furry crocodile

I’m 22, I graduated university over a year ago, and I was at the lowest I had ever been before: my dad was ill, and I was scared, I was miserable at my part-time retail job, and every attempt to leave was met with rejection. I felt stuck, that I was holding my partner back, that I was just bad at life. I’d given up all my hobbies too — no more attempting to get fit, no love for cooking, and no more writing.

I wanted to go somewhere that didn’t know me. I wanted a chance to forget I was who I was. By some quirk of chance, I found myself on the doors of the furry community. I knew from previous interactions on social media that the stereotype that furries were middle-aged, sex-obsessed men was wrong. Very wrong. I can’t speak for the entire community, and I don’t want to, but my own experience was that my first interactions were friendly.

I created a character, then several more, and none of them really fit me. I associated every one with a different aspect of me, and I grew apart from them. Then one day, I was talking with a person on Twitter and it hit me – I needed a character that could grow and change with me, and I made him: Riptide.

Riptide is a crocoyeen (crocodile and hyena hybrid), a robot, and he has a clear voice in my head. With support of other people I met with similar life experiences to me, I admitted myself for another round of therapy, and Riptide became the voice that reminds me of the logical argument against my feelings.

furry crocodile

I made him as an emotionless being, and I used him as my icon on social media and forums. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the “mask” of a character was having a benefit on my well being. I was talking to strangers online and in real life without clamming up or being frightened because Riptide wouldn’t be scared. I was beginning to recognize and control aspects of my condition once again: My chest was starting to hurt (I was getting anxious), I was getting a headache (I’m starting to get stressed), I’m feeling a bit foggy (I’m starting to feel depressed, I need to separate myself and relax for a while). I was gaining confidence, and saving money, I was starting to write again, and my mum was the first person to remark that I seemed refreshed.

The furry community is a group of creatives: writers, crafters, artists, animators and even dancers. We all have our normal lives. I’ve met people who serve in the military, work my career, and even a few with jobs in security and engineering, and I’m no longer daunted or feel inadequate around them. I share their passion for this hobby. With characters between you and the person you’re talking to, you’ve already got an icebreaker, and the pressure I experience when trying to start a conversation disappears. Everyone there feels the same. We go there to share in an escape from reality, and it’s provided me that refuge to step away from my life and my troubles and enjoy the company of others.

Riptide is essentially a virtual dog: strangers stop me in my day just to ask me about him, same as people do when I walk my dogs, and sometimes it’s nice to have questions that aren’t, “What’s it like to have a panic attack?” or “Doesn’t your partner ever get bored of you being so depressed all the time?”

I found friends on my own doorstep, as well as around the world. I’ve found a support network and a little group of fans with both Riptide and my writing, and I’ve found a whole new world of people to escape to once in awhile to distance myself from a stressful situation. This community and my crocodile-sona have opened my eyes to new career options and kept my morale up when I was at my lowest. I found friends who’ve inspired me to be a better person, and I hope I can use my newfound interests to shine a positive light on both mental illness and the communities I find myself a part of.

I still work that same retail job, and my head still likes to remind me I’m stuck and there are still dark days, of course. But I’m also using my inner Riptide to inspire me to keep going. He’s reminding me that every time I feel stuck, I can change. Changes take time, and that’s OK — this is something that even a few months ago, my brain would have disregarded as fanciful rubbish.

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This summer, I started working in a restaurant. I was going through a tough time and wasn’t ready to go straight into a job with long hours, but as a student, I needed the money. So I started my job, but I wasn’t coping well. I hid it at work, but I really wasn’t doing well.

One morning, I was having a bad day. I was working the ridiculously busy Sunday shift in a carvery place and I was working until 9 p.m., so I had the tea time rush.

That morning, I successfully made the two buses I needed to get to work, but as I got off and started walking to work, I felt the panic.

I was panicking so much I stood outside the local supermarket nearby and I started having a full blown panic attack. I was shaking, tears were streaming down my face and I was hyperventilating so much my hands were cramping. I tried to hide it by standing in a corner away from people. A man walked by though and noticed my situation. He came up and asked if I was OK. I nodded I was and tried to smile at him, but he obviously noticed I was not fine. He stood with me, asking if I wanted or needed him to call anybody for me. As I started to calm myself down I told him it was OK and it would pass. He stuck with me, calming me down. He had no reason to do this. He had no idea why I was panicking, but he stuck with me anyway, even though I’d never seen him before in my life.

When I was finally calm enough to string a sentence together, I thanked the man. I told him he was too kind and that he didn’t need to stay, but he did. He could have just glanced at me and walked away like most people do. I told him that he didn’t understand how much I actually appreciated his little act of kindness as he handed me a tissue to wipe my eyes. Once he knew I was fine, we both parted ways, him to his car and me to work.

