Girl walking along a tightrope in the trees.

There’s such a blessing and a curse involved in living your life with your heart out on display. It’s the biggest blessing when you give love to those around you — friends, family, strangers on the internet. I would be lying if I said my heart didn’t bust at the seams with joy at all the beautiful and amazing souls in my life.

I know I am very fortunate in so many ways. But although most days I feel strong and brave and steadfast in who I am, sometimes my heart breaks.

The danger of walking around with your guts and heart out to give is, it also makes you a target. People can chip away and tug at you more than ever before. Sometimes giving love and of myself to others is ultimately rewarding and keeps me sane. But on nights like tonight, it can crush my soul.

Living life with anxiety can feel like I’m walking on a tight rope, dangerously balancing so I don’t fall off. I sweat and force a smile while I feel watched. Judged. Observed under the lights. Each time someone gives me a compliment or shares their praise, the rope shrinks. Frays. Making my trip across — my act of balancing it all — even more daunting. All while everyone is watching and waiting to see what happens. Most are rooting for me. Others hang on every second, waiting to watch me fall.

I don’t tell you this for any other reason than to show you it’s really fucking hard to be strong all the time. I see so many women trying to do it all and be it all for everyone. We seek solace and comfort in seeing other strong women do what we can not. We feel less than and unworthy when we don’t feel strong and brave.

But sometimes the strongest fall the hardest. Hurt the deepest. Love the boldest. We see triumphs and bravery and success in others and desperately seek it in ourselves. But we have that brokenness, messiness. We hurt. Our hearts break. You often don’t see that, the clean up of the results of a passionate person’s breakdowns.

Because we take that hurt and use it to give more. Love more. Do more. Be more. We break down. Then we show up. Loving harder than before. The passion you see? It’s fueled by the wreckage. The build up from the breakdown. The work of art they piece back together. Because that’s what we do. And we do it all with a smile.

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Thinkstock photo via GPitman.


For most people, going to the doctor is a simple interruption in their work day or day off. It’s a simple, “I’m here for a checkup.” It’s a boring two-hour period of waiting for a doctor to speak to you for 15 minutes before sending you on your way. For someone with a mental illness like me, it can be absolutely terrifying.

I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety. For me, going to the doctor means an unavoidable panic attack and my entire day is ruined. Before I got married and got insurance, I hadn’t been to a doctor for over six years. I finally got to see a doctor about two weeks ago. I was so excited for this appointment because there are so many symptoms I’ve been experiencing that hadn’t been addressed. I was ready to tell my doctor about my mental illness and I was ready for treatment. That was, until the morning of my appointment.

When I woke up, I immediately remembered my appointment being in about three hours. For those three hours, I couldn’t sit still. I was going from the living room to the kitchen, aimlessly wandering the house, until it came time to get ready. My head started pounding and my chest felt light, as though all my organs had teleported outside my body. I got in the car and drove to my doctor and on the way, listened to music to cool me down. Unfortunately, this did not work.

My doctor is on a military base, so when I gave my ID to the man at the gate, my hands were shaking and I was sweating profusely. I walked into the facility and was so absent-minded I circled the building several times before finally finding the stairs. When I found the location of my doctor’s office, I gave my name to the woman at the desk and sat down. They called my name: “Cranston. Cranston. Mrs. Cranston?” I zoned out before finally answering “Here!”

The next 30 minutes were torture. Every question the nurse asked me went over my head. I felt stupid. The nurse seemed not to notice, however and left to get the doctor. I waited for what seemed like an eternity, carefully rehearsing what I was to tell the doctor. I sat on that table fidgeting, shaking, sweating. I attempted to do the breathing exercises that had been pounded in my head by previous therapists, but nothing was working. I was starting to have a panic attack and needed to stop it before someone came in and saw it. I took a few more deep breaths and reminded myself this was just a primary care physician and she wasn’t going to do anything or say anything to me I couldn’t handle. My experience with doctors is not a good one, so my nervousness was warranted in my head.

