This piece was written by Sam Maracic, a Thought Catalog contributor.

At first they will love with anticipation.

They will commit with a fear that the metaphorical “other shoe” may drop at any moment. This isn’t to say they don’t believe in you, or the bond you’ve built. It’s simply a product of their nature, and sometimes, it may take awhile to kick.

They are thoughtful (sometimes to the point of overanalyzing).

To put it simply, they care about everything in their lives with an incredibly deep sense of investment. They find joy in bringing their partner happiness, but also inherently fear doing the opposite. As a result…

They may be liable to respond from a place of emotion, rather than logic.

Remember that metaphorical shoe? In times of stress or disagreement, they tend to fear it is finally falling. The gravity of small situations can feel a lot larger when operating under the assumption that the worst case scenario is occurring. At times, this reaction may even result in a self-fulfilling prophecy, leading to heightened tension and anxiety.

They deeply fear disappointing others, especially their partners.

Innately hard on themselves, anxious thinkers are constantly on watch for ways they can do or be better. This can make feelings of security especially challenging to achieve. However, in some ways their concern also fuels their behavior, proving them to be some of the most loyal and dedicated partners.

They often require time to recharge.

Anxious minds have a tendency to feel hectic, and at times, understandably tiresome (which is why the ability to disconnect for a night in or a few hours of alone time can be incredibly valuable). Constant socializing can leave them feeling especially depleted, and in need of respite. This isn’t to say they don’t enjoy time with their partner or family and friends, but rather crave some quiet to re-energize. Finding a person who is willing to join in on that time or respect their occasional need to reboot is everything.

They aren’t afraid to put in the work.

As human beings, each and every one of us has our own list of idiosyncrasies that inform who we are. Sure, when it comes to love there will always be room for improvement. However, in the grand scheme of offenses, I’d say concern is hardly the worst. While anxious minds may scrutinize conversations or have a propensity for what seems like “overreacting” (which when unaddressed can be a problem), they’re also hyper-aware of the things that matter most. Their tendency to evaluate situations (though sometimes to their disadvantage) forces internal exploration. This analysis not only makes people with anxiety more self-aware (this includes both their strengths and their flaws), but also more sensitive and sympathetic toward those they love.

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“Something is wrong. Nothing works anymore. My meds are broken. My brain is broken!”

I literally cried to my therapist over the phone while sitting in the parking lot of Starbucks. These feelings of intense irritability, anxiety and everything in between hit me hard, leaving me wanting to cry for no reason other than the mere frustration of feeling this way.

Why do I feel this way? What has changed? Why did my meds stop working? Were the feelings coming from my brain so strong they exceeded the limitations of my coping mechanisms and the various medications I am on?

I couldn’t help but question everything about my mere existence in those moments when I was crying to (let’s be honest, at, I was crying at) my therapist. I wanted things fixed, and I was exhausted with my own questioning, my own futile attempts at trying to fix what I didn’t understand.

You see, I was trying to fix my own mind. Mine. The one I was born with, the one that learned how to read, how to write, how to do math, remembered choreography and recited poetry. This wonderful organ that can do so many incredible things.

Yet, there is a glitch in mine. Apparently, a glitch called anxiety. It causes my mind to go into a vicious and exhausting cycle of what ifs, whys, overthinking, overanalyzing and over-everything, leaving me feeling like someone took a Rolodex and spun it except it just doesn’t ever slow down.

That’s what I wanted. I just wanted everything to stop or pause to give me the space to process the feelings. Yet, the feelings and whatever it was that was contributing to the feelings were all coming so fast I couldn’t keep up. It comes down to the fact that I just couldn’t cope.

Fortunately, I have an amazing therapist, who in the span of about 10 minutes, was able to get me calm enough to wipe away my tears, start my car and drive to work. I had what we in the biz call an anxiety flare-up. You know, you’re going along just fine, and then, seemingly out of the blue, your world is turned upside down and inside out all at once.

Apparently, that’s the thing with anxiety. It’s always growing and learning (kinda like our minds) and latching onto things we don’t realize. Yet, the power we have over it is the ability to cope with it. With lots of talk therapy and sometimes the help of a little medication to give us the space we need to process, we can and will make it through to the other side.

