A woman at the beach

This piece was written by Kirsten Corley, author of “But Before You Leave

Your best friend. Your boyfriend. Your family (if they had a choice.)

Because this thing you didn’t choose is trying to convince you that all of who you are is defined by one word. Anxiety.

It’s one wrong text message.

One tone you didn’t even mean to speak in.

Another night out of things you only half remember with a help of a drink too many.

One conversation you wonder if you told too much.

It’s a text unanswered that sends your mind wandering.

And a call that goes right to voicemail.

It’s a second text to clarify.

Just hoping they will answer.

Even though you know you should have waited.

It’s looking at your best friend of a decade plus and doubting them.

Not for anything they did but for something you haven’t even done yet.

Self-doubt. Questioning. Analyzing. Overthinking.

It’s the waiting for people to leave.

It’s ruining something before it even begins.

It’s goodbye without the word that becomes an expectation.

It’s the nights that keep you up tossing and turning.

It’s not hearing from someone for a while and thinking they are mad.

Even though realistically they have no reason to be.

It’s an apology you don’t have to say, yet you feel you need to.

Just to ease your mind.

People ask about enemies and the only one you’ve known is yourself.

Trapped inside your mind that keeps you prisoner.

Pushing people away who you want to stay.

But you don’t want to burden or bother them with a problem that’s your own.

It’s the want and need to just hear words, “It’s OK.”

That confidence boost that will shift everything.

You feel guilty even asking.

But you want to just hear that they won’t go.

Because when your mind plays tricks on you and tells you everyone you care about will leave you, you don’t want to believe it.

But part of you does.

You didn’t choose this so why would anyone want to choose you?

That’s the voice you hear on repeat.

And you don’t want to come across as clingy but you care.

You care too much and think too little.

You love too hard but everything about you is soft.

You try and overcompensate just to give them a reason to stay.

But what you don’t believe is they are choosing to be here because they want to be.

Because you aren’t as bad and intolerable and unlovable as you think you are.

Anxiety is just trying to trick you into believing you are all these things.

But if you look around for just a moment you’ll realize the people who matter haven’t gone anywhere.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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I believe health is more than just the absence of sickness. I believe it is more than just physical health, mental health, social health or spiritual health. For me, health is well-being. We all have “health” at some level. I live with mental health conditions. Most would say my mental health conditions are “under control.” I am able to work two jobs, have meaningful relationships and generally seem from the outside to be “functioning.”

I often hear people talk about individuals being “symptomatic” or “not symptomatic” as though these are two mutually exclusive categories. It is very rare that a day will go by when I do not have “symptoms.” My mind races, my attention jumps from topic to topic, I have tics, I get stuck on things, anxiety, obsessions and so on. I work with my symptoms and accommodate them. I refuse to allow these to hold me back.

My symptoms have given me energy, creativity and ability to think outside the box. Without my symptoms, I wouldn’t be the person I am. At times, they can also be overwhelming. My obsessions and anxiety can burn like a fire in my mind that I have no way to put out. The same thoughts. Over and over and over. Sometimes people stare at me because they can hear me say the same word under my breath repeatedly. Tic. Tic. Tic. Tic.

Does this mean I’m sick? I don’t think so. Does it mean I’m symptomatic? Maybe. Does it mean I need support? Yes. But I’m living a meaningful life anyway. My challenges do not define me nor do they confine my lifestyle. I am creating an place where I can thrive. Some days are harder than others, but I’m working with it and that’s what matters. I am healthy.

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Almost every single second I’m awake I am constantly overthinking everything. I’m thinking about what actions to take, what words to say, how I’m presenting myself, etc., and then I think what the consequences might be for each. I can come up with so many options for so many situations (most being exaggerated). Basically, I’m trying to prepare myself for anything and everything that could happen in a given situation. In my head, I do this so I will choose the least “bad” or “wrong” thing. To my mind, I’m doing this as a way to prevent any kind of trouble and to prevent getting hurt in any way. Even when I think I’ve chosen the least bad thing, I still have so much doubt that it will be OK or good enough. Then, after I do or say whatever, I go into thinking how it might have been taken and I judge myself so negatively. I always find fault with something.

I can’t possibly ever prepare myself enough for the future. There will always be unexpected factors I hadn’t thought of and things that just can’t be planned for. However, I still try. It’s so exhausting. It’s like thinking a thousand thoughts about one thing while thinking of a thousand more on another different thing and so on. Unfortunately, I don’t know any other way of thinking so that’s how it is for now.