Finally, I relaxed enough to take a deep breath right as the doctor walked in. She seemed rushed in her examination, but I promised myself not to mention mental health until the end of the appointment. In my experience, when I’ve mentioned having a mental illness early on in the appointment, everything else I say was written off as a symptom of my mental illness and excused as a false symptom. This is the most frustrating experience for an ill person.

She asked, “What types of symptoms are you having today?” I responded with, “I….I…..I have….” before tears began to run down my cheeks. I gasped at my own emotional display and looked to the doctor to check her reaction. She reassured me this was a simple check up and I shouldn’t be nervous. She handed me a tissue, told me to take a deep breath and asked again. This time I answered completely, but forgot half of what I had rehearsed and had to randomly blurt out symptoms throughout her exam. When I mentioned mental illness, she immediately referred me to a behavioral health physician that could help me. Success!

Going to the doctor is not a simple task and it takes a lot of willpower for someone like me. I can’t count how many doctors appointments I’ve cancelled because my anxiety was too overwhelming.

For the rest of the day, I felt defeated, weak and depressed. I try to get my doctor’s appointments as late in the day as possible so I don’t spend all day depressed. It’s difficult to feel achievement or happiness after an appointment, even one that goes very well.

Hopefully one day I will become more comfortable with doctors and will have an experience that proves to me they are not there to judge, ridicule or expect the worst from those with mental illnesses, but as of today, my feelings stand strong. I have another doctor’s appointment next week and I guarantee I will feel the same, but I will survive. Because I am strong and I have all of you to tell me so.

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Thinkstock photo via utah778.

Thank you for staying up on those late nights talking to me about all of my anxious feelings.

You always tried to help out and make me feel better even though you struggled to find words to say. And honestly? You’ve always helped me.

You understood there wasn’t a cure and sat by me to help me cope with it and get through it.

There’s just so much to say, but you always help me through everything.

Now I feel like you’re distant, like I am pushing you away with my anxiety, but you say you will always be there. I feel like you’re sick of me, even though you aren’t. I feel guilt for venting to you, like if I vent too much you will be gone. I cannot imagine my life without you being there. I just can’t. I need you to be there and support me through it all. My anxiety makes me feel like I’m pushing you away, when really we’re closer than ever.

I love you to death and truly appreciate you putting up with me when times are rough for you also. There are those nights I stay up super late venting to you and then get afraid I’ve said too much or overwhelmed you.

You tell me to stop apologizing, but I can’t. I get anxious and can say nothing except, “I’m sorry.”

I always feel like my anxiety is pushing you away.

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Thinkstock photo by Nina Hilitukha

I don’t know how to casually like something. Whether it’s a book, TV show, musical artist or a creative activity, I will hyperfixate for a while and then usually drop it after a week or so. Sometimes, I’ll refocus my attention on it in a few months, or it will take a few years.

Recently, I binge-watched about three seasons of BBC’s “Merlin.” I also sped through the first half of the 853 page book “Anna Karenina.” I exclusively listened to the music of Coeur de Pirate for three weeks. I briefly resumed my obsession with “Hamilton” for a few days. I’m watching “Friends” for the millionth time. I’ve rejuvenated my love for All Time Low. This has only been in 2017 so far. It hasn’t happened yet, but about once a year, I take up knitting again.

So why do I hyperfixate? Why can’t I just like something without becoming completely immersed in it?

My theory is because I’m typically overwhelmed by bad mental health days (depression and anxiety), I tend to resort to outside distractions. I don’t know how to cope with my undesirable thoughts without total immersion.

If I’m not binging on a show, the thoughts are more likely to make an appearance. If I don’t listen to a specific artist or album on repeat, my mind is filled with self-loathing thoughts rather than lyrics.

