Woman with her hands on the grunge backround

I don’t know. Well, I do know.

I had coffee. I shouldn’t have had coffee. But I like coffee. I meant to get decaf, but I don’t know… I didn’t forget to get decaf. I just wanted coffee. And now I pay the consequences.

I tried using my skills — “Who, what, when, where, why, and how” — but then it ended up with me internally yelling at myself.

I think I’m just lazy. Yeah. I’m lazy. I can’t have depression, I’m always laughing. But when I’m not laughing I’m beating myself up. Blaming myself for every little mistake I make. And I feel so empty and lonely. I’m just lazy.

I just want attention. Those posts about me trying to help people understand my anxiety and depression is just for attention. I don’t need help. I’m fine. compared to homeless people and starving children. I’m fine. Peachy perfect. I’m a-OK. I’m good. Good in the hood.

I don’t know. My mom came in my room earlier asking me to turn off my phone. And I did. But I just started yelling at myself. In my head. Having a conversation. You’re just lazy. You stay up late on your phone. That’s why you’re always tired. No, it’s not because of the phone. It is. No, it’s not. Yeah, it is. Why can’t you just be normal? I stay up because of my thoughts! What thoughts? These thoughts! And then my inner self went quiet. It sounded like a movie. I don’t know.

Because of this, no one will want to deal with me. I’ll be alone. Yeah, I have my parents… mostly my mom… sometimes my mom… I don’t know. But who’d want an anxious girl at 3 a.m. and a depressed one at 4 p.m.? That’s why I don’t have confidence in myself. Because of this.

Breathe. Breathe. Just breathe. I am breathing. Yes. I am alive. But am I living? I think I am. I don’t know. I’ve been afraid of living lately. No, I don’t want to die. I just want this to stop. I’ll be OK. I think. I don’t know. What if this kills me?
What is life? How can I live and enjoy life with this? I am not my diagnosis. I think. I’ve been very unsure about what I’ve been saying recently. I’ll be OK. OK? OK. OK? OK. OK? A-OK.

I need to pee. But if I get up I’ll wake up Ma and then Pa will ask me if I’m OK, and what if i cry? I’m not OK. Wait. We just went over this. I am OK. Why am I not tired? Go. To. Sleep. I need to throw up. No, I don’t. What I need is: to cry. But I’ve been crying too much. Just gotta bottle it down. Just like every other time. Except yesterday and the day before and the day before that. I don’t know. They say crying is OK, but then they see me as weak. I’m not weak. I’m strong. I am resilient. Yeah. I’ll be OK. If not today, then tomorrow. If not tomorrow, then the next day. And so on. There has to be a day that I’ll be OK. One day. Maybe. I don’t know.

I think I’m calming down. The thoughts are stopping. What if I get anxious tomorrow morning. Ma and Pa will get mad if I don’t go. I’ll just say I’m fine. I’ve faked that for years now, and they seemed to have believed me. Yeah. I’m fine. Yeah. I. Am. Fine. If I say it enough, maybe it’ll be true one day. Hopefully.

It’s 12:39 a.m. OK. If I go to sleep exactly right now I’ll have six hours and 21 minutes. Yeah. OK. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. I. Can’t. Sleep. I really need to pee. Oh my goodness. I won’t stop shaking. My fault. I’m gonna go pee.

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I don’t look sick.

If you were to see me out and about, you would likely see a pulled together individual. I’d be cracking jokes, enquiring as to what people have been up to, and you’d be forgiven for assuming I’m doing a great job of navigating my way through my mental illnesses. In fact, at the weekend I was talking to people about my mental health and had three separate conversations with people who were surprised to learn I struggled with it.

This made me think: is that a good thing?

I don’t want to ruin a social event by showing the world just how terrifying I am finding it. Believe me, there would be no better way to throw a wet blanket over proceedings than to let people know what is running through my mind when they are chatting away to me. That said, I want to share how hard it is for some people, as I feel this is how we will raise awareness and understanding of mental health. I also feel it would be good for us to know how many people out there are struggling with the same battles.

young woman wearing make up and glasses holding stuffed animal

When I went out on Saturday, this above photo was “me.”  Makeup on, hair done, joking about while clutching Albie (my “Anxiety Blob”).  I was out for about three and a half hours, and I’m quite proud to say I held it together for that time. Anyone who knew me well may have been able to pick up on my constantly moving hands (so my shaking wouldn’t be as obvious) or the occasional catch in my throat (as I reminded myself I needed to breathe), but to everyone else I kept my secret hidden.

The thing I want to share is that behind those three and a half hours was some serious preparation. The week prior to it had been a tough one.  My anxiety had been sky-high, and my motivation to join the real world each day was low on the good days. I have been trying to record my reality of mental health, and the following photos were taken in that week on two consecutive mornings when I was really struggling to get on with my day.