A good day, for me, is one where I feel productive and I feel like I’m contributing to society. It’s a day where I am kept busy with things I really enjoy. There’s a line between enjoyable busywork and stressful busywork which ends up not being good. When I have good days I get a break from that thinking. It is really, really nice to be free from the self-doubt. I feel more hope, happiness, and a tiny bit of confidence. I can be present in the moment instead of in my head.

When I get home from a good day, all that overthinking and doubt and negativity comes crashing back. It hits me so hard that I almost fear having good days. I get a taste of what my life could be without that thinking, but then it comes back and I can’t seem to stop it. I feel disappointed that I can’t seem to control it myself, I feel sad that I go back to the exhausting thinking, and I feel a loss of hope that I might one day live a life where there are more good days than bad.

I love the good days because they’re so enjoyable and I feel free from myself. At the same time, I despise the good days because it seems to amplify what happens on a daily basis for me, which makes it seem harder for a day. Then I get used to it again, the normal state of my mind.

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In roughly the last three years, my husband and I have gone from dating, to living together, to married, to our first child, to a cross country move. In that same space of time, he has been deployed three times, had two long training TDYs (temporary duty assignments), and various other separations and TDYs. Added up, we have spent nearly one and a half of the last three years apart. Such is the life of a military family — especially one in which the active duty member has an operations job. My husband loves his job, and he’s good at it, and it never even crosses my mind to ask him to do something else. That doesn’t mean this life isn’t difficult. And like everything else, the separations this life demands are made more difficult by anxiety.

My anxiety during our separations stems from one of two places. The first is fear. Fear of the dangers of his job. Fear of not knowing if something were to go wrong. Fear of what he has to do and see and how it might affect him later in life.

The second is my personal self-worth. If other spouses are hearing from their husbands and I’m not hearing from mine, I question my worth. If he says he’ll call and doesn’t, it makes me question my worth. If he sounds even the slightest bit frustrated with me, I question my worth. If he questions my parenting decisions, I question my worth. I should be more clear, when I say question my worth, what I mean is that in each of these instances, he is verifying my deeply held irrational belief that I am not worth time, energy or love. The number of panic attacks I had in my son’s first year of life (my husband was gone for two to 10 months at a time, give or take) is too many to count.

The above sources of my anxiety may not seem to intertwine much, but in my mind, they go hand in hand. Here’s how a basic spiral to a panic attack looked at the peak of my anxiety.

I haven’t heard from him in three days. I hope he’s OK. I haven’t heard any news reports for the area, so I’m sure he’s fine. If something had happened someone would have called me. Unless something is happening now. Maybe I’m anxious because I can sense something is wrong with him. That’s silly. Nothing is wrong. He’s probably just super busy, or maybe the internet is down. Or maybe his helicopter came down. Remember that one time he almost crashed and the pilot didn’t recover until they were three feet from the ground? Remember how unsafe those damn machines are? They come down literally all the time. I look up crash statistics. OK, maybe not all the time. I’m sure he’s fine. He’s just busy or the internet is out. I try to distract myself with social media. Well, Jane’s husband just Skyped with her, so the internet is working fine. Well that sucks. Does he not want to talk to us? Did I do something to upset him? Why doesn’t he want to be a part of our lives while he’s away? Well, I wouldn’t want to talk to me like this either. I’m not exactly a joy right now. Look at me, finding fault with him while he’s there doing what he’s doing. I’m a terrible person. I’m not worth talking to. If he does call, I should be super happy and only talk about happy things. But he won’t call. He doesn’t want to see me. I look a mess anyways. I should put on some makeup in case he does call. I’m too tired to put on makeup. Not like this baby will let me put him down long enough to do it anyways. He could do so much better than me. He could get a spouse who is gorgeous and takes care of her appearance every day. I wonder if he’s talking to any other women while he’s gone. Maybe he’s talking to other women instead of me. Not like I could blame him. I wouldn’t want to talk to me either. I’m just not worth it. He couldn’t possibly love me. I’m not worth the love. We’re probably not going to make it. He’s probably going to trade up. He deserves better anyways. I find myself crying uncontrollably. I start shaking, my heart racing. I find a corner and hug my knees, trying to focus on my breathing.