Friends, we will see each other on the other side. We can do this together.

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Many of us have a public and private persona. If we are lucky, these two are more closely related than not. We can be ourselves without feeling judged or imperfect or unworthy. We may not feel the need to hide any part of ourselves for fear of judgment. But for me, as someone who struggles with high-functioning anxiety and PTSD, the mask I hide behind has been so carefully cultivated that many people have no idea I am, in fact, struggling with a mental health issue.

I hid behind this mask for the better part of 40 years. My masked self is a perfectionist, an achiever, someone who could put her mind to anything and succeed. She’s a hard worker, runs a successful business, appears to have super human energy, can juggle a million balls in the air at once, is well-liked, has many people who care for her, is happily married and has an optimistic, positive outlook on life. These are all aspects of myself that are true, but they don’t represent all of me.

Underneath this seemingly put-together persona is an incredibly insecure, anxious person. Someone who often feels unworthy of love or admiration. Someone who feels guilty for having any needs, but has no problem taking care of the needs of others. Someone who questions her abilities constantly and who often feels like a “burden” to others when she needs support. She’s anxious to the point of having panic attacks over seemingly silly things. She’s an over-thinker who can’t shut off her mind. She’s an insomniac, and she worries about everything, imagining the worst-case scenarios and rehashing every perceived failure over and over again, wondering what she could have done differently. She craves connection with others, and yet she struggles to trust people. She is often at war with her body, struggling with knowing what amount of exercise and food is healthy, but seeing a false image in the mirror triggered by her body dysmorphic disorder that tempts her to over-exercise, have “good” and “bad” foods, and restrict her intake because she’s terrified of gaining weight and feels out of control.

The truth is, sometimes it’s exhausting being me. I finally got to the point where I was simply too overwhelmed to go on. I needed help. So I started seeing a therapist who I trusted and started peeling back the layers of my mask. Bit by bit, I revealed the source of my angst, of my insecurities, of my control issues and of my need for perfection. As my trust built with her, I was able to acknowledge the pain I had been repressing from childhood sexual abuse and was able to slowly begin my healing journey.

As I continue peeling away these layers and revealing the unmasked me, I often get comments like “Why do you need a therapist?” or “You seem so put together!” It bothers me that people don’t seem to comprehend that mental health issues are not shameful and there is nothing wrong with seeing a therapist or taking medication for anxiety. My mental health struggles don’t diminish my strengths as a person. In fact, in many ways, I feel acknowledging their existence and accepting I need help was the ultimate act of strength and is a sign of a strong character.

Let’s end the stigma around mental health issues. My struggles do not define me, but they are a part of what has shaped who I am, including the good things. On my healing journey, I’m slowly learning to integrate all of me — from what is in front of the mask to what is behind it. My hope is to one day have a whole self that can be all of these things and who no longer has to hide.

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It all started when she asked, “Where is your mother?”

I found myself in the school nurse’s office with extreme stomach pains. Convinced it was appendicitis, I ordered the school secretary to call an ambulance because I had to be dying or I would die should my appendix explode.

She instructed me to calm down in the way mothers tend to do, then walked me to the cot notorious in school nurse’s offices. I lay down in the fetal position and waited.

This has to be my period. What else could it be? I’m ancient not to have gotten my period. 15 is old for that, right? Wait, maybe I am dying? Do you die if you don’t get your period by a certain age? Oh, man, I have to tell what’s her name not to call Dad. How embarrassing if this is just me getting my period! I would die if Dad knew I had my period, and I’m too dense to know that’s what this is. No. What if everyone finds out I haven’t gotten it yet? Shit. That’s more embarrassing than Dad finding out. Shit.

The nurse finally came in. She asked when I last got my period. I lied and explained that couldn’t be it. It had to be appendicitis. That was the only explanation.

“How are things at home?” she asked. I stared blankly at her. “Is there anything going on at home right now that’s stressful?”

No. No. How could she know? Does she know Mom is sick? No, this can’t get out. No, it’s worse than menstruation.

