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The Roar of My Anxiety Only I Can Hear

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Pay attention to your body and what it tells you.

But that isn’t always easy, especially at times when your body is rebelling. When it’s doing things that don’t feel good. That you feel you have no control over.

I’m in a dark room right now. Everything hurts. I want to sit at my computer to type this out, but I can’t physically bring myself to do so, and emotionally… the small screen of my phone feels safer somehow.

I want to pay attention, though. I want to fight this. Anxiety is wearing me down. I can’t manage it anymore. Control of it slips further and further away, like a feral animal through a gate in the night.

So this is what my anxiety feels like. This is me paying attention and putting it to words. This is my experience. It may not be someone else’s. But keep it in mind the next time someone says they have anxiety and you think they look fine.

I start pretty OK. I had a meeting to attend this evening, and I expected it to be pretty low-key. I felt a low level of nervousness, just in regards to getting the kids where they all needed to be, making sure everyone would have dinner, and then getting myself out the door in time.

At the meeting, shit went sideways. Nothing awful. The outcome of the meeting was not affected at all. But dismissive language was used.

My eyes welled up. My breathing felt tight.

All because I knew I was going to speak. There was no way I would sit there and not speak up.

I used a break in the meeting to step outside. I sat in my car in silence. And I wrote out a two-minute speech.

The meeting resumed and I gave my speech.

By the time I got back to my seat, I felt lightheaded. As soon as the meeting was over, I left. Quietly, but immediately. Halfway to my car I felt tears on my cheeks.

I wasn’t upset.

The speech went really well, and I was proud of what I’d said.

Tears are just how all of the pent-up anxiety finally starts to release. Everything I didn’t allow anyone else to see. Like a pressure cooker finally releasing some of its steam.

There isn’t anywhere else for it to go. It finds its way into two tear drops that drag themselves from my soul in a bid for relief.

By the time I get home, just 10 minutes later, my head is aching. My shoulders are in pain.

By the time I get in bed, two hours later, I have a full blown migraine. The back of my neck is sore from the pain radiating out of shoulders. My lower back feels like I’ve spent the day moving into a new home.

And I’m silent.

I don’t make it known. I may mention I have a migraine as I take ibuprofen. Other than that, I try not to make a big deal of it. As if ignoring it might make it go away.

Tomorrow I’ll be exhausted. Physically wrung out from the emotional turmoil.

Which always perplexes me. I spend the day in awe of my body and its reaction.

How can I experience so much physical fallout from something nobody else can see?

A roar only I can hear.

Follow this journey on Allison Writes.

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What My Anxiety Feels Like, a Letter From Your Anxious Friend

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Dear Friend,

As you probably very well know at this point in our friendship, I bail on plans at the last minute, make excuses to stay in bed, attempt to plan everything down to the last second and experience sudden and overwhelming sobbing. I always want to know everything about everything, I mumble when I speak and sometimes don’t filter and talk faster than I can think. I’m restless, have the bags under my eyes, have a constant need for caffeine and find myself stress eating. I have an inability to make decisions and fear of anything new. I say “nothing” when you ask me if something is wrong, I have an inability to go anywhere myself, I wear sweats for days and I try hard to hide the fact I’m scared.

Very few things calm the anxious spirals I get into — you know, the bad ones where I ramble about my future, the choices I made years ago and whether or not we’d survive an apocalypse. Being around people helps. Hugs help. Talking helps. Crying helps. Distractions of fields trips, walks and watching silly movies help. Sometimes I just need to be reminded I am a real human and not an anxious ball of anxiety. I am writing this in an attempt to be fair to you, because on the outside my behaviors may look “insane,” tightly wound, frustrating and annoying — to say the least. I know you can’t always see why I do what I do, but I appreciate you trying to. I want to explain the reasoning behind the way I act to give you some background.

When you give me advice, it isn’t always me ignoring you. Sometimes it is because I am stubborn, but not always. I know my emotions are hard to deal with sometimes. I know I can go from cracking jokes one minute to being a monsoon of depressed feelings in a blink of an eye. I know I intensely focus on things — much longer than is best for my mental health — but especially than is better for yours. I know our relationship isn’t easy for you and being friends with me can be very challenging. For that, I feel like I owe you this letter.

Anxiety is hard to put into words but here goes nothing:

Anxiety feels like a raging ocean. It hits over and over and over, and I always struggle to keep my head above water, just grasping for an ounce or two of air to make it through for a little bit longer. I always feel overwhelmed, like I am one second, one movement away from falling into the deep, dark abyss and never coming out. And sometimes I do fall in. The ocean is bigger, deeper and darker than I can see. And when I struggle, the higher and heavier the water gets.

