sillouette of a woman running through a field

Anxiety and depression, they’re like peanut butter and jam, except slightly less accepted by the world. You break your leg or get the flu and you get these mysterious things called “sick days,” but when your anxiety and depression go head-to-head in an all-out battle royale, you’re told to suck it up, shake it off, grow up and go to work like everyone else does. My anxiety is like the little elephant on my chest. Sometimes there are good days — he’s cute and just kinda hangs out and let’s me have my normal. But then there’s the bad days. He makes it difficult for me to do my day-to-day. It makes it hard to breathe, hard to get out of bed, to make plans and keep them, to sit in meetings and to meet new people. To try new things. To leave my bubble. Depression adds 500 pounds to the elephant. It makes all of those things impossible.

I’m sitting at my computer, shaking and my eyes are welling up with tears. I’ve had too much human interaction, too many conversations with strangers about important things, about nothing, small talk and even the occasional joke. But still too much. I’m staring at my computer. A group of people walk in. The thought of seating them makes tears pour down my face. My coworker comes by. I suck it up, say it’s just allergies giving me the sniffles and the glassy eyes. I realize I’ve only been at work an hour and I have seven more to go at the absolute least.

I panic a little more. I’m embarrassed that I’m crying, but my body is freaking out and I’m just numb. I can’t move, I can’t talk, my chest is heavy. Just a run of the mill panic attack. Totally normal. I get up, I serve a customer, I clear a table, I take a call. I had already woken up glued to my bed, feeling hopeless and tired and cancelled a meeting, so my day was off to a running start. Maybe if the bad had just ended at one panic attack it would be different. But it wasn’t. I’m trying to explain why I’m not feeling well, but I can’t find the words that either don’t make you cry or don’t make you sound like a “pansy,” because anxiety and depression and mental illness “aren’t a true thing.” Mental illness. But OK, I’m just “not feeling well.”


Which for all intents and purposes is 100 percent true. I’ve barely kept any solid food in my body all day since my body rejects it once I hit a certain stress level. All of a sudden I catch myself thinking about it all. And panicking again. And feeling rather upset and helpless. And this vicious cycle of crying and panicking and terrible thoughts just keeps cycling my whole shift, just sitting in a trance, staring at my computer, wanting to crawl under my covers and cry. But I’m at work. No sick days for me.

* * *

As it turns out, my anxiety is a person. I found my anxiety in a dream within a dream just now. Well, a dream within a dream, which as I type, could truly just be another dream…
I was in my bed, in my room, with my sister — a normal scenario. Until I was asleep against my will, my sister wasn’t there, a shadowy man looming and leering near me. I was kicking and screaming and punching, trying to pull myself out of what fell like a lethargic, drug-induced haze.

Then I woke up — feeling fine, until a panic inexplicably and out of nowhere came over me, I start trying to get out of bed, to find something normal, to remind myself that I’m awake — until I find out that my hands and feet are asleep, my limbs feel like rubber, I couldn’t breathe, speak and could barely see other than blurs in a blackish haze of what seemed like my room. I tried to yell but nothing came out, I tried slapping my face to wake up out of the darkness that I was surrounded by, but my hand had no effect. I was still screaming and tangled and my bed wouldn’t let me go – like it had arms and legs holding me against my will. I was trying to yell for help, but all that would come out were small gasps of air. I felt hopeless. I started crying and gave up.

I finally awake. For real this time. Terrified and anxious and in a full out panic, I scramble for my phone, panting and crying and just praying someone is awake to validate my consciousness.

I write down everything you just read and realize my dream(s) is/are an allegory for my anxiety and depression: it’s out of your control, it takes you at your most vulnerable, traps you and holds you tight until it’s done with you and shows you no mercy. It’s no elephant. My anxiety is a tall, faceless man. He paces around me, watching my struggle to escape. He has an effect on me, he laughed and mocked me, just seeing the kind of power he had over me; he watched me fight and cry and do everything he could to keep me under his spell, at his every demand.