“Nope. Nothing to report,” I said, grimacing through a smile that had become my trademark coping mechanism. “I really think this is appendicitis. Could you just call an ambulance or something and haul me out of here?”

She smiled and did a quick examination. She felt where my appendix was and asked if it hurt when she pushed. It didn’t, but it was hard to tell with the cramping.

“You’ll be fine. Just hang out in here until you feel better,” she said, closing the door behind her. I heard murmurs on the other side of the door. They were talking about my mom. They had to be.

Oh God. Everyone knows. How could everyone know? F*cking small towns. Of course, everyone knows. Goddammit!

I began sobbing silently. I couldn’t remember the last time I cried.

I guess it was when she forgot me. That was months ago. Why am I crying now?

I didn’t know it at the time, but the racing thoughts and the stomach pains wereanxiety. That nurse was trying to get it out of me, but she didn’t explain that’s what it could be because I wouldn’t tell her what was wrong. She probably should have anyway.

The stomach pains started early in my sophomore year of high school and continued through my junior year. My mother, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s when I was 13, didn’t remember me anymore. One particular night, I was helping her eat and she said, “Where is your mother?” Thinking about it now, this was a profound statement. Yet, from there on out, she couldn’t remember my name. The pains began.

My family didn’t discuss problems. The few times I reached out to my father about my stomach, he one-upped me by elaborating on his own ailments and how mine couldn’t be nearly that bad. I shouldn’t complain when others have it worse. I needed parental attention. He needed spousal attention. Neither of us was getting either.

I stopped complaining after that. Well, until that day at school when I reached out to the nurse. However, after that, my “best” feature became my ability to bottle things up and push them out until they exploded all at once in a blaze of glory. I ended up depressed in bed for a week. You know, “healthy.”

My mother died before I finished my junior year of high school. The pains had become so much a part of me that when they finally stopped, I didn’t know the sensation, or, rather, lack thereof. No one asked me how I was (save one teacher) after she died because I continued to wear a smile. I was grateful no one asked. Falling apart in public was the worst of humiliations or so I thought.

I had no idea what I was experiencing was anxiety and depression. No one talked to me about it. No one saw I needed help because I was so “normal,” and that’s just it. Anxiety and depression hide themselves in fake smiles. Smiles that, on the outside, seem genuine. We’re just trying to hold it together.

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My husband and I took a shopping trip to a large store for the first time in eight years. For so long, I had been limited to shopping in three small, local stores due to my anxiety. My husband utilized his knowledge of my anxiety to organize a trip to a large store in a busy mall I longed to visit. Our careful planning and use of strategies made the seemingly impossible possible for me. 

What did he do that helped? Here are the things my amazing hubby did that helped me reduce my anxiety:

1. He suggested options so I felt in control of the situation as much as possible. My hubby offered to drive or asked if I wanted to drive. Since I chose to let him drive, he let me know frequently that we could turn around and go home if my anxiety got to be too much for me. I also chose the destination, as challenging as it was!

2. He offered reassurance and support. Frequently hearing positive statements along the way helped me. He was specific and clear with his reassuring and positive statements: “We only have four miles to go. You’ve got this.”

3. We tried distracting strategies. Distracting strategies can include listening to music, singing, sharing favorite memories, solving riddles, breathing exercises, and playing road games like “I Spy” or “License Plates.”

4. He was my cheerleader! He reminded me how proud he was of the progress I made at various points of the journey. And when our trip to the mall was accomplished, he told me how proud he was of me for working through my anxiety to accomplish this trip. 

5. When the number of choices at a store provided stress, he helped me reduce the number of choices. He asked me questions like, “What would you wear most often? What do you love?”

6. We were patient with each other. It is difficult for me to cope with anxiety and overcome obstacles. Being patient with ourselves and our partners as we work through this is key to reducing stress. 

7. We talked about what helped make the trip enjoyable. We took time to reflect and review. When we did this, it emphasized for me not only what I did, but what he did as well. I thanked him, and I realized I could ask him to help me by using these strategies in the future.

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