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Mental illness is tough. Not only do you often have to deal with the world’s judgment, but you often have to deal with your own as well. After all, we are often our own worst critics. Even more common mental illnesses like anxiety have a stigmas and beliefs attached to them. This can make it hard for people struggling to realize or admit they have a problem.

So how do you know if you actually have anxiety?

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) a couple years ago and personally, it was a bit hard for me to come to terms with. At times, it still can be. To be honest, it wasn’t a surprise. I had been suspecting it for a while. The issue I struggle with is, am I really anxious enough to have an anxiety disorder?

I have many friends who also have anxiety. You can tell if you get to know them. Some of them are really quiet, and can’t speak in front of others. Another will cry from stress and get visibly upset. But I don’t do any of this. I can be quite loud, and I’d never even considered crying in public. I hate crying in general. Worst case scenario, I’ll have to blink back tears while waiting to present a project. Because of this, I have a very hard time admitting that yes, I too, have anxiety.

I mean really, how could I have anxiety? School doesn’t bother me much. I’m usually fine. A common theme among my friends is getting really anxious over grades. So does this mean if I don’t stress over grades, I can’t have anxiety? After all, bad grades don’t usually matter to me after a few minutes of cursing at myself and crushing my self-esteem. And sure, I’m scared to death of talking to teachers, but does that really matter? And so what if I can’t order food myself because I’m scared of talking to people. That doesn’t mean anything, right? And every social event ever. Just because I automatically assume my friends all hate me and want me to leave because I’m ruining their fun, this doesn’t mean I actually have anxiety.

Logically, my brain does understand those are signs of anxiety. But the part of my brain that is terrified of being “overdramatic” wants me to think I’m overreacting. Because after all, other people thinking I’m an “attention-seeker” is much worse then me silently struggling, right?

When people look at me, they see an immature, childish, high schooler who probably should try and “grow up.” Nobody would ever guess I have anxiety. I don’t have panic attacks. I don’t make myself sick with stress. I don’t think I get unrealistically anxious over things, though I will admit I can be a bit paranoid at times. I’m not sure what anxiety “looks like.” All I know is I don’t feel like I fit the bill.

So why am I writing this? Well, I’m not 100 percent sure. Out of curiosity, I was reading a bunch of articles on “high-functioning” anxiety. I was hoping to finally find something that would describe how I felt. But these articles didn’t really help me since I still felt those people struggled much more then me — yes, I know that thought may be a bit irrational.

So, to answer my question. Am I anxious enough to have anxiety? I think the answer is yes. Anxiety is different for everyone. Just because mine isn’t exactly like others, doesn’t mean it’s not real. I think that’s important for people to keep in mind, especially if they haven’t exactly come to terms with their diagnosis. You are not an attention seeker. You’re a human, who’s just trying to cope in this crazy world.

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Thinkstock photo via EfsunKutlay.


I sit alone in my car a lot. In the parking lot at my office, in the visitor spaces at various schools throughout the district, in my driveway and garage, outside the gym both before and after a workout. If I get to work on time, sometimes I still don’t get to work on time, because I just sit in my car by myself for a few extra minutes before forcing myself to start the day. Not finishing a song on the radio. Not trolling social media. Not ending a phone call with a friend or family member. Just basking in silence.

I read about living with anxiety, and one line screamed off the computer screen at me: “I’m not faking being sick. I’ve been faking being well.” Damn. Blow my face off with truth. I can relate to that. Because I often feel sick even though I don’t look it. And more often than that, I’m perfecting my acting skills to function in everyday life.

Let me tell you a secret. One that might shock you unless you know me really, really well, and even then, you might try to argue to the contrary. Here it is: I’m an introvert.

Yes, I possess strong opinions. Yes, I can be overly talkative. Yes, I spent eight years standing in front of classrooms teaching students. Yes, I conduct meetings with parents and professionals regularly. And yes, I am introverted. Completely and truly. And this fact, combined with diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder, cause me to either pretend, or retreat. There’s not much in between.

I never played a sport. That’s actually an understatement. I quit every extracurricular activity that required group participation. Ballet and tap dancing, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball… I’m not a “joiner.” I don’t want pressure or attention. I’m a 30-year-old woman having an anxiety attack because her online graduate course requires one group assignment. But seriously, why? Group work is the worst. I digress…

I hate parties. Hate planning them. Hate hosting them. Hate attending them. Love buying gifts. Love seeing my family and friends. But hate the parties. Hate the lead-up to the parties. The drive there. Did I forget something? How long will this be? Will I see anyone I don’t know/don’t like/who doesn’t like me? Loud music and multiple conversations happening at once. Brightly colored decorations and agendas and fireworks and seating arrangements and don’t even get me started on games.

