A woman sitting in a field of grass with her hands in the air

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.

Stay strong, warriors.

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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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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Thinkstock photo via LFO62

Dear loved ones,

I am so sorry for being such a pain sometimes. I know I can be frustrating at times and you just can’t figure out why I am like this. Well I can tell you I don’t even know the answer to this. I guess that’s just how I am wired.

My only hope is my constant complaining and breakdowns don’t ward you off from me because that’s when I need you the most and I don’t want to feel like a burden because it makes it much worse.

I wrote a list to break it down to you to have a glimpse of what it feels like to be me:

  • It’s worrying about millions of things in a millisecond.
  • It’s overthinking anything and everything.
  • It’s when everything around you seems to be so overwhelmingly fast-paced and you just can’t keep up so you shut down from the world in hopes it would slow it down, but it doesn’t.
  • It’s when you constantly need reassurance those you love still care about you because even you sometimes doubt you can love yourself.
  • It’s when taking a “chill pill” was never an option.
  • It’s always being too afraid people will think all you want is attention while all you really want is redemption.
  • It’s when you’re afraid of now, yesterday and tomorrow.
  • It’s when you’re afraid of drowning in sorrow.
  • It’s hating to live like this but you just don’t have a clue how to stop it.
  • It’s when you get told to “let it go,” but you just can’t.
  • It’s living with a mind that thinks for its own and you don’t have a say in it.
  • It’s when sleeping is #goals.

I hope this helps you understand.

Follow this journey on My Online Journal.

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Image via Thinkstock

Imagine if you read a lonely hearts ad that looked like this:

Single anxious 30-something, nail biter, fidgeter, lip chewer, seeks partner for constant reassurance. Can sometimes be an annoyance. Paranoid about a lot of things. Big fan of alone time. Will question everything. Apply within.

Would you apply? Do you think they sound like someone you could grow to love ? Or would you move on to someone else and quickly?

Thing is, if I had to write an honest lonely hearts ad, based entirely on my emotions, that ad above would be me. Sound like quite the catch, don’t I? In day-to-day situations, I come across as a bubbly, outgoing person. High-functioning anxiety means I sometimes talk too much, I overcompensate for silences and at least one part of my anatomy is always moving — drumming fingers, flicking hair, constantly in motion. Dating is a whole different game, and it’s hard to even roll the first die.

Four years ago, I’d just come out of a relationship which had sent my anxiety levels through the roof. In the beginning it was a fairytale, by the end a living nightmare. Constantly being lied to and cheated on meant a once manageable anxiety rose to levels I couldn’t even comprehend anymore. For the last few months of the relationship, I felt like I was going mad. A simple question would be met with a lie, an accusation would be bounced back and flipped around, and, of course, it was “all my fault.” I was made to feel like I was abnormal for worrying about someone when they went out, or when they didn’t answer their phone for a few days. Obviously I was “interfering” when he went out with another couple and a single female friend and I wasn’t invited. I wasn’t allowed to go out with my own friends unless he was there, and each night then would end in a blazing argument — he would drink too much and verbally abuse me, usually accuse me of sleeping with someone else, and I would cry myself to sleep. I spent nights lying in bed  convincing myself I was such a terrible partner, that I was overbearing to the point where I wondered why he could even be with me because I was that awful. The relationship ended when I realized, for my own sanity, the only fault that lay with me was not ending it sooner.

And so I reveled in freedom. I didn’t need to settle back down, and I didn’t want to settle down. I had wings again and I could fly as far or as near as I wanted to. I was happy with that. A few dates here and there, nothing serious, it worked for me. I didn’t get involved, I didn’t have anyone to answer to… It wasn’t difficult and it wasn’t scary. I had learned, or had implanted in my head, that I’d never allow anyone to get that close to me again because I couldn’t handle feeling like that again.

And then my best friend invited me to a wedding as his plus one. I’d known him for 13 years, so I felt like it was more of a night out rather than a date, and we had a great time. The next day we both went to work and all day long I thought about him. It was like a lightbulb had switched on in my head. Did I contact him? Out of fear, I didn’t. I didn’t, couldn’t, dare think that I could put myself back into a relationship with someone, so I shut myself away and got on with my life. Then he messaged me and asked me out again… just us two this time and, although I said yes, I panicked so much by the time I met him for a lunch date I was a bag of nerves. It was ridiculous. One of my oldest, bestest friends, and I was a bumbling mess!

Luckily he managed to see past all that and, nearly six months down the line, we are officially in a relationship. But it’s hard. Although I have one foot firmly in the future, one foot seems determined to stick in the past. I worry constantly about getting on his nerves, about being overbearing, putting a foot wrong. I talk too much, I fear that I will be too much for him and that he’ll dump my sorry ass for being… me.

It is the most amazing feeling to be with someone who seems to accept all that. Trust is the major factor — he goes out and I don’t sit at home paranoid that he’s with someone else. We go out on weekends and I can talk to another man at the bar without feeling eyes burning with jealousy on my skin. It’s waking up in the middle of the night in the midst of an anxiety attack and knowing he’s there to hold me until I calm down.

Dating with anxiety is hard. Loving with anxiety is harder. The only advice I can give is don’t settle. Don’t settle for the person who thrives and revels in raising your stress levels. If they make your heart beat faster when you see them, make sure it’s for the right reasons. Because, when you find the right person, it shouldn’t feel like you’ve been running a marathon, it should feel like you’re coming home. And I’m home.

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If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

Thinkstock photo via KristinaJovanovic

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