woman looking out to sea on a ferry with wind blowing through her hair.

The pressure was an all too familiar feeling, like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I’d recently started taking my antidepressants again and was aware they weren’t magic; it’d take time. I tried regulating my breathing and quickly downloaded some apps made to distract from panic attacks. I walked around outside to take in some fresh air when I felt my thoughts starting to swirl. The world was flying past me, and I felt like I was trudging through mud.

I glanced at the clock. I needed to meet my family for brunch. I knew canceling to stay in bed would only make me feel guilty and intensify the anxiety bubbling inside of me. During the drive I tried to think of excuses for my less-than-enthusiastic personality, but when I got there I simply stated, “My anxiety is really bad today.”

Over Christmas I told my family I had found a new therapist and was working with my primary care physician to restart my antidepressants. They were aware I struggle with depression and anxiety but never really asked questions. Until I broke the ice and showed them what me fighting my anxiety looks like.

I liked to think I was fighting the mental health stigma by writing the occasional blog post with a casual mention and “liking” uplifting photos on Instagram. When it came to my own friends and family, however, I’d clam up, falling prey to imaginary scenarios in which they would treat me as “crazy” or “unstable.” Instead I’d sit quietly, drowning in thoughts and fighting back tears or hiding in my room until I felt in control enough to not break down in front of anyone.

“What do you get anxious about?” my mom asked me after we’d been seated at a table.

I tried my best to explain how my thoughts quickly spiraled out of control and that while I’m taking my medication it is easier to recognize the irrationality behind them but I still get physical symptoms. Usually these spirals are triggered when I haven’t been keeping my normal routine, like over the holidays.

They nodded along. My dad acknowledged that he often feels that way too and probably has undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive behaviors and anxiety. We talked about our personal triggers.

Throughout the conversation I felt the tension in my chest relax, if only ever so slightly. It was like the weight of constantly pretending to be OK was lifted. I knew they knew I wasn’t making this up. My invisible illness became more valid because they often felt the same symptoms. I felt proud of myself for seeking out treatment.

I let my family see that I wasn’t OK, and we all became a little more OK because of it.

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Thinkstock photo by Anita Charlton


The Anxiety & Depression Association of America describes anxiety as people who, “experience excessive anxiety and worry, often expecting the worst even when there is no apparent reason for concern.”

But what they didn’t tell me was that along with excessive worry and constant fight-or-flight responses, would come a large number of other problems. Here are five ways I didn’t know my anxiety would affect me.

1. I doubt nearly every relationship I have.

From friendships, to romantic relationships, to family members, to co-workers, whether I’ve known a person for a week or a decade, I will doubt my relationship with them.

“What if they are just pretending? Do they only spend time with me because they pity me? How do I know they’ll stay with me? Is my anxiety too much for them?”

Unfortunately, I’ve lost or damaged several relationship because of my anxiety. I don’t intend to do this, but my brain goes off on a vicious cycle and anyone can turn into someone who I could be offending.

2. Schoolwork is five times harder.

I used to have 4.0 GPA. It has dropped since anxiety hit. With every single word I write, my anxiety finds a way for it to be wrong. If I don’t immediately know the answer to something, I am instantly flooded by the feeling that I am an inadequate human. Is this true? Absolutely not! This is work I know I am able to do, but my anxiety tells me I will never be right, no matter how hard I try.

3. I’m constantly exhausted.

I take naps nearly every day now. Anxiety wears a person out. It takes all my energy.  I didn’t realize having intense emotions takes a toll on your energy.

4. I doubt my faith.

I am afraid to believe. I’m terrified of judgment. My anxiety has made me believe I don’t deserve forgiveness or salvation. I live in fear and worry.

5. My house is a mess.

I feel like I have no time on my hands. Dirty dishes and messy countertops can be found in my kitchen. My bathroom is a disorganized disaster, and piles of dirty clothes are everywhere.

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Thinkstock photo by Kichigin

I love to travel. I also struggle with an anxiety disorder that gets worse when I am traveling.

Traveling with anxiety can be absolutely exhausting, but I haven’t let it stop my love of seeing new places. It just requires that I go through extra steps others may not go through in order to have a relaxing time.

Pre-Travel Checklist

After I’ve purchased my plane or bus ticket, or have begun to coordinate with my friends about where we are going, I am already mentally going through my things and trying to figure out what is appropriate to take for this vacation. I keep an actual checklist with me – one of those Knock Knock brand pads that I once purchased on a whim – to keep track of and make sure that I have everything that I intend to bring. This also means constantly checking the weather conditions to make sure I don’t pack the wrong kind of clothing.

When I am ready to pack – anywhere from a week beforehand to the night before – the process goes something like this:

First, I will highlight the items on the checklist I will be bringing. I know I won’t need everything that’s on the list, and I make sure to fill out the sections for travel destination and weather. Next, I will gather all of the items I intend to bring and neatly fold or roll up the articles of clothing to place in my luggage. When I fly I try not to carry more than a carry-on bag and a personal item so I can avoid baggage fees (and also reduce my chances of over packing).

Seems like a normal process, right? Well, after I’ve done all of that and my luggage is packed, I have the need to take everything out and run through my checklist at least one or two more times in order to make sure that I am 100 percent confident I’ve packed everything I need for the trip.

Even then I am still not confident and a flurry of thoughts come crashing down on me: What if I forget my passport? What if I don’t have enough money with me? What if I lose my luggage? What if the weather does a complete 180 and I have packed for the wrong weather? Should I pack for a surprise formal event just in case?

Getting to the Airport/Bus/Train Station/Meeting up With Friends

The journey to the airport, train or bus station is often a nightmare in and of itself. I constantly worry  I’m going to miss my mode of transportation and I will be stuck. The last time I flew on a plane, I was going to Colorado (where I will be going again soon) and I arrived at the airport nearly three hours before my plane was due to leave because I was afraid security was going to take forever. In reality, it only took 20 minutes to get through security, if that.

I was traveling with my then-partner and I remember feeling so shaky and uneasy while we had to check our luggage and later trying to find a place to sit at our gate. I also remember feeling dread come over me that our plane was going to be overbooked and we were going to get bumped to a later flight. On our return trip, this actually happened but we didn’t get bumped thankfully.

The Importance of Traveling With Friends

As much as I would love to be able to travel alone more frequently, I find the best way to help quell my travel anxiety is to travel with a friend, relative or partner who I trust can calm me down and help ground me when I start to panic. The ones who know the unspoken signs of an anxiety attack about to happen and know exactly what to do in that kind of situation. I have been lucky in that whenever I’ve done major travel, it has always been with someone I trust to be there and help the situation rather than make things worse.

My anxiety may worsen when I travel, but I haven’t stopped moving yet.

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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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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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Thinkstock photo by Transfuchsian

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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