Portrait of pensive young woman with scarf, outdoor.

1. Please don’t think I am weak or fragile.

I am not a weak person. On the contrary, managing my anxiety on a daily basis requires a great deal of mental strength and determination. You easily identify my moments of weakness when I break down or panic, but you do not recognize the 10 other times that day I was almost overcome by anxiety but managed to keep smiling and keep moving forward.

2. Please don’t tell me how lucky I am to receive accommodations.

The phrase, “Wow, you’re so lucky” is the reason I waited until the end of first semester in my second year of university to request accommodations with my school’s student accessibility services. I still struggle with the feeling that I am being given extra help and that I am being given an unfair advantage. I do not need you to reinforce my misgivings by telling me I am lucky.

3. I am not being dramatic. Please don’t tell me to calm down.

Believe me, if I could calm down, I would. Feeling out of control is one of the most terrifying parts of having anxiety for me.

4. Please do not tell me I am a disaster or a mess.

I may laugh it off in the moment and I will probably agree with you, but your words will stay with me long after you have forgotten them. They will swirl around my head for weeks and reinforce unwelcome feeling of worthlessness and self-disgust. I am not a disaster. I am a person fighting anxiety, and battles can often be messy affairs.

5. Pease do not tell me how lucky I am that you can deal with me.

I am eternally grateful for the friends who have stuck by me and supported me through difficult times. I do not need you to talk about me like I am an ordeal you have managed to survive, and I don’t need you to point out all the ways in which I make your life difficult. I think about them far more often than you do, and I regret the difficulties I cause you more deeply than you can possibly imagine.

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I’m tired of feeling like a failure because I don’t fit everyone’s definition of success.

Sometimes when you’re told over and over that you can’t do something, you start to believe it. Feeling worthless not just because others doubt you but because you start to believe these doubts.

Many days getting out of bed is hard. Getting through the day is hard. Simple tasks are hard. Hell, hanging out during fun activities is even hard. It makes me feel exhausted to the point where I don’t see the point in pushing through.

I get tired of feeling like a failure because my biggest goals are sometimes just to get out of bed. To be able to go out without fearing an anxiety attack. Being able to make it through a class or through a shift at work without any worries.

I want to be able to talk to strangers without feeling like they’re judging me. I want to be able to talk to love ones without feeling like they’re judging my every move. To be able to be myself.

I’m not a failure because I struggle. I do admit I’ve lost opportunities because of my illness, but that’s in the past. I’m proud of who I am, even if I don’t like myself sometimes. This is because I can push myself through every day even with being judged, on top of living with mental illness. I know I won’t completely “get better,” but one day my biggest goal won’t be getting out of bed.

Your definition of success may not be what my life is, but it’s not your life; it’s mine. My goals will be reached. They may just take longer and they may be harder to get to, but when I get there I’ll appreciate it so much more.

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It starts in my head.

Words scramble. Thoughts disappear. I become overwhelmed, irritable, and withdrawn.

I can’t focus on my work so I take a minute to take care of myself. I exercise, take a shower, play a game, take a nap, watch a show, read a book, all of the above. Sometimes it works and I use my anxiety to power through my busy life, a side effect of “high-functioning” anxiety itself.

And sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I have an anxiety attack.

It starts in my head, and then it moves to my heart. My heart rate, normally a beat so slow and quiet I’m not even sure it’s beating at all, doubles its pace and echoes in my ears. This is when the panic begins, when I’m sure my heart is working wrong and I’m going to die.

My lungs hear my heart and struggle to keep up. I gasp, cough, hyperventilate. With the lack of oxygen, I start feeling woozy, a mix of nausea, lightheadedness, heat, and headache. I feel like I am dying.

Now I’m crying, except crying isn’t quite the right word for it. No, this crying is full of shaking hands, darting eyes, and hot, racing tears. It is a type of crying that mourns my temporary loss of clarity and control over the one thing I have taken for granted to be mine: my body.

If I’m alone, this is when I jump out of bed and grasp at the closet handle. I pull out running shoes and, shaking, take hold of everything I’ll need for my temporary escape. I leave the room, let the door slam shut because I’m already down the stairs, and take off out the front door. There is no warm-up; there is only running, sprinting, escaping, until I can pinpoint the reason I can’t breathe.