See how that devolves from normal fears to irrational beliefs that my family was over? Here’s the kicker. I was actually in therapy for a few months of this separation, but my therapist never asked about anxiety symptoms. I had experienced these sorts of “meltdowns” for so many years that I thought it was normal, or rather, I thought it was just a personal failing, not an actual condition.

To be clear, again, my self-worth is no one’s job but my own. My spouse is not responsible for my self-worth. I do not want him to compensate for my beliefs on the subject, I want to progress to the point that I no longer hold these irrational beliefs. His actions in no way cause my panic attack, my own irrational thought processes do that. Would it have happened if we had more regular communications during separation? I honestly don’t know, but I’ll touch more on how my anxiety affects my spouse in another blog.

On the reverse side of this, the most recent separation occurred after I had began therapy using a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) approach. We went the first full month of his deployment without speaking because of technical issues, and I didn’t have a single panic attack. I had typical fear about where he was, the dangers of his job, the lack of reporting from the immediate area to keep me informed, etc., but no panic about his safety or my self-worth. I missed him. I still cried a couple times, I still wore his sweatpants, I still ate too much pizza sometimes, but not once did I have to hug my knees and breathe it out from the safety of a corner.

Anxiety is a bitch. It has a way of telling me that my worst fears are eminent. When my spouse is away from me — and especially when he is in a war zone — those fears are even more real. It’s not as much of a mental leap to believe those fears could come to fruition when there are statistics that prove the danger.

If any of you experience panic attacks, have past trauma that affects your current thought processes or find yourself making irrational leaps in your stream of consciousness, please realize it is not typical and it can be treated. The right therapist and approach can make all the difference in the world, and can make living this military family life much more bearable.

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Thinkstock photo via MariaArefyeva.

Anxiety comes in many different forms. For me, it has been a struggle throughout my entire life. I had been experiencing symptoms of anxiety before I even knew what to call it. I questioned where my anxiety came from for a long time, but ultimately have decided this is a pointless feat. Whether it is from biological or environmental factors, all I can really do is live with it.

I finally had the guts up to see a therapist back in 2015. I can’t say I’ve completely enjoyed every session. My anxiety always flares up, my palms sweat and I often avoid eye contact with her — but I still show up, for myself.

Despite how often I give one-word answers and bypass the tough questions, since starting the sessions, I’ve learned a surprising amount about myself. I’ve listed four things I have been able to see pretty clearly are products of my anxiety, which has in turn, helped me become more aware of the moments I need to take a moment for myself.

1. Avoidance.

My avoidance comes in many forms. Sometimes it’s a desperate need to get as far away from the situation making me uncomfortable as possible, sometimes it’s letting 3,000 emails build up in my inbox and never checking one. When relationships have gotten hard, I always seem to take the most obvious example of avoidance: the silent treatment. My version of the silent treatment never feels like it is to get the other person’s attention. It usually comes from a place of wanting to save myself from any discomfort I might feel. I’ve learned this is the cheap way out and only ever hurts the other person.

2. Overcommitting myself.

Being the anxious wreck I am internally, you would think I struggle to function in everyday life. Somehow, however, I am able to keep smile and power through most days. That being said, when I first began seeing my therapist, she recommended I try taking one day a week off from school, from interning and from my job. While I know lots of people have more rigorous schedules, for me it was just too much when I was trying to also maintain my mental health. But taking a day off a week that had nothing productive planned other than “relaxing” felt completely impossible. Every time I’d see my therapist, she’d ask if I took Saturday off and I’d explain how there was an extra shift at work and I had to help a friend out and there was just no way. Today, I just returned from a weekend at a resort in Mexico. I took a day off of work and the world didn’t end. Still, I struggle with the urge to fill every second of my time just so I never have a moment alone with my thoughts. I’m working on changing this and embracing moments of calm.

3. Picking at my skin.

When I’m feeling extra anxious, I often need to do something with my hands. That tends to be ripping off my own skin. How the habit got started, I’m not sure, but I have always struggled with dry lips and acne. Rather than addressing these problems, I tend to pick at them, let them fester and ultimately make them worse — a great analogy for my life. This is something I have not yet found relief from. I am my skin’s own worst enemy a lot of days. The only way I have found to stop this terrible habit is to find something else to do with my hands. As cliché as it sounds, a stress ball has been a good replacement.

