girl sitting on her bed

What the Voices of My Anxiety and Depression Tell Me at 3 A.M.

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“You’re so useless.”

“You got nothing done today.”

“Could you be a worse friend?”

“Call them. Tell them to leave you. They deserve better.”

I am sitting in my bed, the couch I have been sleeping on since I moved to Boise; the voices of my anxiety and my depression are getting loud again. Sad music has been turned on to try to drown my own thoughts out. Usually, it helps. Feelings of uselessness and despair are completely overwhelming me as I struggle to find rest. Nothing eases it. Every attempt is met with still more self-loathing. Two days now. I have felt so sapped by my depression that I have gotten almost nothing done. My family is growing impatient with me — calling up memories of me before I really got any help at all and I was so much worse than I am now.

“They are never going to hear you.”

“You are never going to be OK again.”

“They are only going to assume it is your fault.”

“There is no hope. You are always going to be like this.”

The noise just keeps flooding my thoughts. I with they would somehow understand that I am not “lazy,” or “unwilling” — but that I am sick. It is the same as any physical illness. I am so numb it hurts. It hurts my muscles, nerves, bones, eyes, nose, teeth, mind, soul, relationships, and anything it can bring pain to. It’s almost akin to being clasped in on by a massive breaker at the ocean’s edge, only instead of being able to roll with the blow and float back to shore, I am chained and cemented to the very place I am standing. I feel as though I am bearing the full brunt of every pound of force the wave has to exert on me… and I am feeble.

“Just give up.”

“Run away from all this.”

“You are not worthy of them.”

My skin is clammy, and I have adjusted the thermostat a dozen times in an effort to find comfort. All of my hair is standing on end because I keep pulling it and running fingers through it. I desperately wish I had someone to curl up against and to cry on and to tell all of this to. Yet here I am, telling it to you. Telling you all of my pitiful thoughts. In a mere three hours, I will have been awake for a full day’s time, and I am nowhere near tired. Instead, I am wide awake, panicked and miserable.

“What were you thinking? You’ll never fit in here.”

“You are literally failing at everything.”

“Nothing about you warrants compassion or affection.”

And there I am again, twisting in my own sweat. Hating every part of this illness — and of myself. I believe my family when they berate me for laziness and slacking off. Those thoughts embed themselves in my mind and echo until I can hear nothing else but them. It is literal torture. And what’s worse, no one seems to care when I am in this headspace. I know they do. It is just a fact. Yet, all I perceive is them hating me for being so chronically ill, with diseases that don’t seem to have any physical symptoms or valid inputs. Genuinely, it feels as if having the distinction of my illness being “mental” instead of “physical” means I am not valid in having it.

In case you were wondering, this is what my illnesses are like at 3 in the morning.

Image via Contributor.

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Challenging the Unpredictability of My Anxiety

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Tension. Tension in my limbs. Tension in my torso. Tension in my chest. Tension in my neck and shoulders. Unbearable tension, as if my body were bracing itself for imminent impact with some as yet unidentified threat.

The threat is a tidal wave of anxiety or rather, a series of waves, threatening to sweep me away and drag me under. I try to regulate my breathing, but my efforts are hampered by the feeling that my short in-breaths are met with dead, lead weight lungs in my chest, while the long out breath is met with an obstruction in my throat, beneath my Adam’s apple that stubbornly refuses to be moved.

And so I submit. I don’t fight it or wish it to be different. I simply sit with it. I acknowledge I can’t change the weather, and I accept it for what it is: a passing storm. I let it be, sure in the knowledge that sooner or later the sun will come out and I can get on with my day. And so it is.

Before long, I’m off in the car, having reached a momentous decision regarding a project I’ve been working on since September: my beard. By October, it had grown out as far as I had ever allowed, but with my trip to New York in mind, I had the Turkish barber trim it back, in the style of designer stubble, after he’d cut my hair.

Since then, I haven’t touched it. What to do? Santa had been kind enough to furnish me with a beard grooming kit, but I hadn’t a clue what to do with it.

Numerous YouTube tutorials later, I realized what was required was a little beyond my skill set. Alas, a steady hand and a sharp eye are not among my limited attributes.

Then I remembered the cafe-cum-barber shop I’d stumbled across a few weeks back, when making my way from a restaurant to the theater. I knew then the only sensible course of action was to entrust my face-fluff to the professionals.

