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The 'What If' Scenarios That Feel So Real When You Live With Anxiety

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I’m 16 years old. My parents are going on a trip for their anniversary and I’m going to be home alone. I see their bags at the door. They’re putting on their shoes and talking to me, making jokes about throwing parties while they’re gone and reminding me where they left the emergency money. I’m smiling and trying to concentrate on how happy I am for them and how nice it will be to have the house to myself for a week. I am putting on a show. I am trying like hell to hold back the tears and push aside the “what ifs.” But as hard as I try, those thoughts force their way to the front of my mind. They always do. I start wonder why I even try fighting them as they take over my mind, grabbing control of every thought. I’m lost in them.

It always starts with a, “what if…?” What if my parents never even make it to the airport? A terrible thought in and of itself, but it’s not enough for anxiety. It’s not satisfied with one sickening thought. It is just the seed it uses to sprout terror. It is just the beginning. Before I know it, a scene is playing out in my mind. My own personal horror movie. I watch as my parents, my role models and my friends, slam their car into another one. I can see them, air bags deployed and windows smashed, bleeding and unconscious. My dad, laying his head on the steering wheel and my mom, slumped against her seat belt. I can see the flames. They feel so real I swear I can smell the smoke. My dad wakes up. He knows he has to get out. He has to save my mom. He’s shaking her arm, yelling her name, trying to reach her seat belt to set her free. She doesn’t move. The flames are getting closer, getting hotter, but he can’t leave her. My dad, big and strong, begins to cry. He can’t live without her. So he grabs her hand, closes his eyes and waits. I’m trapped in this moment. I’m watching, but I can’t help. I can’t cry, I can’t run, I can’t even move.

I’m back in the house, standing by the door waiting to say goodbye. It feels like I was stuck in my head for hours, but anxiety is surprisingly good at time management. It can put me through hours of hell in mere seconds. It’s so quick, no one else would ever suspect the terror my mind just put me through. But the smell of smoke lingers and the feeling of heartbreak will last for hours. I can’t fight it anymore and a few tears start to roll down my cheeks as I’m hugging my parents goodbye. Somewhere deep inside, I know this won’t be the last time. I know they will be OK and they will be home next Saturday. But those thoughts are too far right now. They’re too quiet to release the hold my anxiety has. So I say goodbye and try to keep the tears to a minimum, hoping my parents will not see, but knowing they can. They’ll never understand. They’ll think I’m paranoid or selfish and just don’t want them to go. I wish that were true.

Someone who has never experienced anxiety, who has never been attacked by their own mind, may not be able to understand how real it is. They can’t understand the power these thoughts have. They don’t see how they infiltrate your mind and affect your body. To them, they’re just thoughts. It’s not their fault they can’t understand. No matter how much we explain, they never truly will. And to be honest, I am so glad they can’t. Dealing with this alone is extremely hard, but it would be so much harder watching someone I love go through the same thing.

To those of you who don’t understand what anxiety feels like, know it’s OK. If there’s someone in your life who is struggling with it, remember you can be there for them without fully grasping what they are feeling. Understand these thoughts are extremely real to them. Remind them they’re safe without belittling their fears. Stay close, even if they don’t want to be touched. And most importantly, know they are grateful for you, even if they can’t express it.

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On the Days I Have to Battle Negative Self-Talk

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Today, I’m in charge. Today, everything makes sense. Today, there is clarity.

I know this deserves celebration because not every day is like this for me. Daily, I battle this fiery electricity that vibrates inside me. Swirling, spinning, spiraling out of control. Most days I feel as if my life is a highway and I’m swerving back and forth across the line just trying to get my tires to grip the road, to grip reality. Or as if I had built my life out of a stack of Legos and something came in and smashed them to the ground. I keep picking up every piece, looking at it, and not recognizing it — trying to figure out how the pieces fit back together. Most days I’ll feel the weight of my anxiety hit me with all of its force and drag me to the ground trying to run off with my peace of mind, but not today.

Today, I battle unwanted negative thoughts relentlessly. Today, I’m my own superhero. Today, I’m unstoppable.

I feel a sense of unease grip my shoulder – trying to whisper to me doom, but instead of turning to it and letting its darkness embrace me, I fight back. I hit it with my left. I’m the boss. I’m in charge. Swing with my right. I run this life. I make my decisions. And finally, I hit it with an uppercut. I am strong.

As my anxiety takes the blow, it sinks back, slowly releasing its grip from my shoulder. It thinks, “What do you mean I’m not in charge? What do you mean I can’t pick away at you today? Why can’t I make you feel uncomfortable in your own head?” It looks at me once more – I’m breathing heavily. I’ve fought hard, but I’m victorious. I’ve battled darkness, and it scurries off. I’m the hero I needed today.