Anxiety is a constant battle within my own head. Every worst-case scenario spins around — especially at night — toying with my mind and
often wrecking my sanity. It never shuts off — even when I sleep. I remember dumb things I said today, fights I had years ago. I worry about my future and what people thing of me. I have anxious thoughts during the day. I have anxious nightmares. If I go to sleep anxious, I wake up anxious. It is the most overwhelming, frustrating and at times, scary, thing in the world.

It is not something I chose for myself and not something I would ever wish on my worst enemy, yet it is a part of me. I can’t turn
it off — not now, not tomorrow, not ever. These emotions, worries, fears, panic attacks and stress are not something I welcomed into my life — they just barged in uninvited. I am not a victim, I have an illness. It is not something I can have full control over.

I have spent a large portion of my life learning to cope with my anxiety. To be a productive student, citizen and friend. Most days it is OK. Most days I take my medications, drink some coffee from lack of sleep, hug my friends and get through it. However, there are some days where I can’t quite cope as well as I wish I could.

On those days I am sorry for the “hot mess” I am. I am sorry for the leggings that are probably covered in coffee, the running mascara, the dirty hair pulled into a messy bun, the shaking, scared facial expression. On days like these, let me know you see my anxiety is pulling me under, give me a hug and tell me I can do it. It is days like these when friends like you — ones who believe in me when I don’t or can’t — are so important to me.

I’m sorry I’m so intense sometimes. I’m sorry for the countless times I have sobbed on your floor or in public places or called you in tears or texted you incessantly. I am sorry for the hours I whined to you about the same problem when you had a hundred other things to do. I am sorry I am not always the most fun to be around. I am sorry I worry about stupid and silly things sometimes. I am sorry I have trouble letting things go. I am sorry for dumping my problems on you as if you were my therapist when I know you are not. You are my friend, and it was extremely off base for me to do that to you and I will stop.

Thank you for always being there, no matter how hard it is — trust me, I know it is hard. I appreciate everything you have done for me and I appreciate you being my friend, especially when I don’t deserve it. Having friends like you is one of the main ways I keep my head above water and I truly don’t know what I would do without you. Both you and our friendship mean the world to me.

Love,
Your Anxious Friend

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Why I Actually Love My Panic Attacks

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I have slept in LAX more times than I would like. One year, I spent 15 different trips in Chicago midway but have only seen Chicago once. I stayed at a motel where there was a murder the morning I arrived. I have met a world-famous cat photographer, got sex advice from a porn star, and have spotted Snoop Dogg twice; I’m hoping there will be a third time and I will be close enough to fangirl out on him. I have spent countless days in random coffee shops working, I’ve met people who instantly became my best friends and others who were not for me. For 12 hours I was stuck in an airport that did not have any heat and had to share a blanket with a stranger. I’ve never loved someone so much as I did that night. After a snowstorm that caused flights to be canceled at a small airport in Idaho, a dance party broke out and the bar gave everyone free drinks. One time, I watched a football game in a hotel bar, and even though I do not like football, I had made so many new friends that I had to cheer along because they were my family for one night.

My life sounds adventurous and I sound like I am a free-spirited person. I am not, though. For more than half of my life, I was terrified of the world. My life has been a series of panic attacks. It was not until I was 29 that I realized my whole childhood and most of my adult life had been affected by anxiety. Fear ruled my life. I did not sleep, I was afraid to be alone and was convinced everyone I loved would die. The thought of traveling by myself, let alone as a career, sounded like my version of Hell. 

I have come to love and accept my panic attacks. I have also learned to how to tell when my body is going to get one. I get symptoms two or three days before I have a panic attack. It starts with a pit in my stomach, like I’ve done something wrong, and then moves on to my eating habits. I either eat everything in sight or nothing at all. I stop sleeping. I’ll fall asleep for an hour then wake feeling like I am going to throw up. Then at some point, after a few days, I’ll have a panic attack. My most recent one hit while bringing in groceries. I have no warning, I get a lump in my throat, and my entire body goes numb. It lasts anywhere between 1-3 minutes. My heart rate gets ridiculously high, I end up on the floor gasping for air, and I have to remind myself over and over that I am not dying. It sounds dramatic, and at the moment it is, but once it is over I get up, wash my hands and face and continue doing whatever I was doing.

