Why I Am Not a Burden, and Neither Are You

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There’s an app I use that lets people share their anxieties and comment on the posts. This app has helped me a lot, but sometimes it makes me sad. Especially when I read about someone feeling like a burden.

I want to share my story.

I grew up with anxiety. Anxiety and I have always been close friends, even before I knew the word. I can remember times as just a little kid when my anxiety took over. 

For years, I wouldn’t walk on playgrounds — I had to crawl, afraid I’d fall off. For years, I had to sleep next to my mother, afraid I’d die in my sleep. We’re talking an embarrassingly long amount of time here, like, I had my first boyfriend before I began sleeping in my own room. And today, today it comes out as being afraid to go places alone without my current boyfriend by my side. No one knows I struggle with this fear.

But, feeling like a burden is something I was told was correct. Ever since the first year of my anxiety attacks, my family made me feel like a “burden.” I was purposefully made to feel like a burden.

All throughout high school, my close friends, my parents and eventually my high school “sweetheart” made me feel as though I was the biggest burden there was. I was told I was too much, no wonder I didn’t have any friends, that I’m “crazy” and I should be locked away in the mental ward.

It’s a miracle I’m where I am today.

I still struggle with feeling like a burden, especially to my boyfriend who does most things around the apartment and to my grandparents who support me financially. But I know I’m not. 

It took one friend, one loving friend to show me I am not a burden. She has been there throughout some of the toughest moments of my life. She’s stood by my side through everything. And when I asked why, her answer was simple. “Because I choose to be in your life.” And when I asked my boyfriend, his response was the same. Funny enough, they’re siblings.

I want you to stop and realize, you are not a burden to those in your life. They actively choose to be there for you. The right people will come into your life at the right time. If they cause problems, it’s probably to teach you more about the kind of people you let close.

To those of you with less than loving families, know this: you are not alone. All of us here, we’re all supporting you; even if we don’t know you, we want you to survive. You deserve to survive! I encourage you to find support groups, a therapist, anyone you can. Reach out to those online who share in your struggles. Just because we may not be related to you, doesn’t mean we don’t care. Sometimes, friends make better family members anyway.

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Unsplash photo via freestocks.org

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6 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Assuming Everyone Hates You

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It can start with the smallest thing: you make a bad joke at work, forget to text back a friend or say the wrong thing in class and bam — the thoughts start. Suddenly you’re worthless, you’re horrible and everyone hates you.

Or at least, that’s what it feels like.

It might not make sense to “know” everyone in the world hates you because of a small mistake or awkward moment — after all, you don’t hate someone for making a corny joke or accidentally saying the wrong thing. But for some people with anxiety, this feels real. Very real. And once the thoughts start to cycle, it can be hard to pull yourself out.

If you ever feel like this, like your negative thoughts are flying through your brain so fast you can’t even catch one, we understand you can’t just “snap out of it.” But there are some things you can do to talk through your thoughts and (hopefully) lesson the anxiety. To get you started, we’ve compiled a list of questions to ask yourself before concluding everyone hates you.

This list is based on skills you learn in cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). For a more in-depth look, this piece on Psych Central and this online CBT course are great resources. This list cannot replace receiving cognitive behavior therapy. Consider it your emergency starter pack.

So everyone in the world hates you? Ask yourself these six questions first:

1. What caused me to feel this way? Can I identify the moment that started this cycle?

Identifying the moment that started your negative thought cycle (making a bad joke, tripping in public) can allow you to pinpoint the scope of what really happened. So yes, although your mind feels like running away and living in isolation for the rest of your life, does what actually happened warrant that response?

Also, it’s just good to know your triggers in case you’re ever in that same situation again.

2. What’s the worst-case scenario? What are other possible scenarios?

In this situation, if the worst-case scenario is “everybody hates you and you die alone” — try to think of other possible outcomes. If you didn’t text your friend back, maybe they’ll be annoyed. Maybe they’ll be worried about you. Maybe they’ve already forgotten about it, and you guys will talk again soon.

3. What evidence do I have to support this worst-case scenario?

Like a detective, examine the facts. Do you have enough real-life proof to support your worst-case scenario? Or is one of the other scenarios you’ve identified more likely true based on what you know?

4. Am I fortunetelling?

In your reaction, are you taking into account things that haven’t happened yet? For example, do you feel like your friend is never going to talk to you again, or has your friend actually stopped talking to you?

