Kat smith

What It Feels Like When Anxiety Comes to Stay

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It has been a while, but my old friend, Anxiety, has come to stay again. Oh yes, she has come for a visit every now and again but normally only fleetingly. It has been quite some time since she arrived with her bags packed and demanded room and board.

I wish she would leave, but it really feels as though anxiety has settled in for now, and the most irritating thing is that there is no reason for her to be here. These past few days have been some of the best I have had in a long time. Physically, I am feeling well, my pain levels are managed and low. Emotionally, I am positive and well on track in my recovery journey. There is nothing to worry about, and that means there is everything to worry about.

With nothing going wrong, my anxiety has launched a full investigation into what could possibly go wrong. That calm and peace I was feeling emotionally has dissipated into the fear of the unknown, and while the pain is managed, the racing heart and nausea that comes as part of the anxiety package deal is now in place. The excitement of children home from holidays, the busyness of a full house, the loudness of generators and vacuum cleaners and the dog running frustratedly around the house have turned into threats in lieu of any real danger.

The familiar feelings that come along with a panic disorder have returned. My heart is racing while I lay on my bed. My chest feels tight, as though my lungs are becoming frozen with fear. It hurts to breathe. The ribs that protect my inner organs feel as though they are squeezing in on them, shrinking and crushing me. Is it possible that my throat is closing? It feels as though I can’t swallow!

I get up and try to walk, to ease the racing of my mind, but my head spins and I feel as though I might pass out. My legs feel like jelly and my hands are shaking from the adrenaline coursing through my veins. My stomach is churning. I feel as though I may be violently ill at any moment, and there is a pressure in my head that I can only describe as being uncomfortable and worrisome. Everything feels too loud, too bright, too fast.

I have bitten at my nails and chewed on my lips. I have held my breath until things seemed to be turning black around the edges. I don’t know what I am doing wrong but nothing seems to be able to end the panicked feeling racing around my body today.

Breathe. Focus. Decompress. I lay myself down on the floor and try to remember to breathe all the way in and all the way out, to focus my mind on counting or grounding, practice mindfulness and calm my heart to a regular pace. I practice self-talk, positively affirming I am not going to be sick, my body is fine, there is nothing to worry about, I am just feeling anxious and it is all going to be OK.

But for every gentle moment I try to evict my familiar friend, she battles harder to stay put. It is upsetting when these things happen, and it can feel like you are failing at recovering. I feel like a failure today while I struggle to understand why I am letting panic take control over my mind and body. 

I feel panicked and overwhelmed, and even more annoyingly, I feel angry at myself for feeling these things when there is no real reason for them! And that is OK, it is perfectly acceptable to fall apart sometimes. We cannot be strong all the time. I am a capable woman and have worked hard to get to this place in my recovery.

I am so afraid this feeling will last, and it is feeding the worry and making me terrified. But the one thing I am trying to remind myself of is this: feelings are not facts.

Today I will rest, tomorrow I will work on evicting my unwanted guest.

Follow this journey on The Art of Broken

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The Phrase I Tell Myself on My Worst Mental Health Days

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There is a message I have shared with my friends as I have helped them through their mental health issues. Occasionally, I have even shared it with myself, though I rarely give myself such good advice and encouragement.

In all the times I have said it, I never knew exactly how to phrase it. How to tell myself “this too shall pass,” in different words. That phrase never seemed impactful enough for me. It was always like telling myself or my friends, one day things would get better. It is a very indefinite phrase, and people like myself with anxiety and depression can’t always see the truth in such phrases. The other day however, I came across a phrase that summed up everything I had been trying to say all these years. In one elegant sentence, it told my story and it told the story of those I love. It provided concrete hope that things would be OK.

“You have survived 100 percent of your worst days thus far.”

I turned the phrase over and over in my mind. It was true of course, but the more I said it to myself the more true it became for me. I thought back through every one of worst moments. I thought of the day someone very near and dear to me was diagnosed with depression. I thought back to the moments when I would cry alone in my room. I thought through every dark moment in my life. Those moments when you truly don’t believe you will make it to the next day. I thought about my own diagnosis with polycystic ovarian syndrome, or the first time I talked a friend off a figurative ledge. I thought about the night I first told my parents about my depression.

I remember standing outside the house with my mother, screaming, crying and refusing to go in and tell the rest of my family what I had just told her in the car. I remember barely being able to stand. I wanted to melt into the soft dirt beneath my feet. I wanted to dive into the cold lake that sat just on the other side of the house. I didn’t think I would make it through that night, but I did.