4. Panic attacks.

While I would say I do a pretty solid job at holding it together, there are moments when I simply cannot and that’s OK. I’ve learned the longer I hold it in, the worse it is when I let it out. Instead of trying to “fix” this one, I’ve learned to embrace my struggles by knowing when it is time to get out of a situation and take a moment for myself. Sometimes, when it happens in front of friends or boyfriends, I always a feel a bit ashamed after, but I’m learning the ones who stick around through it are the right people for me.

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If you’re dealing with an anxiety disorder, standing in a room with hundreds of people or camping for a weekend in an open field surrounded by loud stages may sound like an absolute nightmare. Even if music has been a life-saver for you, going to concerts or festivals may seem out of the question — but it doesn’t have to be. Despite your fear of crowds and tendency to get overstimulated, it’s possible to not only attend events like this, but enjoy them.

How do we know this is true? Because our friends with anxiety told us so. And since we know it’s easier said than done, we asked for our mental health community for tips and tricks for dealing with anxiety at music festivals or concerts. At the end of the day, no one knows your own limits better than you do, so do what’s best for you (you can watch kickass footage and live streams of most festivals, anyway). But if this is something you’ve really wanted to do but told yourself you can’t, consider the advice below and give it a shot. (Bonus: We curated a summer playlist for you of anxiety-reducing songs.)

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “I’ve found that getting box seats whenever possible has been a big help. Sometimes they cost a little more, but you get more of your own private/safe space. If that’s not possible, I aim for end seats and/or the last row of a section. Also, familiarize yourself with the venue beforehand if you’ve never been there before. Google Maps now has a ‘street view’ of the inside of a lot of major venues. Study the seating chart. Know how many rows there are. Know where the aisles, bathrooms, water fountains, concession stands, lobbies, etc. are so you aren’t overwhelmed and confused when you get there. Make a plan with the people you’re going with. Perhaps snoop out a designated quiet space you can retreat to if the noise and crowd becomes too much. I also know a lot of people frown upon taking tons of pictures during shows, as it takes away from “being in the moment,” but for me, having my hands occupied with my camera helps me stay in the moment. If that’s not for you, maybe a small fidget toy would work. I also have a bottle of water and a snack on hand. Sometimes just knowing I’m hydrated helps. — Chrissy W.

2. “My best friend and I both have anxiety with crowds, so we always go together. If one of us needs to leave, we both leave. We help each other enjoy it and get excited by being supportive together. We have found it’s easier to do something uncomfortable if you’re doing it for someone you love, so we do it for each other, and we have a blast most of the time, and if we don’t, we are still in it together.” — Stephanie S.

3. “Remember that everyone is there for the same reason: to have fun. I feel so connected to people at concerts and festivals. I always have a peppermint in case I get too nervous, and that helps me.” — Tina C.

4. “When I know I’m going to be in a situation that will trigger my anxiety, I always make sure I carry at least two worry stones with me (a smooth, round, small object, usually a stone) that has a slight divet in one side about the size of the pad of your thumb, used to rub and fiddle with to distract and calm an anxious mind). That way if I start to feel myself panic I can take it out and mess with it. The cool, smooth surface of the stone is soothing to me and calms me down. I especially like ones with imperfections like bumps or cracks because it gives me something else to focus on.

If that doesn’t work, temporarily retreating to a secluded area and pacing slowly back and forth as I concentrate on breathing helps. Heat tends to soothe me as well as I get cold very easily and start to shiver when I’m anxious.

Always make sure you go with at least one person who knows about your condition and its triggers so they can help you if you need to suddenly leave and be alone. 

When all else fails, remember the vast majority of people at music festivals are kind, caring, understanding people and will be willing to help if you ask.” — Amanda K.

5. “Don’t be worried that you’re going to be judged. I have anxiety, and I find I’m more comfortable at a festival even though I tend to avoid crowds. Everyone is there for the same thing and they just want to have fun. Being with a group of friends also helps put me at ease. 

Keep some chewing gum with you in case you get anxious — that helps me focus on something. Also fiddling with my festival band helps take my mind off it.” –Kirstie C.

6. “Go with someone you trust, and set up a plan for where you can meet if you get separated. It can be terrifying to get separated from your group. I’ve been there, but if you know exactly where you can find each other and regroup it eliminates a lot of the stress. If you are near the front, acquaint yourself with security. They can help you get out if you are trapped in the crowd. It always amazes those who know me just how well I am able to handle myself at music festivals and concerts, but it has taken a lot of events to get this comfortable.” — Katelyn M. 