On these days I did yoga, I meditated, I went to therapy on Tuesday. All week I journaled, I practiced gratitude, I had time curled up on the sofa trying to rest. I ate healthily and I drank lots of water. I did every conceivable thing I could to try to “feel better.”

Sometimes I find it most unfair that doing all these things and putting in the effort doesn’t make a blind bit of difference. The truth is though that while it does not make me “better,” it does stop me from getting worse. young woman crying anxiety

It is also worth being aware that it is not only gearing up for an event like this that takes planning and consideration.  The aftermath needs to be planned in too. I was so mentally exhausted after being in “I’m OK!” mode on Saturday, that Sunday was a washout. I spent it on the sofa, in trackies, watching Harry Potter (the first, second, third and fourth films). This may sound like a lovely lazy Sunday to many, but Sunday is the only day Mr. BuBakes and I have together every week. I wanted to be out with him, doing fun stuff and laughing – the reality was that this was never going to happen. young woman crying anxiety

I guess there are a few main points I want to get across from sharing this today:

1. If someone who battles with their mental health can only commit to “maybe I’ll come along” then often it is not that they aren’t bothered, it may be that they literally do not know if they will be able to manage it.

2. If that someone does manage to come out, be flattered; it must mean a lot to them and a great deal of work may have been done in getting them there.

3. If this is the case, the occasional squeeze of the arm and a “you’re doing amazingly, how are you feeling” goes a long way.

4. If the person needs to suddenly leave, let them know that is OK, and that you appreciate the time they spent there. No doubt the second they go they will be berating themselves for not being able to stick it out for longer, so the assurance that their time spent out was valued goes a long way in stopping the shame cycle.

It is hard for everyone to truly understand how everyday occurrences can take so much, and that’s OK.  No one expects those without a mental illness to simply “get it,” but people acknowledging it is a wonderful thing.

In a previous blog post I wrote:

“Sadly I know there have been comments by people questioning how I can do all my baking and set up BuBakes when I am “sick,” and to those people, I can only say that they perhaps don’t understand the kind of “sick” I am. That’s absolutely fine — I didn’t understand it before, and I still can’t fully get to grips with it now.”

… and two years on this is still entirely true.

My sickness is still one that is hard to explain. It is one people still can’t see unless they know what they are looking for, and it is one I am still getting to grips with.

I think I will be constantly learning about it for the rest of my life, and that is OK — not only because my self-discovery will be ongoing and that is a wonderful thing, but also because it means I can continue to share what I learn as I learn it, in the hope it may help raise awareness and understanding of mental health.

Lots of love to you all.

Bu xx

Follow this journey on bubakes.co.uk.

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Unsplash photo via Cody Aulidge

This piece was written by Kim Quindlen a Thought Catalog contributor.

As someone with anxiety, I fall in love the way many people do – instinctively, quickly, often easily. The only difference is while I’m falling in love, my brain is also coming up with a million different reasons why this is also terrifying and dangerous and so easily broken.

As someone with anxiety, I fall in love slowly. And with a strange sense of guilt, because of the thoughts that won’t shut up. The thoughts like, This can’t possibly last. This can’t possibly be real. This is too good to be true. Something’s going to ruin this at some point. 

As someone with anxiety, I fall in love while feeling a strange mixture of hope and dread. Hope — that I’ve finally found someone I can talk to, someone I can depend on, someone I can trust, someone who will maybe bring me back when I feel trapped and suffocated in my own mind. And dread — that I will not be good enough, that I don’t deserve this, that my heart now sleeps peacefully in someone else’s hands and could end up being shattered at any moment.

But as someone with anxiety, I also fall in love wholeheartedly.

I fall in love fiercely and absolutely with the commitment to something that is finally light and exciting and real. I feel scared, but certain. Out of control, but also lighthearted. I feel an immediate instinct to protect my person in every way possible with the knowledge I now care about someone else’s life more than my own.

As someone with anxiety, I appreciate the big stuff, but I fall in love during the little moments — quiet car rides, deep sleeps, telepathic looks in the middle of a boring party. I fall in love during reassuring conversations. I fall in love from hand holding that puts me more at ease on a turbulent flight. I fall in love during a Saturday nap and a breakfast date that is just a bagel on a bench and a weekend spent with a family that starts to feel a little bit like my own.

I fall in love during the little things because the little things make me feel normal. The little things with someone special remind me it doesn’t have to take much to bring me back from a dark night or a panic attack or a work meltdown.

