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A Letter to My Teacher About My Struggles You Might Not See

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Dear Teacher,

Yes, I read the homework last night. Twice. I can’t bring myself to ever not read it. My anxiety takes over and I panic wondering if you will ask if I read it or if you will give us a pop quiz. You never ask and there is never a quiz, but I had to read every mark on the 20 pages of reading. I had to reread sentences and words so I wouldn’t disappoint you. It makes me look responsible and smart, but I feel terrible when I lose sleep over missing a comma on page 194.

No, I’m not cheating. I need to sit like this because the other students’ movements and noises distract me. I wish I could tell you, but I’m too nervous you will think less of me.

Yes, I am listening. I hear every word you say, even if it doesn’t look like I do. My brain works fast. I can draw or fidget, hear every word you say, and still have room for my mind to accidentally wander away when you pause to answer a question. No, I am not looking at you, but I am still taking in more information than you can see.

Yes, I procrastinated my assignment—no really, teacher, I am sorry. I wanted to have it done for you on time without procrastination, but I spent hours researching this new interest of mine. I start reading and 10 articles later I realize three hours have passed and I panic to finish the homework I could have finessed by now. These interests are why every project or paper I do is on the same topic. One day, I will major in this topic and finally get my chance, but today is not that day, and I’m sorry.

Teacher, I know you never thought much about my quirks; after all, I was a good student and never had behavior problems.

But I did struggle.

I have graduated public education and only have one year left at my small college, where I have finally learned to advocate for myself. But I hope this letter helps you understand your current and future students who may struggle despite their high performance.

Sincerely,
A former student

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The Little Tricks I Use to Manage My Anxiety

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Breathe.

OK. I am OK. A lot of people have panic attacks. My hands, feet and face will stop tingling as soon as I stop hyperventilating. My limbs will not fall off. My heart rate will return to normal as soon as I calm down. It will not be long before my lungs feel capable again. I am going to be OK.

According to The Kim Foundation, approximately 18.1 percent of Americans over the age of 18 in any given year will have an anxiety disorder. This is not a small percentage.

You are not the only one who has ever felt this way. There are others feeling it too, even right this minute, and you are never alone. There are resources you can reach out to, there are people to help you and this road is not a new one. It has been trodden before, will be trodden again, and though it may feel as if you are walking alone, there are thousands of other people walking it with you.

How do we calm down? It’s not simple, or easy. If it were, anxiety disorders would not exist. I am not a doctor or a mental health professional, but I can tell you what works for me.

In through the nose, out through the mouth, count to 10 and slow everything right down.

You are tingling because you are breathing too quickly, slow it down, and it will stop. This is a temporary feeling. It will not last forever.

Remember that you are OK.

It may not feel like it, and no one is devaluing your experience, but you are OK. This will not kill you, or hurt you. You are going to be fine.

Distract yourself — however you need to distract yourself, do it.

Color, draw, play loud music, watch television, talk to someone, google bad jokes. Think of something else.

Be kind to yourself.

You do not need to feel guilty for having a panic attack. You are allowed to be your own best friend. Have something extra to eat, to make up for the energy you have lost, rehydrate if you have cried. Do not beat yourself up.

Look only as far into the future as you feel comfortable with.

If the future is going to frighten you, don’t think of it, if you think it will help, think of it plenty. Do whatever it is that you need to do to make yourself feel better.

This is OK. You are OK. Everything is going to be OK. If you cannot tell yourself as much just now, let me tell you.

It is OK.

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A Jail Cell

What My Anxiety Prison Feels Like

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In a previous blog, I wrote how my anxiety is a prison of my mind. I linked the signs and symptoms of anxiety to being locked up. Let me allow you to take an excursion into my mind to see how my anxiety holds me captive in prison.

My anxiety prison has limited windows.

Anxiety possesses me in a dark space. It keeps me awake while others are slumbering at night. I can barely see any resolution for my situation. Sometimes, I can’t even accept my blessing of being “released” from prison. I’ve been using coping skills but my mind keeps telling me, I will not succeed.

