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The Anxiety of Worrying I'm Missing Out on Everything the World Has to Offer

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I want to be the girl who worries about a chipped nail.

But I’m the girl who wouldn’t notice if her nails were falling off.

I’ve struggled with a rare dissociative and a severe anxiety disorder, characterized mostly by depersonalization, derealization, and panic attacks and, for most of my life, like many of us, have been searching for a cause.

But the weird thing is, there isn’t one.

I grew up the quiet girl with the book. Always reading. Always escaping into another story, fantasy. A way I could feel alive — reading about other people. Melting into stories.

Reading has had many benefits for me — doing well in school, landing a good job, making me extremely book smart (but because of my disorder, not very street smart). Whether being smart is a curse or a blessing I have yet to figure out.

In fact, I am the type of person who thinks about things until I exhaust them. I like to think that’s where the root of my anxiety lies. I think and think until everything seems unreal. How could it be real? What if it’s imagined? I think so much about how things exist that I struggle to live in the moment, in the now.

I worry so much about not living in the now that I rarely live in the present. I’m so worried about the future that I forget I’m alive.

From childhood I was captivated by the world itself. Its beauty. Everything it has. The endless opportunities and beautiful things to see. I wanted to do everything. I wanted to see everything. But I always feared, “What if something happens to me before I can be something. Be someone?”

I’ve been around the world in many ways: many doctors, many appointments, many medicines. I’ve been around the world in my own mind. But, unfortunately, my anxiety prevents me from actually going forward (or anywhere far) physically.

Back to the world. Back to dissociative. I smell a flower. I feel nothing. I look at a tree. I feel nothing. I feel my feet on the ground — no, I don’t. I often feel like I’m floating.

My biggest fear, the root of my anxiety, is never getting the opportunity to experience things fully.

The hardest part is, a brain disorder is invisible. People often say to me, “I never knew,” or “You look fine,” or they just think I’m a fair-weather friend.

Even to this day, I’m the strong girl. Sure, my family worries about me, but they know I will fall and get up again; I will lose and not be defeated.

This has become, again, a blessing and a curse.

After all, author George Martin said in his book “A Dance with Dragons”: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

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Photo by NASA, via Unsplash

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Why My High-Functioning Anxiety Means I Must Be a 'Liar'

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I am a liar. By no means can you ever trust a word coming from these lips. I have learned the art of making stories seem so real you have no doubt they are true — especially when I tell you, “I am OK, and I’ll eventually see things through.” It’s rough, pretending to others you’re as courageous and strong as they believe you are.

Sometimes you rather not let others down, by not letting them see you so far down the rabbit hole. I am a great pretender. I’ve mastered the art of letting stories take my actual presence; it’s a superpower, really.

I tell lies. Practically stories, of people who are me but not me. Stories of someone I wish I could be when anxiety doesn’t destroy me. It’s my great escape and terrifying curse, because it’s so much cooler to be someone else than me.

I am a skilled actor; I jest. I’m truly very good at just making up stories to hide my fears. Why? Because if I were to tell the truth — that working 80+ hours a week, being a full-time student, married with high-functioning anxiety and depressive disorder causes an internal destruction of my sanity? I’m called lazy as hell, that I’m a whiner and I need to grow up, or that I need to put my “big girl pants” on and face the real world like everyone does.

I’ve learned firsthand, secondhand, and thirdhand that telling the honest truth about why I need to come in later for work or even take a day off from work will cause people to shun me. I’ve seen the look on their faces when I openly tell the truth and was told it was all in my head. I’ve always had someone make my reasons feel invalidated by statements like these:

“Well, I’ve had a bad day too but I’m still working hard.” Or… “I get tired too, you just have to pull through it, it’s all in your head.”

Well, that’s just it. It is all in my head because my anxiety and the depression monsters love playing tag and jumping up and down on the cushions of my brain. Wreaking havoc and destruction on my concentration, deliberately dangling normalcy in front of me like a piece of meat but then jerking it away when I want some semblance of peace.

It’s hard to express I am not OK; it hurts so much to tell someone the truth. Because I’ve already seen so many witch hunts on people who struggle like I do, in silence because we feel invalid by our illnesses.

