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The People Who Threw Me a Life Raft When I Spoke About My Pain

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There isn’t a day I don’t feel anxiety to a varying degree. It could be a whisper of existence while I walk into a store or a loud thunder when I have to drive somewhere out of my comfort zone. It could be a breeze like flutter that blows by when I have walk into work from the parking lot or can be a crashing wave when I’m home all alone with my thoughts.

My anxiety is like two opposites.

I have days where the light, sunshine and warmth radiate happiness and I can live with the low level static noise of anxiety. On those days I just might feel a flutter of butterflies in my stomach if I have to make a phone call. It doesn’t really affect me. I’m happy and thriving, loving life and “high-functioning.”

I have days that feel dark and lonely and full of fear. On these days I feel like I am being attacked with irrational thoughts and fears. I just do my best to get through each day one thought at a time. Often during these times, I am staying close to home, spending longer times meditating, reading and doing what I can to get through. I’m talking to people in the Mighty Community and trying to just keep my head above water.

What I always try to remember during those days is “this too shall pass.”

Living and thriving with anxiety is just something I have gotten used to. It is part of who I am.

It has helped me be compassionate and caring to others who have anxiety. It helped me to be supportive and encouraging while I was a counselor. It continues to allow me to offer insight and awareness to others trying to understand what it’s like.

It has brought me valuable meaningful friendships with others who “just get it.”

I can’t tell you how many times I am able to recognize the silent symptoms of anxiety. I understand the language of fidgeting, hair twirling, feet tapping, avoidance of eye contact many people with anxiety get. We have a silent language people with anxiety learn.

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via NoStigmas

This knowledge is a gift. I never used to feel this way, but anxiety has made me a kinder person. It has allowed me to take my experiences of the hardest days I have survived and be a cheerleader for those feeling hopeless.

I trust others who have lived through similar experiences more than someone who just tries to understand from reading a few books or taking a few courses. There is much to be said for the phrases “I understand” and “I know what it’s like.” They offer a deep sense of relief.

I never used to talk about or share my days of struggle. Then one day I was drowning in my own despair and a kind stranger from the online Mighty Community threw me a life raft when I spoke about my pain. They said things like “me too” and “I know how you feel” and “you will get through this.” I believed them because they opened up and shared similar thoughts, feelings and stories of survival. It gave me hope.

In this moment, I realized the value and importance of not just shining bright on your good days, but letting yourself be vulnerable enough to be seen on your bad days.

I can now throw this life raft to many others on days people feel they are drowning.

Together we get through this. When I’m well, I am source of strength for others and when I am struggling, I look to others to hold me up.

This is the Mighty Community.

It’s what we do. It’s how we are able to face our mental illness without shame and gives us an opportunity to pay forward the support we have be given.

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

Image via Thinkstock

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Anxiety Is a Lot of Things. But It Isn't Your Stereotype.

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Anxiety is a lot of things, but it isn’t always what you think. It isn’t always huddling by a tree outside the nightclub, arms wrapped around my knees, shaking and sniffling as a friend rub my back, telling me it’s OK to get overwhelmed. It isn’t always flashing lights, shouting partygoers and pounding music that pulsates through my eyeballs and drives me to the street, abandoning my drink and thoughts of dancing. It isn’t always electricity shooting through my veins with my limbs and extremities tingling with it until I collapse, exhausted by the stimulus my own body can’t interpret the way yours can.

Sometimes it is. But not always.

It isn’t always waking up with a rock in my throat that doesn’t dissolve no matter how hard I swallow. Coffee doesn’t help. Orange juice doesn’t either, although the acidity feels nice burning past it. It doesn’t always dissipate with deep breathing techniques I’ve learned through years of choking on my anxiety. It isn’t always unexpected and unwelcome. Sometimes it’s as sudden as the common cold and as subversive, sneaking into my body through my psyche.

Sometimes it is. But not always.

It isn’t always an unkind word or offhand comment turned around and around in my feverish brain until it’s as smooth and polished as beach glass. It doesn’t always slither in through text messages that probably mean nothing, arguments blown out of proportion, words, phrases and looks to be dissected like so many laboratory table frogs. I can’t always add those slights to my collection in the cement-mixer my brain becomes when it’s time to go to sleep. It isn’t always there, rattling me from restfulness.

Sometimes it is. But not always.

Anxiety can be all of these things or none of them. Its insidious appearance depends on the person who presents it. Mine can be as subtle as snapping at my husband over nothing – that is, nothing he did or said except the thing that touched off a circuit in my brain that has nothing to do with him. It can be thunderous and stormy, a cacophony of shaking and crying that wracks me as physically as it wreaks havoc on my brain. An episode anyone could see and say, “that’s what a panic attack looks like.” But it could also be silent stony faces, retreating behind my crowded room mask, walking quickly to my car so I don’t have to speak and betray my mouth is full of cotton.

