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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Anxiety Won't Keep Me From Going to My Stepdaughter's Wedding

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My stepdaughter’s wedding is in two days. I have anxiety and it is at an all time high. The wedding is a large event including many people. I am intimidated by dealing with large groups of people. Usually, I find an excuse and opt out of most events, even family gatherings. But this is for my beloved girl. Somehow, I must overcome the voices that attempt to make me feel scared and inadequate.

My dress is chosen and has been fitted. Anxiety is telling me it will not fit me now. It will not zip. If it zips, you will bust the zipper when you try to sit down. Just wait and see. My head tries to rationalize away these things anxiety says but the fears remain in the back of my mind. I pull a second dress and shoes to take with me “just in case.” I feel uncomfortable in my skin.

Think about walking down the aisle, whispers my anxiety. All eyes will be on you.  Don’t trip. The thought of all eyes being on me as I walk down the aisle is terrifying.  What if I do trip? How embarrassing would that be? My anxiety fires another shot. You are wearing heels, right?  You are not so great at walking in them. My confidence is totally undermined.

Anxiety adds the final blow. What if you fall while you are dancing? You know you have no balance. You and B have not been practicing. Imagine everyone watching you? I do not want to imagine this. I try to turn off my anxiety, but it is here to stay.

My joy in attending this event is crushed and replaced by waves of anxiety. I wanted to curl up in a ball and give up. But I started using some strategies my therapist had suggested to me.

I made a list of five people I feel comfortable talking with. I planned some things to say to them. I practiced short topics to share with strangers that I might be introduced to and I prepared ways to exit conversations. I thought of places, including my car, where I could take a short break if my anxiety started to rise and overwhelm me.

I prepared two complete outfits. If one dress fails, I will simply wear the other and pretend I am choosing to wear it because the first was too hot. The weather is calling for a very warm day. Take that anxiety!

I took out my heels and practiced walking in them. To my surprise, all the yoga I have been doing has really helped my balance. I had no problems. My confidence increased and my anxiety went into hiding.

I think I am ready. But if anxiety rears its ugly head, I am prepared with one more strategy: talk to my husband. He is always willing to coach me through social situations.

He will be by my side much of the evening. When he is not, I will be using my strategies or taking a break. He always comes back shortly to check on me. I trust his care and concern for me and his knowledge of my anxiety.

Despite all my anxiety, I realize I am ready for my daughter’s wedding! I have the strategies to cope with my anxiety and with support from my husband, I can even enjoy the wedding.

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Thinkstock photo via O_Lypa.

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How a 5 A.M. Panic Attack Helped Me Understand My Anxiety

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Back in August, I woke up with a panic attack.

Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say the quantity of my worrisome thoughts was so great that my brain forced me into consciousness.

This one was a real doozy. I swore I could feel the neurons morphing into thought after anxious thought before rapid-firing around my skull. I felt the frenzy of brain waves, the “what ifs” colliding with each other and ricocheting off the walls of my mind, the “oughts” and “shoulds” screaming past each other, in a chaos so outstanding that I wondered how I could process anything going on in my own brain.

Last autumn, I hoped I could drop my meds and leave these incidents behind. And for a couple of months, things went pretty well. My anxiety was low, and when I did start worrying, I could calm myself down in a quick and easy fashion.

Four months later, the constant buzz of intrusive thoughts in my head came back, and I found myself once again at the doctor’s office, this time with a request for a different medicine to avoid some not fun side effects from the last drug.

Six months after that, around 5 a.m., this glorious wake-up call rang in with a vengeance.

Some of the thoughts were “normal” enough. Health insurance and wedding planning popped in for a bit, before making leeway for the onslaught of others: the state of my self-esteem and relationships, whether any of the changes that have happened in my life are “the right ones,” how ridiculous I was to even consider going on a different medication because of a stupid side effect.

As I lay curled up in bed with my inner turmoil, my inner pleas rang like silent screams in my head:

“Why, Why,Why?”

