How Serena Williams Got Me Through My Hospital Admission for Anxiety

2
2

‘It’s just another fight I’m going to have to learn how to win, that’s all. I’m just going to have to keep smiling.’
– Serena Williams

Professional tennis player, Serena Williams, has been ranked World No. 1 in singles on six separate occasions. What makes her success so remarkable is not so much her victories, but her drive to win. She has become the definition of effort; a constant, undeniable determination. Her name has become synonymous with excellence. No obstacles nor haters have stopped her. She plays to win.

Recently, I had been hospitalized for a week. I was experiencing a severe panic attack and my mind resorted to suicidal thoughts. Battling anxiety isn’t easy, and after a 15-minute painful battle, I picked up the phone and reached out for help. I called my doctor and a close family member. I am lucky enough to have a great support system and I was taken to the hospital where I stayed for a while to be monitored and have my medications adjusted.

I spent some lonely hours in the emergency unit of the hospital in a room with nothing but a bed and bare walls. It gave me a lot of quiet time to calmly reflect and think about life, my choices and decisions; past, present and future. As I was thinking, the nurse handed me a big bottle of orange Gatorade to keep me hydrated. I was slowly sipping from the bottle when I saw Serena, in all of her glory, on the Gatorade label. Suddenly, Serena was my only connection to the outside world, as no cellphones or visitors are allowed on the unit. I thought about her image. I thought about her love of sports and her determination to go all the way. I thought about her willpower and her strength — how she never gives up. I thought of the battles she’s been through, her injuries, her haters; and yet she still fiercely plays and goes for the goal. She is not only an image in the sports’ world, but as a woman I admire her immensely. Her attitude and determination is what earned her a total of 22 Grand Slams. And when she says that it’s her hard work that made her a champion, I believe her. It’s not luck that has brought her this far.

We, Serena and I, play different games. I battle my own mind and strive to conquer my anxiety and negative thoughts. I aim for the championship. I want those 22 Grand Slams. And suddenly, right there on my hospital bed, I realized that it takes hard work, determination and a willpower made of unbreakable steel.

I stared at that black and white image and engraved it in my head. I engraved Serena’s message. Victories don’t come easy, but they are worth it. Serena is an inspiration to so many, and maybe one day, if I’m lucky enough, my battles will inspire someone also.

I embraced all the love and support I received and let my doctors help me, because this was the first step in my journey to stardom. And from here on, I play to win.

Thank you, Serena Williams. And thank you, Gatorade. (You know, just for keeping me hydrated.)

Follow this journey on Tea or Lemonade.

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.

Image via Serena William’s Facebook page

2
2
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

When This Year's 'Bachelor' Called Anxiety 'Crazy'

51
51

Last Monday night, I, like many others, was engrossed in the latest episode of “The Bachelor.” I eagerly watched this year’s bachelor, Nick Viall, hand out roses to the women who have won his heart — until he spoke four simple sentences that instantaneously made my “rosy” attitude disappear.

“I’ve thought a lot, coming into this week, just how crazy I was in these two weeks. I had anxiety, I had mild panic attacks… I mean, I drove myself insane.”

Anxiety. Crazy. Panic attacks. Drove myself insane.

The weight of these words hit me hard. My heart raced. I could barely breathe. I immediately felt sick to my stomach.

I have anxiety — Am I crazy? I have had panic attacks… Am I supposed to believe that I am insane?

Society has long utilized the words “crazy” and “insane” to reinforce the negative stereotypes surrounding mental illness. The word “crazy” conjures up images of violence, aggression and instability, and — in both everyday conversation and in the media — it is primarily used to derogatorily describe a person’s mental state. “Insane,” by contrast, originated as a legal term, but it has devolved into a word widely used to disparage those living with mental illness. Tying loaded, derogatory language, such as the words “crazy” and “insane,” to mental illness — as “The Bachelor” did — perpetuates the harmful stereotype that people living with mental illness are violent, aggressive, incompetent and unstable.

The chaotic, disorderly picture these words create does not represent the reality for the vast majority of people living with mental illness. People with a variety of mental illnesses — including anxiety disorders, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder — are able to lead stable, successful lives. They attend college and graduate school, have careers in a wide variety of fields, get married, own homes and care for their children. Despite the widespread view that people with mental illness commit acts of violence, particularly in workplace settings, research not only suggests that they are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of aggressive acts, but that a significant proportion of people with mental illness has been victimized more than once. The words “crazy” and “insane,” as well as similar language, not only serve to reinforce the deleterious stereotype that people with mental illness are too unstable to succeed in society, but they perpetuate the cycle of violence against those who live with mental illness.