The whole experience was strangely meditative — calming, relaxing, almost therapeutic. The barber assured me actually doing it was more so.

It was good to have ventured out of my comfort zone and to have changed my routine, done something, gone somewhere different. Since my anxiety is entirely unpredictable, I might as well be too.

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14 Things People With Anxiety and Depression Wish Others Understood

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For many, living with anxiety and depression can be debilitating. Often, friends and family members don’t understand the extent to which living with a mental illness negatively impacts relationships. We asked the Anxiety and Depression Association of America community to share what we wish friends and family understood.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “I can’t control my anxiety. It just doesn’t go away. I can’t just snap out of it.” – Elissa M.

2. “Don’t sit on the sidelines when an anxious loved one needs help. Just like soldiers help a fallen comrade in combat, friends need to get off their tails and ‘man the troops’ to assist that person in his/her time of need.” – Jerre D.

3. “I am not weak, it takes every ounce of strength to hold it together. I’m not anxious or depressed because I am weak. I didn’t choose it.” – Janelle C.

4. “Sometimes I just need to remove myself from everything and everyone. It’s not personal.” – Sue B.

5. “My anxiety and depression make it hard to do even the most basic things sometimes.” – Denise F.

6. “I wish specifically family and friends would understand that anxiety and depression are disorders of the brain. The brain is a human organ just like any other, and disorders of the brain are not a choice. These debilitating illnesses affect a person’s confidence and productivity. These disorders are not a reflection of someone’s intelligence, moral character or work ethic.” – Sonya P.

7. “It’s not bad behavior or bad parenting — my 7-year-old has overwhelming anxiety. What you may think is a tantrum is her really just struggling to walk through the door or complete something.” – Christina C.

8. “I wish I could control my mood swings. It’s not you, it’s me.” – Jessica J.

9. “Anxiety and depression are a part of me. I am not ashamed. If you don’t understand this illness imagine how hard it is for me to understand. Every day is a balancing act of anxiety vs. depression, although in this battle they both win. I don’t want sympathy, just a little empathy.” – Amber W.

10. “It’s not as easy to get out of it as people think. It tears you down.” – Bobbie M.

11. “While anxiety affects so much of my life, not everything I feel is due to my anxiety – sometimes I’m actually just a ‘normal person’ upset/angry. Please don’t dismiss the way I feel just because I have anxiety/depression.” – Stoni F.

12. “Understand I’m trying my hardest every day to fight the depression, but some days that depression cloud or monster wins the battle. I want to feel happy and not feel like a burden.” – Linda P.

13. “It invades every part of your life. Depression takes away the ability to enjoy things you used to be interested in and it actually drains you of energy, so much that you don’t want to go anywhere or do anything. Anxiety disorders can destroy a life.” – Leonard W.

14. “We aren’t weak or lazy, in fact it takes strength, courage and stamina to face the same demons every day.” – Frank C.

What would you add?

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8 Ways My Friends Have Supported Me Through a Panic Attack

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I consider myself to be extremely lucky that despite having to live with this constant, sometimes debilitating anxiety as part of my bipolar disorder I have friends who have and continue to support me. Although I have always known this and am reminded of it regularly in the little things like a text message to check how I am doing, or a slightly longer hug hello or goodbye, or a reassuring smile, I am also reminded of it in the bigger things they do to support me too.

Last night was one of these examples, and I want to share it so if you too have a friend who has anxiety and/or panic attacks you can use these ideas to support them. However, I have learned that everyone is different and may not respond to the same support.

Before I share the things these friends have done on more than one occasion to support me during a panic attack I want to add a little context, as if you have never experienced a panic attack yourself it is hard to imagine what it can feel like.

Panic attacks can come in all shapes and sizes and can vary person to person or situation to situation. They can be the more obvious type that include hyperventilating, feeling faint and sweaty or nauseous, but they can also take a more hidden form where the person may be distant and withdrawn and unable to engage or interact. Whatever form they take, they are just as scary and the person cannot just switch them off.

I have experienced both of the above types as well as times where the two have been mixed. Although I know certain situations can trigger them, they do not always occur in that situation and sometimes they can spring from nowhere unexpectedly.