By the time I got to work, I looked shocking. I quickly applied some makeup and went into my shift. Nobody noticed anything different about me and I carried on with my day as though nothing had happened.

I don’t know if this man has anxiety or knows anybody with anxiety, but he really helped calm me down. He made me feel a little bit happier that day. I didn’t actually get his name, as my brain was pretty muddled and I had to get to work. If he ever reads this, I want him to know I am so thankful.

And to anybody else who has ever acknowledged anybody having a panic attack, many thanks to you as well.

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You wake up and it’s a normal day. You groan because your bed is so comfortable and you don’t want to leave, but you get up anyways. You eat your normal breakfast and leave for work on time. Everything is normal, just any other day. The subway is on time and you get to work five minutes early. You sit down at your desk, say hello to your coworkers and get started with your day. Time passes at a normal pace and then you take your lunch. You have packed a healthy meal and thoroughly enjoy it. Everything is normal. Everything is fine. You head back to your desk and get back to work.

Twenty minutes later, you can’t breathe. You bite your lip to hold back the tears. You try to take deep breaths. You smile when your boss asks you a question and somehow respond appropriately despite the fact your insides are crumbling. You don’t know whether to run or not, you aren’t even sure you can move. Your panic turns into more panic as you worry why you’re worrying. You worry about the fact you have nothing to worry about. There was no trigger. No big event. Nothing to make you feel trapped, scared and alone, but you still feel that way. You chastise yourself and ask what the hell is wrong with you.

Suddenly, it is calm again. You are breathing and everything is fine. You get angrier with yourself. You tell yourself you are weak and crazy and should not be so pathetic. You feel so alone.

This is what life is like when anxiety hits you out of nowhere.

Life with depression is rather different. Your day starts very much the same. But instead of the heart racing, breathless feeling that comes out of nowhere, you get emptiness. You get numbness instead of a racing heart. Instead of not being able to breathe, you just wish you didn’t have to anymore. The symptoms differ but they hit you the same way, without warning and without cause. They hit you like a brick wall. While this may not be everyone’s experience with anxiety and depression, it is mine. It’s not always this sudden and not always so short-lived, but for me those moments where it hits out of the blue are the hardest.

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Mind wanders. Worry swirls. Doubt grows. Her head swims, flooded with unwanted reminders of internal unrest.

Heart pounds. Eye waters. Hand trembles. Her body reacts, plagued with the physical reminders of internal unrest. She reaches for a pen to click, a hairband to snap. Something — anything — to distract, to cure, to occupy. Nothing satisfies the need for internal peace, emotional release, a mind at ease.

This is my friend Anxiety. She has stuck with me since my first cry and will remain until my final breath. She inhabits my mind, controlling my thoughts and my fears.

When I was young, she reminded me to stay by mommy’s side. What if someone wants to hurt you or take you away? she whispered in my ear. I quickly latched onto my mother’s hand, now fearful of every strange passerby.

In school, she taught me to avoid rejection. What if they don’t like you? she taunted my young mind. I drifted to the swing set, entertaining myself alone on the playground.

She taught me to only raise my hand if I was positive I had the right answer. If you’re wrong, they’ll laugh at you, she often reminded me. I kept to myself, only opening up when outwardly encouraged. Anxiety held onto every thought passing through my mind, sometimes creating her own doubts and questions.

In high school, Anxiety began to mislead me.

Don’t even try. So I stopped trying.

You’re only going to make a fool of yourself. So I stuck to what I knew.

You’ll never be perfect and you’ll never be happy. So I gave up the things I loved most.

You’ll never succeed. You’re worthless, she tormented.

Anxiety gave birth to Depression and then I had two friends controlling my thoughts and fears. Depression told me life wasn’t worth living anymore. Anxiety told me the world would destroy me if I kept living.

Anxiety and Depression began to spread to the rest of my body, revealing themselves physically. Sometimes, Anxiety prevented my lungs from breathing normally. She made my heart beat quickly, my eyes water and my hands tremble. Depression made my my eyes glaze, my weight shrink and my arms bleed. Anxiety and Depression began sucking the life out of me.

Somewhere deep down, beneath the worry, stress, fear and doubt, the real Taylor hid. Taylor’s love, smile, joy and kindness were all trapped beneath Anxiety and Depression, who had grown so large they almost blocked out Taylor. Eventually she began to fight back. As Taylor focused on regaining strength, she grew. Whenever Anxiety told me to fear, Taylor taught me to be brave. When Depression told me I was worthless, Taylor taught me how to prove my worth. When Anxiety told me to doubt, Taylor taught me to hope. When Depression told me to give up, Taylor taught me to keep fighting.

