Four oranges grouped together

How an Orange Helped Me Through My Panic Attack

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Mindfulness is about being aware of what we are doing and experiencing; it forces the brain to be in the here and now, which can help stop anxious thoughts in their tracks. It’s about learning how to control what you spend your attention on.

Not only did the orange give me tools to tackle my anxiety, it taught me a valuable lesson about making snap judgments and a little bit about my own humility.

About two years ago, I had hit a rough patch. I’d reached out to a wellness program run by my health insurance company and they sent me a packet about stress management. It had all the basic information: “Take a walk, call a friend, say no to new projects.” But tucked in the middle of the book was a paragraph about eating an orange. I thought the whole concept was ridiculous. How could eating an orange change my life? How would that help my anxiety? I laughed, I mocked and I shared with friends so they could mock it, too.

Then one night a few months later, I had a panic attack while home alone with and happened to have a bowl full of oranges in the kitchen. What happened next changed my life. I grabbed the little sheet of paper with the exercise on it, grabbed an orange and made myself comfortable.

Then I got to work. I took my time eating the orange. I made sure to focus all my thoughts and energy into that orange. I was completely present in the moment. I felt the orange, smelled the orange, looked at the orange. I thought about the rain and sun that it took to grow the orange. I thought about the long road the orange had to take to get to me. I thought about the scars on the peel of the orange, and when I took that first sweet juicy bite, I realized that none of those scars changed how absolutely divine the orange was on the inside.

Not only did it help with that particular panic attack, because it forced my brain to be present in the moment and didn’t allow me to worry about the “what ifs” and obsess over what had triggered the attack in the first place. It also changed my opinion of myself.

I have many scars myself: I used to self-harm. I have surgical scars. My broken nose is a lasting reminder of past trauma. My fragile skin shows scars from the silliest of things, too, and the emotional scar list could go on for miles.

I always used to think that these scars made me less valuable. After eating that orange, and realizing that the sweetest, most desirable part was on the inside and was still perfect despite the scars on its skin, I realized I still have value, too. My scars do not determine my worth, and neither do yours.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

A version of this post appeared on The Story of Spoonies.

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What Doctors Should Know About Patients With Anxiety

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Thinking about going to the doctor creates stress and anxiety for me. Actually going can bring on a panic attack. This has given me a reputation with doctors and creates a problem for me. I am torn between disclosing my anxiety diagnosis and trying to hide it — albeit hard.

In my experience, doctors would trace every symptom back to my anxiety. It took me years to find a specialist who took me seriously and believed that some of my physical symptoms were not manifestations of anxiety, but had actual physical causes.

I am aware that anxiety can manifest itself in the body in unusual and surprising ways, but that shouldn’t be cause for neglect of the patient. Sometimes physical illnesses are overlooked and not treated properly because a patient has a mental illness.

Doctors need to understand the needs of the patient and accommodate them to the best of their ability. To help and to heal, not create more damage and harm. Sometimes they might need a reminder.

If you are a doctor who has a patient with anxiety or any other mental health condition, please consider the following:

Understand we are people. We need a little extra kindness and compassion.We might already be nervous and anxious about being there. Try to do whatever you can to create a relaxing environment.

Listen to what we have to say. If you don’t take us seriously or brush us off, that can make us feel even more isolated and alone, and feel that we may never find someone who understands us. All we want is relief. If I tell you my stomach is constantly bothering me, order a CT scan or an actual test. Don’t tell me to take more anxiety meds and try to relax. Your job is to explore all possibilities. And while anxiety might be one of them, it is not all of them.

Reassure us that you heard us and understand us. Explain things to us in a way we can easily understand, and let us participate in our treatment. You may know medicine, but we know our bodies.

Understand that what you write down in our chart will follow us to other specialists and doctors, and that what you write about us might be what other doctors will believe, too. This might prevent us from getting the care that we really need.

The bottom line is that people with anxiety can get sick in their bodies. People with mental illnesses can get physically sick. We need proper care. We deserve it.

A special thank you to the few, but great doctors out there who have taken me seriously and explored all the options.

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Just Because I'm 'Better' Doesn't Mean I Don't Still Have Anxiety Symptoms

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My anxiety was a long, unwavering journey.

It wasn’t just me who was affected by it, everyone in my life felt its impact in various ways. Whether it was helping me through an attack or seeing me struggling to breathe when out shopping or in class or just seeing me crying as I walk by.

It’s been difficult. I have tried everything I could do to get better and it’s worked, but I still continue to regularly feel symptoms of my mental illness. Now I just know how to manage them.

Every day has become different. I can’t predict what it’ll entail. When I was at my worst, each day was a routine. Somehow I had associated certain places or things with having attacks, so whenever I approached them, they became triggers. This became a struggle when I had to face them each day or I wouldn’t pass my exams or I wouldn’t have a social life. I’d have ended up isolated.

