When Anxiety Makes My Mind a Stormy Ocean

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My mind is like the ocean. My thoughts are the waves. It is continuous like the blue depths of the ocean. Some parts are calm. The water being motionless, unruffled, undisturbed. My thoughts calm and tranquil.

Some parts comprise tiny waves, small ruffles within the serene water. They create tiny agitated storms but dissipate into nothing more than a ruffle. They leave me uneasy, but vanish, leaving me as I was before: unchanged.

Then there are intervals of gigantic waves that could reach above my head. The type of waves that look small and inadequate at first, but over time, as it inches closer, becomes a enormous thunder of water. It’s a wonder how these form. They start as small disturbances in the water, and grow. They grow larger and larger as if the ocean is throwing all of its energy into such a small fragment of itself.

The thoughts all start minor, too. Things that shouldn’t matter, things that don’t matter. They grow and grow, until they embody a greater area. It becomes stronger and harder to forget. They can grow into an entity of its own. They crash down hard, they are strong and solid.

These waves can be hard to navigate. When the water is still, a boat would move gently across the surface, unharmed. As the waves move in and become stronger, my boat will need to steer clear of these waves, but it can’t avoid every one. Some times my boat will need to ride the waves.

Together, these waves and quiet pools of water make up the voice inside my head. That voice I listened to once, demands to be heard every occasion after. You have to listen to me, it taunts. It gets louder and louder, with an ever-increasing volume, so that every part of me, every inch of my body hears it, feels it. These are the unavoidable thoughts that run through my head on the bad days, and the mumbled, quiescent cries I hear on the good days.

Doing all this thinking can be lonely and overwhelming, to live life inside my head. Every night is spent replaying events on repeat, being filtered out for all the positive, leaving behind a negative core that is cold and raw. It’s gets hard to navigate that boat alone, through all the rough patches of waves. I get tired. It gets harder to steer clear of the dangerous waters.

As any earthly event, it cannot be controlled. The waves cannot be tamed, and sometimes they cannot be avoided. The ocean holds its power and gives no one else the reigns. All that can be done is steer my boat to safety, to a part of the ocean that makes me feel safe, protected and secure. I cannot control the waves, I can only steer the boat.

These are just like my thoughts. Some of them can’t be avoided. Some of them pass with no need to steer the boat. And some require my utmost strength. I have to concentrate on the direction that the boat moves, avoiding all the subtle bumps in the water so I can reach my final destination.

When the waves get aggressive and fierce, it may get hard to steer my boat alone. Sometimes I need a second pair of hands to set the sail in the right direction. Sometimes I need help to make it to safety. It can be hard and miserable to go through it alone. I believe no one wants to venture through an unforgiving and overwhelming encounter by themselves.

But it doesn’t have to be lonely. And it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. I don’t have to let those thoughts take control of my life. I don’t have to drown in the water. I don’t have to stay quiet about what I’m feeling.

I have to let these thoughts out. I have to talk to someone, or write about how I’m feeling because once those thoughts are out in the open, unable to hide any longer, it isn’t a one on one battle anymore. It becomes a team effort to navigate through those fierce waves. Because I do deserve to feel better, and I am worth it and I do have value. Together, we can battle these thoughts and these voices. Together we can make it to the clear, blue, delicate water. Away from the storm.

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How Kesha Changed Her Relationship With Social Media to Deal With Anxiety and Depression

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This isn’t the first time Kesha has spoken out about living with an eating disorder, anxiety and depression, but in an honest essay in Teen Vogue, the pop star shared how social media affects her mental health.

She wrote:

When I think about the kind of bullying I dealt with as a child and teen, it seems almost quaint compared with what goes on today. The amount of body-shaming and baseless slut-shaming online makes me sick. I know from personal experience how comments can mess up somebody’s self-confidence and sense of self-worth. I have felt so unlovable after reading cruel words written by strangers who don’t know a thing about me.

It became a vicious cycle: When I compared myself to others, I would read more mean comments, which only fed my anxiety and depression.

For this reason, she said, she’s changed her relationship with social media, going on frequent breaks and making an effort to spend more time outside.

