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I can’t know for sure how anxiety manifests in other people – and to be honest, it’s only in recent months I acknowledged I have my own manifestations of anxiety. As I’m currently feeling extremely anxious, I thought now would be a good time to put my thoughts and observations “down on paper” — so to speak.

The biggest and most obvious way anxiety appears in my everyday life is in my need to be liked. I cannot bear the thought I might do or say something to cause someone to think ill of me. I’m left with a pounding heart, shaking hands, I’m unable to speak and on the verge of tears.

Socially, this is difficult. I’m happy and comfortable around friends I have known for decades. I can say and share anything and we have a level of trust, support, friendship and love that balances any fear I may have. I am still nervous about saying the wrong thing, but I trust the consequences won’t be devastating – we listen, we learn, we forgive, we move on.

Outside that support network, it’s trickier. In work situations, it’s much trickier. In casual social outings or being introduced to strangers it’s hideously tricky. What if I say the wrong thing? What if I haven’t read their vibe and personality correctly? What if they judge me before they know me?

I don’t know where my fear of being disliked came from. Perhaps it was my mother always worrying, “What would the neighbors think?” Perhaps it was learning as a youngster that other people’s feelings are more important than my own. Perhaps it is my nature, not my nurture that makes me afraid of this. Who knows? It doesn’t really matter in the end – I am nice to everyone and I hope they might be nice to me.

My anxiety also brings a major fear of conflict.

I don’t fight. Ever. I will stand up for my beliefs. I can have a discussion with an alternate point of view. But I won’t fight with you. I can’t do it. You can yell and scream at me until you’re blue in the face, and I will stand frozen to the spot chanting, This too shall pass, silently in my head.

If major conflict arises in the workplace, I will probably resign. I’ve done it before. I would do it again. It shames me to say that. I feel like I have no emotional fortitude, but I can’t do conflict.

Unfortunately, there are also times when my pathological fear of conflict wars with my pathological need to be responsible – to care for others and defend those who can’t defend themselves. In a group setting, I steer clear of conflict – at any cost. But in a group setting, I also need to ensure everyone feels heard and understood and represented. Sometimes I will speak up – usually at a high personal cost. I will choose personal humiliation and grief over abandoning my moral compass which can sometimes leave me in a lose-lose situation. I become extremely anxious and distressed regardless of which path I choose.

Everyday life normally trots on by OK for me. I don’t have major panic attacks. When things are going well, I manage fears the same way I manage all my other emotions – I ignore them. Every single day is scattered with a thousand little moments of fear I try to ignore. There’s no relaxation or down time until I’m curled up in my pajamas. And to calm the chaos in my head, I’ve become extremely adept at organizing the chaos around me.

 

When everyday life throws curve balls, that’s when my anxiety quickly skyrockets. And when the rockets are skyward bound, that’s when thoughts of self-harm and disordered eating behaviors flare out of control. The unknown is a bad place for me to be and it is easy to yearn for old coping behaviors that numb difficult emotions and still those runaway thoughts.

I read somewhere that 2017 is the year of the Rooster, and that after the pesky Monkey messed around with everything last year, the Rooster will bring good luck and prosperity. I am depending on that little Rooster to calm my nerves and create a positive mindset so my anxious thoughts can settle and not escalate.

This too shall pass…

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The thought process of anxiety is relatively well-known in today’s world. You don’t have to search for long before you find a list of all the varying states of mind that can be attributed to anxiety. Thoughts of, “I can’t do this,” “They think I’m faking” or even “I need to leave” are all relatively “standard.” However, the physical symptoms of anxiety are often overlooked.

I have struggled with anxiety for a long time now, and whilst I have had the “normal” thought processes of someone with anxiety, it is the physical side I really hate. Personally, I try to hide my symptoms, as do many others with anxiety, but when your mental state starts to affect your body it becomes a lot harder to disguise.

