young woman with dog at beautiful night with huge moon above,illustration painting

What My Dog Taught Me About My Anxiety

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A few years ago, we adopted a rescue dog named Butter. We immediately noticed he had anxiety, but it wasn’t until this year I was diagnosed as well. Ever since then, I have felt connected to my dog in a strange way. Im not sure if it is because we calm each other down, or if we just have similar struggles. Either way, he calms me down and I hope I do the same for him.

Last week, my dog panicked because he missed my dad. I was home alone, which meant it was my responsibility to calm him down. When I was holding him in my arms, I finally realized something. My dog is a happy dog even though he has anxiety. He is goofy and weird and I think the reason why is he doesn’t care about labels, or even understand what they are.

As people , we are so focused on labels that we use them to define ourselves which can augment the problem of not feeling good about ourselves. In my experience, ruminating about anxiety doesn’t give me peace and understanding the way I expect it to. Instead it makes me feel like less of a person.

My dog however, doesn’t know what anxiety is. All he knows is he is scared. He doesn’t think about the opinions of the outside world. All he focuses on is breathing.

In my case and many others, the words “generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)” have defined me. It wasn’t on purpose. It just became my excuse and eventually my reason for not loving myself.

After watching my dog go from panic to my sweet little boy, I decided I had put way too much thought into my illness. My anxiety won’t ever get better if I don’t learn to separate my character and my disorder.

I am not my anxiety. No one is.

If you had asked me a week ago how I define myself, I would have told you that I struggle with anxiety and depression. Now, I’m striving to grow and become a separate person. My name is not anxiety. My name is Vicky.

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This is my new challenge and I hope it can become yours too.

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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.

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How a Fight With My Best Friend Led Me to Take Care of My Mental Health

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For as long as I have been therapy, I always thought I was doing the right things to further my mental health. My best friend, who deals with some similar issues, has always been supportive of me. She is basically my sister and if I didn’t have her around, I feel like I would be lost. She is a constant when I am down and she is the person who understands me sometimes better than I do. But I never expected to have a fight that almost ended our almost 10-year friendship.

The end of last year I went through a difficult decision in my life and one that ultimately ended with me going on another downward spiral — though this spiral downward was worse than the last. This one ended with another diagnosis — thanks generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) — and with a mess of decisions that put me on the chopping block with my best friend. I could tell from the angry tones and implications through text she was mad and I truly screwed up. I knew I was screwing up but I was so desperate to relieve my anxiety that I avoided problems like nobody’s business. Just to relieve the constant anxiety I felt. It wasn’t until I finally faced the music and felt the true shame that I really truly hurt her did I realize if I didn’t change I would lose everything that was important to me.

From that long talk about how my behavior and distance hurt her, to my true and absolute commitment to really trying to get better, we agreed until I started to get better we should keep our distance so I could truly focus on the person I had been running from: me. As per her suggestion, I talked to both my therapist and my doctor about a medication, which I believe has helped me a lot. I also started to dig deeper into my issues of low self-esteem and tried to fix old wounds I hadn’t addressed yet. Both of which hit nerves I hadn’t touched in years. I also tried to incorporate new practices such as a sleep routine, makeup and outfit routine and a ban on basically all social media, except YouTube.

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I tend to get so caught up in me that I forget about other people. This can make me look ungrateful and cold, both of which I know I am not. So, I also tried to work on being outside of myself and focusing on other people. I made sure I applied this to all aspects of my life. So, I tried to be more open and conversational to both my family and my friends so I could be a better friend to all of them. I also focused a lot more on making me happy and trying to make my thoughts more positive and happy instead of negative and sad. I found once I started to do that, I was getting better.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are still days when my anxiety can get the best of me. There are also certain things I avoid or don’t talk about because it flares my anxiety and I have to calm down before it gets really bad. But most days are pretty normal without any problems besides the occasional tiredness or hunger. But when I either sleep late or rush out the door, both of those problems are sometimes inevitable. 

Sometimes there is part of me that wishes I had realized this a lot sooner than I did, but I can’t change the past. I could say things like “I could have prevented this” or “If I didn’t do X, Y or Z, then none of this would have ever happened and I wouldn’t be here.” I would be lying if I didn’t say I had those thoughts, but it happened and I have to live with what I have done and hope the future will be better. It’s all I really can do.