That is why I feel I must paste on my fake personality — pretend I am invincible when I feel like I’m dying from my insides caving in on each other. I have to don my clothes, even when my body hurts from crying and shaking from the terrible thoughts running in my head. I must paint a face upon my true face, to hide the flaws and the dark circles around my eyes from the lack of sleep caused by nightmares of possibly messing up and losing my job. I must be perfect. I need to pretend to be damn good at being someone who doesn’t struggle with anything. I must be… an excellent citizen of society.

I must be the perfect liar.

Follow this journey on Letters from a Highly Functional Walking Disaster

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Unsplash photo via Jorge Rojas

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What Happens When My Anxiety Takes Over

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When my anxiety takes over, I fall back into a pattern I know all too well. I create distractions. I jump into everything head first and just go. The less time I have to let my anxiety take control, the better.

When my anxiety tells me I’m not good enough or can’t do this, I’m competitive by nature, so I push harder. This sounds like it would be a good thing, but it’s not. Average isn’t good enough. I have to do better, no matter the cost. So I shut everyone out, I lose all interest in any social interaction and I push everyone away. I stop looking forward to days off and start to dread them.

My anxiety won’t allow me to slow down. I can’t take any breaks. I sleep more, or I sleep less, depending on the day. I keep my head up and a smile on my face so no one knows I’m coming undone.

My anxiety tells me no one cares so I don’t need them. I shut down and go on autopilot. I become irritable and stop returning phone calls and texts. I don’t want anything to do with anyone. I’m hard to live with, hard to talk to. People who know me well know to wait it out, others call me “selfish,” “bitchy” or “stuck up.”

This is my anxiety when it’s at its worst. This is a time when I need to push through it and work it out. This is a time when I need to be in control of my surroundings and this is a time when I see clearly which people need to be shut out of my life. Those who truly love me understand what I need and give me space. Those who don’t, cause drama, back stabbing and name calling.

To understand me, please understand my diagnosis isn’t imaginary or an excuse to be “lazy,” “stuck up” or “selfish.”  Understand it is a disorder that involves high levels of self-care that can be exhausting.

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Thinkstock photo via Tishchenko.

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What a Garbage Man Taught Me About Anxiety

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Yesterday I hit a garbage truck. In New York City.

It was early in the morning, and I was on my way to an appointment with my therapist. Parking in the city is a pain, so I was relieved to spot an empty space that did not include a fire hydrant. Problem: it was blocked by a garbage truck. I managed to pull in front of the garbage truck and squeeze my way into the spot. Bad angle, but I was in. I figured I could fix myself when the truck moved on – if it would just move.

Next thing I know, there’s a knock on my window. Now what?

“Hey, you’re blocking the trash with your car.”

Omg, my day just started and I’m already pissed. I figured I was at a bad angle anyway so I would pull out so they can get the trash and then pull back in.

“OK,” I said (calmly). “I can pull out so you guys can get the trash.”

Out I go. Thing is, with two lanes on my side of the street, the garbage truck pulls beside me to retrieve the trash. Mission accomplished: trash retrieved. Put my car into reverse and began to pull back into my coveted spot. Unsuccessfully, of course. Here’s what happened next: crash. And then: crap, I hit the garbage truck. And then: omg omg omg omg. Anxiety skyrockets to 10 and I am gathering myself to fall apart.

Then came the garbage man. The garbage man without a name who literally restored my faith in all of humanity with his kind words and smile. He stayed with me and helped me park. He directed me into and out of the spot multiple times as I was so flustered and anxious I kept on overshooting my mark. He also fixed my car because I had apparently only unhooked the bumper, so he put it back for me. Then he gave me a pep talk about remaining calm and told me I should try not to get ruffled, so I won’t make mistakes. He told me that “slowly is quickly” and I shouldn’t feel pressured. He told me to focus on the task at hand and do it until I get it right. He told me I was going to be OK and that it was fine, I didn’t even need to fix my car because it wasn’t damaged. It was all I could do not to break down in front of him.

So, Mr. Garbage Man — though I do not know your name and you don’t know mine, know you have made a difference in my life. Know that on the streets of NYC, alongside the curb full of trash, you have imparted wisdom and lessons for life I will not soon forget. Know that in the midst of what could have been a complete catastrophe, you were my calm and support. Thank you with all my heart. You were a small window of my day, but you and your words have remained a part of my life. You have no idea what you did for me.