Chest pains — not just a tightening but true stabbing pains to the heart. At one time I was in so much pain I had to consult my doctor because I was terrified my heart was failing. I was fine, but the pain was very real. I’ve also had severe stomach cramps where I’ve had to leave a room to dry heave. All I could think was, “Have I eaten something wrong?” I hadn’t, and I was simply uncomfortable with the conversation I was having. I’ve had my legs go weak and almost buckle beneath me. I’ve had to brace myself between two walls because I thought I was going to collapse.

My experience of anxiety has mostly been with the physical symptoms. It took a long time for me to realize what was causing them. I expect there are others out there too who struggle with such things. The issue is, when you go to a doctor about chest pains, they look at your heart. If your stomach is hurting, they may look at your diet or give you something to settle it. In my experience, it’s quite rare for someone to make the link to the brain.

For me, I rarely experience the anxious thoughts anymore. I only have pain. I have my legs cramp along with my neck. I clutching my chest, trying to slow my breathing. There is very little I can do to stop these symptoms, as normally I can’t quite determine what is causing them.

Mental illness is not just a condition of the mind; it can affect the entire body in ways you wouldn’t immediately think. Learning to understand and recognize these physical symptoms is essential. It is essential because it does not matter how many irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) tablets you take — that pain will not subside until you relax, which is easier said than done for most people who live with anxiety.

So the next time your chest flares or your legs wobble, make a note of the situation you are in. Trying leaving the room or area. Learning the difference between actual physical illness and that caused by mental conditions will save you a lot of time and worry.

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I have always been the prepared one — maybe even too prepared:

The girl who double checked her school supply list before the first day to make sure she had everything just right.

The girl who analyzed project and assignment rubrics extensively to make sure the submitted work was perfection.

The girl who spent at least double the time the average student did preparing for a test, making sure not a single fact was overlooked.

The girl who never settled.

The girl who was never satisfied.

The girl who never felt “good” was “good enough.”

The girl who didn’t realize this push for perfection was more than just being a “good student, an overachiever.”

The girl who had normalized excessive anxiety and stress for far too long.

The girl who did not realize the damage excessive perfectionism and unrealistic self-set expectations can cause until it was far too late.

The anxiety became overwhelming. Unbearable. All-consuming.

The idea of not being “enough” popped into my head.

The average person may get that idea in their head from time to time, then let it go … but I could not.

The little idea turned into a fear.

Am I not good enough? Am I not trying hard enough? Is my best effort not going to get me anywhere? Am I going to be a complete failure?

The little thought escalated into an obsession. Soon, all I could see was the possibility of failure. It was everywhere. It haunted me constantly. It deprived me of my sleep. It broke me down until others could barely recognize me.

It took away my ability to see any future for myself.

It sent me into a major depression, stripped me of my personality and my happiness. It made me ill.

Nothing had prepared me for an illness which made me feel worthless.

Nothing had prepared me for an illness which made me feel like such a burden.

Nothing had prepared me for an illness which made me convinced suicide was the answer.

Nothing had prepared me for dealing with depression.

Four years ago, I thought I would be graduating this May, prepared for the adult world after four years of an amazing college experience. I never imagined I would take a semester off for depression. I never imagined I would take yet another semester off for full-blown mania. I never imagined I would be mentally ill.

College is meant to be an opportunity for growth, self-discovery and new experiences. I have grown, but I still have a lot of recovering to do to become my personal best.

I have discovered myself, but only after tearing myself down through anxiety and depression.

I have had new experiences which have shaped my values and future goals, but they are not the type of experiences I would wish upon anyone.

College has shaped me, but not in a way I could ever have prepared myself for.

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, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Editor’s note: If you live with an eating disorder, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “NEDA” to 741-741.

My anxiety likes to tell me I can’t better myself. It likes to tell me I’m incapable of change. This, combined with the binge eating disorder I developed as a coping mechanism for my anxiety, has seen my weight fluctuate across a 60-pound range since I hit puberty. Having a body type that is not society’s definition of beautiful or healthy only encouraged my anxiety in lowering my self-image.

