looks really nice, right? / You think twice about your life / It probably happens at night, right?”
6. “A Moment’s Grace” by Boy & Bear
“The lyrics swept me off my feet and got deep in my bones. I highly recommend giving it a listen. The words metaphorically speak to me.” — Cheryl P.
“And when it comes back heavy /You’ll be more than ready/Like you should / Cause I am not/Gonna die this way”
7. “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley
“I used to be in a mental institution. I used to play that song all the time. Apparently all the other residents liked it and we used to sing it in line before going somewhere. Hearing everyone sing that song and having smiles on their faces just made the day a lot better.” — Melissa M.
“Don’t worry about a thing / ‘Cause every little thing gonna be alright / Singing’ don’t worry about a thing /’Cause every little thing gonna be alright.”
8. “Something Wild” by Lindsey Stirling ft. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness
“You’ve got a big heart / The way you see the world / It got you this far / You might have some bruises / And a few of scars / But you know you’re gonna be OK / And even though you’re scared / You’re stronger than you know.”
9. “Shake It Out” by Florence and the Machine
“I like the idea of just having enough and doing whatever it takes to get better. I hear the song and it’s like, I’m not going to forget my struggle but I’m done letting it define me and who I’m meant to be.” — Lauren H.
“It’s hard to dance with the devil on your back / so shake him off.”
10. “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meatloaf
“This may sound silly, but… it is upbeat and so much fun to sing along with! For those few minutes I’m having a blast singing along, and I forget about everything.” — Wendy P.
“Though it’s cold and lonely in the deep dark night / I can see paradise by the dashboard light.”
11. “Let It Be” by The Beatles
“And when the brokenhearted people / Living in the world agree / There will be an answer / Let it be.”
12. “Be OK” by Ingrid Michaelson
“It’s simple, upbeat, and so appropriate.” — Lauren C.
“I just want to feel today, feel today, feel today / I just want to feel something today / I just want to feel today, feel today, feel today / I just want to feel something today.”
13. “A Little Too Much” by Shawn Mendes
“It’s like it was written about my life.” — Emma-Jane L.
“She would not show that she was afraid / But being and feeling alone was too much to face, / Everyone said that she was so strong / What they didn’t know is that she could barely carry on.”
14. “Breathe (2 a.m.)” by Anna Nalick
“I would listen to this song over and over and over during my depressions (and periods of bad anxiety).” — Jen S.
15. “Human” by Christina Perri
“But I’m only human / And I bleed when I fall down / I’m only human / And I crash and I break down / Your words in my head, knives in my heart / You build me up and then I fall apart / ‘Cause I’m only human, yeah.”
16. “Iris” by The Goo Goo Dolls
“There’s something cathartic about listening to someone who also has trouble conveying to who they really are to other people.” — Sharon E.
“And I don’t want the world to see me / ‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand / When everything’s meant to be broken / I just want you to know who I am.”
17. “Pursuit of Happiness” by Kid Cudi
“Tell me what you know about dreams (dreams) / Tell me what you know about night terrors, nothin’ / You don’t really care about the trials of tomorrow / Rather lay awake in the bed full of sorrow.”
18. “Let Her Cry” by Hootie and the Blowfish
“And just let her cry if the tears fall down like rain. / Let her sing if it eases all her pain. / Let her go, let her walk right out on me. / And if the sun comes up tomorrow, let her be, let her be.”
19. “Obsessions” by Marina and the Diamonds
“The song is about those things that are bad for us but we can’t cut out of our lives, they stay with us all the time, hurting us but comforting us when no one else can. It talks about those everyday problems people with mental illness face, like how anxiety makes you rather go a week without food than having to go to the supermarket. It helps me a lot to know that I am not alone with my feelings and that my role model has also felt the way I do.” — Annika M.
“We’ve got obsessions / I want to erase every nasty thought / That bugs me every day of every week.”
20. “I Want It” by Blue October
“It’s such an empowering song and lifts me up. The line ‘everybody owns a scar to show us how we got this far’ is my favorite! It helps me to step back and look at everything that has happened to me and realize that all the trials and tribulations have made me what I am today!” — Lindsay W.
“Here’s to the ones who said that you couldn’t win / Here’s to the crazies getting under your skin / They’re always gonna talk / But I’m never gonna stop / I won’t walk away / (I want it, crave it, bottle up and save it) / I’m here to stay.”
What would you add? Let us know in the comments below.
OK, so there’s something I’ve been thinking about for months. I have been hesitant to write about it because I don’t want people to think I don’t want to support them. I do. The thought of helping another person smile or get through a tough moment quite literally gets me out of bed in the morning on days when it feels like the last thing I should be doing.
If you have had a conversation with me recently, then you probably know I adamantly tell people they are not a burden. No matter what they are going through, they are deserving of love and care. However, I’ve noticed mental illness (and mental health in general) has developed an underlying tone of competition.
That being said, I think it’s honesty time. I am guilty of this. I am guilty of measuring my problems based on other people’s. Last night, I woke up around 3:00 a.m. with a panic attack. I felt like I couldn’t breathe, but I was afraid to wake up my friends who were literally in the same room because I felt like my problem wasn’t “bad enough” to warrant their support.