The other thing I can do is say this. 

Thank you. Thank you for stopping me. Thank you for caring enough about me and about our friendship to say, “I can’t be around you unless you change.” Thank you for still loving me even with every mistake or stupid thing I do. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for putting up with me. Thank you for hearing me and for preventing me from utter destruction. But most of all, thank you for being you and seeing my potential to get better because you know I can. You’ll never know how much I truly appreciate everything you do for me and for everyone else. You are truly a part of me. Forever.

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 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Thinkstock photo via builmifotografia.

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The 'Spidey Sense' My Generalized Anxiety Disorder Gives Me

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I already had an inkling I was an anxious person, I always had a problem with worrying too much or being too caught up with the worst case scenario. But when I read the words “generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)” after feeling all kinds of awful for months, it gave me a bit of relief. It felt great to know what was happening in my head as well as my body. I finally had an explanation for my racing thoughts, my stomach pains, bodily tension, my hand tremors and my constant sadness. I thought for a while I was going truly “insane.” It was honestly like I was becoming Ophelia from “Hamlet.” While having this explanation was a relief, it didn’t dissipate the moderate level of GAD I felt. It only made the beast calm itself for a while knowing it had been made known.

This was a gigantic monster even worse than any monster I was afraid of in childhood. It was not a monster that was imaginary or even irrational, it felt like a real monster that lives in me like a parasite. It manifests itself in my personality and makes me look unrecognizable to anyone who knows and loves me. It’s like being locked up in my own head and being forced to watch an imposter control me while all I can do is watch. This didn’t stop this monster from attacking things in my life I prized. It attacked my already low self-esteem, pushing me down further and aggravating my depression by putting me in a constant feeling of nothingness and sadness. It also attacked my friends and hurt them which, in turn, hurt me. It also attacked my school performance which made me work less and made me want to participate in life less. It wasn’t until I started taking anxiety medication and made some necessary lifestyle changes –eating better, getting off of social media and practicing mindfulness, just to name a few — that I started to feel better.

Another thing that helped is the internship I work for. It involves giving people information and referring them to services in the community. The thing that helps me the most involves doing input of alerts into the system I work in. I read the presenting diagnoses and the reason for the alert and sometimes it helps me to feel better when I feel the weight of my own problems crushing on me. Putting the world into perspective when I get caught up helps me realize I’m doing better than I think I am.

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The strength of my anxiety monster could grow or shrink depending on the day or even my mood. Lately it has been less than before and this is great, but I know something will set it off. I tend to judge how bad my anxiety is by how bad my hands are shaking and most days they are shaking lightly and I know I am at an “OK” level. Then there are days when my anxiety is so high that my whole body is shaking. I try not to give in and fight it and there are days where I win as well as days when I lose. I may sometimes lose the battles, but I’ll win the war. But for now, my “spidey senses” will alert me to both the existent and nonexistent danger around.

spidey sense meme

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Photo via Spiderman Facebook page and comic via Brian Gordon.

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Anxiety, and What to Remember When You Feel Like Your Best Isn't Good Enough

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I was brought up in your stereotypical Asian household. Anything under 95 percent was considered a failure, and that applied to every aspect of my life, not just academic. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not blaming my parents for having high expectations, or my sister or cousins for continuing this self-imposed, self-regulated system from the time we were children. We’re all competitive and we all want to be the best. Who doesn’t?

But it’s this notion of always trying to out-do each other, striving for perfection, that’s made my anxiety skyrocket every time I got a test score back; when I was awaiting university acceptances; when I was incessantly checking my inbox for job interviews.

I’m a high achiever and I’ve always wanted to be successful – not just a winner by my own standards, but also in the eyes of everyone else. I can’t say for certain this is what has caused my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), but it definitely hasn’t helped it.

I’ve always wanted to be the best and when I wasn’t perfect, it was devastating. And I mean I would be crushed. I’d beat myself up for days thinking about it. I’d lose sleep, lose my appetite and just go into a downward spiral that was nearly impossible to snap out of.

And as my anxiety and depression got worse, the feeling of helplessness – of failure – just got worse. I was trying my best and I wanted to do my best, but how could I when I couldn’t even get out of bed? How was I expected to beat everyone else when I could barely drag myself into the shower?