That is the thing about panic attacks. They come, and they go. It is the worst fear you can imagine. It feels like the whole world crashes in on you. It physically and mentally hurts so bad. I survive it, though. That is why I will always embrace them. It took 29 years to realize what I was experiencing was a panic attack. I used to try and ignore them or push through them. Now I let them happen. When I stopped fighting and just let them be, my entire world changed. The common anxiety I had been experiencing is no longer holding me back. Making friends with a stranger in a hotel bar is not scary anymore. A flight delay or spending the night in the airport is not the end of the world. Panic attacks have taught me to embrace life as an experience. Sometimes it is scary, but it always passes. Life keeps moving. When you are focusing on taking one moment at a time, focus on just taking a breath and experiencing whatever situation you happen to be in, you realize you have the ability to live a life of adventure too. I would never have started traveling or had any of the above experiences if I did not take a lesson from my panic attacks and learn to love them.

Everyone has a different way of handling panic attacks, and there is no right way to deal with it. I had spent so much of my life fighting them that the only way to deal was to accept and embrace them. Sure they are inconvenient, but for me, they are necessary to keep things in perspective. They come on fewer and fewer these days, but when they do come, it is because I have forgotten to live from a place of love and have given into fear.

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What Mornings Are Like as a Student With Anxiety

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This is the third time I’ve woken up and reset my alarm for later. If I just get a little more sleep, it will be easier to get through the day. My wrist buzzes again, a subtle reminder there’s a world outside my bed that’s waiting for me to start participating. This blanket is so fuzzy; I feel so safe in here. I know I need to get up. I’ve been watching as my time steadily ticks away… fast approaching my departure time.

Maybe I can just email in sick today, I mean really what would I be missing? I know I can’t afford to miss class, it’s only the second week of school and I need to save those absences for emergencies. But if I stay in bed I don’t have to see anyone, I don’t have to talk to any professors, or try to participate in class. I don’t have to get up and get dressed.

I do my best to shut down the seductive voices in my head urging me to hide and slowly roll myself out of bed. I could tell the professor I have food poisoning. One step at a time.

Food poisoning? You’re so stupid. You’re the reason people don’t take mental illness seriously. But they won’t understand why I couldn’t come. Breakfast, I need to get breakfast. Crap, I’m running out of time — 30 minutes.

I pour myself a bowl of cereal, trying not to pay attention to what’s going on in my head. Maybe I’ll just eat this in bed, it’s so warm and safe.

I know I’ve made a mistake getting back in bed, but I don’t care. I need safety. I need comfort. My brain is running a mile a minute, thoughts bouncing around uncontrollably. Did I check my planner? I know I’m missing something; I can’t go to class if I am missing something. I check the weather for the second time, trying to decide what to wear today. I don’t want to put on makeup, it’s so much work, but I can’t leave the house without it. Your skin isn’t good enough to leave the house without makeup on, and you’ll look sick and tired.

I check the weather again. Jeans and a T-shirt. I can’t put together anything more today. I extricate myself from my cocoon of comfort. I need to do laundry; why is it I never do laundry when I need it? I’m sifting through the constant pile of laundry cluttering my floor, looking for something wearable, something that doesn’t have stains on it, something that smells clean or at least doesn’t smell. Why am I such a slob? Why can’t I be one of those people who neatly hangs their clothes in designated spots, it would be so much easier to get ready in the morning. 20 minutes left. You look terrible in this shirt.

My heart rate begins to pick up. Here comes the nausea, if I throw up I won’t have to go to class… I have to remind myself I decided skipping class isn’t an option.

I don’t think I can do this.

I splash cold water on my face.

No, I can do this, I’ve done it before and I will do it again.

I can feel my past self judging me as I struggle through the morning.

If you did it yesterday you can do it today. Stop being such a wimp. I know I’m not a wimp. I know it took an extreme amount of willpower and strength to get even this far. 15 minutes. You are so useless; you don’t deserve to succeed. That’s not true. Just brush your teeth and put your clothes on. There is no way you are going to make it out the door.

I start putting on my makeup. I have to go to school. 10 minutes. I go check my appearance in the mirror, checking for any stains that have gone unnoticed.

You’re going to be late. This is all your fault for not getting your lazy ass out of bed on time. I check my schedule and check my bag, making sure I have the right books and binders. I’m running out of time… I check my schedule again. Are you sure you have those classes today? What if you packed the wrong books? I check my bag again. Time to get my shoes on. I check myself in the mirror again.

