When Anxiety Takes the Steering Wheel

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We all have this monster somewhere inside of us. Those of us living with anxiety know how hard it can be to control. There are days when it is manageable and we can go about our daily lives and not have to worry about having an anxiety attack. Then there are days when it is so hard to pull yourself out of bed and even get yourself to eat something.

Those days are the days where I don’t feel in control of myself. These are the days when anxiety takes the steering wheel and knocks me in the backseat to just be along for the ride. It is as if I cease to exist and anxiety takes control of the functions and tells my brain what body what to do. It’s like going on autopilot and it’s supposed to be smooth sailing, but when you go back to manual control you find yourself with more problems than when you started.

From what I’ve experienced, those problems can range from a pile up of responsibilities from work or school to problems in my relationships. Many of these problems you don’t intentionally want to happen. If you’re like me, you feel frustrated. You want to do your best to be in the present moment, but you find anxiety rears its head and knocks you back. I describe it as going into an emotional high and the only way to come down is to come crashing down. To have this happen every time is so exhausting and puts a toll on you.

There are days when I find it hard to do all the things on my plate so I have to dial back and do what I can and not expect so much from myself. It is very hard to do, but sometimes when anxiety takes your car and insists on driving, you have to let yourself do what you can and not expect perfection until you are given the wheel back.

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Thinkstock photo via Marjan_Apostolovic.

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The Importance of Learning to Be Patient With Myself With Anxiety

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Ever go into a therapy session feeling on top of the world, like the sun is smiling down on you and you’re thinking, “life is pretty darn great,” only to come out of it feeling on the brink of a panic attack because some drudged-up memory just triggered the anxiety monster in your brain?

My anxiety comes in phases. Sometimes the phases last from a couple of days, to months at a time. Some phases are more severe than others, ranging from nervous jitters waiting in line somewhere, to can’t even leave the house to go to the grocery store.

I’ve been in a good phase the last couple of months and I chalked it up to regularly working with a therapist, completing my dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) workbooks, meditating and practicing mindfulness.

But then as I was in therapy, something triggered the darkness hiding deep in my brain, and I realized it would never go away. This thing will always be lying dormant there, even when I’m feeling “normal” and like my best self.

I am an extremely impatient person… just ask my husband when we order pizza and I ask him to check what time he called over and over, waiting for the delivery man to arrive. I wasn’t expecting a quick fix for my anxiety disorder. I guess I had hoped it might go away with time and I could remember it like, “Hey remember that 28-year phase I struggled with anxiety? Man, that was tough. Glad that’s over!”

I’m learning to be patient with myself and I’ll always have to practice my mindfulness and other techniques that help. I’ve realized I need to exercise my brain and my emotional health just as much as physical health.

For me it’s been 20 years of living with generalized panic disorder, and only two years of actually learning behaviors that will help me to develop techniques to be able to live with it and get through the bad phases. You need to be kind and patient to yourself, because it will always be a learning process.

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Thinkstock photo by littlehenrabi

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Anxiety Makes It Hard to Know if I'll Be an 'Introvert' or 'Extrovert' Today

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Sometimes I struggle to make sense of the love of being alone but also the fear of being alone. To an introvert, being alone can be a favorite pastime and to an extrovert, they can often want nothing more than to be around people. But what if I don’t fit in these categories? What if I don’t want to label myself because neither of these titles make any sense to who I am?

With anxiety, it is impossible to guess how I am going to feel each day. Do I want to be alone or do I need the distraction of the people I care about? After a long day, there is nothing more I want then to sit alone and process my day. The last thing I can imagine is socializing with friends or having to go out in public. My day was exhausting and my thoughts drained all my energy. All I want to do is sleep and prepare myself for the next day. I cannot even imagine holding a conversation and I seem reserved and standoffish.  