Would you not be terrified if that happened in real life? If you heard this was happening in real life to someone you knew or cared about, that they were being held against their will by someone – wouldn’t you want to help? Wouldn’t you want to make things better?
Well to me, this is real life. It’s my real life, my reality, my every day. There is a real man who makes most of my decisions for me. Just because you can’t see him, doesn’t mean he isn’t there.

Follow this journey on The Way I See It…

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Let’s talk about the color pink. Growing up, I took pride in my aversion to the color and my unwillingness to like something just because I was a girl and that’s what we did. I loved sports, so in the black and white world of a child, I chose being an “athlete” over being a girly girl. Thus began my public detestation of all things pink and my one child protest. But then I grew up. With time came the realization that I could have it both ways; I could be both a feminine and an athlete. Yet, to this day I still occasionally find myself hesitant when buying something pink, because deep down that fear of propagating a stereotype I never fit never really went away. But the cool thing is, the woman I am today can never be defined by the colors I wear or the sports I play. If anything, they’re just small insights into the complicated and beautiful human being I am learning to love more and more as each day passes.

Yesterday was the Women’s March on Washington and I wanted nothing more than to be there. I want to be in D.C. with my friends, yelling and screaming for what we believe in, and making history. But sadly what we want and what is best for us isn’t always the same thing.

Since coming back to school I’ve felt an energy and passion that I’d long since forgotten i had the capacity for. I wake up every morning itching to see what the day has in store. Just for comparison’s sake, the other day I had a stomach bug that kept me in bed all day. This is something that three months ago would have sounded like the perfect day, but was instead a day spent wishing I was anywhere else but trapped in my room going stir crazy. So while all of these changes just energize me to keep practicing the skills I learned in “Brain Rehab,” I’m fully aware that in the grand scheme of things my healing journey has only just begun. And that’s why I wasn’t in D.C. yesterday. I know this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I also know that in a crowd that big, somewhat trapped in a sea of people, my anxiety would skyrocket and I can almost guarantee a panic attack would come.


Coming to terms with my decision to stay home wasn’t easy. At first I was upset that my brain was denying me the ability to take direct action against the unsure trajectory of our country. As a two-time survivor of sexual assault, Donald Trump and his comments and views on women horrify me. As an ally, the thought that any of my friends could be subjected to even more hatred and prejudice during the next four years terrifies me. And as an American, the widespread belief that this country isn’t already great saddens me. It was for these reasons that I wanted to march today. They’re also the logic behind why I felt my decision to stay home was just another extension of my privilege and an act of complete selfishness.

Here’s the thing though: Self-compassion and knowing yourself well enough to know your limits isn’t selfish. If I had broken my leg and was on crutches, I wouldn’t feel bad about missing the march. Recognizing that I have a legitimate medical condition, rather than berating myself for circumstances that are out of my control, helped to shift my perspective. Instead on focusing what I was missing out on, it drove me to find other ways to be involved.

And so that’s how I found myself in the middle of Lancaster City at 10 a.m. yesterday morning, with lips painted bright pink, smiling wide as Ukelele Explosion sang songs of solidarity with the hundreds of other protests happening countrywide. I had the perfect view. Perched on top of a ledge, I watched as hundreds of people stood in the square wearing their pink pussy hats proudly; all there to stand not only with D.C., but also with every other American exercising their first amendment rights today.

It was in that moment I realized why this march was so important. Regardless of geography, when that many people from all walks of life rally around one common cause, something extraordinary happens. The hope and positivity that every single one of those beautiful humans radiated combined to create a practically tangible energy. It didn’t matter who we were or where we came from because during this rally we became one.

So thank you President Trump, because with your efforts to divide us, you instead gave us the motivation to come together stand truly united. You made housewives into activists, fathers into feminists, and strangers into friends. But most importantly, you changed my lifelong prejudice to the color pink. I no longer regard it as an archaic gender stereotype because after today, the color pink symbolizes strength, hope, and unity. And as hard as you may try, these are things no legislation or executive order can ever take away.

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Lead photo by Mark Dixon

It was a great day until the dinner plans changed.

