People With Anxiety Share Their Biggest Fears

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The Different Forms My Anxiety Takes

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My anxiety comes in two forms. It used to be three, but I’ll come back to that.

There is the slow build. The always-there, low-level panic that feels like there are little gnomes living inside of my chest that have chains wrapped around my lungs and are pulling them ever tighter. It can last for hours and never really gets any better or worse. It just pulls me down and makes me want to curl up into a ball and wait for it to go away.

Then there’s the panic attack. And by “attack” I mean it feels like someone has punched me with a metal hand – fist straight through the rib cage, squeezing my heart. Squeezing and pulling out from between my lungs that no longer work. My lungs no longer draw air and my heart no longer pumps blood and I’m getting dizzy and it’s going black and I’m going to pass out and wake up heartless, breathless and inside a hospital.

This is something that has never happened and never will happen. It used to be a serious, serious fear but now I’m very aware it’s not going to happen. But it hasn’t made the panic attacks any easier, let me tell you.

The third type of anxiety I used to struggle with is the complete and utter breakdown of all my brain and body. Violently rocking back and forth and kicking things and being completely unable to think of anything, anything at all except for more kicking, more rocking, more mental screaming until it stops and we’re back to the punch in the chest or the gnomes or some crying.

Sometimes the two — or three — forms connect or blend together, going from one to the other. I feel the gnomes, pulling those heavy metal chains ever tighter inside my chest and I’m anticipating the fist any minute now. There is nothing I can do to stop it. And often the fist in my chest is removed and my heart and lungs return to working again, the gnomes holding it all together too tightly for the rest of the day. The day that has effectively been ruined because a fist in the chest is really hard to get over and the gnomes never, ever give up.

I’m telling you this because this is how I feel right now. Right before bedtime. I take medication but still here I am, waiting for the metal fist to the chest.

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Will My Daughter Be Anxious and Sensitive Like Me?

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Before my husband Rodney and I decided to have children, we met with a physician for counseling. I was worried about having a child given both our histories of anxiety and depression. Would the poor kid would be doomed? Do we have a child anyway? Would having a child be selfish? How can we create another person knowing  her chances of being anxious and depressed could be pretty high?

While I don’t remember the exact conversation with the physician, he said any children we had could have a predisposition for anxiety or depression, meaning they would inherit the propensity for a those disorders, but full-blown depression or anxiety wasn’t a given.

Now, nearly 10 years later, my daughter Zora sits in front of me with a stomachache, glistening eyes, and a voice knotted with anxiety.

“I don’t want to play capture the flag at climbing camp,” she says in a scrunched up voice, her dark eyes buried under furrowed eyebrows.

“Why not?” I ask.

“Because I never get to climb on the wall. I just sit on the side!” she croaks angrily.

“Why?” I persist.

“Because there are always people ahead of me!” she says.

“Why don’t you push to the head of the line?” I ask.

“Because they won’t let me,” she answers.

Her dark red hair forms an angled curtain around her face. Her skinny arms wrap around her knees.

I try changing the subject. “Have you had breakfast?” When she’s anxious, she won’t eat. I was like that, too.

“No.”

“C’mon, then,” I say as I lean over to pick her up. She struggles in my arms, then grudgingly throws her arms around my neck.

“What am I going to do when you’re bigger than I am and I can’t pick you up?” I whisper into her ear as I carry her lanky frame into the kitchen.

After a bowl of dinosaur oatmeal and a glass of soy milk, we’re upstairs in her room picking out clothes. She flops on the mattress and looks at her feet.

“I still have a stomachache and I’ve eaten,” she announces.

“Look, next week I’m off and you don’t have camp. You don’t have to go anywhere. Won’t that be fun to look forward to?” I say.

Transitions are difficult for her. New situations are difficult for her. Asserting herself is difficult for her. There are expectations to meet, not only hers, which are likely high and unreasonable, but also what she perceives others may expect of her a.k.a. mind reading. Reminding myself what I think and feel may not always be real has always been a struggle for me, and I can see my little girl shares that propensity.

She nods, and we get on with the business of getting dressed. I kneel down beside her and pull a t-shirt over her head and mint green leggings over her feet and narrow hips. I grab her hand, and we head downstairs and out the door to camp.