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So when you think of what anxiety is, let yourself hold many moments in your mind at once. Let yourself think of it as a many-headed beast and remember it regenerates each one it loses. Let yourself listen to the person whose anxiety you’re thinking of and let their individuality be OK. Anxiety is as unique as each of us. The only thing we may have in common is that anxiety always, always is.

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

Thinkstock photo via Lapchenko.

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How I Made Anxiety My B*tch at Work

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This morning, I woke up OK, went upstairs, started making coffee… And was blindsided by an anxiety spike.

After a few breathing exercises and some groovy music, I was in enough control to finish getting breakfast ready and start to get ready for work. On the following drive, I could feel anxiety trying to worm its way back into my mind, grasping every foothold possible. Pulling into my parking space at work, I knew I was in trouble. I texted my support squad, let them know the situation, asked for help to make it through the day and steeled myself for a long, frustrating battle.

As work began however, I quickly realized that I could turn the tables and make anxiety work for me. Instead of focusing on the fear and panic, which is how anxiety works, I try to escape it by focusing on something else. Usually, I focus on a TV show or babble with someone to distract myself from an anxiety spike, but at work, I don’t have that luxury. What I do have is work.

So I took all of the fear and panic and stress and poured myself into my work, pushing the envelope, always asking for things to do after my responsibilities were fulfilled. It wasn’t the most exhilarating day, but it was by far my most productive since starting there three weeks ago. When anxiety tried to destroy me, I turned it on its ear and made it my bitch.

Today was a victory day. Hopefully, I can use this tactic next time anxiety tries to attack me at work. Finding ways to make your demons work for you is not the easiest. It’s taken me years to have a day like today, and I’m not 100 percent sure I’ll get a second one like it. But knowing that I was able to defeat my anxiety, and make it work in my favor, is huge.

I wish you days like this, fellow warriors. Days of victory, of success. I wish you all the hope that you will find ways to make your demons your bitches too, and that you will know how strong and empowering a day like today feels. You can do it. I know you can. Even better than that, I know you will. I did it, and so can you.

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Stay strong, warriors.

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Anxiety Is a Marathon

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Anxiety is a marathon. It’s me versus my fears in a race to see who gives up first, and I’m getting tired.

Anxiety is like fighting a bear, except the bear is winning because it’s a bear and it’s sitting on your chest and you can’t breathe. You can’t get up, you can’t even fight back.

Maybe you’re wondering why I’m fighting a bear in the first place? The way I see it, that bear was born with me. It’s like my twin, attached at my hip and constantly trying to consume me. Like in the movies where the twin is a second head hidden under the characters hair. The bear is my second head.

Anxiety is a chest full of bees waiting to burst out, stinging you constantly. It is a mouth full of unspoken truths and regretted falsehoods. It’s pacing your room at 3:00 A.M. whispering your worries.

Anxiety is telling everyone you’re fine when in reality you are a tree that has been through so many storms you don’t know how much more you can take. It is as though you are a bird struggling to fly in hurricane force winds.

Anxiety is like feeling I have to tell my parents I wrecked their car, except that car is my life, and I’ve done it so many times now I’m worried this time they might tell me to stop driving.

It’s wondering if maybe you should stop. It’s smiling when your insides feel like a blender. It’s being so tense that you are a guitar string ready to snap.

Anxiety is standing tall in a crowd, even when your brain questions your worth. It’s going to work even though your worried your boss thinks you’re a nervous wreck. It’s breathing even when it feels like my bear has brought its friends and now they are all piling on top of me and crushing me lungs. It’s driving on even though you wonder if you’re going to crash the car again. It’s reminding yourself that it’s okay to feel these things, but to not let them control you.

Most importantly, anxiety might be something we have, but anxiety will never have us.

Thinkstock image via liuzishan.

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What I Wish My Loved Ones Knew About Anxiety

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1. We May Frustrate You at Times

One of the hardest parts about living with anxiety is what it does to our relationships and friendships. Our anxiety-ridden selves find it hard to believe that we can be loved and accepted. We are constantly torn between pushing people away and worrying about losing them. We don’t want to lose the people we love, but our minds simply cannot help but worry over that. It’s frustrating, yes, but it also shows how much we care about you.

2. Tough Love Isn’t Helpful

Sometimes, people with anxiety can be pretty stubborn. It takes us awhile to understand something. It’s not because we can’t comprehend, it’s because we have two parts of our brain that are fighting for control. It may be easy to get tough with us, but please know that harshness and tough love hurts more than it helps. It makes us sink further into self-depreciation mode, and makes us feel even worse about ourselves. Please try and be patient. It might not be easy, but we appreciate your gentleness and sensitivity more than anything in the world.