You’re going to do something to embarrass yourself, aren’t you?

I can’t find the shoes I want to wear.

This wouldn’t be a problem if you put them in the closet like you’re supposed to. You do this to yourself. Why can’t you just get your shit together and organize your room?

I finally find the right shoes. 5 minutes. Shit. I check my schedule and my bag again. I know I’m forgetting something, what am I forgetting? I rush back into my room and check myself in the mirror one more time, making sure everything is in place. It ain’t getting any better than this, dude. Give up.

I finally step out the door and pause to check my bag again. Do I have my phone? Where did my keys go? I’m forgetting something, I just know it. I’m not forgetting anything, I’ve checked multiple times and there is no way I have forgotten something. I am so tired, I should have gone to bed earlier last night, when am I finally going to learn? I can feel myself on the verge of tears as I drop my overweight bag into the back seat and climb into the driver seat.

Breathe. Crap, the tire pressure is still low. I am so irresponsible. I don’t deserve to have a car. I just need to focus on driving, just put the car in reverse and get going. I know I’m forgetting something.

I pull out into the road and drive to school. Parking is going to be so hard.

I find a spot after searching for a while and sit in my car. I can’t do this. I can’t go in. I could just turn around and go home.

I know I’m being ridiculous. I’ve made it onto campus, I can do this. What if I see someone I know, I’m going to have to say “hi” and they’re going to ask how I’m doing? I go into autopilot, one foot in front of the other. Can they tell I’m having an anxiety attack? One step at a time. I’m 15 minutes early to class. I’m the first one there. I’m always the first one there. Inhale. Exhale. I sit alone in the classroom, I recheck my schedule and my bag. Inhale. Exhale. I am exhausted.

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A Note on Anxiety and Breakups

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Yesterday, I broke up with my boyfriend of a year and a half.

For the past few months, my anxiety has been weighing on my conscious; I had been considering breaking up with my boyfriend, even though I cared for him so much.

I felt so much physical pain at the thought of ending our relationship but also at the fact that there would be a lot of pain afterwards once that relationship was broken. I try to avoid pain in any way possible, so I held off speaking the truth for months. Honestly, that probably cost me (and him) the most pain in the end.

Right now, it’s hard for me to think very clearly. It’s hard to remember the reasons as to why I ended things with him. All I can remember are the good times we had together and the fact that I can’t bear to lose those memories. Being in a relationship with him helped me to grow into the person I am today.

However, I’m constantly questioning whether I made the right decision or not. My brain and my heart are almost speaking two different languages: my brain says I made the right decision, but my heart says it’s not time to let go.

He was, and still is, my best friend. I can feel it in my heart. My whole body may hurt now, and this whole situation may suck for both of us, but it was probably the best one. Even if it wasn’t the best decision, I still have a whole future in front of me to figure it out. If it’s meant to be, we’ll find each other again. Hopefully by then, we will both have grown up and will understand how to treat someone else in a relationship. Maybe right now we need to grow into our own, separate people. We both need to find ourselves and find out what is ultimately important in a life partner.

My heart is aching, and I’m sure his is too. We both lost someone important to us, and it’s going to take a while to recover. However, it is important to remember that in times like this, it (eventually) gets better. It’s just hard to see the end of the tunnel now because I’m at the beginning of it. As time passes, the distance gets shorter, and the end seems more reachable everyday.

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To the Significant Other Frustrated With Your Partner's Anxiety and Depression

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To the significant other of someone with anxiety and depression.

I know how hard it is for you to understand what we are going through. I know how frustrating it must be.

You see us laying in bed or on the couch. You tell us to get up and do something, but we just can’t.

It’s not that we don’t want to; it’s that we cannot get up.

You see, when a person has both depression and anxiety, it’s often a nonstop battling. Our brain may feel slow while our hearts are racing. We want so badly to get up. We see how you look at us.

So we get up, shower, attempt to put an effort into our appearance, get ready to leave, only to have a panic attack as we are walking out the door.

I know you don’t understand what it’s like, but know what we are feeling is real.

We’re not over exaggerating these feeling. We are scared to death and feel alone. We tell you to go without us, but sometimes we really just want you to stay back and be there for us.

I know you feel helpless. I know you feel frustrated and annoyed. Trust me, so do we. This is something we cannot help. We live with this on a daily basis. So please, be gentle with us and know you are the most important person in our lives and that we love you, more than we love ourselves.

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