A week later, I can feel the exact same way but the last thing I can imagine is being alone. My thoughts become too strong to push away by myself. I have to put the television on and put the volume up to drown out the thoughts I can no longer control. I get up and start to pace the floor trying to find something to do or even start cleaning to distract myself. I start texting my boyfriend and friends to think of something else while I try to push away the nauseous feeling creeping up my throat. I start doing homework that might not be due for another two weeks just so I can keep myself busy. I start making lists of anything I can think of or start organizing my room to keep myself calm. I count down the minutes until my boyfriend is out of work just so I can have someone next to me, someone I can have a conversation with.

I wish I was able to know which way I was going to feel each day. Whether I should plan to meet up with friends or know not to make any plans altogether. I know it is hard for many people to understand how I can seem like an introvert one day and an extrovert the next day, but I have learned I need to adjust my surroundings with the way I am feeling each day.

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Thinkstock photo via kotoffei.

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How to Love Someone With 'High-Functioning' Anxiety

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This piece was written by Lauren Jarvis-Gibson, a Thought Catalog contributor.

When someone has “high-functioning” anxiety, they’re probably skilled at hiding it. I know I’m a master at concealing and covering up my anxiety, but it does come out of hiding when trying to be “OK” becomes too difficult.

That’s when I need you to be there for me.

Someone who has high-functioning anxiety is someone who looks fine on the outside. This person may seem like they have it all. They may look like they take care of themselves, and seem like they have an all-together great life. But you have to uncover that facade if you want this person to heal and to truly open up to you.

I know that for me, first I fool you. But as time passes, you’ll see me biting my nails, the times I want to be alone, the days I put myself down when I have no reason to, the times when I get a stomachache out of nowhere, the weeks I am convinced I am going to get fired and the months spent freaking out over the tiniest of things.

You’ll notice this is more than me just being a perfectionist. I’m not just a people pleaser. This habit of nail biting and pulling out my eyebrow hairs isn’t just a temporary thing. You’ll come to realize, that anxiety is manifesting itself onto me — this person you love.

Don’t act like it doesn’t matter. Don’t ignore it like it’s going to go away. Talk to me about it. Tell me you’re concerned and try to encourage me to acknowledge that it’s not just “stress” or that it’s “no big deal.” Let me talk to you, but don’t pressure me to do it when I’m not ready.

Listen. Listen to me when I come home crying and ranting about a co-worker. Listen to me when I list my worries to you at midnight while I think you are asleep. Listen to what goes on in my mind, and let me know you are there for me.

Don’t brush it off. Don’t nod your head in agreement when I tell you it’s nothing. Don’t kick this to the curb. Don’t act like it’s not important.

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Be patient with me. If I need to cancel plans with you last minute, don’t overreact. Realize I didn’t mean to hurt you, it’s just the anxiety taking over. Be understanding in how I deal with the anxiety, and please, don’t judge me. For a second.

Encourage me. Lift me up, instead of picking on me. Tell me why I matter to you. Don’t undermine my thoughts and feelings. Don’t downplay this, please. Know that it takes a lot of courage to let you into my inner world.

Don’t try to play mind games with me and say that it’s all about my “outlook on life.” Validate how I’m feeling  and don’t give me a reason to hide this from you.

Don’t give me a reason not to trust you with my whole heart. Don’t give me a reason to run.

Know feeling like this doesn’t make me weak. Know it doesn’t make me crazy or unstable. Please just love me for who I am, and that includes the bad parts too. Just love me as I am. Don’t try to change me.

For others who love someone with high-functioning anxiety, know they deserve someone like you, but most importantly, you deserve someone like them.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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To the Person I'm Dating: Let Me Introduce You to My Depression and Anxiety

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Hi there,

If you’re reading this, it means I like you. We’ve probably been on a few dates during which I questioned you about your hopes and dreams and your views on cats. You patiently listened to my awkward ramblings and may have even found it adorable. I enjoy spending time with you and would like to continue getting to know you, so I think it’s necessary to disclose I come as a package deal. Anxiety and Depression like to tag along from time to time.

