How Reality TV Encouraged Me to Get Help for My Anxiety Disorder

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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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Image via Bachelor Facebook.

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Twitter Users Describe Anxiety in 5 Words as Part of Hashtag #Anxietyin5Words

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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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Why 'No News Is Good News' Doesn't Work for Me

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All my life I’ve heard people say “no news is good news” and until recently I didn’t know why it bothered me. But “no news is good news” doesn’t always ring true. In fact, I am willing to bet it rarely is true. It might be true there is nothing happening, but to my anxious mind “no news” means I can dream up all possible scenarios — none of them good — as to why I haven’t heard something. From calls from the doctor’s office to job interviews to the more common phone calls, emails and texts from friends, I don’t do well with no response.

Now, before I continue I do have to say I apologize to all of you who I haven’t responded to over the past several years. This is thanks to the depression that wreaks havoc on my life. I will try to do better – at least for my friends with diagnosed anxiety.

“You hate me.”

“You don’t want to deal with me anymore.”

“I did something to hurt you.”

“You are avoiding me.”

“Something is terribly wrong in your life and you don’t want to tell me.”

“I am not worthy of your time.”

“You fell off of a cliff or were swallowed by a large animal.”

The list in my mind can go on for hours. And although it would seem to so many people I should reach out again if I don’t hear from you, I am almost scared to find out the truth. Although recently I have actually started to follow through and test my thoughts.

“No news” creates an ugly game in my head. I know I am not the only one who feels this way. And although it might seem ridiculous to those who have the ability to chill or not worry — these are foreign concepts to me — I wanted to alert them to this struggle.

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Image via Thinkstock

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The Exhausting Morning Routine of Someone With Anxiety

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How long does it take you to leave the house in the morning? An hour? Two? Try three hours. Three long hours.

I am the girl who wakes every morning after a sleep addled with nightmares and a constant sense of panic. I wake most mornings fists clenched and panting, like I’ve run a marathon in my sleep. After convincing myself nothing bad happened while I slept, I inevitably burst into tears as I go through every scenario possible in my head. What if, what if, what if. It’s probably an hour later as I force myself to get out of bed.

I am the woman who then flips into robot mode. I make packed lunches and find mislaid shoes. I bustle. I keep myself busy. I fuss like the mother hen. Then the kids leave for school and I sink into the sofa. I flick through Facebook , to Instagram, to Twitter, to Tumblr, back to Facebook. I shut the apps down. Make a drink. Reopen the apps. I fidget. Sometimes I sit on the sofa, unable to move until I have to. My brain tells me I have to shower, I have to get dressed and I have to get moving. But I don’t. I sit there and I flick through apps. I browse through TV channels at the same time. Head constantly working. I time check. I work out exactly how long I have until I have to move.

Then as I relax, I may pick up a book. Or if it’s a good day, I’ll tidy around my messy house. I get engrossed in what I do. Then, panic. The time I’ve set myself to get ready has expired. In my eyes, even though I’m technically early, I’m late. My heart begins to race, my palms get sweaty, sometimes I shake. Other times I get the “creeps” where my nerve endings seem to explode under the skin and I could scratch my skin raw. Don’t panic. Don’t panic. But I do. I throw on clothes, rush to shower, worry I’m going to be late and I’ll let work down even though I’ve never been late in eight years and I’m usually at least 15 minutes early. Being late makes me anxious.

Leaving the house can be an ordeal. I check my bag at least three times for my keys, my phone, my headphones. I can’t leave the house unless I have my headphones. I’ll check my appearance about 10 times in the mirror even though I dislike what I see and it gets worse with every viewing. I recheck my bag one final time and then I walk outside.

Walking without headphones scares me. I don’t want to talk unless it’s someone I know, in which case I will politely remove one earphone, all the while gripping the phone in my pocket. I hurry to work, head down with music volume as high as it can go until I reach the safety of my workplace. The whole walk I pass strangers and hope they won’t talk about me after I’ve passed by or make fun of me or make a derogatory comment.

I’m exhausted and my day has only just begun.

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Image via Thinkstock

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How I'm Managing My Anxiety During a Period of Waiting

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Waiting can be hard. Waiting can be especially hard when you experience anxiety.

I live with bipolar disorder and anxiety, and I have difficulties dealing with periods of waiting in my life. Right now, my wife and I are expecting a baby, to be born in March. We are waiting. There is anxiety as we wait. For me, I feel anxiety because I do not know when labor will begin. Our last pregnancy resulted in our son Mateo’s stillbirth. This pregnancy has been wrought with anxiety. First, we were waiting to see if we made it past the first trimester. Then, we waited to hear the results of our first look exam and see if our baby had any chromosomal disorders. We waited to the end of the second trimester to when our son, Pablo became viable. Now, we wait in the last part of the pregnancy for him to be born. Anxiety for me is like a franticness that runs throughout my mind, as I think of every possible scenario, including the worst-case scenario and all the possible solutions to any given problem. The worst part about the anxiety I experience is the unknown, which can happen continually when you are waiting for something. Time seems to move painfully slow, but my mind races painfully fast. I feel restless, irritable, and have problems concentrating.

So how have I managed my anxiety in waiting? During this season in life, our pregnancy, I have managed the anxiety in waiting through several different approaches.

The first thing I did was try to have things to do each day. Being disabled and not working has its challenges when it comes to staying busy; however, I found many free, healthy activities to do during this pregnancy. I went to the public library often and started a bookclub in our neighborhood. Reading helped me focus and escape my reality of anxiety through stories, characters and faraway places. It was fun. I also continued to exercise by taking walks at the neighborhood park. I learned to crochet and started making a scarf, which I finished on Christmas Eve and gave as a gift. I played boardgames we own. I blogged about my anxiety, about my waiting, and reached out to others when it seemed overwhelming.

Prayer is another way in which I battled my anxiety during this period of waiting. I found through prayer I was able to let go of a lot of my anxieties and give it to God. If you’re not religious, I recommend meditation or yoga. Through prayer, I focused on things within my control and tried to let go of all the rest that wasn’t.

Waiting while living with anxiety can be hard, but it is manageable.

The best advice I can give when your anxiety is through the roof and you’re waiting for something is to breathe, let go of things outside of your control, and live in the present moment. Be mindful, pray, and enjoy things and people around you. Practice simple acts of self-care. Also be sure to take care of your basic needs, like eating regularly, practicing good sleep habits and exercising. Life will go where it will, and it will happen when it’s supposed to happen. I have to remind myself of this as I wait to meet my son.

Image via Thinkstock.

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When a Simple Question Can Bring on a Spiral of Anxiety

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It all starts with a question. Doesn’t have to be anything specific — just something big enough to send you spiraling. Like for instance, when someone wants to video chat with you. Or when a loved one asks what you want for dinner. Or when a stranger approaches you to ask for directions. Or when your boss asks if you can handle the pressure and you’re smiling but inside is chaos.

It’s like all of a sudden you’re lost in the middle of the ocean in the middle of a hurricane and you aren’t quite sinking but every now and then your head dips just enough under water to remind you death could happen at any time. Except in everyday life these questions don’t usually cause death – or any harm for that matter. Usually a person would just answer the question, but suddenly it’s like someone just asked you to give them the meaning of life at gunpoint.

I think in some way, wires got crossed in our brains and suddenly they think answering these questions is life or death. Suddenly saying whether or not you want steak is like telling a bank robber you can’t give them what they want.

Unfortunately I don’t have a solution for these situations – but I think it’s important to know you’re not alone. We’re not alone. There are others out there who can relate, and maybe you don’t know them but they understand.

We understand.

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Thinkstock photo by Transfuchsian

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