As someone with anxiety, I fall in love the way many people do. I fall in love intensely and vulnerably and wholly. The only difference for me is getting to a place where I believe I truly deserve it.

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Thinkstock photo via Ivanko_Brnjakovic.

My panic attacks have had a very distinct and identifiable history: labored breathing, feeling faint, difficulty breathing, the “impending doom” of the world caving in around me, and crying, crying hysterically at … I don’t even know what sometimes.

I can usually predict it, too. The perfect storm for a typical panic attack is to feel like I have a thousand things to do and not enough body parts to do it. In my mind, I feel like Inspector Gadget but 12 arms extending in various directions. Meanwhile, I have a scroll of demands from family, friends, co-workers, finances and my health. My mind can’t keep up, so I throw my hands up in frustration, anxiety, disappointment and sadness. I break down in exhaustion, wondering why I can’t keep up, and how other people can deal with these same tasks with ease and grace. I blame myself, start the self-sabotaging negative thoughts and reprimands, and hate myself for not being all the things I want to be and should be. I shut myself off from the world, take some medication, cry it out, and be left with zero self-esteem and absolutely no energy to do the simplest tasks for the remainder of the day. If I exposed myself to the world for the rest of the day, I risked not being at my best and thus feeling embarrassed about my inadequacy.

A few days ago, my idea about panic attacks changed. No, it wasn’t amidst the hyperventilation fest or even on the same day. I reflected on my feelings and emotions for days after it happened, perhaps the first time I’ve done this after a panic attack . The truth is, I didn’t even realize I was having a panic attack when it happened because it was silent. A busy day adhering to the demands of e-mails, phone calls, appointments and errands left me unable to think about anything. Not crying. Not my list of things to do and people to call. Not the things left undone in my life. I just sat emotionless, unable to open my eyes for a long period of time, and drained from all things which made me human. I felt frozen in time and paralyzed by my own anxiety and panic. A zombie.

This couldn’t be a panic attack, though … right?

I went home, changed into my softest leopard print pajama set, turned my phone off and fell asleep on the couch at 4 p.m. I had to reduce the stimuli in my life to recenter my body and mind.

It was a panic attack; it just didn’t fit my self-created mold. The odd thing about having anxiety is that I can’t even explain this “thing” that affects me every day. I don’t know if it’s going to manifest itself in awkwardness in conversations, in hard work because I’m afraid to fail, or in debilitating nothingness for days. How can I live every day with something I cannot explain?

What I can explain is how important it is to understand your body and your mind. This actualization is why being reflective, inquisitive and self-aware is so important when it comes to mental health and wellness. You may not always understand why anxiety does what it does, but you can understand it is unpredictable. You can understand yourself and what helps you during panic attacks or extreme moments of anxiety.

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I grew up with a mother who repeatedly emphasized that appearances mattered above all else. As a child, behind all my decisions, my mother’s voice was ever-present, asking, “What would the neighbors think?” The household was a dysfunctional battle zone, but only behind closed doors. From an early age, my mother implanted in my head the belief that neighbors gossip and the worst sin of all was giving them any fuel to add to their fire.

So I learned to carry myself a particular way, to walk tall, shoulders back, and smile like everything in the world was just peachy. I built walls to hold in my pain and bolted on a mask to hide my tears. I put on the performance of a lifetime for years, doing multiple shows a day.

On extremely stressful days or periods when my depression is weighing heavily on my soul, I try to push myself to go out in public because that is my last line of defense. Though I might break down and crawl into bed for the day in the privacy of my own home, when I am surrounded by people, my mother’s voice is ever-present with me. Somehow, though I want to curl up in a ball and cry, that little voice continuously harps to “hold it in, hold it together, don’t fall apart.” After all, what would those strangers think if I had a meltdown and became a crying, sniveling mess?

Every now and then, however, the cracks in my veneer begin to show. As much as I try to hold everything together, my walls crumble around me and I become a quivering, sobbing mess as all the depression and anxiety that has built up inside me comes pouring out.

Usually, it is in response to something someone has said or done to me, especially if they are unnecessarily hostile or aggressive towards me. It pierces through my artificial calm and triggers my flight response. Alarms sound within my mind to flee, to find somewhere safe before the fragile walls I’m hiding behind begin to shatter.

I honestly hate that I am so fragile, especially when it comes to conflict. For me, hard-wired somewhere in my brain is a connection between conflict and abuse. When I was a child and my mother became upset, some sort of harsh and irrational punishment was guaranteed, whether it was warranted or not. When my older brother saw red, I quickly learned to get away before fists began to fly. Though that little kernel of logic in my brain might reassure me that not everyone who acts aggressively means to inflict physical harm, my mind and my body react impulsively as if imminent danger lies ahead.