It was actually the best day I’d had in a while after an on-and-off week of darkness, and I remember feeling proud of myself for purposelessly spending time with my boyfriend without dissolving into a million pieces.

That was until the dinner plans changed.

I thought we were going out for dinner. When I got out of the shower, he was cooking dinner for both of us. A miscommunication. Not a big deal.

But this flipped a switch in me. Thoughts, first appearing one at a time, suddenly multiplied and crescendoed into an indistinguishable buzz. I had stepped backwards into a deflating body, and whatever was sucking the air out of me was taking my breathe with it. Not a specific worry but multiple worries had broken through the confines of linguistics, transforming into physical blows.

I’m embarrassed to tell you the rest.

I’m embarrassed to tell you the rest because when this happens it doesn’t feel like “me.” In my everyday life, I appear relatively easygoing. I hate drama and shrivel at any sign of conflict. I don’t consider myself a picky eater. I can hold it together in many situations that would be considered stressful.

But this — on this day — this is what broke me. This is sometimes how anxiety works. I had planned on something happening and now it wasn’t happening the way I thought it would. It was small, and it didn’t matter. But it was enough.

So after the dinner plans changed, the following string of embarrassing events occurred:

My boyfriend and I getting into a puny fight. (Me, calling him out for saying, “We didn’t have time to make dinner.” Him, clarifying. He meant we didn’t have time to go shopping since I infamously cannot complete a shopping trip in less than 30 minutes. Me, denying this, even though it is a 100 percent true); Me, crying, announcing I couldn’t go out with friends anymore; Me collapsing in his bed, unable to find a position that felt “right,” thoughts racing fast, chest tight; Him holding me.


But what’s always worse than the reaction is the corresponding pile-up of shame. Shame because my boyfriend was once again going to have to explain to my friends why I wasn’t out. Shame because my boyfriend was comforting me though another mini, pointless breakdown. Shame because I knew this wasn’t even an issue because I’m lucky to have dinner and someone to make it for me. It’s this shame that held the most weight as I curled up in my boyfriend’s bed, trying to find my breath.

If this sounds dramatic, it’s because it is. But the drama doesn’t make it feel less real.

I’m not sure why change is a trigger for me. This doesn’t happen around everyone or even all the time.

It’s when I’m in a safe place — when I’m with someone who loves me unconditionally. It’s like my brain can be its true self: inflexible and always in search of certainty. After bending and trying so hard to fit into my everyday life, and succeeding at it, my brain is tired, and it waits for any reason, a shift in the wind, to release the tension that’s been building up from passing in this uncertain and overwhelming world.

When I was crying that day, it really wasn’t about dinner. It was about how stressful it can be for me to pick out meals because I want to be certain I’m choosing the “right” thing. It was about always needing to know the plan because I’m constantly anxious about the anticipation of everything. It was because I had gotten some upsetting news from home that day, and although I had handled the phone call “surprisingly well,” in reality it was tucked away, waiting to be provoked.

I did end up getting myself together and going out that night with help from my incredible boyfriend, who knows how to support me without patronizing me. Because in these moments, I don’t need to be told I shouldn’t be reacting this way or that it doesn’t make sense to react this way. I know that. I know it so much. My rational mind starts beating myself up over it the moment the anxiety starts. 

What I need to be told is that it’s OK — that this one reaction doesn’t define who I am, suddenly make me a “drama queen” or void how well I was doing during a structureless day that would usually be hard for me.

Although a reaction — like having an anxiety attack when things change — seems dramatic and seems irrational, it doesn’t make you dramatic and irrational. And I think if we accepted this and released ourselves from the weight of shame, it might become a little easier to find our breath in these moments of panic. Because in an ever-changing world, if one thing is consistent, it’s that things will pass, and that we’ll be OK.

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Many people see me as a confident and compassionate volunteer with a therapy dog who offers comfort and support to middle school students. What they and most people don’t know is that anxiety made me do it! After retiring, I needed to do something to fill my time and anxiety limited where and what I could do. Working with my service dog who is cross-trained as a therapy dog was a great option. It also helped that I could return to a school in which I had worked before, under a principal I knew and with some staff with whom I was familiar. My anxiety “made” the choice for me. This time it was a great one.