I love [social media] because it’s how I communicate with my fans—and nothing means more to me than my fans—but too much of it can exacerbate my anxiety and depression.

Although not all of us get the “celebrity” experience on social media, how we interact with sites like Facebook can have an affect on our mental health. A study from the University of Missouri found social media can lead to symptoms of depression when it makes the user feel envy towards others. For people who already have depression and anxiety, it’s not surprising that comparing yourself to others has the potential to damage your self-esteem and make symptoms worse.

But, there’s also a thriving community of people on social media who talk about mental health issues. Sometimes when people feel alone in their own lives, relationships online — mostly fostered by social media — can assure them they’re not alone.

To find out what our mental health community thought about the relationship between social media and mental health, we asked them (on Facebook) to tell us how social media affects their own mental illness.

Here’s what they told us:

“It is a positive and a negative. The positive is that I get to interact with people without feeling any social anxiety, and it helps me to feel less alone. The negative is that it can make me feel depressed, like I’m not worth as much as people who have more than me or that everyone has a happy and perfect life. I just need to remember that what people put on social media may not be the real story.” — Alaina M.

“Through social media I am able to express myself about my mental health issues and not feel so alone. I’ve made it a point to destigmatize mental health on my Facebook as well.” — Maija N.

“I have bipolar ll disorder, and seeing everyone in my newsfeed starting families, getting married or graduating college makes me feel like I’m worth nothing. I try to not let it affect me but seeing everyone else happy and feeling stagnant myself in life, I can’t help but let it get to me.” — Miranda F.

“Social media has been huge. It can build me up or tear me down. I’ve found community, but also lost in-real-life-friends because their drama negatively effected me. Definitely a double edged sword.” — Martha W.

“Many of my old friends told me that I should stop post stuff that’s relevant to me and my mental health. It would make them feel depressed. Good joke. My aim is it to destigmatize mental illness and I will continue to talk, scream, whisper and shout about my issues and how I manage them. If I can make just one other person realize they are worthy of life and worthy of getting help, I’m happy.” — Anki L.

“Social media has been an absolute game changer. Because of the connections I’ve made, there is peer support 24/7. Connections have been made worldwide and great friendships have been formed.” — Jeanine H.

“Social media allows me to be more open about my anxiety and depression with people, but it also makes me clam up at times because I’m afraid I’ll say the wrong thing or have my words misinterpreted.” — Scott V.

“I live with bipolar disorder and my attempts to open a healthy dialogue on mental health have caused me to consider leaving social media altogether. My friends are supportive but no one else will talk about it. I feel like I’m not worth people’s time. No one wants to be reminded that ‘people like me’ exist.” — Matt W.

“It can help and it can hurt. It gives me a way to express myself when I’m too anxious to talk to people, I can reach out with a status instead of pushing past my social anxiety and confronting someone. On the other side though, I find myself scrolling through an endless emotional rollercoaster that is the newsfeed. ‘Sad story, happy story, look at this person who was murdered, look at this kid happy about a new puppy, look at this sailor come home to his sister, read about this new law, this place was just bombed, hey look more puppies!’ It’s hard to keep my own emotions at bay when my ‘surroundings’ have such a huge an unpredictable influence on them.” — Stephanie F.

“I’m constantly on social media. It takes a toll on me. Some days I am on it all day long. I then in turn feel like crap about it. I feel foggy and even more depressed.” — De C.

“Social media helps me stay connected with family and friends, see what’s happening in their lives when I’m too down on myself to ask or really talk to them.” — Danae N.

“Social media helps me feel close to those I love even if I’m far away from them. The downside is that normally people who upload photos or other things don’t show the reality of their feelings, so I’m always comparing myself to others and thinking their lives are better than mine.” — Kiranne S.

“Social media is mainly a positive to me, because it lets me know that I’m not alone. My friends don’t have the mental health issues I do, so it’s easy to feel isolated. Through social media I can see I’m not unique in my experiences and there’s people going through, or that have been through what I have.” — Katie B.

