Group of friends celebrating with sparklers at night on rock with scenic view on city

The Time I Went to a Party and Forgot I Had Anxiety

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Loud music, large crowds, drunken friends. Parties are usually something I fear.

Anxiety overrules my need for fun. It releases a whirlwind of all the negative possibilities that could occur, draining away any excitement I may possibly have. Discomfort consumes me, and when I feel uncomfortable, I become a wallflower.

I sit quietly, and I observe.

I watch as the girl who has had one drink too many, stumbles across the heaving room. I see friends laughing and gossiping. I see the guy across the hallway playing a practical joke on his puzzled friend. I see everyone around me enjoying themselves, without a care in the world.

I sit quietly, and I observe.

I can’t move, because if I move, the cloud I have perfectly positioned at a safe distance away, will rain over me. I can’t move, because if I move, the tide will ride in quickly, and I will drown in all the worries I have. I can’t move, because if I move, I will have to run, and run, and run… until I return to my safety net, where I am far away from panic and fear.

In the past, I have had to carefully judge situations to certify I’ll be protected. When I’d walk into a room, I would check for clear exits, and for a secure place I could escape to. I was constantly at unease. Luckily, it doesn’t need to be like that anymore.

I went to a party.

I went to a party, and I was the girl laughing and gossiping with her friends. I wasn’t the one observing. Instead, I was immersed in the energy and dynamics that lifted us all. The preceding thoughts I usually obtain to prepare myself for what I had always considered to be an inevitable “fight or flight” conclusion, never occurred. I didn’t need to reserve a safe place, because I felt safe at the party.

For once, I forgot I had anxiety.

It was only the next day, when a friend conveyed how proud of me she was, that I realized, I went to a party. And I had been OK. Years of anxiety, and the impossible became possible. Perhaps, I am not always the wallflower I thought I was.

I realized I am capable. I am strong enough to put aside my anxieties, and allow people to see me how I really am.

I know I am not defined by my anxiety.

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Thinkstock photo via criene.

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Why Climbing a Mountain Was a Lot Like My Anxiety

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I’ve always found it really difficult to explain my anxiety and the effect it has on me. Often I can’t even really understand it myself, therefore explaining it to others is near impossible.

I’ve been thinking of how to explain my struggle, and finally, I’ve cracked it. When in doubt, use a metaphor. So that’s what I’m doing.

It’s time to talk about the mountain I climb every day.

Let’s start off with a bit of context; last October, I climbed a mountain. It felt somewhat poetic to conquer this mountain towards what was the end of the worst year of my life. I thought climbing the mountain would be the perfect end to a dreadful year. Not only had I conquered this year, but I’d take it a step further and climb a mountain just because I could. My anxiety couldn’t touch this.

The day prior to climbing the mountain, a few of my housemates mocked me for thinking I could actually do it. Those words hurt, but more than anything they motivated me to prove them wrong. I started the climb with their words in my mind — I told myself I would do it, even if it was just to prove them wrong.

That determination didn’t last long — 20 minutes in and I was already struggling. I thought to myself that my housemates were right; if I was already struggling now, then why even bother to continue? I would never make it to the top. I might as well turn back now than in an hour or two after all that wasted effort. So I started to turn back — then I turned back again. I had to believe I could do this. I survived this past year, I could survive this small mountain!

So I started to climb again and within minutes I fell face first, but I just got up, dusted myself off and carried on. Eventually, I made it to the top. It was a struggle but I was so determined, I couldn’t feel the pain or the exhaustion. I had made it! And it felt amazing … for a total of two seconds. I realized I made it to the top, but that just meant I was only halfway. I still had to get all the way back down.

That’s when the intrusive thoughts started. I made it up without any injury, so the chances of getting hurt on the way down had surely doubled. It was a steep climb, so getting down meant I could easily slip and fall at any moment, right? I’d managed to get all this way up, but it didn’t matter because I was probably going to die on the way down. I’d never make it the rest of the way, I was doomed to fail.

This was the start of a two and a half hour panic attack on the way down this seemingly never-ending mountain. Struggling to breathe. Holding back my tears. Just wanting everything to end because it seemed like I’d never get to the bottom of this mountain and prolonging this pain just wasn’t worth it.

