Things People With Anxiety Want Their Friends to Know

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The Lessons I'm Bringing Into the New Year After Having a Panic Attack on Christmas Day

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It was Christmas Day.

Following our morning family traditions, I jumped in the shower, ensuring I had more than enough time to put myself together for our evening meal at a family friend’s home. Just as I turned on the water, my body began to tingle. A sensation of lightheadedness overcame me. I gripped onto the shower walls in hope of some kind of support.

My heart began to race. I turned the dial on the shower up, thinking, “Maybe, I just need to find the perfect temperature.” I began to gasp for air, hyperventilating, feeling as though I had just received a massive blow to the chest. My body trembled as chills ran down my spine. Tears flooded my eyes, and I found myself completely consumed by fear.

“No, this can’t be happening,” I told myself.

I crawled out of the shower, believing a more stable surface would somehow help. My entire body responded by completely shutting down. Soaking wet and frantic, I gazed around me for something, anything, to bring me back to reality.

All I could hear was my body and mind screaming, “Please, make it stop.”

What was happening to me?

Panic.

I knew exactly what was happening to me. Yet, knowing only made the situation more terrifying.

Panic attack.

But, why was this happening to me?

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) has always been my primary diagnosis, with panic attacks rarely finding themselves on my list of common symptoms. Prior to, I’ve always referred to moments of heightened anxiety as “mini panic attacks.” These were times when I could feel the panic rising, but I was able to quickly bring myself back to reality.

This time was different. I couldn’t bring myself back to the present moment and what normally transpired in five minutes, somehow stretched throughout a period of two hours, well into our Christmas meal. While I have always loved the holidays, this holiday season has made me feel differently. It reminded me how so many of us have a hard time surviving the holiday season.

For perhaps the first time in my life, I was forced to acknowledge all the pain 2016 left behind. All of it at once, on Christmas day. The feelings of shame accompanied with being let go from a job due to a mental illness. The feelings of worthlessness that followed after finding myself trapped in an abusive relationship. The feelings of guilt as I advocated for mental well-being while finding myself in my third mental health relapse. All the while, this little voice in my head continuously reminded me, “You are damaged.”

Heading into this new year, I begin to watch the walls surrounding my pain start to crumble. Slowly, I am allowing myself to feel a new sensation, a feeling of empowerment, one that comes from providing myself both the time and space to simply sit and feel. This is followed by granting ample time to heal and move forward with an understanding that personal growth and discovery should always be a priority.

For me, 2017 is going to be a journey of trial and error. As I open up my little toolbox of skills, all acquired in 2016, it’s time to relearn how to love myself and know my worth.

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What Does It Mean for Me to Have Generalized Anxiety Disorder?

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There are many things I am proud of in my 23 years of life. Having anxiety doesn’t exactly make the top of the list, but it is what it is. Living with anxiety has been far from easy, but after three and a half years of battling it, I am finally comfortable enough to share my story.

I have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). While I used to be embarrassed by that fact, the more research I do, the more I realize I’m not alone. Unfortunately there is such an unfair stigma against mental health. There’s so much more to it than what meets the eye, and I’m ready to share that without any shame. So, let’s dig just a little bit deeper, shall we?

What Does It Mean to Have GAD?

Firstly, what does it mean to have anxiety? Well, to be honest, there’s a different definition for every person out there. For me, having anxiety means chronic worrying, self-doubt, and over-exhaustion of nerves. The simplest of tasks are daunting, and I don’t have control over those feelings.

How Does Anxiety Start?

There’s really no concrete answer to this. Anxiety can occur at anytime to anyone for any number of reasons. Sometimes there are trigger points such as stress, trauma, and overthinking, and even excitement can lead into anxiety attacks for some people. But in my experience, the majority of the time, it rears its ugly head at the most random times.

My Story

In my life, I experienced my first panic attack on my 16th birthday at Disney World. Disney freaking World of all places! I was having a fabulous time, and my family and I were waiting for dinner at Planet Hollywood when all of a sudden, this overwhelming sense of terror consumed my body. At the time, I had no idea what was happening. All I knew was that I had to go. My body was on full adrenaline, and I felt like I had to just run somewhere, anywhere, to get rid of this feeling. When it finally passed, I was exhausted, mentally and physically. I hoped never to experience that again.

Fast forward to February 2013 and once again, out of nowhere, I had the absolute worst panic attack of my life. It was a two-hour ordeal, and from that night forward, I was changed. What was once a rare occurrence became a daily battle. I went into hiding. I distanced myself from my family and friends. I lived in constant shame and self-loathing for having this medical condition. I experienced suicidal thoughts because of this. With each and every panic attack that came my way, all I knew at that moment was that I desperately wanted (and needed) to escape, somehow. Anxiety was like the big bully on the playground, just lurking around every corner waiting for me. My biggest fear was people finding out what I was going through and judging me. I was way too embarrassed to ask for help, and I thought I could handle it on my own.