3. We Don’t Want or Need Pity

While a gentle tone is appreciated, we don’t need you to feel sorry for us.  We don’t need to hear “I’m sorry” or “I know you are suffering.” Instead, we need encouragement, positive energy and the occasional shoulder to lean on.

4. It’s the Little Things That Mean the Most to Us

As someone living with anxiety, sometimes I need to be reassured from time to time. We need to be reminded that we’re loved, cared about and supported. Something as simple as a sweet text message, hug, “How’s your day?” or affirmation can make a world of difference.

5. Anxiety Is a Real Diagnosis

I’ve struggled with other health issues caused by my anxiety. If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety, encourage them to get help or be a beacon of help for them. Don’t let them go through this alone, don’t shame them for something they can’t control, and don’t shame them for seeking help. All you have to do is be a friend.

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via NoStigmas

6. We Are More Than Our Anxiety

Yes, anxiety is a part of us, but it’s not all of us. While we worry, regret, get emotional and be as confusing and complicated as calculus, we also have our strong points. We have huge hearts that love and cherish those close to us. We love with all we have and we will always be there for those who need us. We may not always be the best friends or family members, but that doesn’t mean we don’t love and respect you. Nor does that mean we aren’t (or can’t be) a joy to be around. Believe in us, we believe in you.

Thinkstock image via Medioimages/Photodisc. 

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Meeting the Darkness to Uncover the Beauty in the Shadows

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It would be a lie if I told you the collages of people’s picture perfect lives gracing social media today didn’t cause me to slam my laptop shut, only to quietly reopen it a few moments later. And repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Please don’t take this the wrong way — I’m truly astounded by your ability to run five marathons this year. And you, with the glass of champagne and that hunk of a boyfriend attached to your hip? You are beautiful and I want you to know that I too, am celebrating the love you share. And goodness, that sweet baby snuggled under the Christmas tree, illuminated by the lights’ golden glow? You may be a new momma, but I know how long your heart has swelled in tender anticipation of this beloved child. Hold him close and be proud.

With each photo, I smile, mesmerized by the beauty that surfaces each year, despite the deep and constant pain that threatens to suffocate our world. But moments later, the impact of that pain seeps through my skin and into my blood, casting a familiar shadow onto my heart. And that is when anxiety speaks, beginning as a whisper and getting louder as it watches me tremble. With glazed eyes and a look of defeat, I settle in for the battle:

“You’ve wasted another year.”

“They don’t really love you.”

“All you’ve been this year is a burden.”

“You can’t do anything right.”

“Your Master’s degree? Who are you kidding?!”

“Who do you think you are?”

“Give up now before you mess things up further.”

“Will there be a place for you in 2017?”

To be fair, 2016 challenged me, and I fought all year to find my footing on life’s rocky terrain. I struggled to create healthy boundaries and felt hurt and alone. I started counseling but considered quitting weekly out of fear and shame. I started taking antidepressants but resented myself for accepting medication. I stopped eating and became dangerously thin, but didn’t care enough to nourish my empty soul. And I slept, dreaming of fast forward buttons and ignoring the calls of my worried friends and family. I blamed and berated myself for every struggle, every slip, every failure… and found even the most joyful moments shrouded from the light.

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But now, we’ve been given a chance to breathe in the opportunity for change that comes with a new year. I don’t know about you, but I want to believe in fresh starts, in the magic of hope and the power of courageous living. I desire connection — to feel needed and to be deeply cared for. I long to believe in love, forgiveness, humor and grace. This all sounds nice, does it not? But the wonder of it all is that I can — because I am worthy of another chance. You are worthy of another chance. You are an equally valuable part of our human family. You are capable of a fresh start. You are a living, breathing, magical example of hope. You lead a courageous life, persevering and overcoming hardship. You deserve love, you deserve forgiveness, you deserve to laugh and you deserve grace. And first and foremost, you deserve to receive these gifts — without reservation — from yourself.

Make time to do the things that bring you joy, however small. Gather friends who nourish your soul, heal your heart and remind you of your meaning. Meditate, pray, journal and create. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Sleep well, move your body and eat food that gives you energy. Be honest. And forgive, both yourself and others. Handle yourself with care, grow from your mistakes and be your biggest supporter. You are worthy of love. You are deeply cherished. And you deserve only the best care.

Light may at times grow dim and tremble. But upon meeting darkness, it never fails to uncover the beauty that hides in the shadows.

You are light. Come along, let’s learn to love ourselves this year.

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

Thinkstock photo via LFO62

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