At the end of the day, for me, this had been one of the most emotionally exhausting days in a couple of months. To everyone else though, I’d just successfully climbed a mountain, what an achievement! Woo.

What’s this got to do with my daily experience of anxiety? Well, this is what I go through on most days. I may not literally climb a mountain, but all the mental aspects and struggles of climbing this mountain exist in my everyday life.

Those housemates who mocked me are the sound of my anxiety any time I try to do anything, telling me I’m not good enough. And every day I try to prove my anxiety wrong. I take those first steps even though they terrify me. I apply for that position I want, open myself up to people and have faith they won’t hurt me, speak up for myself and so much more.

There are obstacles and multiple times in a day I just want to give everything up, drop out of university, quit all my extracurricular responsibilities and stay in bed all day. But I fight. I do as much as I can. Even though I know that if I get that position, for example, I’ll only enjoy it for a second before I drive myself “crazy” thinking I’m not worthy of it. That one second is worth it; for that one second, I’m content before my anxiety ruins everything.

Every day, I climb a mountain and wonder how I’m going to survive this day. Every day, my anxiety exhausts me so much I consider giving up before the day has even started. Yet, every day I refuse to give up on myself and I try my best to get through the day no matter how exhausting it is. From an outside perspective, my life is a success; in reality, a struggle exists behind every single thing I do and I’m the only one who knows it.

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How I Use the Moon as a Metaphor for My Anxiety

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The moon. One side of our moon faces the sun while the other side is completely swept in darkness. The only side we ever see… the side that faces the sun, faces the light. To many, the moon is a symbol of a light in the darkness. We tell stories about the “man on the moon.” The Japanese say it is a rabbit.

What do you see?

It’s just the moon, though, right? Nothing special. It’s just there. It gives us some light in the darkness. Gazing at the harvest moon is a wondrous sight. We all see it, but do we really see?

Anxiety and the moon are quite alike.

Now, just wait and hear me out on this one.

(Really, this could apply to a whole host of “invisible illnesses.” So if you fall into the category of an “invisible illness,” keep reading.)

I see the moon hanging up there in the sky. It’s bright and beautiful, even when only a crescent. The moon is certainly not alone in the galaxy, either; a whole host of stars, planets, and other interstellar objects are around it. And not to mention, the billions of people living on this planet gaze up at it nearly every night. We write songs and stories about the moon. This moon is pretty popular, isn’t it?

But wait. Earlier I was just talking about the moon having a dark side. That couldn’t possibly be true, could it? Something so beautiful and so popular could not possibly have a side of it constantly cast in the shadows — a side we never see.

Think about all of the people we see on a day-to-day basis: co-workers, the people at the restaurant where we buy lunch, the UPS driver, nurses at the doctor’s office, the police officer directing traffic, that one lady in the blue Nissan who you meet on the road every morning you drive to work, sometimes even our friends and family. Unless they specifically tell us or let us see (not unlike before we learn that we only see one side of the moon), how are we to know that part of them is also cast into a shadow? We would never see it.

It’s amazing how we can hide our troubles. It’s amazing how we can go years directly facing the sun so our backs are figuratively constantly in a shadow. It’s amazing how people only see what is in front and can easily be completely unknowing of this shadow.

Anxiety happens. It knows no boundaries.

 

Our human minds are either in the dark or facing the sun. We often choose to forget that the moon even has a dark side in the first place. People tell us, but we choose to ignore them. It doesn’t really matter, does it?

Yes. It certainly matters.

And I am also here to tell you that you matter. If you too have a side cast in darkness that you hide from the rest of the world, I’m here to tell you that I get it. And I sincerely hope using this metaphor will help you understand those who live with invisible illnesses. There’s a reason they choose to hide this side. There’s a reason some people choose to ignore it. There’s a reason for everything.

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

Photo by Angelina Litvin, via Unsplash

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Why I Dream About Taking Off the 'Mask' That Hides My Mental Illness

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I have worn my mask for so long that it fits like a second skin and I often feel naked without it. I like what I look like with my mask on, it hides the parts of me that aren’t very pretty. I don’t go out in public without wearing it like a coat of armor for protection. It is not only physical in nature — it manifests itself in my behavior as well. My mask is one of happiness: smiles, energy and laughter. My mask is also one of strength: confidence, determination and toughness. I wear it to hide my truth.