There can be countless moments in life when we don’t think we will see the next sunrise. Where something so heartbreaking happens we can’t possibly imagine going on. But for those of us fortunate enough to still be here, we have survived 100 percent of our worst days. We will go on surviving these awful days because the human spirit is strong. It is stronger, in fact, than the human mind sometimes. When our minds tell us we won’t get through it, something inside us keeps us fighting.

To anyone who is having their worst day right now, remember you are stronger than you ever thought you were. You have made it through 100 percent of your worst days.

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 Pimonova.

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I'm Learning to Let My Anxiety Teach Me, Not Just Hinder Me

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I cannot say with complete conviction anxiety is something I am grateful for, but I can say I am grateful for what it has taught me.

Anxiety has humbled me greatly, for it causes me to fail consistently. I am grateful for this because it has instilled in me concrete perseverance and it is this fortitude which allows me to do what is hard and difficult despite the trials I know are ahead. In saying that, it is slowly allowing me to fail for the sake of trying and as a perfectionist, this is not something I was able to accept before coming to terms with my anxiety disorder. Trying is always important for me, even when I know the results won’t be what I desire.

It has taught me the value of communication and that it is in my best interest to tell those around me when I don’t feel well and to never feel guilty for doing so. There will be bad days despite all the progress I make, and it is crucial I am able to admit to others when those days arise so I can take the time and space I need to rejuvenate and heal from the heavy.

Continuing on from that, it has taught me one bad day or a few bad days in a row don’t make me a bad person, friend or human being. It means I’m healing because it is impossible to heal completely in an instant. Healing takes place over time and in segments. Nothing good (healing included) ever comes served on a silver platter all at once. It takes patience and dedication to heal wholesomely and I am only beginning this journey.

Anxiety has made me realize people leave sometimes but this is more than OK. It won’t feel OK or fair as it happens, but having anxiety means only those meant for me will support me through the highs and lows of the disorder. This is a blessing in disguise. A painful and testing blessing, but a blessing none the less.

The constant fear I face every day without fail or wavering has taught me to see the good in people because as someone who is flawed, it’s what I wish people to do for me. It doesn’t mean I will love others right or be the friend and companion others need all the time, but it always guarantees I will see the good in you before I ever see the bad. What a graceful lesson to learn.

This disorder has taught me some bad ass, seemingly super human strength! In order to live life to the best of my ability, — particularly after leaving high school — I’ve had to face challenges with my best foot forward. I can’t ask the world to wait until my anxious period is over. It has taught me my anxiety is debilitating and affects every aspect of my life, but it isn’t a prison sentence and with the strength I’ve acquired, I can live with the disorder and still live well.

Anxiety is not a disorder to be romanticized or invalidated because it is a very real condition for very real people. But in saying this,  it is possible to live with . The sooner I accept I may live with this disorder for my whole life, the sooner I will learn important lessons from my failures, fights, anxiety attacks and heartaches.

I’m learning to take it one breath at a time.

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When Anxiety Makes You Afraid of What You Love

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I love writing, yet I fear it. I love being outside, yet I fear it. I love being around people, yet I fear it.

I’m trapped in my fear of fearing something, and I fear I won’t be able to get out of this cycle. The more I think about it, the more I feel my skin crawling. I can’t tell this to anyone else — who would understand? If I do this they usually say, “Oh, I am so sorry, it will get better.” It doesn’t feel that way. It makes me want to scream. Fearing something may be something they can work through, but even if I rationally know this isn’t something big, it isn’t something I can get over. My anxiety controls me and I get even more depressed when I think about how others may see me.

Even now just writing this I feel trapped in my cycle, my chest tightens and I just want to hide. I read others’ stories and think how I am not good enough. I think back to my childhood of attempts to write and how I hide those stories because I feared being rejected because my stories were not good enough. That if I tried to my authentic self, others may think I am just an odd, “messed up” person.

This is what fear is to me. This is what my anxiety feels like to me. A tightening ball of rubber bands being wrapped around each other making it hard to breath.

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When You Can't Go to Sleep Without Anxiety Following You

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Have you ever had a moment when you’ve been woken up, not because of a noise or a weird light going on and off, but because of your thoughts?

Have you ever had a nagging feeling that lingered around until you drifted to sleep? If you haven’t, you’re a lucky soul.

Recently, I’ve been having anxiety dreams. What’s an anxiety dream, you ask?