“Healthy, happy, ‘better’ people don’t have these anxieties or spend most of their time thinking about such things, so what am I doing that makes me so unhealthy, unhappy and crappy?”

“Why am I such an awful person who only makes silly decisions and cannot be trusted with her own health or happiness?”

“If I’m so loved, why do I have such hateful thoughts about myself?”

After repeating these mantras a few times, my exhausted brain sought numbness and sleep. Adrenal fatigue set in, along with some depression and apathy. And in the midst of the exhaustion, the anxious thoughts continued, because they knew if they ceased, everything they’d predicted would come true.

I convinced myself to get out of bed around 7 a.m. to get ready for work, and in the act of lifting my body out of bed, I felt some of the anxiety dissipate. I texted my fiancé and some friends for prayers for my troubled and weary mind. I made my breakfast, read my meditation and an article about anxiety, talked to my roommate and felt a bit more ready to take on the day. As I continued living into the day, I found myself better able to let go of the thoughts which clung to me in the morning, and I allowed myself to believe I was OK.

This battle between calm and chaos continued from that Thursday morning until the following Monday evening.

During those days, I called my counselor so she could reassure me that my thoughts are just thoughts, and my life is not a terrible mess and I am not a terrible person. I ate meals, played games and laughed with Bryce (my fiancé) and some friends. I spent time in my room by myself reading while he and his friends played video games together. Every now and then, Bryce would step away and check on me to see if I was comfortable (mentally and physically), rub my back, talk things out, give me kisses and try to make me giggle. When our friends returned home, we went on a date in Bridgewater, the college town where we first met. We ate at one of my favorite town restaurants and walked around our old campus hand in hand, nostalgic over our first months and year of dating.

During those days, I also got so overwhelmed that I screamed. I “freaked out” over jokes that normally made me laugh. I snapped at people for being a little too loud or not giving me enough attention. And at the end of our date, I began to have another meltdown.

In short, life did not stop for my worries, and my worries didn’t stop as the world kept turning.

My greatest fears are about life as I know it crashing around me, but life insists on continuing in spite of my anxieties. I keep thinking that because I’m anxious or worried, something in my life must be terribly wrong. I’m not in good enough physical health. My relationships are becoming toxic or distant. Work is too stressful. I’m not taking care of myself.

But even though these are important factors to consider, more often than not I am anxious because… well, I’m anxious. Like my counselor has told me over again, it’s just “that thing” I do.

I’m anxious when I’m on medication and off medication (although I notice a significant difference in how much quieter those thoughts get when I’m on one which works). I was anxious in school, and I continue to be anxious in the workforce. I was an anxious child and I am an anxious adult. I was anxious when Bryce and I started dating, I’m anxious as we plan our wedding and I’m sure I’ll be anxious until the big day finally arrives.

And in all of those worries, life continues to happen.

My anxiety happens to make living daily life a bit more difficult. It makes things like mornings and overstimulation a bit harder to deal with. It also makes going on long runs, practicing daily meditation and calling my doctor to change my medication more necessary.

One of the hardest parts of this journey is acknowledging and accepting myself as an anxious person without demonizing myself. I’m realizing that no matter what happens, no matter how “high” or “low” a particular season in my life is, I will always be at least somewhat anxious during it. The anxiety in and of itself is not bad but simply part of who I am.

In every season of my life, I have been a person with anxiety. It’s part of me and always will be, and for that I will always be a little pissed off.

But I can be anxious and plan our wedding and still look forward to the day. I can be anxious and write, and get flustered about how terrible my writing seems, and continue to put one word after another. I can still go to work, daydream, talk to my friends, read books, worry over bills and live my life while “doing this thing I do.”

It won’t be easy. It definitely won’t be perfect.

But day by day, it can be enough.

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Thinkstock photo via Wavebreakmedia Ltd

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Why My Anxiety Means I Can't Shut My Emotions Out

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I feel. I feel everything.