Trying to lie completely still so as not to wake them, I starting thinking through all of my options in my head. Should I go outside? Should I take a shower? Should I go pet one of the kittens? Needless to say, I was confused and overwhelmed.
Over the past few months, here’s the thing I’ve learned about mental illness: you will never feel like you are “sick enough.” I honestly don’t know if I’ll ever truly believe I have anxiety, even though I have a professional diagnosis. If you can’t see it, then society leads us to believe it’s not there. Since, I don’t have a cast for my brain, no one can see I’m healing, not even me.
More than that, it can be really invalidating for someone who is experiencing a crisis when other people neither see nor understand what is happening. Someone may have just had the worst panic attack of their life or literally feel nothing because of depression. They may have only eaten a handful of crackers all day, and someone saying, “Yeah, I was super stressed for that test too,” “I was so depressed when I hurt my ankle and couldn’t go to the gym,” or “Good for you for going on a diet,” can invalidate everything this person is going through. In that moment, it might cause an individual to deny their own illness.
At my worst, I denied mine. I thought because my anxiety was different from my friend’s, mine must not be “real” anxiety. I’m not saying walk on eggshells around your friends. That’s the last thing I would want someone to do with me. What I am saying is take what people tell you as true.
If someone says they’ve had the worst day, then ask them how you can help. Empathize with them. Sometimes, you can’t help and that’s OK. Just be there. If they say they are OK or they just want to be alone, then let them do what they need to do. They’ve got this.
I know I’ve said before that what has helped me the most in my mental health journey is talking to other people who have experienced similar struggles. I still believe that. Yet, the difference is if someone also has generalized anxiety disorder (GAD,) I know they truly “get it,” and more often than not, they will know I don’t want to hear, “Yeah, I had a really bad panic attack earlier too.” It sometimes feels invalidating to imagine what people who haven’t had the same struggles I have think when they hear, “I had a panic attack.”
Basically, what I want to say is if you’re comparing your struggles to someone else’s is stop. If you are going through a rough time, then you deserve support. I promise you your struggles are valid. You do not need to have the same experience as someone else in order for it to mean you deserve help, nor will it help you to think, “Oh, many others have it worse than I do.”
Take care of yourself first. My rule of thumb is if I think I have a personal anecdote that can help someone feel less alone, then I will ask them if they want to hear about my experience to see if it can help them think through theirs. This way it’s their call.
At the end of the day, if you make mental health a competition, then I promise this is a competition you do not want to win. If you “win,” you aren’t living. Be kind and support one another. Remember your vulnerabilities can be your greatest asset.
The friends who can’t go to a bar with their best friend.
The people who can’t change our plans without sending us into a state of meltdown. Disarray.
The friends who don’t get to go on adventures with their pal.
The friends who don’t share all the photos with that one absent person.
The friends who stop us from obsessing, make decisions for us and don’t ask too many questions.
The people who take us places so we don’t have a car or busy parking lots to obsess over.
The people who understand when we freak out over the layout of a supermarket, who make sense of our irrationality.
The people who remember the little things, who make sure we have an easily accessible exit and answer questions so we don’t have to. They take the hit.
The people who sit holding our hands, breathing with us and reminding us we are OK. We are safe.
The people who watch those close to them go into a total state of panic. Frozen. Fight or flight.
The people who explain to strangers, who become security and crowd control. Don’t get too close.
The people who chase us down roads, hold us tight and stay with us.
The people who sit up at night with us, who dress our wounds, stop us from shaking and who reassure everyone around us. Create the calm.
The friends who understand, who make things OK when we are unable to see it and talk us into safety.
The friends who don’t take our rejections and silences as rudeness, who still invite us to events whilst knowing we will never turn up.
The friends who stick with us after so long and who understand when things are too much.
We may not say it anywhere near enough, but you are more appreciated than we can put into words. We know you’ve got better things to be doing on your night out than sitting on a cold step, shivering, whilst giving us sips of water and stroking our hair and telling us we’re going to be OK, begging us to believe you. We do believe you, but in that state, our brains do not.
You bring us out of that panic mode when we are unable to ourselves. You may not see that, but you do. You help more than you will ever know. You miss out on being able to do things with your friend because they can’t cope with it. It’s not always fair on you either, and we know that.
We hate that it doesn’t affect or impact just us. It encapsulates everyone around us too. Sometimes we feel so guilty for bringing it to your door as well, and the fact that you stick around with us means so much. When we push you far away, you’re always there when we need you. No questions asked. When we reject your invitations, it’s not because we do not want to go. It’s because of the fear of what may happen if we do. Anxiety isn’t just scary in the moment, but the anticipation of its potential appearance is just as terrifying, which is why we avoid situations where it may happen. We have to protect ourselves.
Anxiety is exhausting. Once the attack is over, we’re done. So, so done. Our brains have just run a marathon. We are over-sensitized, tired and weak. During the attack, we are not there. Physically yes, but mentally we are a hundred miles away. We are gone.
Having someone you can trust, who can help to bring you back, can be so important. Someone to hold the map, guide you with directions and tell us where to turn. You are our sat-nav to calm. We love you, and you mean so much to us.
To the people who struggle with secondhand anxiety symptoms, thank you.