In a way, I’m protecting myself. I would much rather think about how Phoebe and Joey would have made a great couple than about how I feel alone. I would love to read a book with depth instead of think about how I haven’t been productive for a week and a half. I’d rather practice singing along to the tongue-twisting lyrics of “My Shot” than berate myself for doing something inadequately – on that note, I just love when I nail singing these lines:

Poppin’ a squat on conventional wisdom, like it or not.

A bunch of revolutionary manumission abolitionists?
Give me a position, show me where the ammunition is!

In any case, it’s a coping mechanism. It may not be the most practical or convenient, but it works.

My hyperfixation isn’t a bad thing. It’s just an aspect of my mental illnesses I have to accept. I may get teased for it or told my hyperfixation is annoying, but it’s what works for me. Allowing myself to surrender to my passions keeps me from spiraling into a vortex of depression, and that’s OK with me.

So maybe your coping mechanism isn’t hyperfixation. Maybe it’s something else entirely, but as long as it’s not putting you or someone else at risk of harm, then I say you do you. If it works, then there is no reason why you should feel ashamed of whatever it is that you do.

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Thinkstock photo by Ryan McVay

I love beautiful people. Those people who are just so beautiful on the inside that they can change the way you think about yourself.

I don’t always think too highly of myself. A lot of times, I feel embarrassed, misunderstood, and alone. Mental illness has this unfortunate effect on me. I’m not asking for pity; it’s just the truth.

For the most part, mental illness doesn’t stop me from living the life I want. It’s only a part of me. I did well in high school, hung out with my friends on the weekends, and worked at a local restaurant to make money for college.

I hated my job as a server. The stress of getting orders right, running food to tables, and trying to please my perfectionistic manager was more than I needed. During every shift, I counted down the minutes until I could go home. I didn’t like the job when I was making money, so I definitely wasn’t thrilled when I found out I had to volunteer to work the restaurant’s annual lemonade stand with a new hostess I didn’t know, another waitress and her three young kids.

On the night of my volunteer shift, I put on a white dress and a fake smile. I tried to make the best of it, but children downing cups of sugary lemonade and running around on a 100-degree North Carolina evening are a dangerous combination. About an hour into my shift, one kid threw up a few feet away from me after his sixth cup. Most people would have thought it was gross. Me? I was just faced with my biggest fear
since I was 9 years old.

“No one likes throwing up,” people say to me. I understand that. I absolutely hate it, and the idea of me or anyone else vomiting sends my mind into an uncontrollable spiral of anxious and irrational thoughts.

On that sweltering July night, I remember thinking I was handling the situation well. I calmly took a customer’s dollar and handed him a cup of lemonade, forcing a smile. He probably had no idea how hard I was working to control my breathing and slow down my thoughts. I couldn’t fall apart in front of him. I work hard to keep my strong, easy-going exterior, and I don’t like people to see me break down. As long as he stood in front of me, I forced myself to suppress my emotions. I didn’t want to have a panic attack in front of this man. As soon as he left, I felt myself start to fall apart.

“Be right back,” I said, and disappeared into the restaurant.

I walked through the front doors into the chaos of a Saturday night dinner rush. People waiting for tables, servers running past with plates, and loud guest conversations ambushed my already over-stimulated brain. I looked around desperately for a place to

I spotted a chair in the back of the restaurant, thinking I just had to make it there. I focused on the chair and started walking toward it. It seemed to be getting farther and farther away. The room spun, and every sound intensified, then muffled together into a loud ringing noise. I broke into a cold sweat as I walked past tables of families enjoying dinner.

As I got closer, one of my coworkers sat down in the chair and started organizing receipts in her server book. I had to get away from everyone.

I changed directions and passed my friend on the way to the back of the restaurant.

“You OK?” she asked.