5. Am I mind-reading?

Similarly, are you assuming you know how the person feels? Are you predicting what they’re feeling based on facts, or are you guessing how they feel?

6. How would I view this situation if I was an outsider looking in?

Oftentimes (a lot of the time) we’re more compassionate to other people than we are to ourselves. If the situation was flipped — and you were the friend/person you “bothered” or let down — how would you feel? Would you be annoyed? Forgiving? How would you expect someone to react in your situation? This different perspective can help you weed through your emotions and get to the truth.

Everyone probably does’t hate you. You’re going to be OK.

Or as mental health advocate Mark Henick once tweeted at me:

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What My Cat With Anxiety Taught Me About Mental Illness in Humans

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A veterinarian told me recently my cat has anxiety. And I had to laugh to myself. Of course me, of all people, would get a cat with an anxiety disorder.

My Calico cat, Katniss, has wounds or “hot spots” on her stomach from excessive licking, which my veterinarian told me is a sign of feline stress. She was given a steroid shot, which cured the hot spots for a few months. Now, within the last week, she’s back to licking off the fur on her stomach. Now, medication is the next step. Just like her mama, my cat is going to have to start taking anxiety medication.

Katniss is more than just a pet to me. She’s family. And, now, looking back on it, I think her anxiety is what made us “click” in the first place.

I will always remember when I first met her. I wasn’t planning on getting a cat. I was just tagging along with a friend who was thinking about adopting a dog. While at the shelter, I went to the adult cat room and sat down in the middle of the floor. Katniss was the first cat to come up to me and sit on my lap. And my jealous kitty would swat at any other cat who came near me.

It was love at first sight.

While I sat there petting Katniss, volunteers came into the room, in awe. They told me Katniss (named “Little Miss” at the time) had been at the shelter longer than any of the other cats there and had never come up to a person before. She had never walked around with her tail held high, the sign of a relaxed cat. Yet she did that with me from the beginning.

The volunteers told me most of the time, Katniss hid in a corner by herself, not even interacting with the other cats. She came to the shelter after someone threw her out of their car and she was lost in the woods behind the shelter for a week. And of course, an experience like that changed her.

I knew right then I had to adopt Katniss.

And yes, she has a funny personality. When it’s just the two of us, she’s the friendliest cat in the world. She sits on my lap, rubs her face against mine, cuddles up to me at night and is always playing or jumping around the apartment. Yet as soon as someone else comes over — even just buzzes up to my apartment or knocks on the door — she immediately hides under the bed for hours until the person leaves.

My cat has social anxiety. She has nervous ticks. When she’s in uncomfortable situations, her body shakes and she meows in a high pitch whine. She’s like a human with an anxiety disorder.

Before, I never knew this was possible. I didn’t know animals could have mental health difficulties. But it makes sense. There are many diseases both cats and humans can have — leukemia, cancer, diabetes, immunodeficiency and upper respiratory infections, to name a few. So why not mental illnesses?

For instance, a pet can have depression after a major change in its life or a distressing event. According to Pet Care RX, symptoms of depression in dogs are becoming withdrawn, low activity levels, loss of interest in the things they once enjoyed and a change in their eating and/or sleeping habits. And, as my cat Katniss proves, pets can also have anxiety.

There are people in this world who still don’t believe mental illnesses are actual illnesses. They think you can just “get over it” or think “it’s in your head” or “you’re just seeking attention.” But, to me, the fact animals can have mental illnesses too proves, even more, they are real. Dogs are innately happy and cats are usually carefree. Do you think our pets actually choose to be depressed? Do you think they’re thinking, “If I just lay here and sleep all day” or “If I lick myself raw then my owner will pay attention to me?” Or do you think they just don’t have the willpower to just “get over it?” No, I don’t think so. Because, just like anyone else who has a mental illness, it’s not a choice.

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How 'The Crappy Dinner Party' Helped Me Entertain Without Letting Anxiety Getting the Best of Me

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Once in a while my husband and I will sit down and do a relationship checkup. Just a couple of questions like “how are you really doing?” and “anything you want to do differently?” Kind of like Festivus but without the pole.

He brought up that he’d like to entertain more. Like, people in our house entertain. Sounded doable at the time. Yes, let’s entertain more. Great idea. I’ve always loved magazine spreads showing reclaimed wood tables dressed with linens and adorned with flowers and candles. Cheese trays displayed with grapes, artisanal crackers and those fancy curved cheese knives (I have one and use it for my scratch-off tickets).