Other times, when my anxiety gets the upper hand and limits my choices, I feel the outcome is not as good. There are times when I’m invited to go places with my coworkers or friends. The thought of navigating traffic, a new venue, choosing from a menu, dealing with crowds and handling money is too overwhelming. My anxiety kicks in. I fumble through excuses in my head: I need to feed the dogs, my husband is expecting me, I forgot my debit card, I have a headache or I am not hungry. I never share the truth: I am saying no because I am anxious and scared.

Anxiety made me do it!

Family gatherings are so nerve-wracking. If family gathers at my home, I petrified we have not cleaned everything perfectly. (Oh, that pesky dog hair!) I worry about having wonderful decorations. I am concerned whether I have prepared a good meal to satisfy everyone and whether I look presentable and am able to make everyone comfortable and happy! If we choose to visit family, I worry about keeping names and relationships straight, making conversation and wondering how soon we can leave because I am genuinely uncomfortable making small talk for hours. I try to opt out as often as possible. Again, anxiety made me do it!

Going shopping or running errands away from our home produces major anxiety. I have difficulty driving away from the house and worry about accidents. I am uncomfortable in the store and cannot concentrate on the purchases I should make even if I have a list. Sometimes I will just abandon the basket and come home with nothing. Anxiety made me do it!


Anxiety is my silent, constant copilot that makes many of my decisions. Someday I hope to be the sole pilot. But right now much of the time, “Anxiety made me do it!”

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Rising in the morning, I feel like I’m “birthed” into a cold, harsh world. My anxiety and depression make me feel like I’ve been unplugged from the Matrix. My blankets are my cocoon and my bed is my nest. Although the voices in my head tell me of my challenges and flaws, the bed and blankets give me a break from facing them. In these morning moments, it’s hard to put a finger on what finally gets me out of bed. I think it’s the obligations I feel toward my children and my friends at work.

It was almost a year ago that I took a medical leave for anxiety and depression. My co-workers and my supervisor, by and large, have been extremely supportive and respectful of my privacy. I sometimes feel reluctant on elaborating or conveying experiences because you never know where stigma will come from.

My wife and my mother-in-law are the day-to-day support network at home, in particular with childcare and family/household matters. Yet, my anxiety and depression take a toll on them, too. So I try not to speak frankly about my emotions and symptoms with them.

The morning routine of getting the kids ready for school and out the door (in particular our 6-year-old twins), can be anxiety-filled for all of us. However, I try not to show it. I internalize or hide my anxiety if the kids are moving slow and if it looks like we’ll be late for school. I’m afraid that a full-blown anxiety attack will ensue if I let the anxiety get the best of me.

I usually drop the twins off at school on my way into work. I try to treasure the time I have with them while they are still young, especially since I have a 13-year-old boy who’s growing up way too fast.

I work in an “open office environment,” where there are no cubicle walls. I usually say hi to at least my “pod/table mates,” and others around me. However, I secretly really miss the structure I had at a partial hospitalization almost a year ago. At the partial hospitalization, we would start the day in a group setting with a morning “check-in.” Each of us would share how we were doing, how we were feeling and what our goals were for the day. I found this morning check-in reassuring and much more authentic than the ritualistic, “How are you’s,” in an office setting.


When I power up my computer at the office in the morning, I take one quick look at my work email, and I realize I’m not quite ready to take on the day. In a strange, ironic way, I go grab a coffee from the office kitchen to help settle my nerves. I have a long-lasting hope that coffee is my anxiety’s placebo. At least it makes a small dent in depression’s drowsiness. I grab a water too as a way to tell myself that I’m sort of being healthy.

I’ve heard of the phrase, “Time is a construct.” Yet, with my anxiety, that phrase takes on a life of its own. When it’s 11 a.m. it feels like 3 p.m. Then 3 p.m. feels like 7 p.m. Later, 7 p.m. can feel like 11 p.m. I look around at coworkers, gaze out my office window and I wonder if others ever feel the same way.