My anxiety prison lacks privacy.

Anxiety puts me on “front street” in the presence of family, friends and colleagues. It shape shifts into a panic attack, extreme pessimism or lack of follow-through on tasks. It’s really tricky trying to disguise my lack of concentration, tension headaches, confusion, irritability and fatigue at work or in social settings. Even worse, I hypothesize everyone knows I’m anxious when they have no earthly idea when I am struggling. Unfortunately, this altered perception keeps me in confinement as well.

My anxiety prison lacks freedom.

The color teal represents anxiety. I guess my main concern is anxiety cannot just be one color. It can be a symptom of another physical or mental illness or it can stand alone. When my creativity and imagination run rampant, it’s hard to wear just teal, but because I have no other color options, I fall back, feel stuck and become discouraged. Then, I become afraid to take risks or do anything out of the ordinary. My right brain constantly asks my left brain for permission to use my gifts. Thus, when I cannot shift my right brain hemisphere, my prefrontal cortex does not reason nor produce logic. My intuition and ingenuity remain in a sensory state. My brain is on overload, but I am stuck. This leads to my challenges with paying attention and organizing myself. I can present as bored, uninterested or disengaged. So, when my anxiety takes my freedom, I can isolate, lose motivation and my hope.

Sometimes my anxiety can transition into depression. I can remain in isolation for days to weeks. I feel lonely. It takes something from me, just sitting in the dark. It’s really cold. I just want someone to reach out to me. I can see a very small window. It does provide a glimpse of light, but this window is not big enough for me to grasp the bigger picture—my ultimate purpose in life.

While in the hole, there are guards who check on me regularly. These people notice my effort, resilience and strength. No, they do not have the authority to release me. I must rescue myself. However, they persistently emphasize the fighter within me. They encourage proper exercise and nutrition, risk-taking, literature therapy and following through with goals and dreams. Oddly, the guards see my aspiration even in my darkest moments.

Anxiety is a prison in my mind. When I get arrested and detained, there is no bail. I must endure it. Deal with it. Fight it. Rewrite it. And finally, accept it as a “beautiful nightmare.”

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6 Self-Care Ideas for When the Outside World Is Too Much

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I don’t know about you, but lately, the world seems really overwhelming. Between politics and tragedies, it is hard not to get sucked into the negativity that surrounds us. As a culture, we tend to focus on the negative over positive. I think it gives us more to talk about, but it also hinders our emotions and can deeply affect our mental health.

I, like a lot of people around the world, have experienced bouts of anxiety and depression lately. As a highly sensitive person, I feel my own pain intensity and others’ pains too. Sometimes I am at a loss for what to do. One thing I know I need more of during these challenging times is self-care. I’ve listed a few self-care practices I am working on integrating into my life. I am spending less time online and in front of a screen.

1. Log off Facebook. 

I will scroll through Facebook throughout the day and see images from protests and the latest disheartening political action and be totally overwhelmed. It is not healthy to be exposed to depressing, sad news throughout the day. It can affect your mental health in a negative way and leave you feeling hopeless. For the next month, I am going to sign out of Facebook each weekend and do a 48-hour Facebook detox. I am not able to delete my Facebook as my job and work involve Facebook, but taking little breaks is permitted.

2. Make your home a peaceful, safe place.

I recently moved into a new apartment. I am working on making it a homey space with candles, Himalayan rock lamps, cozy blankets, diffusing essential oils and home cooked meals. It is important for me to have a home I want to come to after a long stressful day to unwind and relax.

3. Channel your inner child.

What did you enjoy as a child? Did you love splashing in puddles? Playing in the snow? Building things with your hands? Coloring? Painting? Whatever you loved as a child, take the time to do it as an adult. We only spend a small fraction of our life as children. Tap into what made you happy during one of the simplest times of your life. I loved coloring as a kid. Sitting down, focusing on the picture in front of me, only thinking about the next color to choose was always a fun time! Luckily, “adult” coloring has become a thing, and I have a few meditation coloring books I enjoy coloring in.