Last night I experienced a mix of the two in a situation where I knew I would struggle. I could not prevent it, I could not switch it off or snap out of it. I had to ride it out, but the support of friends made that easier to do. So if you wish to support someone in a similar situation, here is what they did that worked for me:

1. If you know a situation is likely to be difficult for someone you care about do not try to convince them to avoid it. I wanted to go out last night. It was important that I went. I wanted to be there for the friend celebrating a new job. If I hadn’t have gone I would have hated myself more. Instead, my friends supported me by arranging to pick me up so I didn’t have to arrive on my own.

2. Help them spot triggers. They knew the trigger as well as I did, and although panic attacks cannot always be prevented, even just to know that someone else knows and understands can help.

3. Give them space but not too much. Last night I left the situation when I needed air. I needed a few moments alone to gather my thoughts. They gave me these few minutes, then came to check in with me. This was really important for me as I would not have been able to re-enter the situation again alone.

4. Take time. Encourage them to breathe, be with them, hold them tight. Often in the midst of a panic attack I tend to dissociate from where I am. A tight hug helps ground me and can help get my breathing back into sync.

5. Just be there and reassure them they are safe – don’t try to rationalize or play it down. It isn’t always rational, I know that, but that doesn’t mean I can stop it. It may start from one single thought and then spreads until I am questioning every single thing, replaying every single situation, imaging the worst about anything that could happen (multiple worst-case scenarios), remembering other things (unrelated) that worry me and doing the same with these things and worrying what people are thinking of me while doing all of these things. My friends don’t try to make me explain or repeatedly tell me it won’t happen.

6. Recognize it, but don’t draw attention to it. They can see it coming better than I can but are also discrete. When I shut off and withdraw, I need time. Last night they kept the conversation going, offering a distraction but also letting me know they recognized I was struggling. Again I often need grounding, so a tight grip on my hand or firm touch on my arm or leg reminds me they are there and I am not alone.

7. Don’t judge – this is the one I find most difficult as I constantly judge myself and condemn my own behavior, seeking to punish it later. Their acceptance lessens this for me because I know there is no need to explain to them, which would be hard because often I don’t even know.

8. Last one – know that they are not their illness, and don’t give up on them. Keep inviting them out.

So, there are my top tips based on what my friends have done for me during a panic attack. Having said that, there is no rule book, and I am truly blessed to have found two wonderful people who understand and accept and want to be my friend regardless. And although I have been able to describe this in some sort of understandable way here for this support group, it saddens me that I will never be able to find the words to explain to them how exactly perfect their support is and how much I completely value it.

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Illlustration by Elisabetta Stoinich

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Quotes That Show What It's Really Like to Live With Anxiety

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10 Lessons From the Dalai Lama's Teachings That Helped My Mental Health

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I started reading the Dalai Lama’s teachings to reduce my anger and irritability (often due to my intrusive thoughts and anxiety.) His teachings really help me in my attempt to self heal and be a mentally healthier person. These are my takeaways from his teachings:

1. Stressing out about something inevitable or something that will never happen is useless.

I know it doesn’t solve anxiety, but it is good to remember this when anxiety starts setting in and makes us feel like everything is out of control.

2. Dialogue is the way to solve conflict.

It is extremely important to talk about our mental illnesses in order to get help.

3. We need to find a way to respect everyone.

Try to find respect for the people who do not understand our illness, because negative thoughts hurt ourselves more than it hurts the people who misunderstand us.

4. Your wellness depends on the people around you.

As a person with a mental illness, you need to find a community, rather than staying isolated. We are interdependent.

5. The physical world has limits but our mental growth does not.

It is important to keep busy and grow as a person, through achievements to keep our minds healthy, even when our mind is sick.

6. Better education is the solution to everything.

This includes mental health awareness and mental illness.

7. Our similarities are greater than our differences.  

Mental illness does not discriminate regardless of age, race or class.

8. Compassion is important.

With the number of people who have different mental illnesses, it is important to have compassion for each other and understand you are not alone in your suffering.

9. When we focus on ourselves, our problems seem bigger, but when we focus on others, our problems seem smaller.

I know it’s wrong to say some people have it worse, but the Dalai Lama says it helps to focus on others. I think getting involved in helping our community can help us feel included and less isolated with our problems.

10. We are so much more than our mortal body.

Our body and brain will fail us but we are so much more than them. It doesn’t mean we have to stop trying because we can still grow spiritually and through our actions.

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Image via Dalai Lama’s Facebook

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