Once in the car, Zora and Jasper request no music or NPR. They’re not bickering, which means that dark cloud of emotion has moved on. I relax and pull out of our street onto the main road.

“Next year, when I’m in fifth grade, can we get a fluffy dog?” she asks.

“We’ll get the dog that’s right for us at the right time,” I say. My response is maddeningly parental and noncommittal, so I add, “I read that cockapoos are good for kids.”

“What’s a cockapoo?” Zora asks. Jasper, who is four, snickers. I said “poo.”

“A cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle,” I say. Then, knowing that silliness takes her out of negative place, I continue.

“So… you and Jasper are either,” I pause for a moment, thinking “‘Evodneys or ‘Rodvonnes — a combination of me and Daddy.” They giggle. “Which name is better?”

“Rodvonnes!” she’s taken the bait. We spend the rest of the trip to rock climbing camp describing the characteristics of Rodvonnes, everything from sensitivity to loud noises like toilets flushing in public restrooms (all Rodney) to wide, freckled noses (all me). And, I think to myself, the sensitivity and mood issues.

But so what? Yes, Zora is a genetic mashup of me and Rodney, but our own struggles with depression and anxiety aren’t her destiny. Zora is her own person: sensitive, anxious, change adverse, but also funny, creative, sarcastic, tenacious, and original. As her mom, I can’t mold her into less anxious, gregarious person. Changing her into something she’s not is a losing battle and a rejection of her unique talents. My job is to help her become and accept herself.

“Tell us more about the Rodvonnes, Mommy!” Zora urges me, as we pull into the parking lot at the camp. Yup. She’s excited about her own possibilities.

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3 Simple Things to Tell Someone Who Doesn't Understand Anxiety

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When Panic Attacks Convince You You're Dying

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Foggy vision. Burning pain. Shallow breathing. I can’t walk. Heart palpitations. I’ll never get through this. Heart racing. I’m dying. Uncontrollable crying. Choking. Shooting pain in throat. Why? I’ll never get through this. Dizzy. I’ll never get through this. Dizzy. Foggy. Numbness in my face. Blurry. Dizzy. Thump thump thump. Why? Who can help me? I’m dying. Smoke. Can’t feel my arms. Dry mouth. Frozen. Tongue numb. Can’t speak. Why won’t my legs work. I’m going to faint. Nausea. I’m so tired of this. Upset stomach. Heavy chest. I’m dying. Tense. Trembling. Chest pain. Shaking. Crying. Heart hurts. Stomach pain. Why? Crying. Excruciating. Trapped air. Hyperventilating. Shooting pains down my legs. I’m dying. Can’t breath. Water in my lungs. Shrinking. Collapsing. Sweating. Dissolving. Crying. Crying. Crying. How did I get through that? Despair. Crying. When will it happen again…

Even after thousands of panic attacks – some with as little as one of the above symptoms, some concurrently, some all at once — one thing that’s consistent is the fact I am certain I am dying and that whatever is happening to my body will kill me. It sounds silly, dramatic and totally irrational, but the feeling could not be more real, more terrifying or more debilitating… every.single.time.

You’d think I’d be able to apply logic: “It didn’t kill me last time,” “This will pass,” “It’s a panic attack.” True, I know my reaction to the sensations I feel are that of panic, but what I don’t believe is that panic brought them on in the first place, so each time this happens all I think is, “It will get me this time, this time it will get me.”

What’s hard to explain to those close to me is that in every single attack I have, the terror is just as strong as the last, but each time it happens, outsiders’ sympathy and help lessens, understandably so. “Oh, there she goes again.” For those of you who never have (and hopefully never will) experienced a panic attack: it’s like someone is about to push you off a building, like you’re on a sinking boat, a crashing plane. If you’re with me… hold me, reassure me, let me know I am safe with you.

I could be walking along the street, watching a movie, out for dinner, in the shower, at a party… in fact, I can probably guarantee I’m doing something with entirely no stress attached to it and I’m probably quite happy or relaxed… then bang. Blood drains. Here we go again.