4. Read, cook or play with your companion animal if you have one.

Do something that doesn’t involve switching on your phone, TV or computer. I was feeling anxious the other day after work and instead of scrolling through social media or flipping on the TV, I made cookies and played with my dog. It may have only been about 45 minutes, but it was 45 minutes I was able to care for myself (baking is one of my favorite self-care things to do!) and spend time with my furbaby who I don’t get to see during the day.

5. Set boundaries.

I’ve had many conversations over the past six months about politics with friends and family. Since then, when I am feeling overwhelmed and don’t want to continue talking about a certain subject, I say, “I am not going to talk about this anymore.” That’s it, and if they do not respect my wishes and continue to talk about the issue at hand, I walk away.

6. Go outside.

For me, going outside to take a walk is the ultimate way to destress. When walking, I am focusing on the step in front of me, taking in the seasonal smells and watching my dog interact with the world around her.

During times of stress and anxiety, it is important to take extra care of yourself.

Follow this journey on Voices of Anxiety.

Thinkstock photo by jacoblund

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6 Unexpected Consequences of Taking Medication for Anxiety

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I started taking medication for anxiety and mild depression a little more than two weeks ago, and because two weeks was the recommended “adjustment period” my psychiatrist gave me, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on my “new normal” — a normal which was supposed to be anxiety-less, or at least anxiety-reduced. From where I am now, results have been mixed.

This was not a decision I took lightly. As someone who likes to tell others there’s no shame in taking medication, classically I couldn’t take my own advice. But bad days started to outnumber good days. I would have negative thoughts — including passive suicidal thoughts — running through my head at work and before bed. Anxiety attacks, uncomfortable back pain and stomach aches — the works. At the end of the day I would be overwhelmed and anxious for the next day to start. So I discussed it with my therapist and became more open to the idea of trying medication.

After months of avoiding, I finally made an appointment.

Even driving to the psychiatrist’s, I starting beating myself up for “wasting time.” I should have been working. I was fine. I didn’t need this (see also: I didn’t deserve this). I was mad at myself for being “so weak,” for disrupting my day for nothing.

But of course, when the nurse practitioner asked me how I was, I immediately burst into tears. And if you can cry and babble for 30 minutes straight when someone asks you how you are, that might be a sign you could use more support.

So here I am. I wanted to share some honest takeaways from my journey so far. Because while yes, you could say I’m literally “less anxious,” the experience has been as surprisingly underwhelming (spoiler: I’m still the same person!) as it has been rewarding.

For context: I’m taking a pretty low dose of an SSRI. Medication is not right for everyone, and not everyone will react to medication in the same way. Definitely talk to your doctor before starting or stopping medication.

Here are some of the unexpected things that happened when I started taking medication to manage anxiety.

1. At first, the silence in my brain was uncomfortable. 

I didn’t realize my brain had once been an echo chamber until there was silence. The new stillness was eery, like walking the streets of an empty city. I remember on the first day actually trying to produce a thought that might start echoing — but it stood, individually, on its own, without multiplying. Without the constant noise rattling around in my head, I wasn’t sure how to think. This left me feeling spacey and uncomfortable.

More recently, I’ve appreciated this silence. I deal with a lot of repetitive, negative thoughts (“I’m a bad person,” “I want to kill myself,” etc.), and now, it’s been much easier to let them pass through without letting them take over.

2. I felt “lazy,” which I later learned is called feeling “relaxed.”

Without the bully of anxiety bossing me around all day, I started to feel… lazy. Instead of waking up and instantly jumping out of bed so I could perform the “perfect” morning routine, I stayed a little longer. When I got home from work, instead of thinking, “What am I doing next?” “What am I doing next” I watched YouTube videos with my boyfriend. I talked to my roommate on the couch. Free from my shackles, I felt like I was rebelling — doing the opposite of what my anxious brain would urge me to do. You’re demanding I meditate in the morning? Fuck that — I’m sleeping as late as I can. Oh, I have to stay at work 30 more minutes or else everything will fall apart? Nope, I’m leaving now.

