Promo for The Bachelor. Man in a suit holding a rose.

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.

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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.

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Image via The Bachelor Facebook page 

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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.

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Thinkstock photo via SanneBerg


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.

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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.

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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.

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I feel like I can’t stop moving.

I feel like my insides are churning and my mind is working so fast I can’t even tell what I’m thinking. People ask me what’s on my mind and I have to say nothing, but it’s everything at the same time — like I’m about to burst or explode and my heart might stop, or something. I count to 10 and I still feel it. The movement. I find a way to channel it but it only lasts a short time. I organize my closet. I write a story. I clean the files on my computer, again. I start a journal. I stretch myself out. I text some friends.

I feel like a burden.

Everyone hates me. I cancel plans. I worry. I worry no one likes me. I worry my wife will leave me. I worry I upset someone. And when I do, it is the end of the world. It collapses on top of me and I am unable to breathe. Air doesn’t fill my lungs and I can’t get enough of it, not now. I count to 10 and I still feel it.

Is that a new freckle?

I learn everything the internet has to offer about skin cancer and everyone tells me that it looks normal, that I’m fine. I’m not fine, I’m never fine. My mind keeps spinning and I feel everything bubbling over. Five more text messages, I’m still a burden. My wife is at work and I blow up her phone, thinking maybe she’s mad at me. Isn’t everyone, always?

I am a failure.

I’m 25 and this isn’t what I wanted my life to look like. I like my job but it’s not what I’m passionate about. I live in my mom’s house while I wait for my wife to get permanent residency in Canada. I miss my friends. I miss my sanity. I miss myself. I miss the way I used to feel inspired every day to do something bigger and better. I miss thinking I could do anything. The world seemed bigger, once.

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I am exhausted.

I stay up late every night because panic fills my chest and I can’t bring myself to stop moving. I go to work like a zombie but I put on a happy face every day, like a mask I wear with my lipstick. I am a contradiction. I move constantly, needing to find the quickest way to distract myself at every moment, but I am so tired I can hardly see straight.

I am anxious.

This is what anxiety looks like. I am a ball of panic most of the time. There is always something new, nagging at my ever moving mind. Sometimes, I feel like my brain is filled with little buzzing flies, zipping around nonstop and I can’t silence them. I count to 10 and I still feel it.

I am hopeful.

It is worse now than it has been in a long time. But it’s also better. I believe in myself, because I know there is a light at the end of this frantic tunnel. I accept the days when I have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. I accept myself as someone who breaks down once in a while, because recovery isn’t always smooth sailing. I accept myself for my imperfections, because we all have them. No one is perfect.

I am working on accepting I am my best self.

In the moments when I don’t know if I’m good enough, I will remind myself that I am a good wife, a good daughter and a good friend. That when I make mistakes, I always try to correct them. That when I hurt someone, I will always apologize. That when I feel like I’m not living up to my perhaps impossibly high expectations for myself, I will set new goals, and tell myself that life means having small setbacks here and there. That when I don’t think anyone likes me, that I like me. And that when I don’t, I look for the good parts. Because they’ll always be there, even when I don’t see them.

I will breathe.

Because as my partner reminds me constantly, it all starts there.

Just breathe.

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