“Honestly it is such a trigger for anxiety, but I use it when I’m stressed for the immediate gratification of attention from strangers. I hate seeing others people’s lives and imagining how much better off than me they are, but also sometimes just an anonymous like on a picture or post can calm me and make me feel valid. I feel like that’s a sad way to use it, but sometimes it really does help.” — Nathan E.

I tend to read into post reactions more negatively. Someone could respond with, ‘Oh that’s nice,’ and I’ll immediately think it was a sarcastic response. Also, if close friends don’t respond I’ll wonder if they’re mad at me. On the positive side, I have an immense amount of support through social media concerning my mental illnesses.” — Stephanie T.

How does social media affect your life with mental illness? Tell us in the comments below.

Lead photo via Kesha‘s Facebook page.

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What It's Like Inside My Brain During an Anxiety Attack

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I’m having trouble right now. This is hard. It hurts in my chest. Sometimes, I have really scary thoughts. I’m trying to do the next “right” thing, because everything is scary. I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying, I’m trying. Stop trying? Stop trying! But I’m trying to stop. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. I don’t need to tell everyone about this. I don’t need them. People don’t ask for help because they try. I try to write it out, but it’s not perfect, so I stop. I don’t want my daughter to feel that way. Can I be OK with that? It’s OK that I’m not OK with it. I’m not OK with it. I’m not OK with it not being right. What is right? Breathe in. Breathe out. Let. The. Earth. Support. You. Like an ocean. Breathe. The waves come in. I hate that song. The waves go out. Feel my teeth. My tongue. My toes. I did it, I did it! Look at me! Aren’t I great for doing it? I don’t need to help other people right now. The way I help them is if I help me. I’m scared to type certain things. I don’t want people to worry. I don’t want people to lie to me and tell me everything is OK. Breathe in. I don’t want a Band-Aid. Breathe out. I have a mental illness? I shouldn’t sugarcoat it.

I have a mental illness.

They are just words. I get why people with mental illness sometimes want to die, want to crawl in a hole. Want to write. Want to get it out! Want to get out. I have an illness. It’s not my fault. It’s not my birth mom’s fault. It’s not my mom’s fault. It’s not my husband’s fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. It’s OK that I didn’t understand. It’s OK that I didn’t understand. It’s OK that I didn’t understand. It’s OK that I didn’t understand.

God of mercy. Sweet love of mine. I have surrendered to the divine. This is why people write. This is why writing is beautiful. This is why they say, “bare your soul.” I don’t need to tell everyone all the time that they’re doing it right. It helps. But I need to mean it. That’s mean. I’m trying to mean it. Breathe.

In. Out. Relax your jaw. Feel your tongue. They were just words before. I get it now. Are people worried? It doesn’t matter. It matters that you get better. I’m getting better. I need to do this. I need to do this. I need to do this. It helps to see it written out. I’m not writing a book. It doesn’t need to “sound good.” It doesn’t need to look good.

Come back. I missed you. It’s OK. You’re here now. And that’s all that matters. You’re OK. You’re OK. You’re OK. You’re OK. Breathe in. Breathe out.

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.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Olarty.

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What It Feels Like to Have an 'Anxiety Hangover'

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Have you ever had a hangover? Chances are if you are old enough to drink you’ve had at least one dance with the hangover monster. Your head is killing you, your stomach is doing more flips than a circus acrobat and you can hardly function.

Now how about what I like to call an anxiety hangover, have you ever experienced one of those? In many ways, it’s just as unpleasant as an alcohol-induced hangover, but the downside is it can go on for much, much longer and bring in a bout of depression. Let me explain how this works.

First comes the anxiety attack. Your heart rate is up, you start feeling really, really anxious about every single little thing, your palms start sweating, your throat is dry and you feel suffocated, your stomach feels sick and you’re uncontrollably shaking. You know all too well exactly what this is but whatever attempts you make to calm yourself down are just not
working. Anything little thing that’s on your mind suddenly becomes front and center and turns into a do or die scenario. You feel scared, alone and helpless. Reality slips away and is replaced with this world that is frightening, lonely and dangerous. When you try to reach out for assurance you end up attacking and pushing away those people that you really want close to you. But this is not the monster I’m speaking of today. My monster comes after.

