A woman in a very depressed mood covers his face

I hide my anxiety and depression every day, sometimes without realizing it.

During my career, I’ve been described as “laid back,” “calm during crises” and “always happy.” More often than not, I smile and make jokes even though I feel like I’m about to explode with nervous energy. Sometimes even my parents or husband don’t know I’m not feeling well.

I don’t necessarily mean to keep anything from my loved ones; it’s more that my focus turns inward as my anxiety and depression increase. Bottling up all that negative energy intensifies my symptoms and drains me. Hiding it has also caused me to be misunderstood and relationships to be strained.

Early in my marriage, I learned to be upfront with my husband. This could mean the first thing I say when I walk in the door is “I don’t feel good mentally.” I get an immediate sense of relief when I say those words out loud. It helps him understand the source of my actions and to not take anything personally. We talk about what’s going on (if there were any triggers) and what we need to do to help me in my current state.

Ever since I began writing my first novel, I became much more forthcoming to friends and family about my struggles with anxiety and depression. I’ve found sharing with others is the most therapeutic action I can take! It still astounds me how many people I know who can relate, either from their own experience or a loved one’s. Not only does this help me realize I’m not alone but it allows me the opportunity to help someone.

Especially at work, I still use caution in sharing what I experience. Not everybody understands, and some may even say something insensitive, which no one needs when dealing with mental illness. Call it instinct, but you can usually tell quickly if someone just won’t ‘get it.’ It’s not worth sharing with those people. Simply say, ‘I don’t feel well,’ and leave it at that.

Even though I’ve opened up tremendously over the years about my struggles with anxiety and depression, I’m still working on being more honest about it. I feel being open will only help me to cope, and it might even help someone else!

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Imagine sitting on a train when suddenly, you feel it crashing. This is real. This is happening. Only it is not. It is happening to you, thus it is your reality. In no way, shape, or form is it unreal, fake, or made up. You look next to you in pain. You see that the train has not crashed for the person sitting beside you. Her train is riding smoothly along the tracks. You grab her arm and ask her for help. She sees you bleeding but does not see the wound. She tries to help, but it comes in the form of useless gestures. She’s unintentionally only made matters worse by drawing attention to the wound.

On the other side of you towards the front of the train, a young boy grasps a teddy bear, which looks to be loved to pieces. The boy’s eyes dart from tree to tree, cloud to cloud as the train whips by each object. His thoughts swirl so obviously and mix in his brownish-green eyes. He worries life will pass him by. He worries he will be forgotten just as he forgets each and every tree. He worries he is only a pine needle on a twig on a stick on a branch on a tree. After being in therapy for years and being told that worrying is senseless, he knows he should not worry. But knowing not to worry does not make it any easier not to worry. He hides his worries well. Others on the train do not seem to notice his worries. But you do. Perhaps it is a bond between worriers.

The lady on your other side, trying desperately assist you, goes to get more help. You know she means well, but help will only draw attention to the problem. Help comes, and to no surprise, doesn’t help. They stop the train at the nearest station, and you and the boy exchange horrified looks. The only thing worse than being mentally pained is people knowing you are mentally pained. Quickly you try to erase all evidence of any mental instability. But trying to hide the problem only causes an even bigger problem, thus drawing more attention to your situation. You are carried off the train on a gurney. All of your senses are heightened. Everything is bigger, brighter, and more real — even the unreal.

This is anxiety. This is how it feels to be worried about things relentlessly for no reason. This is how it feels to have a reality where even when there is no danger, you see every possible dangerous outcome. Your train crashes. Your plane plummets. Your life stops. Everyone is built with anxiety. Everyone is built to worry about some things. But anxiety disorders can be debilitating.

I think one of the hardest things about having a mental condition (severe or not) is explaining it to others so they know you work differently than they probably do. You aren’t defected. You aren’t superior. You work just as efficiently as anyone else. Also, after explaining your condition(s), people tend to treat you with delicacy like they would a porcelain doll. Feeling only more different, your anxiety spirals until it finally gets to the point where you keep all of your feelings inside to stop the poking and prodding.

Finally you wake up in the hospital. You are familiar with this scene. It appears after every few train crashes. Within a few hours you are being wheeled out to your car in a wheelchair. You don’t own a car, so they wheel you to the train station and board you on a train. This time you try to hide your crash.

Follow this journey on KatherynGreenberg.wordpress.com.

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This piece was written by Holly Riordan, a Thought Catalog contributor.

1. I eat to fill the silence. When I’m at a party, I migrate to the snack table. When I have chips in my mouth, no one questions why I’m not talking. They just assume I’m hungry.

2. I prep beforehand. If I have to make a phone call or approach a store counter, I’ll rehearse what I have to say before I actually say it. I’ll repeat the words over and over in my head until I have them memorized. Until I’m ready to take on my role as “functional human being.”

3. I act like I’m busy. When I’m sitting in class or riding on a bus, I either shove my face in a book or pop my headphones in. That way, no one will talk to me. That way, I can remain alone.