Therefore, it is crucial to be cognizant of the way in which the language used in the media can powerfully reinforce negative stereotypes surrounding mental health conditions.  By insinuating that experiencing anxiety is “crazy” and having panic attacks drove him “insane,” Nick Viall inadvertently perpetuated the notion that people with living with anxiety and panic disorders are unstable, out-of-control and potentially violent, due to the connotations of the words he chose to describe his anxious mental state. Those who viewed this particular episode of “The Bachelor” received confirmation of the deeply-entrenched but highly misleading stereotype that people with mental illness — particularly those living with anxiety disorders — exist in a constant state of instability and chaos and are unable to function in society. Presenting this type of language as an acceptable way to describe mental illness not only perpetuates the stereotypes surrounding mental illness, but by seemingly lending credence to the harmful perceptions of those with mental illness, it also further marginalizes those living with mental health conditions.

It is important for everyone in our society — regardless of background or social status — to choose language wisely, particularly as it pertains to describing symptoms of mental illness. A young professional experiencing anxiety symptoms before a job interview is not “crazy.”  A man having panic attacks while attempting to find love on national television is not “insane.” Words have the power to either reinforce or dispel the stereotypes surrounding mental illness and, therefore, to influence future perceptions of those living with mental health conditions.

It is imperative that we think before speaking.

It is crucial that we speak with care and deliberation.

We have the power to create a world in which people with mental illness are no longer oppressed by negative stereotypes.

We must choose our words wisely.

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

Image via The Bachelor Facebook page 

MIGHTY PARTNER RESOURCES
51
51
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

The Senses of Anxiety

236
236

If my anxiety could talk, it would snap at you, yelling in an overly irritable tone for no known reason.

If my anxiety could hear, it would cover its ears and tune you out, humming louder than you speak.

If my anxiety smelled, it would smell like when a fire is being snuffed out, low and almost out, but never fully extinguished, waiting for that one spark to reignite it into a full fire.

If my anxiety could feel, it would feel like sandpaper, rough and abrasive.

If my anxiety was a person it would wear black, and it would lurk in the shadows, following me around every single day, stalking my thoughts, my movements, my feelings.

It would pounce when I least expected it. When I’m having lunch with a friend, when I’m driving, reading a story to my children or when I am sitting at my desk at work.

Why would it do all of these things you ask? Because it can. Because I am still learning how to control it. Some days it runs amuck, and my fight or flight instinct is so high it’s all I can do to not run circles around myself screaming inside of my head for it to just stop already. Some days I cannot fight it, I can’t calm down, I can’t let it go. Some days it wins, but one day, I will win.

Until then I wait, and it waits…we wait together and see what’s next.

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

Thinkstock photo via SanneBerg

236
236
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

How My Mother Helped Me Accept My Anxiety

71
71

That feeling where you stay up at night, staring at your ceiling, asking yourself an infinite number of questions, then sit there and debate on whether or not you actually know the answers.

That feeling where you wonder who truly cares about you and who is just using you — who is there for you and who is waiting to see you fail. That feeling where you want to vent to somebody but you never do because you feel that nobody will understand you. That feeling where you question your worth, your pride, yourself, everything. That feeling where you wake up every morning with a sense of dread about getting through the day. That feeling where you get spontaneous, uncontrollable panic attacks and you feel all alone. That feeling where all you’re left with is you, yourself and a very dark place.

These are the feelings I have experienced since the sixth grade. It was in this grade that I was diagnosed with severe anxiety disorder.

I have always been a person who was afraid of the unknown and trying new things. Anxiety consists of constantly over-thinking, worrying and it can even cause physical problems. This is something many people experience. It is a natural part of life. Fortunately for most of us it isn’t as intense and persistent though. Unfortunately, this was not the case for me.

My anxiety disorder caused me a lot of discomfort throughout my early high school years. I would often stay home from school, because attending school made my symptoms flare. My attendance declined rather quickly. I often felt like I had run out of time and options. After numerous visits with a social counselor, I was more comfortable attending school, but I was too afraid to go individually.