It never works; it’s a race against your mind and you will never win, or at least I never have. I run until my focus shifts, stop, and take a shower. The anxiety is still there under the surface, waiting to bubble up. All I have done is bought myself some tainted time.

Once, I was not alone. No, I was laying on the floor next to a girl I had met some three months earlier. The window was open and out it, lights from a concert in the park flashed. We’d just gotten back from dinner and a short walk. She was scrolling through her phone and I, hiding under a blanket (literally), was trying desperately to keep my lungs from making audible noise. I don’t know if she looked at me, if she thought I was weird, if she questioned why I was hiding my face, but I knew it would certainly raise questions if her friend of a few months sprung up, hyperventilating, shaking, crying, sweating, and sprinted away.

So I stayed. I texted my best friend and explained to her what was going on. I opened a mental health app on my phone. I picked a coping skill. And I stayed.

5 Things You See. The blanket. The ceiling. The lights. My phone. My fingers.

4 Things You Hear. The concert. The air conditioning. My friend’s breathing. The people outside the window.

3 Things You Touch. My toes. The carpet. My pants.

2 Things You Smell. The stale air under the blanket. The fresh air outside of it.

1 Thing You Taste. Salt.

I breathed. I noticed details. Instead of running, I stayed. My heart rate slowed sometime along the way and I stopped feeling sick. In fact, I felt better. I remember smiling and texting my friend I was OK because that night, I won.

Stay. Even if you’re alone, even if you have every chance to run, stay. Give yourself a chance at victory.

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Parenting is hard work — perhaps the hardest work, no matter what. We are all trying to raise kind and decent human beings and we are doing our best. When you are raising a child with special needs, a medical condition or mental health condition, it can be especially challenging.

I am fortunate to be in a supportive neighborhood Facebook group with other local moms who have a child or children struggling with anxiety. I recently posed this question to the other moms: “What do you wish others knew about parenting an anxious child?”

And here is what they had to say:

1. “I hate it when people say ‘choose your battles.’ Many days, absolutely everything is a battle. Please just listen to my struggles as a parent without offering advice.”

2. “I’m not really sure how to put it into words, but I see one child and the world sees another. Everyone seems to think he is only serious and sober, but I see him playing with his brothers and there is a ton of joy on his face.”

3. “It’s a serious struggle to get my kid out the door to school in the mornings, she often cries and says she’s scared. Her teachers have such great things to say about her – she’s a hard worker, cooperative and a good friend. I’m so proud of her for this, but I hate feeling like her teachers don’t believe me because of her positive behaviors at school.”

4. “It’s exhausting and frustrating to have to advocate so incredibly hard for your child and to feel dismissed. A doctor who interacts with my child for 30 minutes once a year doesn’t know my child like I do and I just want to be believed, validated and offered support.”

5. “I’d like people to know how hard and draining it is to consistently be a calm parent who shows understanding and compassion. I know I should have the intention daily to control my response/reaction to my daughter’s behavior/attitude/words. But it’s really hard. And some days I just lose it on her which makes me feel like an awful parent.”

6. “One minute I want to answer ‘I feel like a shitty parent.’ The next minute I want to answer ‘I wish everyone knew it’s not my fault.’ The next I want to answer, ‘I feel like it’s all my fault.’ The next I want to answer, ‘I feel closer to my child because I have to work my hardest to figure him out.’ So, maybe parenting an anxious kid is like a roller coaster?”

7. “I constantly worry I’m enabling and then when I’m trying to challenge him to face his fears, I worry that I’m pushing too hard.”

8. “I go to bed almost every night feeling like a failure.”

9. “Please stop judging. There is so much judgment and a dramatic lack of kindness and empathy, especially as kids get older. Adults tend to lose patience and show frustration on their faces. When you ask my child a question, he is thinking of his answer — which is often complex and interesting — and trying to work up the courage to respond to you. When you sigh and become exasperated after about four seconds, just before he was going to talk, he sees and internalizes it, making him more anxious. He is trying. Won’t you?”

10.“Something we have to work on is understanding other people’s expectations/expected behavior and what people think of unexpected behavior. So, we practice expected behaviors. Part of the delay in time for him to respond is remembering the expected behavior, working up the courage to do it and then doing it. It is unbelievably frustrating when adults don’t allow time for the expected behavior to come through.”