What is it that I’m hiding? What do I look like underneath? Below the surface, I am a woman battling mental illness. My mask hides anxiety: fear, racing thoughts and panic attacks. My mask hides depression: hopelessness, sadness and tears.

When my mask is on, I am invincible. I can light up a room and be the person I wish I could be.

I don’t wear a mask because I am ashamed of myself and my illness, I wear a mask because I am too proud of myself to allow my mental health to stop me from living.

My mask has been a part of me for years, but it is not all of me. I have donned my mask for so long and it has been repaired many times. Perhaps that is why it slips down sometimes and I let some of what is hidden, show. When I let my mask slip for too long, I start to feel vulnerable and I pull it right back up. If I don’t like what lies underneath, what will others think of what they see?

People like the “fun me,” the woman who has it all together. But if they could see even half of what I feel, I don’t think they would know what to do with me. I don’t often know what to do with me… So I wear my mask not only to protect myself, but to protect others from the real me. I don’t want to lose my friends and loved ones, and I don’t want to put them in the position of having to leave me because I am not who they thought I was.

Lately I have seen my mask start to crack, and that scares me. At the same time, I dream about how liberating it would be for the mask to crumble so I could just be me — all of me. To be able to celebrate my strengths, while embracing the weaknesses I work so hard to overcome, would be so much easier than suffocating behind my mask.

I took my mask completely off recently. It was scary to allow myself to trust completely and to be so vulnerable, but it was also liberating, beautiful and so very special to finally feel safe enough to do so. To be seen for who I am — anxiety and depression included — and to be accepted and embraced, is a powerful and humbling experience. It was like feeling the sun shine on my face for the first time.

But then the fear of getting burned became too strong, and I wear my mask once more.

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 Victor_Tongdee.

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When Anxiety Tells Me Everyone I Love Will Leave Me

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A woman talks about how her anxiety spirals downwards, out of control, and convinces her everyone will abandon her.

Read the full version of When Anxiety Tells Me Everyone I Love Will Leave Me.

Read the full transcript:

When Anxiety Tells Me Everyone I Love Will Leave Me

I feel like I am holding a bundle of helium-filled air balloons, and the more I talk to someone, the
tighter my grip on the string gets, and the less likely they are to get away.

Yet, life and experience have taught me this is the exact thing that makes people want to leave even more.

The more I smother and pull, the farther away they get.

I’m scared to be alone because that means I will be alone with my thoughts.

This downward spiral of not wanting to be alone has gotten to the point that if I don’t talk to someone every day, I have accepted the fact that they hate me and have rid me from their life.

However, reality has taught me people just get busy — for days, weeks or even months at a time, and that doesn’t mean they don’t love you anymore.

My goal is to try and start controlling my anxiety and channeling it in different ways than tethering myself to everyone around me.

I want to be able to let myself fly away sometimes.

I want to be able to enjoy being alone, entirely and solely in touch with myself and how I feel.

I’m hoping this will start to allow me to trust others more and believe in myself.

Believe in yourself.

Written By Dakotarae Anne

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To My Best Friend, Whom I Talk to When I Am at My Worst

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I am so lucky.

I wake up every morning knowing that no matter what happens, you will still care about me at the end of the day. And with anxiety, it is so hard to be confident in a relationship. So, I am lucky to have you, someone who understands what I am struggling with and who is willing to remind me, as often as I need it, that you will never leave me.

Thank you for answering the phone at 10 p.m. because I am having an anxiety attack while driving home. Thank you for talking me through my tears and helping me ground myself. Thank you for not getting off the phone with me until you knew I was safe at home. Thank you for knowing exactly what to say and making me smile when I was so afraid of how I felt.

Thank you for leaving me an audio message instead of texting me when I was convinced you would leave me. Thank you for knowing I needed to hear your voice and making sure I knew you would never stop caring about me.

I doubt every relationship I am in and there are nights when I am sure I have no friends, but you are always there to assure me I am not alone and will never be alone.

You know more about me than any other person on the planet and there is no one else I would rather have at my side when I am having an anxiety attack.

Thank you for being the only person who has ever understood what my anxiety is like. Thank you for telling me that, no matter what happens, things are going to get better. Thank you for calming me down and reminding me to breathe.

Thank you for not just seeing me for my anxiety.

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Unsplash photo via Clarisse Meyer

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