Then reality hit. He invited a neighborhood family over.

Immediately I started making to-do lists. Grocery lists. Lists of lists.

As the day approached, I became consumed with how my house looked. The kitchen needs painting. Too many toys on the main floor. God, I hate these chairs…

And as I looked around, I felt like nothing was good enough. How could we have people over with so many scruffy baseboards?

The benefit of being treated at a mental-health facility, though, is they teach me to think differently. What if my house was just fine the way it is? What if I didn’t exhaust myself on the Saturday of the dinner party? Could the evening be less than perfect and still be fun?

Then I went to Google to search “don’t want to entertain too stressful” and like a beacon, the top link shone out: “The Crappy Dinner Party.”

After reading it, I decided not to stress.

I didn’t stress out about the piles of paper here and there. I lit some candles and spent seven dollars on flowers for the table.

The menu was also easy. Recipes I tried out the week before. The only things that are non-negotiable in my world are a clean kitchen (no one gets food poisoning in my house) and clean bathrooms (otherwise, ew).

So I got up on the Saturday, read the newspaper, took the dog for a walk, cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms and then had a nap. I had to stop myself many, many times throughout the course of the day when I could feel the anxiety rising. I silently yelled stop! when my panicked mind wanted to take over and cancel the evening. I breathed deeply when my stomach started twisting at the thought of entertaining all night. I did not ask myself, what’s the worst that can happen? because my mind is capable of catastrophizing even a casual dinner party. So I walked, I breathed and reminded myself that I was in control, not my thoughts. By the time the doorbell rang, I was relaxed and ready to go. The evening was a huge success and I was able to keep my eyes open past 9 p.m.

I think a few things contributed to success of the evening. Our guests were greeted warmly upon their arrival. I actually said “I’m so glad you’re here,” because I was. The food was good. Not great, but good. Their drinks were refreshed promptly and there was lots to laugh about. A relaxed host makes for a relaxed guest.

Plus, when you face your fears and anxieties head on with a successful outcome, it gives you confidence. I discovered perfection is often the enemy of excellence and that I need to remind myself of that on a regular basis. I realized kindness sometimes involves extending yourself outside your comfort zone. Our neighbors had a great time and I didn’t have the usual fitful night of sleep following a dinner party – wondering if everything was OK. I didn’t have to worry. Our crappy dinner party was really, really OK and I’m OK with that.

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Thinkstock photo via Ryan McVay.

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How Seeing the Humor in My Anxiety and Depression Helped My Recovery

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I remember the first time my therapist laughed at something I said. Her eyes got wide and she quickly told me she wasn’t laughing at me, just the situation I was telling her about. She then said something that was more profound than I realized at the time.

Funny is funny.

Before I continue, let me make it clear that I was OK with her laughing at the situation. I had been seeing her long enough to trust her. I knew she wasn’t laughing at me. I honestly can’t remember what the situation was, but no doubt it was some absurd situation my anxiety twisted into a disaster.

As time went on, I began to see some humor in my anxiety and depression. I started feeling better about laughing during therapy. Before then, I thought it had to be serious all the time. After all, I was paying good money to figure my life out!

I thought my therapist’s office was no place for laughter. However, I began to see there is healing in laughter. I recently had an epiphany in my car and I sent this in an email to my therapist.

“Funny is funny” moment. I took my medication before going into the coffee shop. I felt guilty and thought to myself, “Man, you take these things like drugs.” Then I remembered that it is a drug. So I got a good chuckle out of that.

In that moment, the guilt I felt about taking medication for anxiety left me. I still have moments when I feel guilty about it, but now I have a funny memory I can use to combat the guilt. I have come to enjoy the “funny is funny” phrase. In fact, it’s one of my favorite mantras.

Don’t misunderstand me, mental illness is a serious thing, but sometimes you just need to laugh at your own mental illness. For me, it makes a moment of bad anxiety less intense. It allows me to step back and see my anxiety is lying to me. In those moments, I have hope that my anxiety won’t destroy me. I appreciate the serious times in therapy, but I also appreciate the moments we laugh. I now know both can bring healing.

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Thinkstock photo via MistakeAnn.