Since I began treatment for my anxiety a few months ago, I have been pushing myself emotionally and I’m making great strides. I decided to start trying to make some changes anxiety has kept me from in the past. As I gained some control over my binge eating, I thought adding regular exercise into my routine could have multiple benefits. The stress relief, the outlet for physical anxiety symptoms and happy brain chemicals being created would all benefit me with my anxiety. What I didn’t expect was what my anxiety would tell me while I exercised.

What my anxiety told me:

1. “You are weak.”
2. “You can’t do this.”
3. “Who do you think you are?”
4. “You aren’t capable of being better.”
5. “You’re just a fat, lazy slob — you can’t be anything else.”
6. “Why are you even doing this if you’re just going to binge it away tomorrow?”
7. “You could never have enough strength to see this through.”
8. “If you’re not going to see this through, why even start?”
9. “Why are you even trying?”
10. “You’re not going to get anywhere.”
11. “There are grandmas who could do this better than you.”
12. “What makes you think you are worth the effort?”
13. “You probably look like an idiot.”
14. “If anyone saw this they would laugh at you.”
15. “This effort is laughable.”
16. “If you’re not going to give it your all, why are you even trying?”
17. “That’s not your all! You should have done better!”
18. “If you’re so weak that you can’t do better, then you should give up right now.”
19. “You are weak.”
20. “You’ll never be strong.”

This is what I said back to my anxiety:
1. You can do this.
2. You just did this two days ago.
3. Just push a little more.
4. You got this.
5. You. Can. Do. This.

Multiple tears fell down my face as I pushed through different portions of my workout. My anxiety got louder and louder the longer I went, so I screamed back at it in my mind. I did not quit, but I was too exhausted at the end to claim any sort of victory. The next time someone tells you exercise is more of a mental battle for them than a physical one, I’d like you to think of this before you judge them as unmotivated. It is literally a battle in the mind for some people. It’s a battle that, even when won, is met with disdain in my mind because I had to fight it at all.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, you can call the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

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I have been wanting to write this for a while — for three months, in fact. The thing is, however, that between my anxiety and my first foray into the workplace, I haven’t been all that together lately. Coming into the world of work (as they keep telling me it’s called) carrying my anxiety with me has been like carrying a giant orangutan on my back. (For a very funny real example watch this great advert by a staple in South African culture here.)

Having a mental illness in the workplace is still more hushed than most spaces I’ve encountered. I’ve seen it unspoken in school, broached in University, and now it’s back to unspoken. Having a mental illness in the workplace is vastly prolific, yet still not as addressed as issues like chronic illness and lifestyle diseases (which are very worthy of being addressed, of course). A study in South Africa, where I live, found that almost a quarter of the workforce were diagnosed with depression.

So while I’m carrying my monkey on my back, I suspect so are a large portion of my co-workers. But so far, no one has addressed this. Here is what I wish my employers knew, so I could be supported instead of feeling like hiding.

1. Anxiety doesn’t make me less productive.

Just because I have a mental illness (multiple in fact) does not make me or any other person less employable. In fact, those with mental illnesses often have very hard-won coping mechanisms that enable us to deal with daily life effectively. These coping mechanisms have helped me in my own life — things like recognizing and practicing self-care, learning to prioritize stresses and let go of ones if I can, and taking time out to regroup. I can function both because of and despite my anxiety.

2. My mental illness needs to be acknowledged.

My mental illness may affect my daily life and make certain tasks more difficult. Certain periods are much harder when I’m having a bad cycle, and having the support and understanding of my co-workers would mean the world to me to banish the nagging negative self-talk that often accompanies a bad phase. Acknowledging my mental illness could help me realize I have nothing to be ashamed of, a thought that often strikes when I’m in the middle of something — like a panic attack in the bathroom, which happens all too often. I might need the understanding to have my own way of working, whether it’s rejecting the very popular open-plan workspaces, or needing personal meetings to maintain direction.

3. I am not about to fall apart.

I may have my fragile moments, but I am not fragile. I have come this far and I intend to keep pursuing my goals, with my anxiety along for the ride. But…

4. I might feel like I’m about to fall apart.

Just because I have survived thus far doesn’t always mean I remember that or feel like it will always be true. An encouraging word here and there helps to remind me I am successful, despite what I may be thinking.