I have a battle in my head. Anxiety, Depression and Taylor argue every day. I have learned how to please all of them. Writing allows Anxiety to release, Depression to feel heard and Taylor to express. Painting gives Anxiety peace, gives Depression accomplishment and gives Taylor joy. Performing gives Anxiety excitement, gives Depression distraction and gives Taylor confidence. Each day, the three pieces get closer and closer to combining and completing me. Until that day, I will struggle. However, the struggle is worth becoming completely whole one day. One day. taylor photo

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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For years you have been trying to have the perfect grades, perfect appearance, perfect friendships and perfect relationships. For someone with anxiety and depression, perfection never seems attainable. You have a fear of rejection and not ever being good enough.

Now I am 18 years old applying to college…

I have to submit an application of all my accomplishments while thinking…

Do I have the right scores?

Do I have enough community service hours?

Did I do anything wrong?

Is someone else’s application better than mine?

Thinking…

I should’ve tried harder.

My grades aren’t high enough.

Why didn’t I study more?

Am I good enough to go to this school?

Then you have to write essays on who you are and sadly, you don’t know who you are.

They ask what made you who you are today and what identifies you. You don’t know who you are and your opinion of yourself is based on what you think others think of you. You know your identity is not your anxiety or depression, but in this moment, it consumes you.

You finish writing and now you hit submit.

Now you wait for people to look over you holistically and decide if they want you. Your biggest fear is rejection and not being good enough for a school.

The wait is the hardest part. You sit there and think of everything you may have done wrong or could have done better. The longer it takes to hear a reply, the more you feel rejected and less than everyone else.

Then a letter comes and you are either accepted or denied.

Accepted: You are happy and feel a weight has been lifted but now fear being around new people.

Denied: You feel a wave of never being good enough.

From this process I learned everything happens for a reason and no matter what the letter says, you are not a failure.

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This piece was written by Lauren Jarvis-Gibson, a Thought Catalog contributor.

1. I frequently find myself thinking and fretting about things that happened weeks or months ago.

I can’t seem to let go of things from the past no matter how hard I try to clear my mind. Whether it’s about an argument with a friend, or a confrontation I had with my boyfriend, it still runs through my head constantly no matter how long it’s been.

2. When I make a mistake at work, or even in my personal life, I have a hard time letting it go and beat myself up over it.

I despise letting others down, and when I do something wrong, I am my own worst enemy. I beat myself up over every little thing that a lot of other people would be able to let go of. No matter how many times people tell me that “it’s fine,” I don’t believe it.

3. I have trouble sleeping because I’m playing over the day I just had in my head relentlessly.

Whether it’s waking up in the middle night with worry, or if it takes me a few hours to go to sleep because I’m playing over every single thing I did the day before, that’s not just stress talking, that’s anxiety.

4. Out of nowhere, my throat feels incredibly tight and it becomes hard to catch my breath.

Sometimes, I feel like it’s hard to get air into my lungs. While some may think it’s something else, anxiety can truly have scary effects on your body that you may not even be aware of.

5. I’m constantly apologizing for the smallest of things that other people wouldn’t even think twice about.

I am the queen of overthinking every little detail and every little thing that could go wrong during my day. Even if something isn’t my fault, I find myself apologizing for situations that weren’t even mine to apologize for.

6. I have thoughts about your future at least once a day, and can’t seem to calm down about what’s next for me.

My future is a scary, scary thing to think about for me. I hate when people ask me what my plans are for the next few years and it makes me feel like I’m drowning. I feel like my life is this one giant race where I have to finish everything in time, and I put so much pressure on myself to hit all the right marks.

7. I am known to be a nail biter, and do it without noticing.

Sometimes I bite my nails, and I don’t even realize I’m doing it. These little nervous ticks may seem like it’s no big deal, but it’s a sign that my mind is on overboard and is running out of energy.

8. I avoid confrontation at all costs.

Even the thought of confronting someone or being confronted by someone else makes me feel queasy. When it comes to confrontation, I would rather go quiet and hide from everyone else to not have to deal with it.

9. Every once in a while, I feel a terrible sense of dread that I am in danger.

It could be on a plane, on my walk to work or even in my own home. Feeling a sense of panic or dread is a definite sign I’m struggling with something more powerful than stress. Panic attacks are not just a sign I’m overworking myself, it’s a true symptom of an anxiety disorder.

10. I have noticed I’ve been having digestion problems that seem to happen after stressful situations or encounters.

Another physical symptom that anxiety can plague me with is digestion troubles and stomach pains.

 11 Honest Signs I Know I Have Anxiety, and Not Just ‘Stress’

11. I wake up with racing thoughts and questions in my mind about the day ahead of me.

Anxiety is a never ending cycle of thoughts, worry and overall panic about what my life is turning out to be. If I’ve been having constant thoughts about the future, or even just tiny things that other people wouldn’t ever think twice about, that’s my anxiety talking.

Anxiety is an extremely powerful disorder, and it can have a major impact on your well-being and overall health. Don’t ignore your body, and the thoughts that you tell yourself in your head.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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