Thankfully, I realized it was due to perspective and the things I deemed “scary,” actually weren’t. I could face them. In fact, I did face them and I got better. Or for starters, the panic attacks lessened. I used to have at least a dozen attacks every single day. Now, I don’t even know when the last one I had was. My days are no longer encompassed by worry of when a panic attack will come. If I have one, I have one and that’s OK. I will survive it and it won’t make me relapse.

Inevitably, I still get the symptoms of anxiety. Just because I’m “better,” doesn’t mean it’ll leave me. Currently, I can feel nauseous due to the slightest stressors and fatigue often consumes me. I still get the mental aspects as well, but these days, it is easier for me to shut the omnipotent thoughts away. I know how to manage my illness and after such a long journey, I finally feel like I can overcome what it derailed of my life. I know my anxiety. I know I am stronger than it.

Mental illness isn’t a choice. But I realized I needed to make the right choices for me so I could get better.

No matter if I have good days or bad days, I will be OK.

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To My Student, From Your Teacher Who Has Anxiety Too

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Dear Student,     

Recently I noticed you were missing more classes than usual. I wondered and worried about what was going on. Did you not want to do the work or simply stop caring? Did the classes become boring or unhelpful? Or was it something else? Then you asked me to talk after class and what you shared touched me in a deep way.

You said that you have been trying your best, but you are dealing with many challenges in life right now. Specifically, you explained you have been struggling with anxiety that is ruining everything. You described the cycle of getting overwhelmed by circumstances that exacerbate your anxiety, which in turn makes those circumstances worse. You articulated how difficult it can be to interact with classmates who you don’t feel comfortable with. You told me sometimes you are on your way to class, then get too anxious and turn around. You said you were sorry and you weren’t doing this on purpose.

My first thought then and now is “thank you.” Thank you for your honesty and courage. I know it took a lot for you to show up and even more to speak up. You may not believe this right now, but you are brave and you are strong.

I am not sure what made you feel comfortable enough to reach out, but perhaps you caught on to the subtle signs that I struggle with anxiety too. Maybe you noticed the way my voice shakes as I sometimes stumble over words standing in front of our class. Maybe you sensed my inner turmoil as I worried you all were bored or not benefiting from the lessons. Maybe you saw this for what it really is — an intense fear of failure and belief that I am not enough.

When we spoke after class, I told you I understood. I hope this didn’t sound trite or insensitive. I recognize how frustrating it is to hear someone say they understand when you are not sure they really do. In light of that, I want to acknowledge your pain is uniquely your own. Your specific experience with anxiety is not the same as anyone else’s. However, I also want to say that you are not alone. You are a warrior and there are many others standing alongside you in the fight.

Lastly, I want you to know I meant it when I said I am here if you ever need to talk or if there is anything else I can do to help. I believe in you, I am proud of you and I hope to stay in touch as you journey forward towards a future of uncertainty, progress and ever-growing inner strength.

Sincerely,

Your Teacher Who Has Anxiety Too

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What Can I Do When Physical Illness Affects My Mental Illness? Plenty, I Hope.

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Just when I think I’m out, it pulls me back in. Last fall was the first time ever that I got to experience life mostly anxiety-free. I started medication, I wrote about my anxiety here on the Mighty, I did a lot of yoga, and I was feelin’ so fine.

Unfortunately, 2017 had others things in mind for me. The day before New Year’s Eve I woke up in the middle of the night with the worst heartburn of my entire life. I have had heartburn issues on and off since I got pregnant seven years ago, but this was something different. Not only could I not lie down, I couldn’t really even recline in any way. I was up for hours, miserable with the feeling that the contents of my stomach were now residing somewhere just behind my sternum.

These episodes turned into a weekly occurrence. Long story short, I got myself to a doctor, had an endoscopy, and was diagnosed with gastritis. This is a condition where the lining of my stomach is inflamed. I was put on medication, which took away that imminent barfing feeling but left me nauseous and still waking up a lot at night. And the lovely part was the endoscopy detected no real reason for me having this, which means I have no way to treat the underlying cause.

So what does that have to do with my anxiety? Plenty. First, as many others like me with mental illness will know, a lack of sleep has a direct affect on my mental state. Second, feeling nauseous most of the time really saps my motivation to do pretty much anything. Therefore I don’t, and that builds up stress.

I can’t find a way to be OK with my lack of a clear diagnosis. I end up looking for information on gastritis at least once a day, hoping to find some answer and trying to not read the paragraphs that talk about associated cancer risks.

So yeah, a recipe for an anxiety souffle. A perfect mix of fluffy, free-floating fear mixed with a creamy base of physical misery. I find my anxiety has returned in a number of familiar ways, from general misery to feeling on the verge of tears for no immediate reason, to wanting to hide in my bed.