Much like waking up after a particularly good night of partying, once the anxiety goes out and the calm sets in you look around, try to piece back together the events of the night and survey the damage. All the things you said during the attack, all the things you wanted to stop yourself from saying but couldn’t have now been said. All your most irrational fears are right there up on the surface. You regret it, you regret it so damn much and would give anything to undo it. But you can’t. People have a hard time understanding how damaging your own thoughts can be, especially when you lose all control of them.

So, you try to apologize, try to explain that you never meant to be that way. More often than not the subject of your “attacks” is not a person who understands or has experienced anxiety, we naturally seek these people out craving their calm demeanor, but for them it’s almost impossible to understand. They generally don’t react well, it’s too much for them, they call you crazy. This is crushing, absolutely crushing!

This is where the depression sits in. You regret everything. The way you acted, the things you said, you regret that you even allowed yourself to interact with anyone in that state. Sometimes it’s unfix-able, you’re just too much and they don’t want to deal with it. Then the loneliness, the self-doubt, the feelings of unworthiness all set in and you’re left alone standing there in the middle of the battlefield, chaos and destruction all around you.

Every time it happens you feel a little less. Less worthy, less than enough, less valued. That ugly horrible part of you keeps popping up and strangling your happiness. You start to believe that maybe you really are “crazy,” that nobody will ever be able to see past this monster and discover all the beautiful things you have to offer. It’s a different kind of heartbreak because you want to be better, but you’re not sure if you can be.  So, you withdraw, curl up with the miserable way you feel and this can last awhile, until the cycle starts all over again.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via pecaphoto77

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Surprising Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

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We asked people in The Mighty’s mental health community to share one physical symptom they experience because of anxiety.

Read the full version of 24 Surprising Physical Symptoms of Anxiety.

Read the full transcript:

Surprising Physical Symptoms of Anxiety

“Constantly going to the bathroom. I have cramps and abdominal pain.”

“Full-body rage. High blood pressure followed by a sense of being completely drained.”

“My back is in tremendous pain, and every time I have attacks, I suddenly feel my back harden and new knots appear.”

“In the aftermath of a panic attack, I often feel bone-chillingly cold.”

“When I get really anxious and hot my whole body breaks out in a red and incredibly itchy or painful rash.”

“Heart palpitations. Every night for over a year my heart wouldn’t let me sleep.”

“My voice goes very raspy and strained.”

“When I’m in full blown panic mode my gums bleed.”

“Horrible and very vivid nightmares.”

“I shut down. I can’t think. I forget where I’m going or what I’m doing. I just fall asleep.”

Anxiety isn’t just ‘in your head.’ It affects your body too.

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Why I Feel My Mental Illness Makes Friendship Difficult

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For most people, making friends comes second nature. Most of us don’t even have to try — it just happens. We start new jobs, meet people through others or bump into someone we instantly connect with and a friendship is born.

I used to be like that.

Now, I just don’t seem to know how. It’s not that people don’t try and be my friend because they do … I just don’t know how to accept their friendship these days.

I get confused, and worried, and overthink the entire thing to the point where it’s just easier not to get close to anyone. I have a few close family and friends whom I adore. My husband is my rock and knows me inside and out. I am not lonely, but having friends is not my “normal” anymore.

It’s not that I don’t want more people in my life; I just struggle with forming meaningful relationships — ones built on trust, respect and honesty.

So, why do I think this is?

Well, what if they get to know me and realize how “ridiculous” I am?

What if I’m too needy?

What if they are too needy, and I can’t cope with it?

What if they invite me out somewhere, and I have to meet more people? I might embarrass them, I might get anxious and have to leave early, then they will all be talking about me, won’t they?

Yeah, I don’t need any more friends. I’m OK as I am, aren’t I … but wouldn’t it be nice to go out on girly nights, and see people and make memories? But that all sounds a bit scary to me … fuck it, I’m fine as I am  I don’t need anyone. People suck anyway.