I’ve learned through this experience that my mother is a very dedicated woman to her daughter. She would sit with me in class, every day, for what seemed like 24 hours. I felt like a nuisance, like I was making her life more complicated. However, her constant willingness to sit there with me and listen to all my doubts has led me to believe in who I am today. Because of my mother, I am who I am.

I’ve learned that it is OK to let it out. I’ve learned that you are stronger than you think. I’ve learned that others are going through it. too. We all have a story, we just tell them a little differently. I’ve learned that you do not have to let your past define you, and that as much as the support of friends helps, it is nothing compared to family. I’ve learned that you will have good days and you will have bad days, that you have to keep fighting or the anxiety will fight you.

Most importantly, I’ve learned that it is perfectly OK to not be OK.

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

Thinkstock Image via Kikovic

71
71
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

When Anxiety Says No, I Say Yes

616
616

I wake up every day terrified of something. Whether I’ll meet that day’s work deadline. Whether the last thing I wrote was crap. Hell, I worry about getting the girls to school on time. You’d think that since I’ve never missed a deadline and never been fired by a client and consistently arrive at school so painfully early that we have to cool our heels in the parking lot so I don’t have to pay extra for before care – you’d think that I’d “get over” these worries. But history of success is no match for my brain’s ability to envision the worst-case scenario.

This is what it’s like to live with an anxiety disorder.

I used to crave a day when I would wake up calm and reasonable — what I imagine life is like for people who seem to ease through their days unscathed by worry and fear. But I’ve given up hope of that. I’ve accepted that anxiety will by my constant companion, my fellow traveler through life. When it comes to my anxiety, I try to manage it mostly with thought control. Over the past two years, since a nervous breakdown left me unable to shower on the regular, what I’ve learned to do is the opposite of what my brain tells me.

Now, if my brain tells me to stay under the covers, to not bathe, to eat Eggos and chips for breakfast instead of real food, here’s what I do instead: I force myself to get up, to make the bed, to wash myself, to fry an egg.

And if my brain tells me to stay timid, to not raise my voice, to give up at freelancing and seek a day job that would be much easier on my nerves than this constant hustle, then I send out more pitches, reach out to more contacts, dive into new projects.

Because for me personally, to hunker down is to “die.” At one point, that death could have been quite literal, as suicidal ideation was my mind’s favorite hobby. Today, giving in to worry would represent more of a figurative death: Death by letting anxiety keep me from living a bold life.

And in 2017, my goal is to live the boldest life possible.

So I’ve been doing the opposite.

Just this week, fate-like, a friend from 20 years past reached out to me with an offer to fill in for a drop-out on her Grand Canyon rafting trip at the end of March. The trip will end with me hiking 10 miles out of the Canyon with a mile gain in elevation.

I’m not a hiker, not a wilderness camper and I’ve never rafted. I can’t tie knots, I don’t cook and I cannot overstate how out of shape I am. “Irregular yoga” would describe my exercise routine for the past year. As in, sometimes when my back hurts from writing all day at the computer, I’ll do the “child’s pose” on the mat behind my desk for like 30 seconds.

I said yes.

I mean, I have a tattoo on my wrist that tells me to do just that: Say yes. To do things even though they terrify me, even though I absolutely hate doing things I’m not good at, hate the thought of letting people in a group down, cried through a humiliating ski trip years ago with experienced skiers, broke my foot getting out of the bathtub, passed out at Universal Studios and spent the rest of that vacation in the Disney World hospital recovering from heatstroke.

I said yes. Even though I spend my days anxiety-ridden about the smallest of small stuff, even though I battle imposter syndrome on the daily, even though I don’t particularly like being wet and/or cold, even though I make a thousand decisions every week simply to stay “sane.”

Because I will not let anxiety defeat me. I will do the things that scare me – the big things and the little things. And I will no doubt wake up the next day still terrified of something, and I will do it all over again.

Follow this journey on Reedster Speaks.

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

Image via contributor

616
616
TOPICS
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Amber Smith Shares Before and After Photos to Show Reality of Her Panic Attacks

TOPICS
, Video,
JOIN THE CONVERSATION

Real People. Real Stories.

7,000
CONTRIBUTORS
150 Million
READERS

We face disability, disease and mental illness together.