It’s a dream that causes extreme panic, stress or anxiety. It’s not a nightmare, however; it’s a dream that, as soon as it happens, it causes your heart to race. In my situation, they occur super late at night or extremely early in the morning, depending on your perception of time. I’m talking between 3 a.m. and 5 a.m. It’s the moment when your body rejects its needed sleep because your mind is telling it to succumb to its demons.

Picture this: Imagine you’re coming home from a hard day at work and all you want to do is relax. All of a sudden, the place you usually love to come home to causes dread in your mind, because you are attempting to predict how to the next night will go. It’s that moment when you wake up in the middle of night, panic-stricken, sweating, heart racing — when you feel like anxiety is only your destiny. You feel like this is the only expectation you can amount to. It has this powerful grip over your mind, body and soul, making it feel like you can’t and shouldn’t amount to anything for the day. It makes getting out of bed 20 times harder when you already don’t have the motivation to do so. These dreams are your mind’s way of experiencing turmoil in your most defenseless state. They cause your body to feel like it either has to fight or get ready for flight. Your mind is racing like the cars on a NASCAR track. It makes you feel nauseous, weak and unworthy.

Often, it’s your minds way of overcompensating for stress. In a sense, it’s saying, “If I have to miserable, so you do.” Having an anxiety dream is like waking up to find out the one you love has left you in the night, or even worse — that you are experiencing a waking nightmare. These dreams loom over your day and impose all these negative thoughts in ordinary daily processes. You’re on pins and needles anticipating whether the day will function as a “normal” one, or if it will end up with you having a breakdown by lunch. This is one of the times when you secretly wish others could see it, to put the myth to bed— “It’s all in your head, just stop thinking about it.” How can you stop thinking about something when it’s the only thing consuming your mind? Sure, you can occupy yourself and forge a facade that makes it seem like you have your shit together, but that only lasts for so long. It’s the moment where you have to differentiate whether you will allow anxiety to conquer your day, or if you will overcome anxiety.

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Why Religion Was Bad for My Anxiety

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When Christmas approaches, Christian paraphernalia can be spotted almost anywhere and anywhere. However, when the season arises, I always want Christmas to come and go quickly.

As someone who was raised Catholic, I understand why religion can be relieving for some people — it’s comforting knowing that there’s someone watching over you all the time, that there’s some entity protecting you.

But as I slowly detached myself from my upbringing, I came to realize that religion was not a comfort for me, but rather a major contribution to my anxiety.

In my experience, religion instilled fear…

From the moment I was old enough to comprehend it, the concept of Hell and burning forever if you didn’t follow Christ was forced on me. I knew how to be Catholic before I could write.

I was always afraid — afraid of doing something, anything, even something minuscule, that would piss God off and not allow me to get into Heaven after death. It controlled me and every little decision I made. I was like a puppet.

I was afraid to question anything I was taught, which is why it took me so long to detach myself from it. I was afraid to ask my parents questions that would then raise questions from them such as, “Why are you asking?”

Religion made me feel like I wasn’t good enough…

In order to get into Heaven, you have to follow God’s word — the Bible, the 10 commandments, etc. Yet I was taught you’re still a sinner. You are a sinner from the moment you are born, and this made me feel like I wasn’t truly pure enough. You’re never worthy enough for God. You’re never truly “good enough” for Heaven.

Religion slaughtered my self-esteem. It made me feel absolutely worthless, like the lowest of the low. I didn’t have a shred of self-love. I saw myself as this ugly, disgusting, low-life piece of human trash, unworthy of love and kindness and friendship. But I was taught that how I felt didn’t mean shit because (despite not truly ever being good enough for Heaven) God saw me as perfect.

I never really realized how much it truly slaughtered my self-esteem until I was having a conversation with my best friend, probably something along the lines of how I felt like this disgusting piece of human trash, and he said “That sounds like the religion talking” and I broke down sobbing.

When a family member came out as transgender, my very Catholic parents were completely beside themselves. They were coming from left and right saying things like, “God doesn’t make mistakes” and that he’s going against God by doing this. They have little contact with him now. I’m slowly watching my family, who has always placed such an emphasis on staying a family and staying together no matter what happens, be torn apart by religion, and there isn’t a thing I can do to stop it.

Since beginning the journey of leaving my previous self in the dust, I’ve gained a better understanding of my anxiety, began seeing a therapist and developed self-love.

As I said, I do understand that religion is certainly a comfort for some people. Good for you, do what is best for your mental health. But it was worse for mine.

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