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When I was younger I knew nothing about anxiety disorders, but the one thing I did know about was reality TV. When I was a kid I loved TV and watched quite a bit of it. I wouldn’t say TV was my babysitter, it was more like my friend. I know that is probably the saddest, most pathetic thing you have heard all day, but I was never really good at making friends. So TV characters meant more to me than the average person. When I became a teenager, I discovered reality TV.

I’m not ashamed to admit during my teenage years I watched a lot of reality TV and unfortunately still do. Whether it was a show about finding love by handing out roses, singing competitions with celebrity judges, seven strangers who live in a house together or housewives who love drama, I was most likely watching it. I know these shows don’t really showcase reality, but they are just so fascinating to watch. So when I tuned into “Married to Jonas” one day, I had no idea it would change my life forever.

Like most girls in the mid 2000s I was obsessed with the Jonas Brothers. So when I heard a reality show was coming out about oldest Jonas named Kevin and his wife Danielle, I was definitely on board. It was a cute show about married life, but turned pretty serious when Danielle started talking about her anxiety. She talked about wanting to be off her anxiety medication before having a child and being anxious about a family trip to Italy. I thought to myself, how does this person who seems to have it all together have problems with anxiety?

Mental illness was so foreign to me and honestly was pretty scary to think about. I didn’t know anybody with a mental illness even though many of my family members and friends struggled in silence. I decided to research it and looked up anxiety disorders. The more I read, the more it all started to sound like me and a light bulb went off in my head. Instead of feeling scared about it, I felt a little relieved. So many things I have done and felt in the past started to make sense when I realized something could be going on with me.

The next week I made an appointment to go talk to a counselor at my college’s counseling center and low and behold, I was right about my anxiety disorder. That was my first time going to counseling and working on myself which I continue to do today.

The hardest part about all of this was telling people about my anxiety disorder. I was nervous to talk to my mom about it, but she was so supportive and the friends I have told are supportive too. There are still many people in my life who have no idea about it as I write this right now. I’m not ashamed of this and I want to be as open with my struggles as the reality stars on TV. If they can share their story on camera, I can tell the people in my life who care about me.

“16 & Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” have been some of my favorite shows from the beginning and Catelynn Baltierra opening up about her depression and anxiety has been so encouraging for me to see over the years. I was even surprised to see Vinny Guadagnino from “Jersey Shore” talk about his anxiety. I know “Jersey Shore” is the least credible show out there, but I did watch every season, so please don’t hold that against me. I just got done watching the “Survivor” season called “Millennials vs Gen X” and was thrilled to see David Wright and Hannah Shapiro being brutally honest about panic attacks and anxiety.

Every time I watch a reality show where people are talking about mental illnesses, it reminds me I’m not alone in this struggle. It may seem silly to say reality TV helped me because it’s not real, but I often think about where would I be if I hadn’t watched that “Married To Jonas” episode.

I’m sure I would have eventually been clued in to my anxiety disorder, but how long would it have taken? I think finding out when I was 20 was pretty hard, so going even longer would have been harder. I would not have gotten the help I needed and would still be struggling in silence. No one deserves this, so if it takes watching a TV show to wake people up about mental illness, so be it.

I will always feel really connected to certain TV characters, especially those from reality TV shows. I can’t wait to see this season of “The Bachelor.” I would love to be the therapist on that show and actually help some of those people. If I learned anything over the years, it’s don’t ever judge anyone based on their anxiety disorder or any other mental illness they are overcoming, judge them based on what reality shows they watch.

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Can you describe anxiety in five words? If so, you may want to join the thousands of Twitter users sharing their experiences under the hashtag #anxietyin5words. People living with anxiety disorders began the hashtag on Friday to try to succinctly describe the way they experience anxiety.







There are many ways in which anxiety can present itself – panic attacks, stress, nausea, insomnia, chest pain and intrusive thoughts, to name a few. While anxiety can manifest in many different ways, feeling nervous is not the same as living with an anxiety disorder – a distinction many people seem to have missed.

In addition to sharing personal experiences living with anxiety, Twitter users have also used it to share their fears about the Trump administration, forgetting personal items like iPhones and car keys and running out of snacks – things which can cause nervousness and dismay but are not indicative of having an anxiety disorder.

If you can’t summarize your experience with anxiety in five words, you can always use all of Twitter’s 140 characters to get your point across. 

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