I nodded. I’m always OK, especially when I’m not. I lie because I don’t want people to worry about me, and I don’t want them to think I’m crying for attention. She called after me, but I didn’t turn back. The tears had started, and I didn’t want her to see me

I hate the person I become during a panic attack. I’m embarrassed of that girl. I don’t ever want anyone to see her, especially if I want those people to respect me. They’ll think I’m weak, and I try so hard to be strong. Even though I hated my job, I loved my co-workers. I didn’t want them to see the pieces of me I try so hard to keep hidden. If they saw me having a panic attack, everything I’m ashamed of would have been out in the open.

The only private place in the restaurant during a Saturday night dinner rush was the walk-in refrigerator. I kept my head down as I wove through the chefs on my way back. I pulled open the stainless steel door and collapsed to my knees the second it swung shut behind me. My body shook uncontrollably as I tried to find something to focus on. My eyes darted from the 5-gallon buckets of butter to the crates of diced tomatoes, and
finally settled on the boxes of frozen bread stacked to the ceiling. I quickly breathed in the 38-degree air as my heart pounded in my chest and I tried to stop my head from spinning. I was afraid I might pass out, or even worse, that I would throw up. I knew I wouldn’t, but I was still terrified. I closed my eyes and told myself I was fine. I’m fine. These are two of my most overused words. They’re a lie.

After a few minutes in the cooler, I knew I had to go back outside. My manager scared the hell out of me, and I knew she wouldn’t be happy if she knew I’d left the stand. I avoided her on my way out of the restaurant. I didn’t want to explain myself. Back at the stand, I put my fake smile back on and did my best to ignore the stain on the pavement. Another hour later, I finished my shift and went home.

Later that night, my co-worker who’d seen me rush to the back texted me.

“Don’t worry about tonight,” she said. “If you ever need a hug or anything when you’re stressed, just let me know. I got you baby girl <3 <3”

I read the text three times. It genuinely surprises me when people are that nice. I couldn’t believe it. After too many experiences of people being judgmental or rude, I wonder why anyone would want to be nice to me.

She was one of my favorite people at work. She always had a joke or a story to tell, and she could make anyone feel comfortable. That night she wasn’t just nice to me, like she had been since the day I met her. She was there for me.

I don’t know if Kendahl even gave much thought to the text. She didn’t have to. To me, that text meant everything. She helped me feel less weak, less embarrassed, less stupid. She made me feel less alone. She built up my confidence after I kept telling myself my co-workers all thought I was a pathetic attention-seeker. I just wanted to fit in at work, and I didn’t think having a panic attack in the cooler was the way to do that.

I responded. Even as I thanked her, I worried I was handling the situation incorrectly. I didn’t want to bother her. As the conversation continued, I realized Kendahl actually cared. She wanted to make sure I was OK.

“Any table can wait a second for you,” she said and made me promise to tell her if I ever needed a hug or someone to talk to when I needed help. She told me if anything ever happened again, she was there for me. I’d always wanted someone to say that to

The Lemonade Stand Panic Attack wasn’t the first of these episodes. Embarrassing symptoms often pop up when I least expect them. In fourth grade, I found myself in the guidance counselor’s office after leaving class and hiding under the librarian’s desk for hours. There, my first of eight therapists told me my brain wasn’t like everyone else’s. In the nine years since then, I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorderpanic disorder, specific phobia, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) tendencies, and depression.

I rarely tell people. From my experience, it’s an uncomfortable conversation to have. When people aren’t familiar with mental illness, they don’t know how to talk about it. By the end, they either end up feeling bad for me or not understanding at all. Sometimes they try relate to me by equating psychological disorders with ordinary moodiness and tell me about a time they were nervous before a performance or a job
interview. Then they try to give me advice. “Go for a walk, it’s a beautiful day,” and “Sometimes you just have to be positive” are two of my least favorites. Other times, they try to put my emotions into perspective for me. I’m sorry, but telling me about people who have it a lot worse doesn’t make me feel any better. Instead, it makes me feel like my thoughts aren’t real. It makes me think when I’m scared and helpless, my feelings aren’t a valid reason to feel that way.