In all my previous experiences, the more I tried, the harder I worked, then the better the results. Put in the work and do your best so you can be the best, right? Wrong.

That’s not how real life works. It was a hard concept to come to realize: sometimes, your best isn’t good enough. How did I come to terms with this world-crushing revelation?

I learned to shift my focus. Who’s to say I’m not good enough? I’m trying my best and that’s all you can do and if all I can do is get in the shower and eat a full meal, that’s a major accomplishment. It is enough and I am enough and I learned to celebrate the small victories because it’s the small moments that string together to make the life we live.

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Whether it’s calling to make my own appointments or writing a new blog post, each milestone is a mountain conquered. And on the days where I feel like I’m not good enough, I count the things I’ve done and the things I will continue to do … if I just get this one thing done. And one thing at a time might be slow, but I will get it done. It is good enough.

Next time, if you feel like your best isn’t good enough, remember this: you are. You are good enough. You are enough. And you are not alone. Ask for help. Call a friend. Breathe. Take time to remember all of the things you’ve accomplished and remember you will continue to accomplish. Your best is amazing, whether it’s getting out of bed or climbing Everest. Your best is good enough. As long as you are trying, that is enough.

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 Thinkstock photo via LewisTsePuiLung.

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Anxiety and Depression: Sharing My Story Is a Step Toward Healing

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I’ve lived with anxiety since as early as I can remember, and I was just diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) two years ago. However, I have yet to open up about spouts of depression to anyone, let alone a professional. Anxiety has been my loyal partner for years and years; it’s a toxic relationship, really. You can give me any situation and I will overthink it in a million different ways and drive myself into a deep depressive and anxious state where I can no longer cope. Yes, putting on a smile for all to see is a great talent of mine, but sometimes you can’t always fake it till you make it.

My GAD has greatly affected my friendships and romantic relationships. It forces me to push people away so I can stop the idea of becoming vulnerable from entering my mind. It has ruined so many precious friendships of mine that I can never get back. Essentially, my anxiety tells me it has made me a one-man band for the rest of my life. My GAD comes into play a lot during social situations. Although I love to meet new people, the thought of it makes my skin crawl with worry and my stomach churn. A big goal of mine is to maintain close relationships without overthinking and dwelling on every text exchange and face-to-face interaction. However, I think I may need to get back into therapy to help me with that.

In terms of my depression…well, I haven’t exactly been diagnosed yet, but I just can’t help feeling this hopeless, sad, lonely and physically sick and fatigued 95 percent of the time is something related to depression. This feeling of depression began my freshman year of college. I am now a senior ready to graduate (you can imagine my level of anxiety about this). I went to a community college my first two years of college because I was too anxious to be on my own at 18. Well, at this college, I was lonely, sad, and I felt sick from being so down. A lot of bad thoughts would rush through my mind, things I’m not ready to talk about yet. But long story short, I felt like I was nothing to anybody, not because of anybody, but because of my mean mind. I felt like a martian, like I didn’t belong anywhere or to anyone. I would sit in my bed and watch the clock in the dark, praying the days would end so I can go to bed and not feel so guilty about it. I would cry; that’s all I could do.

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Now, I go to school at a university farther away from home. It has been fun, especially my junior year. Sure I had my terrible anxious moments, but my sad moments seemed to diminish; I thought it was over, and I was thankful and relieved. I couldn’t imagine feeling that way again. But, since my senior year started, it has all come back, and it has come back strong. I always think this time can’t be worse than the last, but somehow it finds a way. I think the fact that I’m soon entering the real world has sent me down a downward spiral at a million miles per hour, because I feel nowhere near ready, nowhere near smart enough, and nowhere near capable
enough to succeed. My anxiety has been making me so physically and mentally sick, and my depression has torn me apart in ways I cannot explain.

Although this story only captures a little of how I feel day to day, writing about it and sharing it with those who can relate is a part of the healing process for me.

This year has been a very tough year for my mental illness and me. But I pray every single day that I will become better and that I will stop being afraid to ask for help and ashamed for admitting I have issues I need to deal with to recover. If anyone deals with these problems, please know you are never alone, and that although it may not seem like it to you at times, you matter!