5. I might miss work, but it’s not because I’m lazy.

Sometimes I may need a day to sleep, rest, catch up on self-care and generally recharge to be able to function at work. Not allowing me the time to have a day off without needing a doctor’s note may make me push through when my reserves are already at 1 percent.

6. I might need some help adjusting.

These five steps could help validate, support and encourage me at work. In essence what someone needs from an employer is understanding and the space to come forward with personal battles without being belittled, unheard or disregarded. In this way, the workplace can become less about the unseen monkeys being carried, and more about the joint efforts going into work with them. In fact, if I could talk about my monkey, maybe my employer could reveal theirs. In this way, work becomes less about hierarchies and unseen despair traps, and more about shared experiences and the ability to work together, instead of work apart.

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Baking and cake decorating calm me. I don’t know why. I didn’t do it prior to my “implosion” last year, yet it is without a doubt my calming technique.

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.

That’s exactly why I want to try to articulate some of what I experience. This is not an attempt to preach, to educate or to self-promote. It is simply a step for me as I aim to do my bit to reduce the stigma around mental health.

I will try to keep it succinct, relevant and clear. I just hope this gives an insight into the ways my anxiety has affected me over the past 12 months.

It is important to remember anxiety is not one-size-fits-all; people have different triggers, ways of coping and struggles. These do not always make sense, and they cannot necessarily be pinpointed. I still can’t speak to someone I know on the phone without it becoming a real ordeal, yet I can go to a foreign country and speak to a sales assistant there. Go figure. The following is all purely my experience, and while there are similarities between people I would never profess to be speaking on behalf of all those who experience anxiety.

Here goes, some things that are going on in there…

1. It’s exhausting just “being.”

My mind is concocting 100 possible scenarios for every passing moment and they all seem to need processing. It’s like cramming for an exam and trying to work through textbooks full of information all the time. Not just for a few hours — we are talking about every waking moment. No matter what.

2. When told not to worry about something, that isn’t actually an option.

Logically I may know it’s not worth worrying about, but that doesn’t change my feelings. Embellishing on this point — there is no logic. This is torture for someone who likes things to be black and white. Until now I have rarely dealt with gray, let alone a whole spectrum ranging from charcoal to silver, or mercury to light black.

An example of this irrational worrying was when I was sitting in a Starbucks recently. I knew, when I chose to leave, it was highly unlikely I would slip over, trip over a bag, fall through the door and get outside to find someone waiting for me with a gun — all as a pigeon shat on me. However, even though I knew this, I did not feel this. The fear I had was gripping, as though it were a guaranteed series of events. Knowing and feeling are not connected for me at the moment. Frustratingly, this means I know they aren’t connected, but I can’t do anything with this knowledge to regulate my feelings.

3. While I am great at playing devil’s advocate, please don’t assume I’m negative.

Yes, I may not be able to stop myself seeing many negative outcomes, but that doesn’t mean I am a pessimist. In fact, I always try to be optimistic and strive to help my friends see and achieve the positive, and I am incredibly grateful for everything I have.

4. “Friendship” is so much more than a word.

I am floored by how amazing some people in my life are. I know they don’t all fully “get” what is going on with me, yet they love the “me” behind all this confusion.

Recently in Vegas, I had a “bad day”. Even looking at our room door left me shaking and in tears. I was pretty freaked out myself, so I can only imagine how my friend felt. Not only was she faced with a crying incomprehensible wreck, but also she was on holiday and this inexplicable situation was stopping the two of us going out. This friend did the best thing possible — she just sat and held me, then she tucked me up and ventured downstairs to the shop to buy us snacks. What she may never understand is the real comfort was that I knew she didn’t expect or need an explanation. She just let me be.

The knowledge there are people like her in my life is the single greatest comfort I have. This also brings trust to a new level with them, meaning when they say it will be OK I am able to blindly believe it. I may be able to argue against them with examples and facts to the contrary of what they say (devil’s advocate striking again!) but with this select few, I am able to accept they must be right.