Unfortunately, I experienced two major tragedies in a short period of time, and my anxiety became worse. It started to affect my health in ways I never expected, and so, the time came for me to get some help and begin to heal myself. I began to seek counseling and start medication. That moment was the best decision of my life. For the first time in the longest time, I could breathe. I could resume a “normal,” healthy lifestyle again. I could go out with my family and friends. I could do all the things I used to do and wanted to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle with anxiety. Unfortunately, it’s something that doesn’t just go away overnight. Oh how I wish it did! There are days my anxiety sends me into a depression mode. Sometimes I wonder how anyone can possibly see anything else other than anxiety when they look at me. I wonder what a girl who has an anxiety disorder can offer to someone. I wonder how anyone could want to be my friend, knowing that I struggle with this disorder. Yes, most days I am my own worst enemy.

The way I handle my anxiety often changes, however. I’ve learned to accept it as a part of me and my story. I guess one could say I’m a work in progress. Anxiety and I are by no means friends, but we are no longer enemies either. There’s so much more I could say about this illness, but each and every person experiences it differently. I will say this, though — the journey I’m on is unique. Anxiety will always be a part of it, but I know I can overcome it. I know I can survive it. I know eventually, someday, this will all be a distant memory.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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When People Assume Your Mental Illness Is Just 'How You Are'

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I think I have anxiety.

“Are you sure it’s not just your personality?”

Less than a month after this response, I was diagnosed with severe generalized anxiety and severe major depressive disorder. 

I spent years over analyzing situations, biting my nails until they bled, losing minutes, hours, days, engulfed in my thoughts, entrapped by my mind, throwing up over my worries, missing out on things because I couldn’t face the thoughts that haunted my mind. I’ve had suicide attempts, hot flashes, cold flashes, relationships lost, anxieties gained, yet all of these struggles were about to be dismissed as a personality trait.

These statements, judgments and lack of awareness is what prolonged my diagnosis, treatment and recovery. Other people judged me, and so I judged myself, too. Do I really have anxiety? Am I really depressed? Maybe this is just…me. I began to believe it was normal to feel numb and have a mind that felt like the Indie 500.

People started telling me I needed medication before asking how I was doing that day. They told me I was burnt out. They told me I needed to try harder. They told me just relax as if “don’t worry be happy” is a song made into a simple reality, if I really just tried harder. People ignore anxiety and depression until we see it written as a headline in the news about another life lost by suicide. Enough. I refuse to be another statistic.

I am a master’s of social work student, and I live with anxiety and depression. Anxiety and depression is part of who I am, but it is the part of me that bolsters empathy, awareness, compassion and understanding. Because of my condition, I am able to empathize with my clients experiences. My passion for mental health and the experiences of my clients takes on a professional role, as well as a personal one. I will never give up on someone because I refuse to give up on myself. 

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Attitude Is Not Everything When Your Brain Is Sick

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Navigating through life with a mental illness is like riding a roller coaster. From the realization that something is wrong to actually being given a diagnosis is the first part of the journey. I have learned many things along the way and it has changed how I view myself and this horrible illness. For most of my life I’ve struggled with anxiety. Many people think being anxious is the same as being nervous, but that’s far from the truth. With anxiety, a panic attack could come out of nowhere. I’ve come to terms with the fact I will have generalized anxiety disorder for the rest of my life.

Taking medication to some is weakness, but to me it takes strength and courage to seek help. What works for some may not work for others. There have been many times that I have been told by one person or another I should stop taking my medication. Just go outside and get some Vitamin D. Would you tell someone with another illness not to take their medication? I don’t believe anyone chooses to have a sick brain.

After becoming disabled and having many spine surgeries, I developed major depression. Dealing with chronic pain and everything else life was throwing at me was the trigger. I have always been a happy social person. I love to laugh and and make others laugh. When I was clinically depressed, I was unable to laugh, or smile for that matter. I wasn’t hungry and found no joy in anything. This lasted eight months for me. I almost didn’t make it. My daughter almost lost her mom. There is no meme that would fit this illness. Attitude is not everything when your brain is sick. I’ve had people ask me if I am off of my meds yet, or they say maybe I will be back to “normal” someday.

Why am I not “normal” because I have a mental illness? I take care of myself. I am a mother, daughter, aunt, sister and friend. I am educated and had a career before all of this happened to my body. I smile a lot even when I am in pain. I help others whenever I can. I am a good person. My illness does not define me, but I do have to deal with it. I thought my toughest time with depression is over, but I’ve learned there are still peaks and valleys. Days when I’m down, and it’s not easy to get out of bed. Days when I can’t concentrate and my mind is full of sadness remembering the life I used to have. Days when I just want the physical and mental pain to go away.

I don’t believe all of this happened to me because of the energy I put out in the world. It just happened. My husband left me when I needed him the most. I used to beat myself up about that too, but the reality is I know many people who have supportive spouses who stay by their side.

I’m writing this to raise awareness and to share my story. The stigma of mental illness needs to change. To anyone who looks down upon those who are taking medication, please know we are fighting a battle we can’t control. I will continue taking my medication and being kind to myself. I know where I once was, and it was the scariest eight months of my entire life. I am still me. I still have the same personality and heart.

I have hope for the future. I’m scared, but I still have hope. To all of you reading this, stay strong and know you are not alone.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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12 Things to Know When Someone You Love Has Anxiety

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