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Thinkstock photo via mrdoomits

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24 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

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We may think we know what anxiety looks like (shaking hands, shallow breaths) and what it sounds like (“I can’t do this. What if I can’t do it. What if?…What if?…), but what does anxiety feel like? Often, we focus so much on the racing thoughts and emotions that come with anxiety, we forget to recognize how physical anxiety can be. In fact, you can feel physical effects of anxiety without even realizing it’s anxiety that’s causing it.

To learn some of the ways anxiety not only affects your mind — but your body — we asked people in our mental health community to describe what physical symptoms of anxiety they deal with, and what they feel like.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “When I get into high anxiety, sometimes out of nowhere, I get GI [gastrointestinal] symptoms. Constantly going to the bathroom. I have cramps and abdominal pain. It’s tough because there is nothing I can do but just try to wait it out.” — Michele P.

2. “Does anyone else find themselves antsy after a big panic attack where you can barely sit still and then for the next couple days, you’re completely mentally/physically exhausted? I feel like everything is just too much and I can’t move.” — Kristen G.

3. “It starts with my heart racing… so fast I can hardly breathe. Then the nausea. It is unrelenting. The nausea makes my anxiety worse which makes my heart race, which makes me more nauseous. It’s all a vicious cycle, and it is so hard to escape.” — Rachael J.

4. “In the aftermath of a panic attack, I often feel bone-chillingly cold. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, and no jacket or blanket helps. I just have to ride it out until it goes away.” — Monica M.

5. “My back is in tremendous pain, and every time I have attacks, I suddenly feel my back harden and new knots appear. I have been trying to go to massage therapy and other treatments, but nothing really seems to work.” — Alexandra C.

6. “Heart palpitations. Every night for over a year my heart wouldn’t let me sleep. As soon as I lay down and my body was relaxed, my heart would start pounding hard enough to shake my whole body. I was convinced I had a horrible fatal heart condition, but after a few tests, my doctor told me it was only a symptom of my anxiety disorder.” — Heather D.

7. “I start itching, picking at my scalp or under my finger nails. I sometimes look pale (more so than normal, that is) and seem slightly dazed. Of course nausea and sweating, as well. Sometimes it also feels like my tongue is swollen and I can barely speak.” — Alexa K.

8. “When my anxiety is triggered, my diaphragm turns to iron — I can’t relax it to take deep breaths, and sometimes I can’t even breathe at all. I end up taking shallow breaths and unconsciously holding them for as long as I can.” — Amber W.

9. “Sometimes, when under an extreme amount of stress/anxiety I get physically sick because my body is overdosing me with adrenaline. It’s happened in public a few times for me, and it’s humiliating. I heard someone call me a ‘hungover wreck’ before when actually I was just severely over-stressed.” — Conor L.

10. “I have constant heart palpitations. My resting heart rate is always in the 90s because I’m on constant high alert, even if I’m laying in bed. Then there’s the stomach aches, the headaches, constant muscle tension. Any wrong movement, I pull a muscle in my neck or back.” — Amber B.

11. “Chest pains that feel like I’m having a heart attack. My anxiety causes so much pain throughout my body, people think I constantly have the flu. I can’t believe how speechless I get and start mumbling. What surprises me is how much ice cream and a cold compress helps; it slows down my heart rate and calms me down.” — Christina P/

12. “Tense muscles in the back of my neck, stomach issues and feeling nauseous a lot, gritting my teeth subconsciously, feeling ‘heavy’ and tired, my heart beats fast and I partially dissociate when I’m extremely nervous. Also, I feel very shaky whenever I’m worked up, and I feel as if I can’t see straight (probably sensory overload).” — Elizabeth E.

13. “When I begin having an attack I get light headed and dizzy. I almost pass out. My breathing increases and my heart rate jumps up. It sucks. A lot. Especially when I’m in like the grocery store.” — Hannah Y.