5. Sometimes I am still a badass!

I’ve always been of the “grow up and get over it” mindset, which I have discovered doesn’t mesh well with anxiety. It’s simply not possible. Really. It’s not. I tried – and I used to be so good at it! That said, I do occasionally have moments when “Grrr Liz” strikes.

On Monday I went to a networking meeting for the first time. I. Was. Terrified.

Rather than try and put up a front, I tackled the meeting as myself — I opened up about my anxiety at the same time as introducing my business, and I found people accepting both of me and what I was doing. I couldn’t have asked for a better or nicer group of people. The support and inspiration I found was above anything I could have expected; I have received more messages of support and encouragement since the meeting, and I am delighted I went.

When I left I was shaking, and I know, when I go to the next meeting, I’ll be dreading it. This is because my anxiety will heighten. Bigger than this knowledge is the fact I also know that while I may always struggle in social situations, it doesn’t mean I have to avoid them forever.

Accepting who I am and what my boundaries are is something I have struggled with before, and the fact I am learning to do so now is badass enough in itself.

6. I have had to accept there is no shelf life to my situation.

There are good days and bad days. Heck, there are good hours and bad hours. Sadly I can go for a lovely meal with Mr. BuBakes, have a wonderful evening with him, and then go to bed and lay awake for hours wondering if it was all a smoke screen for the fact he actually hates who I am.

The only way I can think to explain this is to compare it to the morning after a heavy night. Imagine the following…

It’s 11.30 a.m. and you think you have gotten away with not feeling after-effects. You’ve gone into town for a walk and a cuppa, and just as you get to your table with your coffee a wave of nausea sweeps over you. You have no choice but to concentrate solely on not being sick, and you can feel yourself starting to sweat. You know you are nodding blankly at the person talking to you, and all you can think is whether you can make it home or not — and how to excuse yourself.

That feeling of “how on Earth did I think I had gotten away with it” is similar to my thinking “how did I think I was going to have a good day that would last”. Although you know you will be OK again eventually, you can’t feel in any part of your body or soul that the hangover will ever end.

It must be a frustrating thing for those around me, and every part of me thinks that they must be bored of me and my bad days by now. It makes it very scary to tell someone if it is a “bad day”, just in case that might become the last straw for him or her.

7. I don’t believe people with anxiety deserve some sort of pat on the back for having “it.”

It is not heroic to have a condition; what is important is to do what people do all over the world in so many different situations, and make the absolute best of what you have.

Acknowledge limitations, but don’t allow an illness to limit your potential. Adjust your focus to accept factors in your life and then keep going.

8. If someone with anxiety asks you for help then that’s a huge compliment.

In my case, not only am I ridiculously proud, stubborn and afraid of failure, but also I fear that — if I were to ask someone for help — they would feel obliged to help me or listen to me. They may be bored and wishing I’d shut up … you can see my train of thought gathering momentum here. If someone has reached out to you then be proud – you really are trusted.

9. I have felt anxious before; that is not the same as having this anxiety.

It’s natural to feel anxious about something bad that could happen, but it is not the same when you are anxious about multiple unlikely events at once, and remember this is the case all the time.

I liken this to a moment you almost have a car bump/step into a road when you shouldn’t. You gasp and it’s like you actually feel your heart jump. That “jumping” feeling doesn’t go away for me, I am constantly in that moment of “gasp.”

10. This is not a choice, an easy way out, laziness or a way to get attention.

It saddens and pains me to have to even point this out.

There are so many other things I could say — I do worry I am boring you all though. I guess I would just say that, if you know someone who is struggling with anxiety, this is not a be-all and end-all guide. Just know the fact you may not be able to fully understand their situation doesn’t mean you can’t help them deal with it. Perhaps seeing if any of these points ring true could be a way to open communication with them.

If you life with anxiety and you have any ways in which it affects you that you think others should be aware of, then do please share them if you feel happy to do so. My interest in the condition reaches far beyond my situation, and I would be honored if you would give me an insight into your battles.

Thanks for reading, and take care everyone.

Bu xx

Follow this journey on bubakes.co.uk.

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