4. I tone down my emotions. Before I start a new job or go on a first date, I casually text my friends to mention how nervous I am. I try to make it seem like I’m an average person who’s slightly shaken with nerves. I don’t let anyone know how hard my heart is beating and how badly I’ve been shaking.

5. I rely on alcohol. I’m always anxious around other people — unless I have a few sips of beer. Then I actually feel relaxed for once. I know it’s unhealthy, but whenever I go to a party, I head straight for the cooler.

6. I lie through my teeth. My anxiety can make everyday activities feel unbearable. That’s why I’m the queen of canceling plans. I tell my friends I’m sick. Or that I’m swamped with work. But I never let them know I’m staying inside because I can’t imagine stepping outside.

7. I hide my symptoms. If my hands are shaking, I’ll fidget with my jewelry. If my face gets red, I’ll comment on how hot the room is. I’ll make excuses for my physical symptoms so they don’t seem unusual.

8. I dress well. In the morning, I work hard to make my make-up and hair look cute. It’s a little easier to survive social situations when I feel attractive. I figure that, if I look good on the outside, it’ll be harder for everyone to see how much I’m struggling inside.

9. I’ll consider every scenario. Before an interview, I’ll think about every single question I could possibly be asked. That way, when I answer them, it’ll seem like I’m calm and collected, but really, I spent hours stressing over the possibilities the night before.

10. I freak out before big events. I don’t get out of the car as soon as you reach my location. I take a few minutes to obsess over all of the things that could go wrong, and then I force myself to stop hyperventilating and leave. And, when I enter the public eye, no one notices what my anxiety has done to me.

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Love of my life,

I envy your ability to socialize. I am jealous of how you can walk into a crowded room and immediately make a friend. I’m jealous of how you are able to walk up to a random person and start a conversation. Or how you can walk up and confidently shake a stranger’s hand. I am amazed by the countless amount of friends you have and how you know someone everywhere we go. You are like a social magnet, someone who everyone likes on their first meeting.

I wish I had your ability to work nine hours a day and still want to go out at the end of it and get a drink or two. Or your ability not to need any time to relax or reflect on your day. I am jealous of how you can run on so little sleep and still function throughout your day. I wish I could act like a “normal” young adult like you do, but I can’t.

I wish you understood the pit in my stomach every time I go out with you. I wish you would understand why I am quiet when we are around your friends. It’s not because I don’t like them, it’s just my fear of being judged for saying something wrong. I wish you understood why I broke down when you told me I might have to walk into a wedding by myself. I wish you understood why the smallest thing can spike a panic attack or why one minute I’m smiling and the next I’m fidgeting and biting my nails.

I wish you wouldn’t ask me why I woke up anxious, because I don’t know the answer to this question. I wish you understood there is no reason why I woke up with my heart racing and the empty nauseous feeling in my stomach. I wish you realized the smallest comment can cause a panic attack after a hard week of holding my anxiety in. I wish I enjoyed going out, making new friends and staying out late, but I don’t. I wish you wouldn’t tell me to “just close your eyes” when I can’t fall asleep. I wish you understood that one-on-one conversations with strangers horrify me. I wish you could understand these things but I know you try your best.

I don’t know why I sit at my own family events nervous about where I am. I wish I knew why I can’t eat much at a restaurant or eat in front of your family. Or how the simplest days can make me exhausted. I wish I didn’t think every person we meet is secretly judging me, when I know they actually aren’t. I wish I knew why I can’t eat before we go anywhere. I wish I could give you the answers to these questions.

It’s hard for me to keep up with the few friends I have and I know you secretly think I need more friends. But I am happier this way with the few friends I call my second family. I know it seems like I’m overreacting over my nervousness of presenting a project when it haunts me for days. I know you get annoyed when I tell you I passed with flying colors when you say, “You worry too much.” I know it seems crazy when I worry about a new job for a week straight, but it is just the way I am. I know it is hard for you to understand.

I know you tell me every day there isn’t anything wrong with me. You tell me I’m not crazy, but there are days I don’t believe that.

I hope you don’t find me clingy. I hope it isn’t too much when I miss you the second I leave your side. I hope you don’t find it annoying when I can’t go places without you. I hope it doesn’t seem crazy when I cry after being apart for only one day. But I have never had someone like you before, someone who can make me feel so safe.

I know life won’t be easy together. I know my life will always involve overthinking and stressing over the little things. I know when I graduate college and start working full-time, it won’t be an easy process. I realize many achievements in our lives will be scary for me, but I am thankful I will have you by my side.

I am sorry for the nights I do not speak. I know you think I am mad at you when I’m not talking to you. But I promise I am not mad at you. It is my way of processing my day. I am sorry for the times I randomly start crying while watching television. I tell you I’m overthinking but you always blame yourself. It is never your fault, just my anxiety.