I immerse myself in things that bring me happiness, yet if one thing goes wrong, that feeling is knocked down and overtaken. I become corrupted by panic, worry and failure. Overthinking everything that happens, trying to rationalize the compulsive thoughts draining my remaining energy, I am lost. Lost on a road I shaped, not knowing where I intended to go. There is no desired destination, yet anxiety seems to be the unsolicited conclusion.

I laugh. I cry. Mostly at the same time. I try to laugh off my pain, simply to eliminate the reasons why I get so upset. I get frustrated because I am mentally ill and I never wanted this to happen.

Some days I can accept my illness, and I use it to build bridges for myself: I go to class, I succeed in an exam, I spend time with those around me. Other days, I hate the way I am. I hate that I overanalyze everything — always assuming the worst. Every day is different for me, emotionally and physically.

Trust me, I know when there is nothing rational to worry about. Something small can be blown out of proportion and it becomes my every thought, growing and growing until I can no longer escape it. I know that shouldn’t be the case. There are infinite questions I ask myself; it’s never as easy as yes or no. Each indefinite thought is attributed with a hopeless emotion.

I am scared. I am scared of being hurt.

I find it difficult to enjoy things other people my age enjoy, because those things are scary to me. That doesn’t mean I cannot do those things, but I have to battle with myself to do the things that terrify me. I have to lower my guard slightly, and it hurts. It hurts because I know what can happen – I have fixatedly measured the chances of every possibility.

I know how fragile I have become, and people tend to walk on eggshells around me. They shouldn’t have to do that. Yes, unexpected things can trigger my dreaded panic attacks, but that doesn’t mean people should avoid discussion with me in fear of that happening. I am getting stronger; I will need to face my anxieties.

Right now, I am doing the best I can.

My mental illness doesn’t define me; I am still the same girl.

I just feel a lot.

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Thinkstock photo via BalazsKovacs

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Dealing With Severe Anxiety While in a Long-Distance Relationship

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Living with anxiety is no easy ride, not for the person with it or for the people closest to them. Most people with anxiety appear to lead a fairly “normal” life: they go to work, socialize with friends, have relationships, but every day is a struggle. On the outside everything may appear calm and steady while on the inside there is debilitating pain, constant overthinking and analyzing every detail of your life. It’s exhausting.

Anxiety in any relationship can cause conflict between partners, but long-distance relationships, as you may imagine, can be particular stressful. With so many miles between you and only the phone as a means of contact, most people would struggle to build a healthy relationship, even those without anxiety.

So what happens when a person with severe anxiety enters a long-distance relationship? I can only speak from my experience, but I wish I’d taken the same advice as what I’m about to share:

1. Trust your partner. As the old saying goes, you can’t have a healthy relationship without trust. Some days I would be lying in bed and think, “What if he goes outside the house today and meets the love of his life?” Even though he gave me no reason to feel that way, my lack of self-love drove countless thoughts running through my head, mostly boiling down to – I’m not good enough. Your partner is with you and loves you. Express how you feel to him or her and remember these thoughts may only be a reflection on how you feel about yourself. Be kind and give a little love back to you.

2. Stop comparing your relationship to others’. I get it. You see “normal” couples who live together, go on regular dates, make future plans. Then you look at your relationship and you can’t help but focus on the negatives. You may be fixated on the times you’ve argued about them missing an arranged phone call, frustrated from being apart for so long, angry at the progression of the relationship. With all these strong emotions, you may forget all the positive things. And these are important things: the times where you spent all night talking on the phone, the amount of quality time you spent together, not the quantity, the amazing sex you have together, the laughs, the jokes – all of it. Keep in mind the positives, and remember there are advantages of being in a long-distance relationship such as having the freedom to live your life independently but still have the love of someone from afar. Once you stop comparing your relationship and start appreciating it, you can find clarity.

3. Don’t try to control. Now, this was a really important one for me. Your partner is miles away from you. They’ve got their own life and you have yours. With such a strong fear of losing them and having so much distance between you, this may be when panic mode kicks in, accompanied with a need for control. Instead of trying to control your partner’s life, try to find things that make you happy because at the end of the day if you stop your partner from doing something they love, you may lose them, and vice versa.