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Thinkstock image by RossHelen

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This Artist Uses an Unexpected Medium to Make Empowering Mental Health Art

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It’s been a long journey to get to where I am now. Over a year ago, I began to attend therapy and was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Since then, I’ve become very active in speaking my truth on mental health topics and breaking the stigma on the shame that surrounds anxiety, depression and mental health.

Just because I’m in therapy and self-aware doesn’t mean I don’t have low days when I feel I’m not good enough. It can be a constant battle to remind myself of my worth, which is why the mental health community is such a blessing. With amazing artwork and visuals that can serve as a daily reminder of our worth, courage, strength, I view it as not only an expression of creativity, but a new avenue to shed light on taboo topics.

With the mental health artwork blowing up all over Instagram in the form of pins, prints, clothing and so much more, you have to set yourself apart to make a mark. That’s exactly what independent artist T. Jay Santa Ana has done – with Shrinky Dinks.

Yes, you heard me right. Through this nostalgic, 80s toy, Santa Ana has created a brand new form of art that doesn’t just express self-love, it builds people up. With his “Make A Mark” pin series, he creates visuals that inspire, motivate and empower.

Q: What was the origin of using Shrinky Dinks for your art?

A: Though I am a graphic designer by trade, anything experiential and hands on is preferable when it comes to making art. With this in mind, I started researching alternative canvasses and surfaces on which to put my illustrations. After hours of “research” (mainly double-tapping photos of other makers on Instagram), I decided Shrinky Dinks was the best contender. It eliminates handing off artwork to a vendor and crossing my fingers that they do a good job. I also love baking. Plus I’m an 80s baby and the 80s were awesome.

Q: What does this series mean to you?

A: It’s very personal to me, only because I’m a strong believer in the power of intention and the power of thought. Positive affirmation seemed to be the next logical step for inclusion into my existing artwork and even more importantly, into my practice for life. For me, this series means the way I encourage myself to pursue my purpose (through simple yet powerful phrases and affirmations) is intrinsically tied to my work as an illustrator, a doodler and a mark-maker.

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Q: How do you come up with the motivational phrases on the pins?

A: In all honesty, what you’re reading — both textually and visually — is a peek into how I resolve my anxiety, a bulk of which consists of an overactive and chatty mind. It’s the last few breaths of the internal dialogue I try to meet with patience and observation. It’s about non-identification with the voices that say, “You aren’t good enough.” So I doodle and repeat patterns and create forms and shapes. Eventually I arrive with a phrase, “You are good enough.” Other times I’m just overwhelmed with inspiration, inspired by people or places, so words like “Inspiration” or “Bloom” or “Follow your path” or “Well, I feel better already” pop up.

Q: What would you like someone with mental health issues to take away from seeing one of your pins?

A: I would want them to be inspired to take action yet to be gentle and patient with their process for coping and healing. I understand everyone’s path is different and not everyone will resonate with these types of messages (though my ultimate hope is they will), but using these pins as anchors for present-moment awareness would make me feel that I helped in some way.

Q: What is your mantra?

A: My mantra(s) these days have been the following: “Thank you for my healing, thank you for my health. Thank you for my living, thank you for my life. I offer myself to Godhead, to Source, to the Universe, to be distilled into health, love, light and forgiveness.”

Q: Where can people buy the pins?

A: People can request pins on my website, artbyanto.com or by shooting me a message through my Instagram profile, @artbyanto. I’m in the process of setting up an online store, but if you shoot me a message with interest in buying and I’ll definitely respond.

Q: Do you have any new projects coming down the pipeline?

A: Yes! This summer I will begin work on an illustrative project called “Make a Mark,” exploring both the figurative and literal act of mark-making. It will still include a wide range of Shrinky Dinks pins but will expand into a suite of other pieces such as journals, prints and a digital 111 day series on Instagram called “Marks and Meditation.”

Who knew a children’s toy could bring so much empowerment for the mental health community? Whenever I find myself battling a negative thought or warding off an impending anxiety attack,  I just look down and read my pin to remind myself. I am enough.

Shrinky Dink Mental health pins

Shrinky Dink Mental health pins
You can follow TJ Santana on Instagram and on his website

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Photo via @artbyanto Instagram.

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