7. “I always think to myself that there are always people in the crowd doing or wearing something that draws more attention than I ever will. I also carry something I can fidget with like a lanyard. I never walk about on my own. And I always stand towards the back of the crowd.” — Helen G.

8. “Wear ear plugs if you are noise-sensitive or triggered. Go with someone who knows you well and will understand if you need to take a break and go for a walk, rather than get mad at you for leaving the main part of the concert. Familiarize yourself with your surrounding and hotel if you are staying in a different town before the concert so you don’t have to worry.” — Kassy S.

9. “Bring camping gear/clothes/etc. that make you feel comfortable and cozy. If your tent is ready for any weather and you bring pillows and soft blankets, you can make a great nest to nap or get time to yourself to regroup. Comfortable clothes and shoes are also essential. A battery charger can give you peace of mind in case you need to get in touch with someone or use a calming app. Make sure you have plenty of water and your regular meds or vitamins so you can maintain your schedule. Keep a map with you, and don’t hesitate to ask staff or medical tents for help. They are wonderful and they want to help you.” — Suzanna M.

10. “I have severe anxiety, and I go to music festivals a lot… but I love standing at the back of the crowd. I have room to dance, and I don’t feel crowded, blocked in, or like I can’t get away if I need to. And there’s always room to sit at festivals and just chills, which I highly recommend. Go, go, go and you’ll wear yourself out way too fast (mentally and physically).” — Sarah F.

11. “Everyone you think may be judging or staring at you is off in their own world, dashing to see the next performer or looking for where to get their next beer. If you focus less on the discomfort and focus more on what you came to see and hear, the whole excursion can be 20 times more enjoyable. Difficult but doable, and so, so worth letting your guard down a smidgen.” — Jimmy F.

12. “Get there early. Note the locations of the exits, bathrooms and an area you can get to easily if a panic attack occurs. Find your seats (if you have them). Take your seat and scope out the people around you. Take a breath. Make sure you know you can leave if your anxiety gets too bad, and you shouldn’t feel bad about it. Learn as much as you can about the venue and note anything that makes you feel safer/better. I always remind myself that once the concert starts I will have a great time and forget about the anxiety (at least a little).” — Allison L.

13. “As a music teacher and someone who has anxiety, [I believe] concerts are a way we as humans connect with one another without having to speak. My favorite part about concerts is being in the middle of the crowd, closing my eyes, putting my hands in the air, singing my heart out, and listening to the chorus of voices around me. Music is a way to remind us we are not alone, that there are people who feel the same way as us and going through their own journey’s as well. So when anxiety starts to hit, be in the moment. Focus on the crowd, the voices around you, and embrace the community there to support you.” — Shelbi B.

14. “Take care of yourself before you go. I know it can be difficult, but be well rested, eat before going and limit your alcohol if you drink. I find it helpful to decide what I’m wearing the night before and figuring out where the exits are once I’m there. The best advice is going with someone, but I don’t usually have that luxury so I acknowledge my anxious thoughts and feelings and tell myself it’s good to do things for myself even if it’s pushing me out of my comfort zone.” — Adah J.

15. Take a doctor’s letter along with your medication. I got pulled up for having six or seven types of tablets in my rucksack when they searched it, but they were fine once I explained what each one was for and said that I had a doctor’s note if they needed proof.” — Becca H.

16. “Go with a friend who has been to festivals or concerts before and is well versed in the goings-on!” — Lex C.

17. “Dance like no one is watching — because no one is! You’re there to have fun, they’re there to have fun. I find that live music events are one of the few times my social anxiety is relieved.” — Noah B.

18. “Rest... don’t push yourself. Go to your tent and just lie down and be by yourself, even if your friends are out partying. Don’t force yourself to be hyped all the time for them. And don’t feel bad for taking care of yourself or leaving early if you have to.” — Meika M.

19. “I have been criticized and looked down on for wanting to take my service dog to a small festival. If you have a service dog and you want to go to a festival make sure they have all the appropriate attire. Booties to avoid glass, cooling shirts to keep from overheating, portable water bottle, mutt muffs, etc. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong for bringing your service dog to a festival!” — De C.

20. “I get sensory overload and panic attacks in dark, loud, crowded stadiums. Bring head phones and a distraction of some type — even fiddling with my keys can help ground me and help me focus.” — Julie B.

What advice would you offer someone with anxiety who’s attending a music festival or concert? Let us know in the comments below.

Thinkstock photo by m-gucci

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