I hope I do not cause you worry. I know how much you care about me, but I don’t always want to be a concern on your mind. I hope you never find me to be a burden, I know I can be a lot to handle. You tell me to stop worrying about your problems, but this is not possible. Your problems are my problems.

Thank you for being my shoulder to cry on. Thank you for holding me through my panic attacks. I know it scares you when I’m lying helpless, unable to breathe. Thank you for missing out on things for me because I know it bothers you. Thank you for trying your best to understand me. Thank you for trying to help me, instead of trying to change me. Thank you for pushing me forward because you know my full potential. Thank you for realizing how hard I work. Thank you for being the one person I’m truly comfortable with. I know I can always act like myself around you. Thank you for always believing in me. Thank you for being my best friend and most importantly thank you for loving me for who I am.


The love of your life with anxiety

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I often feel like a burden to those I love because of my anxiety. I struggle in asking for accommodations to be made on my behalf because I feel like I am inconveniencing someone. It can be difficult for me to reach out to my friends because I fear the anticipatory anxiety that accrues prior to us spending time together, causing me to consider canceling our plans. I would never want my friends to think they are triggering my anxiety. It is the action of going to public places, especially crowded ones, that makes me nervous.
As much as I yearn for profound human connection, I simultaneously fear it. I am afraid of being judged and criticized. When I am in public, I carry with me a constant worry of being watched even though I know the people surrounding me are busy with their own days. Thus, at the end of a day, I often feel drained of energy, both mentally and emotionally, because I’ve had to build up a sense of courage for each commitment.
Even though I sometimes experience setbacks, I view each day as a new and bright opportunity to take another step in managing my anxiety so I can live comfortably with it. I acknowledge that my anxiety will always be a part of me, but that’s just it. It’s only a part! My anxiety is not all that I am. I used to feel shameful about my anxiety because it makes me self-conscious. Over time, I have grown to accept my anxiety because it contributes to who I am, yet it doesn’t make me who I am. I ultimately decide that. Also, I aspire to instill a sense of hope within others who are dealing with anxiety or other mental health struggles, for there is always a silver lining, even if it only begins as a dim glimmer.
For instance, my dear family and friends accept me for who I am, for all that I am, including my anxiety. They do not judge me. They remind me I am a gift, not a burden. It truly is a blessing to be reminded that you are loved and that you are lovable. My anxiety causes me to view myself in a self-deprecating manner. Yet, when I look at myself through the eyes of my support team, I see a different “me.” I see my value and my purpose. I firmly believe that if you accept, believe in, love, and embrace who you are, you will be able to do anything! Remember, you are a gift, and you have so much to share with this world!

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I grew up with fairy tales. Not the Grimm Brothers, but the Disney fairy tale princesses. The delicate, gentle soul who is waiting for her prince to save her. I was lucky to be born into an era where the feminist movement is strong. Little girls don’t need saving. We are not damsels in distress.

What if the princess were to save herself? What if the hero we needed was inside of us all along?

Even so, we’re not taught about vulnerabilities. We’re only shown heroes and heroines showing courage, unparalleled strength and the ability to overcome adversity. We aren’t shown vulnerabilities or the struggles that come along with asking for help.

I was brought up in a household where I was taught weaknesses must be defeated, hidden and buried deep. You can’t be perceived as weak, especially as a woman. What’s that saying? You have to work twice as hard to get half as much? You can’t show weakness because that is when people will come take advantage of your situation.

My family, my entire extended family, is full of alpha males and females. We are not to accept defeat, and we are not to show any weakness. If you need to cry, then do it behind closed doors. If you’re nervous, then find a way to get over it because you need to do it anyways.

I first developed or rather first became aware of my anxiety when I was in my initial year of university. Along with the stresses, the massive life changes and added responsibility, I felt scared and out of control. I found refuge in controlling my eating, in alcohol consumption and in mindless shopping splurges. I was no longer at the top of my class, nor was I the smartest one in the room. There were better, smarter, more well-adjusted people all around me. I felt small and insignificant, and as classes got harder, I felt like a failure.

The worst part was I didn’t have anybody to talk to. My friends were going through their own stresses. My sister was too young. My cousins didn’t understand. A lot of them didn’t even believe in mental health. I didn’t know how to seek help nor did I want to talk about my struggles because I didn’t want to seem weak.

It wasn’t until a few years later that I learned it’s the complete opposite. It takes strength to ask for help. It takes courage to show vulnerability. The ultimate act of courage: being open and vocal about your needs, fully knowing others might tease and ridicule but doing it anyways

I don’t think vulnerabilities are weaknesses. I think it’s the first step to growth. Being vulnerable means being self-aware. It means being aware of where you are, how you feel and being honest with yourself. Asking for help is the ultimate form of strength because it shows maturity, trust and honesty with yourself.

“Never forget what you are. The rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor, and it can never be used to hurt you.” –- Tyrion Lannister

Vulnerability and insecurity are common and normal. This act of courage should not be taken lightly. Whether through friendly conversation or seeking professional help, it must be commended.

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