Cheerful young couple in the morning at home.

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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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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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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It can be hard to know what to say when someone you love is dealing with anxiety. Part of the problem is there’s no magic combination of words guaranteed to make anxiety go away — and how you support someone who’s anxious depends on who they are and what they need.

But when Callie Theodore told her boyfriend she was feeling insecure about their relationship, his answer was pretty much as perfect as you can get.

Callie posted a screenshot of their conversation on Facebook, and his response — and her message — has been shared over 130,000. Her post also appeared on Love What Matters.

“Someone with anxiety is inclined to assume everyone is going to leave. The truth is they battle something they can’t control,” she wrote. “Find yourself someone who doesn’t make you feel like loving you is a job.”

Callie said she decided to share this conversation on Facebook because she wanted others who are in a dark place to know they aren’t alone.

 “This post was never meant to go viral, but I am so blessed in did. People from all other world are telling me my post saved their life and that it gives them hope,” she told The Mighty.


Her entire post read:

Someone with anxiety is inclined to assume everyone is going to leave. The truth is they battle something they can’t control and there is a sense of insecurity within themselves when it comes to relationships and simply, just life. They know it’s difficult and they don’t want to burden you with their irrational thoughts and worries. So instead, they try to push you away before you get the chance to leave yourself. That’s the reality.

It’s hard loving someone who suffers from anxiety. They will be over sensitive, they will make up scenarios in their head causing an argument, and constant reassurance is needed.

Find yourself someone who doesn’t make you feel like loving you is a job. Someone who will assure of you the little things. Someone who doesn’t tell you that you’re overreacting. Someone that will rock you on the floor in the dead middle of an anxiety attack. Find someone that no matter how hard you push them- they do not leave.

There are people out there like that. People that calm you and bring you a sense of security- that will be stronger than any dose of medication that can be prescribed.

You may have anxiety, but anxiety doesn’t have you.

Inspired by her sweet post, we wanted to know what other people needed to hear from their significant other when a rough moment with anxiety. So, we asked our mental health community.

Here’s what they told us:

‘You are not your anxiety.’ He reminds me of this all the time. He reminds me how much fun he has with me, how he loves me unconditionally and how he would be so unhappy without me. He has to do this so often thank God I have such a patient and supportive husband.” — Megan R.

“I used to be in a relationship with a person who didn’t understand my anxiety, so when we had fights he would tell me, ‘Why do cry so much?’ ‘Why do you overreact about a single discussion.’ So if I had a mental breakdown in front of him I had to hide it because he would tell me, ‘Why are with me if you’re going to end up crying and shaking like that’… eventually I’d hide from him if I felt anxious and made me feel ashamed of my illness… it’s hard to feel judge from the person you love… I guess the best thing to hear is I don’t really understand what is going on you but I support you… and be there in the mental crisis, just holding my hands can make a difference.” — Daniel S.

“‘We’ve got this! This isn’t my life or your life. It’s our life. We are in this together today, tomorrow and forever.’ I cried like a baby when he said this to me.” — Tracy K.

“When I get lost in doubt, he reminds me that he loves me and if he didn’t still love me more than anything in the world, he wouldn’t still be here. The evidence is important to me. When my fiancé proposed, the first thing I said was, ‘Are you sure?’ Anxiety likes to be a doubting jerk, but my fiancé is pretty awesome and smacks it out of the way real fast.” — Erin W.

I am humble enough to admit I don’t understand what you’re going through, not a slightest clue, but let me assure you I will be by your side no matter what happens. I love you and it is important for me that you feel that and see that from me. Help me help you get through this. We are in this together.” — Mark T.

‘I am so proud of you. After everything this life has thrown at you, you’re still here. You have fought like hell to be the woman you are today and nothing can take that from you… not even your anxiety. I’m right here and always will be.‘ I’m so blessed.” — Mary C.

“No matter what, I will always be here for you. If you need a shoulder to rest on, I’m here. If you need someone to talk to, I will listen, I will understand and I will hug you until your anxieties go away. No matter what, I loved you..” — Azis N.

“My husband usually tells me, ‘You’ve been my Crazy Lady from the beginning and it’s never bothered me before, it’s not about to start bothering me now.’  Then he kisses me on the forehead and runs me a bath.” — Amanda K.

“I’ll always love you for who you are.” — Erik H.

“Ask me if there’s something they can do, and be content if I say there’s nothing. Sometimes all I need is a hug for something small… just being there without making me feel bad for getting anxious is the most important.” — Maddy F.

