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What Dating With Anxiety Looks Like

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The older I get the more I’ve been able to understand the impacts of anxiety on my life. From as long as I can remember, unfelt emotions and stressors have triggered anxiety in my present life.

So when I step into the world of dating it makes things a lot more confusing.

For me, dating with anxiety means feeling a flood of emotions all at once. It’s feeling like I’m out at sea, being overcome by the waves. It’s a scary world to navigate.

Before I go out on dates, I panic. Is this going to be awkward? Will I have to eat in front of him? What if there are uncomfortable silences? Will I need to use the bathroom? All the uncertainties and what ifs cloud my head, making it hard to see a clear world in front of me.

This doesn’t mean I’m not excited to go on the date. I’ve had some of the most wonderful experiences going on dates with people I’ve been really interested in, but still succumb to my anxiety before even going on the date. I’ve gone on dates with people I’ve known as good friends for a while but still get flustered and question myself. My level of feelings or comfort around a person does not change the fact my anxiety might play a role. It still does.

My initial instinct in those moments is to cancel. Some days I just want to put my sweatpants on, crawl into bed and watch as many shows as possible to avoid awkward initial first dates or hangouts. I just want to fast forward through all the awkward firsts and skip to genuinely knowing a person deeply. But I have to remember that’s not how relationships work.

Relationships require time and practice. I remind myself to be brave and put one foot out there, even if it means going to dinner with a person I really want to get to know and worrying about having to eat in front of him the whole night.

Dating with anxiety takes time and practice.

But sometimes, I do bail. Sometimes, I’m not strong enough to push my way through the negative self-talk and panic attacks that flood my mind. And that’s OK.

When I do find the courage and strength to push through the anxiety I’m feeling, I still find it in the aftermath. Anxiety doesn’t go away after a date goes perfectly. It continues to follow, popping up at often random and convenient times. When I’ve been in a committed relationship for a year with somebody I love deeply, I still feel the inability to go out in public or be in a large gathering with his friends.

Anxiety is second guessing every choice I make on a date. Anxiety is replaying every possible scenario with somebody I care about deeply in my head at night. Anxiety is wanting to go out and be in public with somebody but feeling inevitably stuck, unable to move or do anything in that moment in time.

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Thinkstock photo via ArthurHidden.

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The Picture I Paint of My Anxiety

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I paint a picture.

A picture of a girl who emits a radiant glow, with a smile and a visual certainty she is happy. A girl who is put together — wearing a mask formed the way it was yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that. A girl who giggles, and blushes, and smiles so bright yet so carefully to make sure she doesn’t attract too much attention. A girl whose life seems perfect, with close friends and family, a relationship, good grades; things desired by those who do not hold them.

Yet the girl could break.

At ease, the cracks are covered, camouflaged on the surface; but within, seeping through is doubt, fear and panic. You don’t see that, but it’s there. It’s always there.

The colors splashing across the picture consume the girl, but do you see the worry in her eyes? Or the tears rolling down her porcelain cheeks? One more tear could shatter her. A fragile masterpiece, a beautiful controversy, as her mind limits her potential of achieving the world.

I am that girl.

I paint a picture of myself, where I form a broken doll, and my anxiety holds the strings. Where will I go? What will I do? I can’t escape my canvas.

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Thinkstock photo via Archv

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How Anxiety Gets in the Way During a Typical Day

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This morning I woke up and felt amazing after a good night sleep. I turned on some music and danced while I got ready for work.

I left my house, got in my car and drove an hour to my job, singing all the way. I looked forward to my day. The sun was beaming and I couldn’t stop smiling.

I went about my day working and enjoying the little breaks I had to talk to people. I love to be social with others and really connect with people, ya know?

After work, I felt like shopping for a new pair of shoes, so I just went to the mall on my way home. I lost track of time and ended up shopping in a few extra stores. Oops!

I was starving at this point, so I decided to call a few friends and see if they wanted to go grab some wings at the pub.

Before I knew it it was way past my bedtime, but I was having a blast and didn’t want to leave.
It must have been 2 a.m. when I crawled into bed. I wished time would stand still. I was so happy and content after such an amazing day.

Stop!

Who is writing this? This is not something I would write. This is how my day goes.

This morning I woke up exhausted. I’m used to it though. Some nights my mind won’t stop racing and I have to use a guided meditation to sleep.

I wasn’t sure about my outfit and changed three times before I decided on one I felt comfortable in. I hate drawing attention to myself but I want to look nice.

I was running late, but thankfully I only work four minutes from my house. I had time to sit in the car for a moment to get myself into that mood — the one where I can smile and talk to people and make it look real.

I love my job. It’s a huge change from my old job. At my old job, I was busy and all over the place. That was a different life; when anxiety wasn’t as bad.

Ugh, I had to work the late shift and it’s really awkward when you’re alone and people arrive and you have to talk to them. They are all generally nice — but anxiety.