In our daily chaos, who we truly are gets a little hazy – it’s not clear. We forget. We forget our capabilities. We forget our own strength. We forget that mental illness doesn’t make us weak, even though sometimes we feel like it does. We forget we can be in charge of our day. We forget that anxiety doesn’t have to rule us – we rule us.

So on days like today where I have battled my anxiety head on, how do I celebrate? I remind myself who I am, who I can be and what I’m capable of. I live the day full-heartedly and joyfully. Enjoying my surroundings and being grateful for the many blessings I have. I may not get the opportunity to feel like this every day, but do not think for a second I will ever stop fighting for myself.

Today, I’m in charge. Today, everything makes sense. Today, there is clarity.
And there will be a Tomorrow.

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4 Things I've Learned About Anxiety After Months of Hanging by a Thread

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My last post was written four months ago. In the daily battle I continue to experience with depression and anxiety, I lost the motivation and desire to write any more, faced with the familiar issues of lack of concentration, lack of interest, questioning the point of writing and sharing, etc. etc. However I have made a promise to myself for the dawning of a new year to try to commit to giving writing a bit more of a go. The last few months have been truly horrendous and I have reached new depths which I never knew existed, and at times the only source of comfort has been reading the shared experiences of those battling with the same issues. So I have decided I want to try and do the same.

As I reflect on 2016. I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned during my experiences of the past nine months:

1. Having thought in years gone by I had hit rock bottom, I have learnt of new depths way beyond what I previously thought existed. I think one of the main reasons for that is that I now have responsibilities which I didn’t have previously – a wife and two young children. Therefore, the ramifications of any bad episode are now far greater than they ever were before. I don’t just have myself to worry about. However, whilst my wife and children are a responsibility I never had before, they are the reason I keep going and get up every day and try to fight this illness. Whilst at the moment I don’t feel that I am able to offer them much as a husband and father because of my difficulties, they give me a purpose, when all else seems lost. My wife asked me just before midnight on New Year’s Eve what positives I could take with me into the new year.  My response was that despite things getting as bad and as tough as they have, I am still here and have made it this far, and as a family unit we are still together. I will try my best to remind myself of that on a daily basis.

2. This illness is sticking around. Yes, I’ll hopefully get back to long spells of being “well,” but most likely dark times will return again, based on the experiences of my life to date. After recovering from previous episodes, due to a combination of youthful optimism, lack of true understanding of my condition and denial, I thought I had learned and experienced enough to stop it from returning. How wrong was I! And no one ever suggested otherwise, including the medical professionals who treated me and could see my case notes going back to my teens. But I realize they would never have been in a position to tell me to prepare myself for recurring episodes, firstly because they wouldn’t want to have put a limit on what I could achieve as I grew up, and also they had no way of knowing whether or not I would relapse. As I sit typing this blog tonight in a house and lifestyle which I can no longer afford, a huge part of me wishes someone could have told me all those years ago to build a life that was fit for purpose given my recurring depression and anxiety, rather than the life I did build thinking everything would be fine — a professional career which came with expectations to always be able to perform/function at a high level (this ultimately has been the undoing of me!), nice house, nice holidays etc etc. I am filled with regrets, but then I suppose most of us probably are for varying reasons.

3. Stop expecting others to understand my illness, my experiences and what’s going on inside my head. This has been a really tough one for me, particularly when it comes to family members, and it is something I still struggle with on a daily basis. I am learning that is unfair of me to expect others to understand. A couple of well known quotes now stick in my head. “Don’t expect everyone to understand your journey especially if they have never had to walk your path” and “Sometimes the people around you won’t understand your journey. They don’t need to, it’s not for them.”

4. Stop hiding who I am. Become a beacon of light to others who are living with the same disabling illness, as several others have been to me. Reading the stories of others in the same boat has kept me going over the last few months. It has provided me with a source of comfort I have been unable to find anywhere else. And the extremely touching comments and messages I have received to my first blog posting have really inspired me to keep writing and keep sharing. A couple of months ago I read an article by a contributor called Kelsey Rozak. I found one paragraph in particular extremely powerful and it is something which gave me a feeling of purpose and has stuck with me. Kelsey’s words were as follows:

“I also share my story to shine my light for others. For the people who can’t navigate the high seas of sadness, I am the lighthouse. For people who can’t find their way through the depths of depression, I am a flashlight. I shine the way because others have shined the way for me. We cannot be afraid of this light. You must shine it for others to guide them through this confusing and terrifying journey. It is a beacon of hope on cloudy days and a sign that we are never alone. Collectively, we will bring light to this condition and make sure no one is afraid of the dark ever again.”

I too shall make that my goal, so that some good can come out of my pain. Thank you Kelsey.

Follow this journey on The Life of a Chronic Worrier.

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How Being a Crocodile on the Internet Has Helped My Anxiety

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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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When a Stranger Noticed I Was Having a Panic Attack

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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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When Anxiety and Depression Are an Unwelcome Surprise

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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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