When I can neither flee nor quiet the alarm sounding in my mind, panic sets in and a meltdown occurs. The artificial calm demeanor I have created begins to collapse and it feels like the floor has dropped from beneath me. I feel as if I’m tumbling down a never-ending hole with nothing to grab onto, no way to prevent myself from falling apart.

I begin to feel unsafe, unheard. I am transported back to a time when I was a little child with a little voice that went unheard. Instead of reacting rationally, the floodgates open and a river of emotions cascade out.

My hands begin to shake. My mouth struggles to find anything coherent to say. I want to cry out and run away, yet I feel frozen in place, my feet cemented to the floor. I find myself sobbing, melting down, babbling this endless stream of verbal diarrhea, trying to simultaneously explain and defend myself. My thoughts and statements ricochet all over the place, from one topic to the next, following no pattern, rhyme or reason.

Inside, that young child is screaming, “It’s all too much, I can’t take any of this, it needs to stop!” She is in a complete panic, scrambling for the right words to say to make it all go away, to make herself feel safe again. An endless stream of, “No more! No mas!” echoes within every word she manages to squeak out between sobs.

Meanwhile, the older, wiser, more rational part of myself seems to be standing to the side, witnessing it all in disbelief. That logical fragment passes judgment, demanding to know what on earth I am doing, insisting I stop making a “spectacle” of myself.

Back and forth they battle in the background as the meltdown continues. The small, injured childlike facet of myself falling to pieces while the other more logical facet scoffs and demands I pull myself together. Little by little, my body and mind exhaust themselves and the river of sobs transitions into a slow trickle of tears. I find myself mortified that I allowed it to happen again because I feel I should be stronger than this. I’ve had a lifetime of building walls and bolting on masks. They should be strong enough to withstand anything by this point.

I wipe away my tears, take a deep breath and take my walk of shame out the door, because I know this won’t be the last time I fall apart or melt down. It is all part of the burden of the functional depressive. Though we may put on a brave face and act like our world is full of sunshine and peaches, our walls are made of dirt bricks that cannot withstand the waves of aggression from others or our own flood of tears that follows.

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Unsplash photo via Dmitry Ratushny

It’s Friday night and I’m curled up in bed beneath the covers, watching films on the tiny screen of my phone. I could go and get a cup of tea, but my body feels too heavy to move. I could sleep, I should sleep, but even though my eyes feel heavy and I know I’m tired, I know sleep isn’t happening any time soon.

Even the distraction of one of my favorite films isn’t enough to make me forget that for what is probably the thousandth time, I have forgone an invitation to spend the night out with my friends. I haven’t seen them in over a week, and still I declined when they asked me to go out with them, instead opting for the comfort and security of my bedroom.

This isn’t an unusual occurrence either.

In the days before I knew I had anxiety, so throughout my late teens and all throughout university, it was the same thing. My friends would be off somewhere and I’d be there with my plethora of excuses: “I haven’t got any money this week,” “I’m really tired today,” “I’m busy tomorrow.” The list went on and on and on.

Nowadays I’m more open about the reasons why I won’t go out. Big spaces, loud music and huge crowds are completely overwhelming. I start to focus too much on where the exits are, and I withdraw completely as I desperately try to ignore the sounds going on around me.

But knowing I have anxiety doesn’t make these instances any easier. There’s one particular bar I will actively avoid because two out of the three times I’ve been there, I have left within minutes because of a panic attack. If anything, knowing and understanding what’s going on in my head makes it worse.

People stop asking me to go places, or when they do and I say no, I spend what feels like an eternity analyzing their response and the way they looked at me. The fear of missing out is huge. I’ll see the photos and hear the stories the next day. And then I silently kick myself because I know I’ve missed out on making memories with the people I love and that mean the most to me in the world.

The constant insecurity of people not wanting to spend time with me sits like a block of concrete on my chest. But then the voice of reason will tell me that’s all ridiculous because these are your friends. These people know you and love you for you.

So to the people whose friends have anxiety:

Know that when we say no to going out, it’s not because we don’t want to spend time with you but because the thought of being in those situations is exhausting beyond belief. Don’t stop asking us to come with you even though you might be sure of our response. Because the moment you stop is the moment when we start to wonder whether you want to be our friend, no matter how much we know it’s not true.

Or maybe ask us what we want to do, where we want to go and what we feel comfortable with. Know that if we suggest going out to a particular place, it’s because we desperately want to spend more time with you but for that to be somewhere we know we’re not going to find ourselves spiraling towards an anxiety attack.

Being around you is something that can give us strength, even when we’re at our lowest. And because at the end of the day, we love you and value your support, friendship and presence more than you’ll ever know.

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