14. “Depends on the type of anxiety for me. Usually starts with my body temperature rising, then I start to sweat. Heart starts beating faster and harder. It’s just racing,feels like it’s going to alien out of chest. My vision starts to get blurry. Turns into tunnel vision. Sounds all around me seem to be swallowing me up. I can’t focus on anything, especially my own thoughts. My hands start to shake and I want to scream at everyone.” — Kit K.

15. “Getting extremely hyper while having muscle spasms and joint pain. Then getting hit with a migraine and it’s hard to hear anything over my heartbeat, then finally getting cardiac symptoms(crushing feeling on my chest, inability to breath properly, arms going numb) that make everyone around me think I’m having a heart attack. Also major jaw pain due to clenching the majority of the time and grinding my teeth in my sleep.” — Cait L.

16. “Apart from the elevating heartbeat and the sick feeling in my stomach, I stammer. I am no longer in control of my speech pattern, I speak so fast I can’t catch my breath, my tongue somehow feels like it’s being twisted. What comes out of my mouth during anxiety is mostly a combination of gibberish and unintelligible sounds.” — Phượng N.

17. “My voice goes very raspy and strained… It’s a very odd symptom but happens nearly every single time I leave the house or talk to people on the phone, etc.” — Sarah G.

18. “Horrible and very vivid nightmares. Once my anxiety was under control I finally stopped having them. Plus nail biting, scalp picking, twitches, shaking, not being able to breathe, etc. It’s hell.” — Emily B.

19. “Dizziness, nausea, headaches, racing heart, upset stomach but recently I’ve noticed when I’m in full blown panic mode my gums bleed…very recent new symptom to add to the really crappy list…” — Claire A.

20.My boyfriend and I both have anxiety (him newly diagnosed and I’ve had it for my whole life), and when I get really anxious and hot my whole body breaks out in a red and incredibly itchy/painful rash that can only be remedied by trying to cool myself down and wait it out. He on the other hand gets these patches of what looks like dragon skin when he has high anxiety that he says is very itchy.” — Malia R.

21. “Full-body rage. High blood pressure followed by a sense of being completely drained. The feeling that your body is going to explode from inside out. And the feeling of hopelessness from not being able to ‘check’ myself/yourself.” — Courtney B.

22.Back pain, I tense my back without realizing I’m doing it and I can’t stop it when I start cause I don’t know how I do it in the first place. The pains there ’til the anxiety has subsided.” — Samantha S.

23. “I shut down. I can’t think. I forget where I’m going or what I’m doing. I just fall asleep. I had myself tested for narcolepsy simply because I wasn’t putting anxiety and my sudden urge to sleep together.” — Candice L.

24. “Nausea, uncontrollable shaking, rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, hot/cold flashes, muscle tension, jaw clenching, and I startle very easy. These symptoms, combined with an onslaught of detrimental thoughts, create a perpetual cycle of uselessness, fear and panic. It’s exhausting.” — Persephone A.

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Why a Smile Is the Perfect 'Poker Face' for Hiding My Anxiety

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The signs have always been there.  Though not as eye catching as a neon sign or obvious as a billboard, I suppose there have always been signs.

The signs are usually only noticeable to those who know me well — really well. It may be as innocent as a click, click of my nails as they flick against each other, or the way I hold my hands and slowly wring them — oh so slowly, so as not to be obvious. Internally though, my heart is beating anything but slowly and sometimes, it feels as though it skips a beat and causes me to lose my breath. Internally, I begin sweating so profusely I could and will soak my shirt. I try and take deep breaths because it feels like I have none left.

Outside, I smile and laugh it off. The perfect poker face. As long as I smile, no one knows what is going on inside. Make eye contact, nod reassuringly and everyone believes I am fine.

Behind my smile my mind races down every possible worst scenario in any given situation. I push these thoughts by keeping busy. I never say no. Keeping busy means I won’t be left alone to think.

Outside, others see a perfectionist. An overachiever. A person who seems so put together. I smile again, remembering it’s the the perfect poker face, and their words serve to persuade me, they are in fact, true.

When I’m alone though, it all creeps back in. Like a shadow crawling up my back, I start to feel fear, uncertainty and that’s when I know….

I struggle with anxiety.

I’ve never said those four words before. “I struggle with anxiety.” I don’t like them, and yet I feel relief from writing it down. Maybe those four words will set me free.

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Unsplash photo via Allef Vinicius.

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