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Why I Can't 'Just Stop' Bouncing My Leg

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“Hey, can you stop bouncing your leg?”

“No, I can’t.”

“But I’m trying to focus.”

“Me too.”

For those of us with anxiety, autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), these “annoying” behaviors can be kind of uncontrollable. They can comfort us when we’re feeling stressed out, but sometimes, they annoy us, too.

Yeah, I wish I didn’t ruin my $50 manicure every time I got a little nervous, and yeah, I think it’s gross when my cuticles bleed, too. I hate ruining pens because I can’t stop clicking them, and I hate kicking the desk in front of me when I bounce my leg. However, these are things my brain tells me I need to do. Forcing myself to sit still keeps me from focusing and increases my anxiety.

These behaviors are sometimes called “stims.” If you’re on the autism spectrum, you know exactly what I mean when I use this word. “Stimming” or self-stimulatory behavior is repetitive actions that help neurodivergents calm themselves down or relieve anxiety. Hand-flapping, rocking back and forth and scratching are common examples of these behaviors.

Neurotypicals stim, too. Touching a really soft shirt, watching slime videos, sucking on a piece of hard candy, these actions can all be considered stimming behaviors. The difference between this stimming and the stimming done by neurodivergents, however, is that I can’t just stop.

These behaviors aren’t always pleasant. Most of my stims would be considered self-harm. Biting my nails down to the cuticles, picking at my skin, pulling out my eyebrows, all of these attempts to relax hurt me more than they help me.

Even as I’m typing this, I have to take breaks to pick at my skin. It’s impossible to ignore how raggedy my fingers get during exam week. In high school, when my mental health was at its worst, I’d often have to leave class to wash blood off my hands in the bathroom. My fingers have started bleeding on stage while I’m performing. I even had to wear gloves for a week just to keep from scarring my face.

The behaviors I use to eliminate my anxiety often leave me feeling worse than before. Because of the other ways I stim, I’m grateful when my anxious behaviors manifest as foot-tapping or pen-clicking.

So, no, I won’t quit bouncing my leg, tapping my feet or clicking my pen. To you, this may be annoying, but to me, this is progress.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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When a Doctor Laughed After Noticing I Take 'Happy Medication’

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I posted this status on my Facebook page at 4:18 a.m. on October 25, 2016:

“I’m going to be open and honest here, so bear with me. I usually don’t share things like this but I feel compelled to, at 4:18 a.m. thanks to my insomnia. My dad has been pushing me to get LASIK surgery for my eyes. To ease his voice in my head, I went for a second consultation yesterday. Upon entering the exam room with the assistant, I felt a little discriminated against and stereotyped. He first automatically assumed I go to one of those ‘smart schools’ and I was ‘too smart for us (whoever those people are).’ He then made a comment about how I only got a 35 and not a 36 on my ACT.

A little upset at this, I let it slide. However, he then proceeded to talk about my eye history and such. This is when he started throwing out terms like “myopia,” which I honestly don’t really know what that means. However, what frustrated me the most is when he said it was my ‘small, Asian eyes’ that caused vision problems.

I’ve had people make fun of my eye shape all my life. I squint. I have almond shaped eyes. It just frustrated me to hear this from a health care professional, especially as he joked about my eye shape. I don’t know why it bothered me, but I woke up thinking about this encounter.

I think what hurt the most though is the fact that as he went through my medical history and reached my medications list, with one look he laughed and said, ‘You take happy medications.’ This hurt the most. I already struggle deeply with taking my medication regimen each evening, but to hear this statement from a health care professional? It’s the 21st century. Can we not minimize the struggle that one in five of us have with mental illness? It’s not a ‘happy medication.’ It’s to help my brain so that on my worst days I can manage to get out of bed and walk the dog.