I really struggle with casual conversations with them. I know I’m well-liked — but anxiety.

I had a pretty good day but I couldn’t wait to get home. My son wanted to stop for a Slurpee — but anxiety.

My son asked me if I could drive him to his friends — but anxiety.

I feel bad when I can’t do things. Some days I can, other days I can’t.

I went to make dinner and realized I was out of some stuff. I wanted to go grab a few things at the store — but anxiety.

I ordered pizza online.

My son told me he was bored and I offered to play a board game or watch a movie. He didn’t want to. He wanted us to go out and do something — but anxiety.

I was already home in my safe haven and there was no way I was leaving. Anxiety calls the shots that way.

I checked the clock for the 15th time in the past few hours. I can’t wait for bed. I wish time would hurry up. I love sleeping.

I went to bed and was so comfy — but anxiety.

Eventually, I drifted off with a guided meditation.

I wish my life was different — but anxiety.

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Thinkstock photo via grinvalds.

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What a 'Good Day' Looks Like for Someone With Anxiety

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We talk a lot about what makes anxiety hard to live with, and while it’s important to share our struggles, we can’t forget to celebrate our victories, too. Even if “good days” with anxiety seem like “normal days” for someone else, it’s important to hold on to the fact that these good days are possible — and they will come.

To get a sense of what a “good day” looks like, we asked people in our mental health community to share what a good day with anxiety means to them.

Here’s what they said:

1. “A good day is a day when I wake up without shaking. When I actually crave a certain food and enjoy eating. When I am able to do my normal daily routine without crying several times a day because it’s overwhelming, and best of all when I’m able to be present and have positive feelings towards those I most love instead of feeling nothing.” — Hiram M.

2. “A good day for me is being able to immediately go shower without spending hours working up to it. A good day is going to work and not having a panic attack. A good day is being able to communicate with others.” — Rene H.

3. “A good day is when I can answer the phone without feeling nauseous, or when I hear the doorbell and answer it rather than hiding behind the curtains hyperventilating until I’m 100 percent sure the person has gone away. A good day is when the mere thought of leaving the house doesn’t make my heart race. A good day is when I can reach out to friends without feeling that I’m burdening them or making them angry by bothering them. A good day is when I can merely exist even for a few hours without feeling an invisible weight crushing my body or a terrible sense of dread.” — Sarah S.

4. “A good day is one of adventure. Proving to myself that I can cross new social barriers without much incident.” — Alex N.

5. “A good day is when I don’t obsess about everything someone says. I don’t believe that the world hates me. I don’t feel completely alone when the phone doesn’t ring. I don’t tell myself that my friends are too busy to answer my calls for help. On a good day, I can get out of bed and function in a world I perceive to be my enemy.” — Rhonda M.

6. “A good day for me is waking up in a panic only to realize there’s nothing to panic about. Then I proceed to take my medicine that takes me from the panic attack level down to where my nerves are just plain jumpy. A good day for me is one where I’ve only had one or two panic attacks. A good day is one where I can convince myself that I haven’t done anything wrong.” — James T.

7. “A good day is not throwing up several times in the morning while I’m getting dressed/ getting ready to go somewhere. A good day is not feeling nauseous all day, and not taking multiple trips to a bathroom to dry heave or to throw up because I’m scared or because I’m anxious about having to do something that makes me uncomfortable. A good day is me not questioning or over analyzing every action or words said by myself or others. A good day is when I feel like it’s OK to have generalized anxiety disorder and high-functioning anxiety.” — Molly C.

8. “Good days are days during which I don’t constantly feel trapped and overwhelmed. Good days are days during which I can be patient with myself and remind myself that I’m sick — that I can take things at my own pace, and I don’t have to bull my way through things until I’m reduced to a trembling, sobbing mess.” — Amber W.

9. “A good day is not remembering I have anxiety. Not realizing until I get home at the end of the day that I didn’t feel anxious at all. Not having to be aware and vigilant of my mental health for a few hours. Being able to exist without thinking about it. Just living.” — Clara B.

10. “A good day is making it out of bed and into the shower the first time my alarm goes off. It’s showing affection to the people I care about without being clingy. It’s when I can make it through a day of school without contemplating leaving because my mind is too much for me to handle. It’s being able to smile without forcing it, it’s cracking jokes that aren’t detrimental to myself, it’s going the entire day without getting lost in my head. It’s being able to go to bed at night without tossing and turning for hours and without fearing that I’ll wake up sweating and shaking from nightmares.” — Keeli B.

11. “A good day for me is when my phone still has battery at the end of the day because I’ve not been Googling obsessively or playing games to distract my busy brain!” — Kirsty A.

12. “A good day is a day I manage to walk down the street without thinking I am in danger and being able to act freely without the fear of judgment or social difficulties.” — Katie C.