I have some compulsive, ritualistic things I do when I start to feel anxiety at work or at home. I check my personal email accounts, Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes, anxiety is the reason I get up and walk around the office or at home. Whether it’s at my work desk or in a comfortable chair at home, I find myself habitually rubbing my feet together as a nervous and anxious habit. I highly doubt anyone else notices.

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To my husband and best friend,

You were like something out of a movie. A reward for me, an incurable romantic who never stopped believing in love.

Introduced through our dear ones, we met on Skype, got engaged six weeks later without ever meeting in person and married two months after that. For someone who takes ages to decide which milk carton to buy in our weekly groceries, decades to pick what movie we will watch on the weekend and lightyears to decide where we should live or what car we should buy, you sure did not waste any time in deciding you wanted me to be your wife. You decided the first time you saw me on that fuzzy Skype screen, you later confessed.

You were always so logical, seeing things in black and white, weighing the evidence. You were so calm and rational. You had no idea, like most people, what anxiety and depression was. I tried to tell you. I sent you articles, news and medical reports, but it wasn’t until we actually started living together that you realized the horrors and engulfing darkness of these two all-consuming diseases. You took your time realizing that the periods of inexplicable sadness or terrifying panic attacks were not the result of any of your own mistakes or shortcomings or mine. It was just the way it was.

Then, my love, your courage, patience and love shone through so bright it bought sunshine to my world. When I was home alone, you always followed to the code. “Five out of 10” meant I was not happy but OK. “One” meant I was doing badly but nothing a hug and extra attention would not cure. “Three” meant you had to leave work or anything else important you were doing and come help me immediately. “Ten” usually entailed you spending long hours with me at the A&E only to be returned later with a sobbing me when the doctor refused to help us or acted grossly insensitively and made my already unbearable condition worse. You always, always followed the code.

Sometimes, the codes weren’t necessary. One look at me and you could read me like tea leaves arranged into alphabets. You always knew what to do, the small things or the big things that would help. Sometimes, when I over did stuff, fooling the world into thinking I was OK, I saw tears in your eyes, which you tried to hide. I later learned you, and only you, heard the pain in my voice or saw it in my eyes.


On one occasion when the negative thoughts, as usual, churned a never-ending loop in my head and I recalled a 100 hundred bad memories per millisecond, I told you how I had always felt different. I told you how I had earlier felt this was OK as it is the strange ones who go on to win Nobel prizes or bag huge accomplishments. Yet, now I felt like I would not even do that. I was feeling like I will always just be different, not even in a different-but-at-least-hugely-accomplished-sort of way. When I said all that, you didn’t waste a second in taking me into your arms and saying, “Hey baby doll. There is nothing wrong with you. You were created in God’s light, and you are God’s light.”

You weren’t humoring me because you really were proud of me. You saw my obvious battles and my wins, and you saw my hidden battles and my wins with those. Sometimes, you understood the world got too overwhelming for me because of depression and anxiety. In those times, you brought out a comfortable blanket and hid in it with me for a while.

Sometimes, you made a “safe” spot for me in the house, an “island” where the sharks could not swim up to me. Sometimes, when I was fine, you let me hop around, be happy and just be myself. Sometimes, when I needed space, you got that too.

Yet, when it was not safe for me to be alone, you carried me somewhere in your arms and propped me down where you could keep watch. You kissed the tears away so gently. You did all of this literally. You made me feel so understood, so special and so completely normal.

I guess I could feel guilty like most people with depression and anxiety probably feel on a regular basis, like a “burden.” I guess I could feel like I owe you a lot of thank you’s. I guess, on the days I feel inadequate, I could tell myself I do not deserve you, but then, that’s love. Knowing I don’t have to feel, think or do any of those things.

You already know I am grateful. You already think you love me that much because I, somehow in many ways, am deserving of your love. You have already understood depression and anxiety, and you have defeated the challenges with me.

I am better today because you are my hero. You were like something out of a movie. Today, you are my hero in real life. I know because I survive every day, I am yours.

Anxiety Girl

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