“They aren’t going anywhere. My boyfriend (now husband) would tell me, ‘I don’t know what it’s like to have anxiety but I’m not going anywhere.’ He would do this while holding my hand. He instantly calms me with his touch. I do the same for him when he’s stressed. Just his acknowledgment of my ‘freak out; in such a calming and understanding way meant a lot. He just listens and doesn’t have to say much.” — Kylie A.

“He always helps me determine if it’s my anxiety or something else. No matter what I say he knows just by the look on my face when I’m anxious. He’s very in tune with me and my emotional needs. He always tells me he loves me and how I feel isn’t wrong, even if it sometimes is lol.” — Juli K.

“‘I love you babe’ the most powerful thing she says to me. It makes us seem more real and a certain thing rather than what my anxiety wants me to believe.” — Ethan H.

“I feel like sometimes I don’t want to hear anything from my significant other when I am doubting our relationship. All I really ever want is to just be held. When he’s calm and he hugs me, I begin to feel calm too…” — Alex T.

‘I understand’ would be greatly appreciated and not being told to ‘calm down’ or start pointing out all the embarrassing things I am doing…. That’d be grand. — Jenny W.

“I remember once I was driving home from a date with my boyfriend, and I had a huge anxiety attack. I felt convinced that he was over me and the relationship was over. I cried and cried and we had a long talk about it all. The one thing I remember him saying to me was, ‘Your anxiety tells you that you’re this awful person that doesn’t deserve to be loved, but maybe it’s what makes you the most beautiful woman I know.‘ It really resonated with me, and it helped me a lot that day.” — Carolyn A.

“Even though I’m married, I’m always ashamed of how I have breakdowns over the most littlest things. I automatically feel like, who would want to be with me, willingly? Thankfully, he’s always there to remind me that I’m perfect in his eyes and I’ve conquered a lot in my life.” — Leeann L.

“‘I love you and we can get through anything together!’ He doesn’t always understand my anxiety or why I doubt myself or us, but he reminds me that he loves me and I’m not alone in my struggle.” — Bree C.

“My husbands magical weapon for me is laughter! Make me laugh and all my anxiety goes away, instantly. I pretty much just drop whatever was getting me riled up. Great life hack.” — Christa C.

There are the quirky, small things that make you, you. Then, there are the things you do because of anxiety. While personality traits and anxious habits can blend together, to an outsider it’s not always clear which of these “habits” are driven by anxiety. Whether it makes you look “rude” (avoiding phone calls, canceling plans) or “odd” (leaving a social setting quickly, bouncing your leg) — it can be hard when others judge you based on these actions without knowing what’s going on inside your head.

To find out some habits of people who have anxiety, we asked our mental health community to share one thing people might not realize they’re doing because of anxiety.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “I run my hands along my face and neck, scanning for imperfections (acne, facial hair, scabs), and I pick at them. Sometimes until the spot is bleeding or I’ve hurt myself.” — Nana M.

2. “I apologize for anything and everything that might seem like it would be an inconvenience for anyone… whether I can control it or not.” — Tamara J.

3. “If I start to feel overwhelmed I have to go somewhere else. Sometimes that means I zone out even in the middle of conversations. Other times I have to run out of the room so I can go cry and freak out. It’s not that I don’t like people; they just overwhelm me at times.” — Becca W.

4. “Getting irritable and snapping at little things. This is often accompanied by sensory overload. When I have a panic attack, my thoughts are so intense and engulfing that I could lose my cool at the drop of a hat. I’m normally kind and patient, but sometimes my mind just won’t stop.” — Shelby S.

5. “People don’t realize I shake constantly because of my anxiety. I often blame it on being cold because I don’t want people to know I’m having a panic attack and feel like I’m about to pass out.” — Ally M.

6. “Forgetting random things of varying importance. My mind is so overtaxed just getting through the day, things sometimes slip… sorry…” — Trüth B.

7. “I take everything personally. Even though it may have been a small mistake/error, it will expand and take over my mind and I will be thinking about it all day.” — Jeremy C.

8. “I space out, even in the middle of a conversation, if my anxiety gets too bad. I can go from completely engaged in the conversation to just physically there in a matter of seconds.” — Alicia S.

9. “I scroll through my phone. It looks like I’m not paying attention or don’t want to be with whoever is there, but I do I just need an extra distraction. I also have ADD so I can be mindlessly scrolling through an app on my phone and be engaged in conversation; it’s just my anxiety is overwhelming if I don’t have that distraction.” — Liz T.

10. “For me it’s playing with my hair, not talking on the phone at all, not participating in anything. Shaking and stuttering. I sometimes even forget how to even form sentences.” — Lily S.

11. “Worrying about every little thing to the point where it annoys people, but it’s not my fault I can’t stop worrying and dwelling.” — Amanda A.

12. “I constantly shake my legs… I have since a child… I don’t even realize I’m doing it until someone brings it to my attention.” — Davin T.