Anxiety likes to stop me mid-story to proclaim I’m being weird and no one really cares about the books I find inspiring or that time I jumped out of a plane. She’ll point out that I’m not interesting on my own and tells me I should order another cocktail, even if I think I’ve had enough. Sometimes Anxiety waits for me to get home then grills me about our date. She likes to hear the play-by-play, making me explain the details. All the while she becomes certain I messed everything up and describes what I should have done instead. Anxiety insists on seeing all of your text messages and makes me rewrite my responses so as not to scare you away by seeming overly eager. She positively can’t understand why you wanted to see me again.

Depression is a bit quieter. He doesn’t particularly like following me around and instead begs me to blow off our plans. Depression doesn’t see the point. He thinks I’m just going to let you down eventually so why lead you on? He can be pretty convincing. His favorite tactic — bringing up all of my failed relationships to prove that I’m really no good at this. Sometimes he will drag himself out of the house but he’s never on time. He’ll show up late, usually while the party is in full swing and just linger in the corner letting his presence dampen the mood. No matter what you suggest, Depression won’t want to do it. He likes to whisper in my ear, telling me you haven’t contacted me today because you think I’m boring.

Sometimes Anxiety and Depression work together. While Depression insists you aren’t interested in me Anxiety rattles of all the worst-case-scenarios. No matter how many possibilities Anxiety makes me consider, Depression always chimes in with the same response, “Why even bother?” Anxiety will wake me up with a bucket of ice water, screaming I’m wasting my life away while Depression sits on my chest, refusing to let me up.

I’m telling you this because even though they are a part of my life they don’t define who I am. I’ve gotten better at standing up for myself and they know they aren’t welcome. But they are persistent. I know, deep down that I’m the same, fun-loving girl who showed up on our first date but occasionally they do get under my skin. I won’t let them scare you away, I’ve gotten pretty good at showing them who’s boss. But still, they do like to show up now and then.

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Thinkstock photo via TeerawatWinyarat

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When a Coworker Helped Me Get Through Another Day of Anxiety

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It was one of those days.

A day where my anxiety reigned and shrouded me with its dark veil. This thing called anxiety and panic had barreled into my life over the past year and I was still waiting for rescue. I barely made it through each day as a wife, mom of two, and full-time Director of Communications at a church and school.

During this dark time, I often felt suffocated. Like I was living underwater and struggling to make my way to the surface for a breath of air. When panic overcame me at work, I sought refuge in the only place I had privacy – the back of my van. I curled up on the folded seats. I prayed. I meditated. I breathed. I did anything that might calm the surge of adrenaline coursing through my body and irrational thoughts in my mind.

If close my eyes, I still see myself laying there in isolation, desperate for saving. I cried, I raged and I prayed.

I felt alone. So very alone.

Outside the van, kids were running around at recess. Happy and carefree, they paraded by, unaware that a shell of a woman was lying on her back just feet away, praying for the pain to stop and for the strength to rise.

Then I heard it. A knock on my back window. Sitting up, I saw a friend and coworker. Her face pressed up against the tinted glass, searching for me curled inside.

“I’ve been looking for you,” she said as I opened the hatch.

Climbing inside, she sat cross-legged with me. We were two grown women finding respite from the world in an unlikely place – the back of a mini-van. My friend acted like it was the most natural thing to sit there with me. I talked about my fears and she listened. Her presence calmed me.

She didn’t have answers, but she was there. She came to find me, to listen. And that was enough to get me through another day.

I wonder if you have that same tendency to retreat when the world just seems to be too much? Do you hide away and try to go it alone?

Since I’ve started sharing my experience with anxiety and panic, so many unexpected people have shared their own stories with me. Each time, I’m reminded of my friend who came and knocked on my van. We survivors have a special ability to sense when someone is struggling. Let’s be door knockers to let them know they are not alone.

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Thinkstock photo via cerenatalay.

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