These uncomfortable reactions aren’t the only reason I don’t share my story with people. It’s also hard for me to talk about. I don’t want everyone’s attention on my mental health. Sometimes I’m afraid people would think I’m just desperate for sympathy or that I’m making excuses for my behavior. My anxiety keeps me from talking about my anxiety.

During my junior year of high school, I decided to tell one of my friends about my laundry list of diagnoses. I was going through a particularly low time. I wanted to explain my behavior, and I trusted her. Before I got the chance, she told me her laptop was acting so bipolar. It kept turning off in the middle of streaming Netflix. I’m glad I didn’t tell her. She wasn’t the right person, but I still wanted to talk.

A few months later, I finally opened up to someone. This girl was the only person I’ve ever met who was also afraid of throwing up, and I felt like she really understood me. I tried painfully hard not to annoy her, only reaching out to her when I really needed advice or support. For a while, she gave it to me. She told personal stories and asked questions, so I felt like she cared. Then one day she stopped responding to my texts. It hurt that she took my secrets and left.

Not every response is that dramatic, but it doesn’t have to be. The small ones hurt too.

When I told another friend that I’m afraid of throwing up, she rolled her eyes. One woman told me depression was just a state of mind and I should try changing the way I think. People who react this way make me feel even more ashamed of myself.

These judgmental responses hurt, but they make the caring ones seem even more special. These beautiful people understand that mental illness doesn’t make someone weak. They see that it’s isolating. It’s impossible to know what goes on inside someone’s head. Fighting a battle in your brain is exhausting and inescapable, but just a few words can help a person much more than you might think. Be there for people. Build them up; they deserve it.

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The phrase “do not be afraid” is mentioned roughly 365 times in the Bible. Countless pastors, authors, and speakers have put that number in their arsenal of quick-witted Christian responses, pulling it out in conversations like a cheap party trick.

“Don’t worry. Just pray.”

This Bob Marley approach to the issue is sadly in line with the Church’s historical approach to most issues of controversy and confusion. Since the first bite of the forbidden fruit, we’ve often used scripture as a rug, sweeping under it anything and everything we can’t explain, using God’s name in vain, treating it as a manifest destiny barrier between us and the uncomfortable.

But that phrase means something very different when you have anxiety. It’s like a declaration of your ineptitude, a pointed finger of shame at your ungodly existence.

I don’t believe God meant it that way, but that’s the twisted interpretation I’ve experienced with the Church. That’s the knock-off gospel I believe they’ve sold us, the one I’ve payed for with my dignity and peace of mind. But it’s not the one Christ payed for with His own life. It’s not the one God wrote with His own holy hands. And it’s certainly not the one He intends us to live by or believe.

The truth is it’s OK to worry.

It’s OK to be afraid, just like it’s OK to be angry, or sad, or hurt, or happy. I believe my emotions are God-given expressions of who I am and who He made me to be. Feeling things, both good and bad, is healthy. The problem only comes in how I act on those feelings.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he writes, “in your anger do not sin,” (4:26). He doesn’t say, “Don’t be angry.” He says, “Don’t let your anger cause you to sin.” Anger isn’t wrong.

In the same way, worry isn’t wrong.

It isn’t when I take a sharp breath in angst that I sin. It isn’t when I lie awake at night in fear of the future that I do wrong. It’s when I let that angst and fear come between me and God, when I let my fear consume me to the point that I don’t trust God anymore.

The problem isn’t in having fear, the problem is in not having faith.

I’m not saying it’s always easy to distinguish the line between the two, but I am saying there’s a difference, an important difference, that we as the Church need to recognize and reiterate.

So dear one, you fear fighter, you anxiety abolisher, you worry wrestler: take heart. For I don’t believe God has condemned us for the war waged inside our minds but rather desperately wants to fight it for us.

I don’t have to stop being scared; I just have to start being still.

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Thinkstock photo by arada photography

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