13. “I get really really quiet — to where people don’t even know I’m in my office. I start to detach and zone out, and people will remark how they haven’t seen me all day.” — Carolyn A.

14. “Biting my nails and the skin on my hands until they bleed. I have permanent scars on my hands now — I hate them. People just think I have a bad nail biting habit.” — Molly E.

15. “Comfort eating constantly. Not just because I have a big appetite. If I’m anxious, I will just eat. Even if I’m extremely full.” — Holly M.

16. “I talk a lot in social settings, which seems a bit odd for someone with social anxiety, but I can’t handle any prolonged silence when in a group. I get very anxious, and then I start talking. The more I talk the more I get caught up in the anxiety and as can be predicted, I usually say inappropriate things that in turn increases my anxiety and the talking, and I repeat the cycle. It’s horrible, especially if there’s alcohol involved.” — Mindy W.

17. “If I frantically leave a room, I can promise it is only because I’m experiencing a sensory overload and my anxiety is through the roof. It gives me even more anxiety to feel like I’m being rude, but the idea of having a panic attack in front of people is too brutal to continue standing in the room.” — Alexa K.

18. “People don’t realize my jitteriness (leg shaking/tapping on desks) is because of my anxiety. If I don’t do something to release nervous energy, it just builds up inside, which is much worse.” — Liz P.

19. “Talking out loud to myself and narrating my actions and surroundings to myself. Like, ‘I am here, sitting at my desk, I have a stack of papers here, here are my pens, my tea cup feels warm in my hand, I am turning my computer on now…’ This is actually soothing to me, and I’ve done it since I was a little girl.” — Andréa V.

20. “I go to the restroom a lot. Probably half of the time I go when I am in public is because I need a break. Yeah, anxiety makes hanging out in a small cramped bathroom stall my comfort zone. I can be alone and get a break from the social situation that is causing my anxiety.” — Desiree N.

21. “Over-planning trips. Crying. Not being able to sleep. Being overly protective (even of friends). Canceling plans/trip/party. Picking at sores/scabs/zits. Hurting oneself. Overcompensating.” — Ciara C.

22. “Stretching at my desk. Sure, it’s a good idea to do when you mostly sit for your job, but it also helps ‘ground’ me when my anxiety spikes and helps me not dissociate or spiral out of control with my thoughts.” — Chriss T.

23. “I sleep a lot. I guess it looks like laziness to most, but being with or meeting other people drains me from energy. I can be tired for days after meeting/talking with somebody. Even being with my friends can drain my energy to below zero. Lately it has been so bad, I’e started to isolate myself because I just don’t have the energy anymore.” — Sanne V.

24. “Awkward laugh. I don’t do it intentionally, but often when I’m uncomfortable, I’ll catch myself laughing after saying something or during an awkward silence. I hate that I do it and I try not to, but it just seems to be my body’s reaction when I’m anxious in a social situation.” — Keira H.

25. “Nagging. Sometimes I can be really bossy or nag people because I’m trying to feel in control of something. For example, I get really bad anxiety in cars and I will constantly ask my husband to slow down, even if we are going below the speed limit. Another one is also over-preparing. I’m always packing the diaper bag with a million things ‘just in case…” because I have run through every nightmare scenario in my mind and I feel like if I don’t have enough supplies for three days+ for each kid, then something bad will happen.” — Sabrina H.

26. “I space out a lot. Sometimes I even forget who I’m with or where I’m at. I cry spontaneously over really little things. I always ask for a specific person when I have an attack even if I’m surrounded by others that care. They all seem to think it’s because they aren’t helping or that they’re scaring me but it’s not any of that. It really sucks sometimes.” — Gennie A.

27. “I’m forgetful and scared I’m going to forget something important. I keep three calendars which are always updated identically, and I carry them with me. I make to-do lists. There are tons of alarms and reminder alerts on my phone because of this.” — Kristin S.

28. “Being indecisive. People think I’m just being picky and can’t make up my mind, but honestly I’m freaking out because you might hate me if I chose the wrong one.” — Angie B.

29. “I always have my headphones in because I’m really sensitive to noise. It’s easier to block out all the noise for me, but people find it really rude. I also mess with my hair a lot and talk really soft.” — Alex R.

30. “I play with my hair, either wrapping it around my fingers or knotting and unknotting it. People take it the wrong way and assume I’m either being really ignorant or even flirty sometimes but I really cant help it.” — Sophie D.

31. “Being really quiet… I’m probably either ruminating about something I shouldn’t be ruminating about and I’m trying not to mention it, or I’m mentally exhausted and trying to exist as little as possible for a while.” — Moonjay R.

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