But this article isn’t just meant to be an “Oh poor me” exercise, although I like that part of it, too. I’m trying to make sense of it all. I’m trying to see this as a situation I can cope with and not let myself fall back into the dark places I spent a good portion of my life inhabiting.

With those goals in mind, I’m working on an action plan:

1. Eat all the healthy foods. Up those leafy greens, whole grains, and omega-3 rich fish.Instead of considering it a restrictive diet, consider it fortifying my body with the equipment it needs to get me well and keep me there.

2. Serious stress reduction efforts. Yoga, classical music, aromatherapy, but also cutting myself a break. I had set some intense exercise goals at the start of the year, but now I need to admit I can’t reach all of them because I’m just not well enough to work at a high intensity on a lot of days.

3. Never, never, never give up. Yes, I want to lay down all the time, but I’m not going to. I still need to do the things. I need to play with my son and get my deadlifts in. But I can modify. I can do lighter weight and I can suggest we play a board game instead of wrestling on the floor.

4. Admit I’m not OK right now. Say it to my husband, say it to my mom, tell it to my son. I tried to be superwoman after my son was born and I was struggling with postpartum anxiety. I’m not going to make that mistake again with this battle. I can’t fight it alone, and I’m not even going to try.

5. Buy myself flowers. This last one may seem out of place, but it’s in there for a reason. I have spent over a decade wanting to buy flowers every time I walked into a grocery store. I never did; it seemed like a waste of money. But just last month a bunch of roses was too gorgeous to resist and I bought it. And then the next week I did it again. And you know what? Those flowers on my counter make me smile every day. So I’m putting it in the plan.

That’s what I’ve got so far. I don’t know how well it will work. I don’t know how long this condition will last. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on that from what I have read. Maybe it will only be another month, maybe it will be another year, maybe it won’t go away at all. My anxiety brain hates that uncertainty. But I’m working on it.

I would love to hear from anyone else who has had to battle both mental and physical illness at the same time. Please feel free to post in comments your experiences and impart your wisdom. Let’s lift each other up and hold tight to the hope that we can create happiness for ourselves no matter what condition we find ourselves in.

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How Horror Films Help Me Cope With My Anxiety

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My passion for the horror genre has been around for as long ago as I can remember. An early memory revolves around a season two episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in which Buffy is admitted to a hospital where a frightening demon is hunting down sick children. There was something about the vulnerability of a sick child and the menace of a creature that would feed on them that resonated with me heavily at the time.

Since that fateful evening in 1998, my love for the macabre and all things horror began to snowball. I became obsessed with classic horror franchises — “A Nightmare On Elm Street” and “Halloween” in particular really piqued my ghoulish interests. My mother was never supportive of my fascination with horror, and understandably so, but this made it difficult to rent what I wanted. And so, I would convince my well-meaning father into renting what I wanted on our weekends together. And it was together with my dad that I began falling in love with a genre so many reviled. There was just something about horror that sparked my creative engines in a way no other genre of content could.

Cut to the eleventh grade — a time where I finally began to understand what really set me apart from my peers, my passion in life: creative writing. Thanks to a handful of supportive teachers at the arts high school I attended, I began to understand my love for horror was not just a morbid fascination, but a true indicator of what I was passionate about — what I was good at. My creative work — while not always strictly horror — is and was always in some way inspired by the tropes of the macabre that fascinated me so heavily in my youth.

My creative work began to act as my strongest weapon against the true horrors of my anxiety disorder, a struggle I had perceived as a plague until around this time. This is when I realized my anxiety, just like horror, could be used as a creative tool.

Since I was a child I’ve coped with anxiety and phobia, so it’s no wonder my mother and so many other of the adults in my life tried to keep me away from a genre they perhaps perceived as triggering. It’s why I felt somewhat ashamed of my passion until adulthood when I began to realize horror was not my trigger, but instead my creative muse. The horror genre and my anxiety disorder would both become invaluable creative tools.

Horror allowed me to step out of the shadows and switch tables with the dark, menacing thoughts, which kept me so nervous during my childhood. I could reverse the effect and take on any role I chose: from the viewpoint of the monster in the “Friday the 13th” series to the feminine heroines of my favorite 90s slasher flicks, which empowered me as a young homosexual in a world which so often looked down on queer themes and effeminate values.

Now I’m an adult I have a stronger sense of what anxiety means to me. And I can look back fondly and understand that just because a genre of content was frightening, it didn’t mean it was having a negative impact on my mental health. Many of my peers who also have a shared passion for horror are also exceptionally creative people who have coped with anxiety and depression their whole lives. What we all agree upon is that the catharsis of horror holds a meaning to us, which is almost impossible to describe but it’s something we wouldn’t give up for the world.

Horror has the ability to lift the veil between the known and the unknown. And what we find on the other side is often gruesome, terrible and frightening – engaging with it is a whole lot less unsettling than just ignoring it all together.

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