I learned being “lazy” was actually me feeling relaxed. I’m not used to feeling content with doing nothing or rejecting the way my brain tells me how I have to do things, so it’s a strange new thing to get to enjoy.

3. My anxious energy turned into crankiness. 

I’m not typically a cranky person, but when the energy inside me wasn’t being used to think mean thoughts about myself, it turned towards other people. Namely, people closest to me. OK, it was really just my boyfriend. But still, this sudden short-fuse was one of the more surprising side effects. I found myself starting arguments over nothing and getting irritated at small things. I didn’t like it, but it felt like the energy had no where else to go.

This has actually been decreasing as time goes on, and I’ve found exercise has been a great way of getting rid of that extra “energy.”

4. It eased practically all of my physical symptoms.

My anxiety lives in the back of my neck, so my upper back hurt basically all the time. Yoga would help, but it was always temporary relief. My body would tense up again as soon as I reentered the world. Since I’ve been taking this medication, the tension in my body has eased up a bit, and I’m no longer in so much pain.

5. I actually appreciate feeling stressed now.

This is something I’m not sure everyone understands, but when anxiety dominates and escalates any ounce of internal conflict, it’s actually pretty nice to feel pure stress, untainted with extra anxiety. It’s like I can actually manage things that stress me out without melting into a puddle of my own self-hate. I remember joking with my therapist, “I’m still stressed, but at least my brain isn’t telling me to kill myself!” Because while situational stress is part of being human, it’s easier to face without the extra, unnecessary anxiety.

6. Medication doesn’t make me happier – I will make me happier.

Here’s the thing: although my anxiety is mean, she’s well-intentioned. Like a toddler throwing a temper tantrum because she can’t communicate what she wants, it was more about how my anxiety chose to express itself, not what she was trying to tell me. Now with more control in my hands, I can ask my anxiety to “use its words.” Because I do like meditating in the morning. I do like working and pushing myself to be productive. These things themselves are inherently bad, and the energy of my anxiety is a part of what makes me, me. So my challenge now is relearning how to do things casually. How to navigate a day without my anxiety pulling the strings. It’s a little scary, and I haven’t nailed it yet, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to try.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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6 Unexpected Consequences of Taking Medication for Anxiety
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An Exercise That Helps Me When My Worries Take Over

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Everyone out there struggles with worry from time to time. Worry that keeps you up at night, makes you pace the floors or takes over your thoughts.

Worry and anxiety are persistent and debilitating struggles for me. Freezing and becoming non-functional during these times is a common reaction which then leads to more anxiety and fear that doing nothing is making everything worse.

So I have an exercise I have used from time to time (and am using more now) to help with this problem. If any of you out there need a hand, you may want to check it out.

1. Get out a notebook and pencil.

2. Write “My Worries” at the top of the page.

3. List them all out.

4. Order them in level of discomfort they cause you.

5. Take the first one and write it at the top of a new page.

6. Write: “My Thoughts” as a header and below it list all of the thoughts you have about this worry. (“I don’t know what I’m doing,” “I can’t do this,” “People will think I’m stupid if I fail,” etc.)

7. Write: “Reality” as a header and below it list the actual nitty gritty of the situation and what it actually means. (“I don’t know everything about this project but if I ask I can learn,” “I can do this, I’m just facing a new fear, which is hard,” “I’m not going to fail — but even if I did, what person out there hasn’t failed and stands to judge me?”)

8. Repeat for as many of the worries on your list as you see fit.

9. If you want to take it a step further, you can put an action step or two under each worry so you can feel empowered to use the information you just reflected on and turn it into positive action.

When I do this exercise, I’m able to attend to the self-defeating and erroneous thoughts that tend to overload my brain when I’m anxious. By facing the reality of the situation, writing it out and revisiting it when the worry comes back, I free myself and feel more grounded in reality.

This has been a lifesaver lately.

Just because I think it doesn’t make it true…

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