That’s my anxiety talking. That’s my borderline personality disorder (BPD) talking. That’s my depression talking. That’s my slightly broken mind talking.

I am fully aware most of that is utter bollocks, but that doesn’t make the fears and worries I have about making new friends feel any less real.

For the most part, I am an incredibly logical and rational individual, which is why even I can’t understand myself sometimes. Being this irrational confuses me terribly.

So, if I can’t understand myself, how can I expect anyone else to?

I struggle with fear of abandonment. My mind works in a way that if someone hasn’t contacted me, or replied to a message, or answered their phone, I automatically jump to the worst possible conclusion. This can range from me thinking they are pissed off with me to thinking they have died in a horrible accident.

For example, my husband has to text me every morning when he gets to work.  If he doesn’t, my brain goes into overdrive and starts asking the dreaded “what if” questions. What if he’s been involved in an accident and can’t get to his phone? What if he’s had an accident and he’s just lying at the side of a road somewhere? What if he’s dead?

The rational side of my brain knows he’s probably just got caught in traffic, or someone’s collared him getting out of the car and he’s just got caught up talking, but the next thing I know I’m checking Facebook and news sites for accidents on the motorway. I know how irrational that might sound to most of you — it sounds irrational to myself — but it’s the way I am.

My only defense is I care deeply, and the thought of losing someone I care about that much terrifies me.

I can also be a very cynical person. I often assume people are only being nice to me because they want something from me. It takes so much for me to completely trust people. I have, like most people, been hurt and let down by others in the past. Most people understand this is just part of life, and not everyone we meet will be out to get us. My brain doesn’t believe that sometimes.

If I meet someone and they invite me out somewhere, my first thought is usually, “Why would they want to invite me out?” I sometimes fail to see the positives in myself, so assume no one else can either.

I have the appearance of someone who doesn’t care what others think. I’m heavily tattooed, have my own style, wear clothes I love regardless of fashion, model part-time and have always walked my own path. People assume I’m cool and confident, and that couldn’t be further from the truth at times. I am constantly seeking approval in my own way. I find it difficult to accept that someone would want to spend time with me for no other reason than they enjoy my company. I always assume there’s an ulterior motive.

My “normal” is probably different to yours. I get that most people don’t think the same way I do, so this is one of the main things that causes me to withdraw when someone is attempting to start a friendship with me. It’s all fine and dandy when you first meet. I don’t have to tell then what goes on in my head. I don’t have to let them see my “ridiculousness.” I can hide it all exceptionally well, but what happens further down the line? I can’t pretend to be a different person for the rest of my life. Surely it also invalidates the friendship, if I’m not the person they think I am?

I am incredibly honest about my mental health struggles. I refuse to be embarrassed by it or ashamed of it — it is part of me — but, that doesn’t mean I reveal all of my secrets to everyone I meet.

Most people I know in real life know I struggle with anxiety and panic attacks, but there are very few people who really know what goes on in my head.

Which is why I wanted to write this article. I want people to know me, warts and all. I want to share it all with you. Why? There are a few reasons. Let me explain.

Firstly, sometimes feeling the way I do can suck, but I know I am not the only person in the world who feels like this. I’m hoping, by me putting all this out there, it will help others realize they aren’t alone. I do not have any answers on how to change this, but I’m hoping maybe we can just figure it all out together along the way.

The other reason I am writing this is because I hope it will help the people who know me already to understand me a little bit better. I know you may be sat there thinking I must be hard work to know, or maybe you think having a friend like me must be exhausting, ut I can assure you it isn’t. I am one of the most caring, kind, empathic people you will meet. I love deeply and openly. I try my utmost not to judge. I will listen to your problems, and help you in any way I can.

Knowing me can be confusing — I get that — but please, if you have read this far and still want to be my friend, I love you. Please don’t stop trying with me. Please keep inviting me out, even if I decline the offer. Please tell me it is OK to be how I am. Please just understand this is hard for me. And please — above all else — let me be me with all my flaws, and I promise you: you will have a friend for life.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

 Thinkstock photo via lolostock

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