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The Harry Potter Creatures That Represent My Anxiety and Depression

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Anyone who knows me knows I have a seriously unwavering love for Harry Potter. I don’t know how many times I’ve read the books or watched the films, I’m a proud Slytherin and I went to a fancy dress party as Hermione (before I got sorted into Slytherin, obvs.) I even want to get my Pottermore wand made for real.

It’s safe to say Harry Potter has a special place in my heart and this magical series has got me through some tough times by being a source of comfort when needed. J. K. Rowling has famously spoken about the fact that she based the terrifying, soul-sucking Dementors on her own fight with depression. The creepy, wraith-like creatures drain the hope and happiness out of anyone who comes into contact with them, leaving them with nothing but the worst experiences of their life. They even have the ability to suck your soul out completely, leaving you trapped in a fate worse than death.

It seems to me that if Dementors represent depression, then Boggarts could be seen as an appropriate analogy for anxiety. Whenever I watch or read “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” I try to imagine what would have come out of the cupboard towards me in Professor Lupin’s class. Would it have been a giant spider or wasp? Would it be the cows from the Cravendale adverts? Or would it have been another nationwide bourbon shortage? It might take me a little while, but I’m pretty sure I could find a way to make those things funny and perform the Riddikulus charm.

But what if none of those came out of the cupboard. What if instead I saw my oldest friends turning against me? What if I saw myself being fired? What if I was faced with an older, childless version of me? What if, like Molly Weasley, I saw members of my family lying dead in front of me? How do you make thoughts like those funny? Those are the kind of irrational thoughts anxiety plants in your mind. Then a voice that sounds very much like your own keeps repeating them over and over again until you believe they’ll come true.

Now imagine you’re trying to fight off a Dementor and Boggart at the same time. The Dementor is silently gliding towards you and you raise your wand as you try to think of your happiest memory, a strong memory, but all you can think about is the impressively realistic show the Boggart is putting on for you. As the Dementor gets closer, you feel that eerie chill fill you like ice and you are frozen on the spot. That’s teamwork, that is! And that’s why many people often experience depression and anxiety together. They gang up on you so you feel like you don’t have the strength to fight either.

I have always joked if I were a witch, it would be highly likely that my Patronus would be either a sloth or a koala. Incredibly cute, but no help whatsoever if it came down to protecting my soul from being sucked from my body. What I really need is a Patronus like a unicorn so it could stab those nasty Dementors with its horn. Try as I might, waving around my hand-carved wand and shouting “Expecto Patronum” does not work. No unicorn. Not even a sloth. And I’d take a sloth right now.

You see, last year I found myself back on medication for anxiety and depression. It was the third time in less than five years. When I recover from a bout of anxiety and depression (they tend to visit me together), I have the very best intentions for never letting it happen again. After all, I can recognize the signs now so I can be proactive if I start to see them resurface. Unfortunately it doesn’t always work that way.

This time around, I fought and fought against it. I threw myself into my work which was a great distraction to start with, but as time went on, I realized I was doing my old trick of saying I was fine when I very clearly wasn’t. I’d go into work early so I could cry without anyone knowing. I had to let it out because holding it in was giving me the worst headaches. Then it got to a point where I couldn’t always hold it in.

I didn’t feel that way all the time. In some ways, this was worse because when I’d have a good day or sometimes an amazing one, the next run of bad days would make me feel even worse. Think one step forward and two steps back. By the time I accepted I needed help again, I felt like I’d gone so far backwards that even the starting line was difficult to see.

I’ve been back on my medication for a while now and 99 percent of the time, I feel great. I have the odd day where I feel like utter crap, but everyone does. It’s normal. Even though it is prescribed for both anxiety and depression, I feel like the medication is working as a Patronus keeping the Dementors at bay, allowing me to tell my anxiety where to shove it!

I also made some lifestyle changes which I truly believe have helped. I am eating better and I have heaps more energy. I also made a conscious effort to stop doing things that were causing me stress or I just wasn’t enjoying as much anymore. I now have a completely full diary again, but it’s with new classes, roles and ventures that bring out my creative side and allow me to nurture it. I smile every day. Even if it’s been a bad day, I smile as I get into bed knowing tomorrow is a new day.

I’ve accepted I may experience a relapse, but I will never stop fighting the Dementors and Boggarts that come and visit me from time to time. They are a part of me now just like Harry Potter and his wonderfully magical world is.

Follow this journey on Gloriously Ungraceful.

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Photo via Harry Potter Facebook page.

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