I wanted to start writing about my demons. Anxiety. More specifically, panic attacks. This year, panic attacks have destroyed me. My life has fallen apart, and I have no idea how to put back the pieces, but I’ve been writing in a diary. It’s a total mess and random collection of thoughts, worries, feelings, anger, etc., but the idea of writing a somewhat more legible piece that others could read and quite possibly find help in seems like quite the cathartic task.

I hope the above image gives a little insight to others in how panic attacks can feel, so you can see what we’re up against.

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Thinkstock photo by Vanessa Galeote

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The Words From My Yoga Instructor That Completely Changed How I View Self-Care

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When I attended my first yoga class, I was expecting to leave feeling relaxed and especially “stretchy.” While I did leave with a new spring in my step, I also left with a lesson that would come to benefit me for years to come.

In came in the middle of a sun salutation. I’m following along, trying to slow my brain, control any flatulence and be the good, diligent student in class: “Not everyone will be able to [insert weird way to contort your body here], but that’s OK. Just meet your body where you are right now. It’s OK to modify. It’s not a weakness, it’s just acknowledging you aren’t there yet. That’s why yoga is called a practice.”

This comment was likely said millions of times over the instructor’s career, however it was news to me. News that would stay with me for years to come and would give yoga millions of brownie points in my book. Meet yourself where you are now. Acknowledge you aren’t there yet and that’s OK.

This seemingly simple advice applies to so much more in life than just yoga. Mental illnesses can be all-consuming and it can be frustrating to not be able to do what we need to. Get out of bed. Get dressed. Brush teeth. Clean room. Go to work. Calm down. These minute tasks can feel like finding a needle in an ocean when you’re going through a panic attack or in the depths of depression. And when easy tasks like those listed above feel hard to do, it can be ridiculously frustrating and just add more stress.

Meet yourself where you are now. Acknowledge you aren’t there yet and that’s OK.

Maybe getting out of bed sounds like the worst thing ever. Perhaps just looking out the window while lying in bed is a good first step. Meet yourself where you are now.

Maybe getting dressed takes a lot of effort. How about getting out of bed first? That’s a step in the right direction. Meet yourself where you are now.

Clean room. Ha! Cleaning, yeah, right. Have you had a glass of water? Water is so good for you and might just motivate you more. Meet yourself where you are now.

I first realized the benefit and impact of these statement one dark February day. It was perfectly light out, but it sure didn’t feel like it. Staring at a wall sounded more interesting than looking at the cute puppy pictures my friend had sent me to try to cheer me up. On this particular February day, I was reminded of one self-care option: journaling. I wrote in a journal a lot as a depressed kid, but as a depressed adult I found the notion overwhelming. You really want me to write in complete sentences when I can’t even figure out what color the sky is right now?

I gave it a shot. And after just one sentence, I was already stressed. But then, I realized something profound. My brain was running a million miles a minute even though it wasn’t functioning (the joys of depression and anxiety simultaneously, am I right?) and full sentences weren’t working. But words. Words I could do. I started writing words. Big, small, fat, plain, decorated, sideways. Words all over the page. Words that weren’t sentences and weren’t fully formed thoughts, but were words that came to the forefront of my mind. What I found was writing these words helped them calm down in my head. And as my thoughts swirled less, my brain calmed down. And as my brain calmed, my mood lifted. I felt relief in journaling the way that worked for me. Meet yourself where you are now. Acknowledge you aren’t there yet and that’s OK.

Yoga is a practice. Life is a practice, too. Practice isn’t just for musical instruments and sports teams. Practice is all around us. When we meet ourselves where we are in the present, we can easily set a goal for ourselves.

I can’t journal right now, but I can write words. Maybe as I practice writing words, I’ll be able to work up to writing sentences. Meet yourself where you are now. Acknowledge you aren’t there yet and that’s OK. Life is a practice.

I’m too stressed to color inside the lines of my new coloring book, but coloring outside the lines feels better right now. Meet yourself where you are now. Acknowledge you aren’t there yet and that’s OK. Life is a practice.

Self-care is hard. Not all self-care ideas will work for all people. And not all ideas will be right in the moment. But don’t be afraid to meet yourself where you are now. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it. Modify, modify, modify. It’s not a weakness, it’s doing what you’re able to in the moment. And that’s OK. Meet yourself where you are now. Acknowledge you aren’t there yet and that’s OK. Life is a practice.

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