13. “A good day is being able to wake up in the morning and actually get out of bed. When I can go shopping or do other everyday things without panicking. When I can do things without having to mentally prepare for a long time, and when talking to people doesn’t make me cry or shake. And when falling asleep at night is easy instead of terrifying.” — Rosie F.

14. “A good day to me is when I laugh so hard until my stomach hurts, when I feel like nothing or no one can hurt me. When I’m not constantly over-analyzing everything about my day or the what ifs. But the best part is when I can control an in coming panic attack and I can calm myself down before it gets too bad, those are the good days!” — Becky U.

15. “A good day is when I can plan an outing for my child to somewhere I know will be crowded without having an exit plan. Without obsessively checking every bus, train, streetcar or taxi company in the area because ‘what if.’ It’s not having to ask someone else to come with us for fear that I’ll have a panic attack and need someone to help me keep it together. A good day is getting to be a ‘typical’ parent.” — Amanda C.

16. “A good day is when I feel. I can laugh honestly, feel my girlfriend’s love and really feel life.” — Eddie E.

17. “A good day is when I don’t feel my skin crawling because I’m overthinking that I’m ‘missing’ something or feel like I’m alone in a crowded room. When even if I might have a tiny spike of anxiety, I’m able to calm myself down quickly and continue on with my day. Those are the best days.” — Arisa R.

18. “A good day is when I can be myself in public. Or when I can actually order my own food at a restaurant without being self-conscious about what I’m ordering. Or when I can work in a group for class and be able to be a part of that group. A good day is when I can read aloud in class without my cheeks heating up or my heart beating out of my chest or almost burst into tears when I say a word wrong. A good day is when I can laugh and be myself around my friends.” — Isabella S.

19. “For me a good day is waking up and not spending 30 minutes challenging negative thoughts in my head. Not fearful that I don’t have enough time to get ready to go to work. Not feeling overwhelmed while at work or worrying I am going to say or do anything that might get me in trouble.” — Michael Q.

20. “I good day for me is when I can hold a pencil without shaking uncontrollably, and being able to write down notes from my classes without having a panic attack. A good day for me is when I don’t feel like crying every moment because I didn’t understand part of my homework completely. A good day for me is when I’m able to smile at people and say ‘I’m OK’ without lying.” — Nicole S.

21. “A good day for me is a normal day for anybody else. I just feel at peace. I feel loved. I feel calm and it’s finally quiet in my head. It is wonderful to enjoy my friends and family without feeling like I want to shy away in a corner.” — Marissa D.

22. “When my friends are around. Gives me a good distraction.” — Zakari P.

23. “A good day is a day when I have the strength and confidence to stand up for others.” — Greg P.

24. “Being able to be independent and not requiring constant reassurance or validation, either from the person I’m with or via text message, if I’m alone.” — Laura C.

25. “A good day for me is if I’m able to get through a social situation without backing out or having a panic attack. It might seem like a small thing to some, but interacting with others, especially strangers, makes my anxiety go into hyperdrive, so if I’m able to face that I feel really proud of myself.” — Lydia A.

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What I Want the People Who Don't Understand My Anxiety to Know

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I am fighting in a war, every single day. I’m a warrior, but I am encompassed by fear.

My anxiety is 24/7. It doesn’t switch off when the lights go out. It can attack at any moment. Any time, any place, it can corrupt me wherever I am. Each day is different, unpredictable and impulsive. It overpowers my need for constant routine. It has fallen into my lifestyle, planted a bomb and exploded. When the war is over and all that’s left is the aftermath, my mental illness will leave a scar that will always be with me. But perhaps I can conceal it.

I’m quiet. I’m distant. I’m a wallflower.

I am functional, so maybe you don’t see each day is a battle. A mental and physical fight that leaves me exhausted, emotional and needing to be strong when I feel so weak. It’s part of me, and it hurts me every day.

My anxiety tells me to be afraid of everything and prepare myself for the worst. Instead of seeing positives, I seek out all the negative possibilities and I encourage them to grow and grow and grow… until I believe they will happen. Obsessively considering all outcomes is something my mental illness hands me on a silver plate. I am assured the world is against me, I can never achieve the best of my potential. I am never good enough, that’s what I have made myself believe.

But although I may feel like I am shattering into a million pieces at times, I am doing OK. I try to surround myself with people I love and I am attempting to erase negativity from my life.

It may seem confusing when one minute I appear OK, and the next I am struggling with the mental or physical symptoms that target me. Sometimes I don’t know the trigger. I can inhale fear and I become lost on a journey I don’t understand either.

I don’t expect you to fix it.

My anxiety is not a personal attack on you. You aren’t expected to solve it, I just need you by my side. I need to know I am not alone, so when I win, I know you were there to help me in my fight. Positivity and patience can be the greatest aids to my success.

I will always be the same girl. I just bear a few wounds.

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Thinkstock photo via Andesign101.

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