4. Be honest. If you feel that your anxiety is getting to be too much and situations are causing you to slowly lose yourself, seek help and be honest with your partner. The problem with anxiety is it comes in so many different shapes and forms that sometimes we can’t quite establish the sense of “Is this me or my anxiety?” But when it comes to seeking help, if that’s what it comes down to – do it for you.

One day the relationship could end, but if that happens, then you need to have coping skills. The good news is there are some amazing therapies and exercises you can do at home to re-train your thought process and help create a more positive you. Just remember, if the relationship does break down, you can still move forward.

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Thinkstock photo by epicurean

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What It Feels Like to Be an Anxious Churchgoer

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I grew up going to church multiple times a week and it was one of my favorite things to do. Now I still love church, but it’s one of the places where I feel anxiety the most. It’s a strange thing though because my anxiety usually rears its ugly head in situations that are new to me and make me very uncomfortable, but I’ve been in churches all my life.

To some degree, it doesn’t make sense that it is affecting me here, but once again, this is what happens when you have an anxiety disorder. You’re not sure when anxiety is going to creep up and suddenly there you are, sitting in a church pew trying to fight off a panic attack. I want church to be like it was when I was a kid and anxiety-free, but lately that doesn’t seem like it is ever going to happen.

The two things about church that cause me the most anxiety are the activities in church and the people. I would like to say these things make going to church easier for me, but unfortunately it’s the exact opposite.

The many activities that go on during a church service can bring a lot of joy, but they tend to stress me out. From the beginning of the service when I walk in the church and go to sit down, I feel so anxious that my heart starts racing and my hands shake. My mind always worries about where I am going to sit even though I usually sit in the same place every Sunday. What if someone is sitting where I usually sit? What if I get trapped and can’t get out of the pew? Yes, this is a legitimate fear of mine. I fear I will be trapped somewhere, so I try to sit in the back of the church at the end of a pew in case I have to make a quick escape, even though I never do.

I get anxious when it comes to singing in church because I think everyone around me is judging how I sing. I don’t think I have a bad voice, but for me, social anxiety is feeling like everyone is talking about or judging me.

My least favorite part of church is always the sharing of the peace. If you don’t know what that is, it’s where everyone gets up and shakes hand or hug to share the peace of Christ and say hello. It can last anywhere from five to 15 minutes and it feels like the longest couple of minutes in my life. I’m not a fan of hugs or handshakes and I always find it hard to greet people — even people I have known for a long time. I have to psych myself up for it and it takes a lot of energy out of me.

When communion time comes around, I’m still just as nervous and on edge. It’s hard for me to walk up to the altar in front of the whole church even though everyone else is also doing it. I’m always really concerned about what I’m wearing and what everyone thinks of me. I try to pray during that time or focus on something else, but it takes everything in me to breathe while walking up there.

Like I mentioned, the second thing causing me anxiety at church is the people. Pretty much all the people I have ever gone to church with are wonderful and not judgmental, but for some reason they make me restless. Maybe it’s the fact I see them every week, but I always feel like I have to be the “perfect Christian girl” around them. I’m not talking about just one church body in particular either. I have 24 years of experience with this in different churches in different parts of the country. I feel I have to put on a front with church people and not show I’m anxious or nervous to be around them.

You may wonder why even go to church if it’s so hard for me. The answer is pretty simple. It’s because I love God and He loves me. I wouldn’t go if I didn’t believe. It’s what keeps me coming back. Even when I feel anxious at church, I also feel God’s presence and this is enough for me to keep going. He accepts me as I am, anxious mind and all. Because after all, He made me. I just wish people at church could also see not everyone is comfortable at church and try to be more loving towards people who are struggling.

I also think mental health should be talked about more amongst church goers because having anxiety or depression or any other mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. Church will probably never be an easy experience for me, but I will continue to be there every Sunday because anxiety will not win this fight. So that’s where you’ll find me. Sitting in a church pew praying with an anxious mind and an open heart.

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Thinkstock photo via northwoodsphoto.

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