Example: You may or may not know from just meeting me, but I struggle with severe anxiety. I went to a Bottle and Bottega paint event last night to try and be in a social environment, to talk with strangers and to overcome my desire to be perfectionistic when it comes to all aspects of my life. Instead, I had anxiety leading up to the event, and as the event progressed, my anxiety worsened.

How do I know it’s not just the nerves? I became short of breath. My legs went numb. I almost passed out and became light-headed and dizzy. I threw up.

Getting myself into social situations is hard for me. I put myself out there last night only to have one of my worst fears come true, having such severe anxiety that I end up sick and unable to enjoy my night. I ended up sitting quietly at my end of the table hoping the night would move faster so I could curl up in bed. I avoid social situations for that reason.”

I am honored by the outpour of support I have received from my community of friends on my social media account. The comments and messages they have left me encourage me to continue to speak about my experiences and try to be one person in the world to try and start a conversation about mental illness.

My experience shook me to the core. I haven’t been criticized for my tiny, Asian eyes for many years now, nonetheless by a healthcare professional. It felt discriminatory and made me self-conscious and aware of my appearance. I already struggle with anorexia. I didn’t need somebody else to comment on my appearance and add to my ongoing battle with myself.

Yet, this isn’t about just the discrimination of my eye shape. It is about the fact that I was told outright by this healthcare professional I take “happy medications.” He said it in such a lighthearted, jovial manner that I was so taken aback. I didn’t know how to respond.

Why is it that when it comes to medication for mental illness, it is laughed about, minimized and stigmatized? Mental illness should be taken as seriously as any other illness. The brain is an organ. So let us treat it like one.

Just by looking at my medical history and jumping to the conclusion that I take “happy medications” has really put me in a sour mood. I feel judged by a complete stranger, and I am now even more hesitant to take my medication regimen than I already was. My father already tells me not to take medication and to not need it or rely on it.

I can’t help I am on four different psychiatric medications. I’m not happy about this. Yet, I have accepted it.

So how come such a simple statement shook me to the core? It’s because of the ignorance and stigma surrounding mental illness that this hits so close to home.

Please, don’t judge those of us struggling with mental illness by our medication list. Please, don’t jump to conclusions about our condition and who we are. Please, don’t judge a book by its cover. Please, don’t ever tell me again that I take “happy medications” because that minimizes the struggle and experiences I have had to get to where I am today.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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5 Quick and Effective Ways I Manage My Anxiety

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Anyone living with anxiety likely knows it can be an unpredictable guest. Sometimes, you may know it is coming; other times, it can be a side effect of a previous encounter or experience. Over the years, I’ve used some methods for myself and the children I work with for a quick release.

1. Breathe.

Not a light breath, but a full belly breath. Place your hand on your stomach, inhale through your nose, and push the breath out, all the way out through your stomach. Your hand should move with your breath. Sometimes, breaking the focus from the anxiety to your breath is just the distraction your body needs.

2. Touch.

For me, a subtle movement like tapping my index finger on my thumb is enough to release a bit of serotonin to calm down. Or I’ve found touching right below your collarbones can work to relieve anxiety as well.

3. Muscle clench.

This one is, hands down, one of my favorites because it works so quickly and is quite fun to do with children. Starting with the fists, clench them. Then move to the arms, stomach, legs and feet. Hold the clench for five seconds and release. That release can feel so very good when the body is in the thick of anxiety.

4. Sensory stimulation.

For years, I carried around a small container of Play-Doh, not only for my children, but for myself as well. The sensory stimulation can distract the mind enough to quell the anxiety from escalating.

5. Move your body.

Do 10 jumping jacks, go for a walk around the block, jump rope, or anything to get your body moving. Those endorphins can kick in and help soothe the mounting anxiety.

Whether you live with anxiety or love someone who does, you know it is not easy. Sometimes, anxiety cannot be fixed quickly. However, I’ve learned these methods can break the cycle of escalation and calm the body. When the body is calm, it can be easier to talk, to listen, and move through the anxiety.

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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.

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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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