I don’t go to concerts or festivals. To be honest, I plan every visit to Disneyland down to the minute, so I have fast passes for rides and reservations for dining and I don’t have to stand around. Because crowds of strangers. So many strangers.

When I’m anxious, I often don’t know where to start. I make to-do lists, but can’t prioritize. I wander the bakery of the grocery store and can’t make a choice on what to get. Sometimes, I leave with nothing. I clean my house vigorously in an attempt to get my life under control. My chest hurts. I cry. I feel out of breath. I think about the ugliest worst case scenarios for myself and for those I love. I think about refugees I’ll never meet and mothers who lived through the Holocaust and that student I had a few years ago who didn’t have running water in his house.

When I’m depressed, all I want to do is sleep. Or eat. Or both. I can’t bring myself to tackle my to-do list because what does it matter? It seems there’s no point to anything in life. I spiral quickly. Remind myself there’s so much negativity and hurt and pain in the world and I can never fix it.

It is beyond challenging to wake up every day and go to war against your own mind. But that’s my mental illness. It’s irrationality and exhaustion and side effects of medication and isolation. It’s seeing the good days as warning signs that very bad days are ahead because you never have too many good days in a row.

Here’s another secret. If you think I’m outspoken, you might be surprised by the amount of thoughts I keep to myself. Really. I bite my tongue multiple times daily. I filter myself to spare the feelings of others and to maintain professionalism. But again, it goes deeper. Some of the things that flash through my mind when I’m at my most anxious or depressed are so horrid that I don’t dare utter them for fear I’ll bring them to life. For fear that others will want to put me in an institution. So I hold them in. All these detrimental, ugly thoughts. They swirl inside. Among the rational, wife, mother and work-related, “normal” thoughts. They interrupt. They confuse. They feed off each other. This is life. Introverted. Battling anxiety and depression.

This is sickness I can’t take a sick day for. This is real even though so many people shake their heads and cry “drama.”

Validate me. Validate us.

Because it would feel really good to spend a day as the real me, instead of living as an unpaid actress.

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.

Unsplash photo via Emma Francis Logan Baker.

Hey. I’m Ruth. I’m a pretty normal lady in my late 20s. I’m engaged to a partner I love with my whole being, and I have the most gorgeous stepdaughter in the world. I have an amazing relationship with my father. I’m beginning a very exciting career, and overall, my life looks pretty great.

But you know, looks can be deceiving.

You see, there’s this other person in my head. She is small, and petty, and insecure. She knows my deepest shortcomings and my scariest doubts. She brings me nightmares from a dark, dark place I didn’t know I had the capacity for.

She has a name.

Her name is Anxiety.

I’ve been damaged, badly, by someone I loved very much. I often say I’ve always been very delicately wired, even as a small child. But, in the last six years, my life has changed in ways I couldn’t have imagined, ways I would never have wished on anyone. I’ve faced immeasurable pain, degradation and debilitating self-doubt. I’ve walked through years of gaslighting and come out the other end, and now I need to find my way in a world that I still have trouble believing is real.

Anxiety is my closest, most reliable companion. She is also the loudest. I picture her as a small, rumpled little girl with a monster mask and a megaphone. She is constantly screaming at me that I must doubt everything and everyone. Everyone has a motive, nobody is this kind, I’ll never be good enough anyway.

Anxiety also has very sensitive hearing. She can hear the souls of every single person near me. I work in a cubicle with people all around, and I speak to clients all day, every day. Anxiety loves this, she amplifies the sound until it’s too much. It doesn’t seem possible, but when Anxiety is listening, I can hear 15 separate conversations at once — as both a roar, and individually. When Anxiety is listening, the world is so loud.

Sometimes, Anxiety makes me forget how to breathe. She’s really, very talented. She does this by making me believe my feelings are imaginary, that the things I think are real are actually an elaborate prank. I’m definitely not that talented, there’s no way people could like me that much.

She is not me – she is my brain chemistry, she is every bad dream, she is the culmination of every failure, she is every bully, she is the ex who broke me.

But I am me! I am resilient. I am smart. I am funny. I am talented. I am successful. I’m ready to love again. I’m starting a family. I have clients who tell my daily how wonderful I am at my job. I am me.

I win every day when I get out of bed and shower. I win every time I make a sale, every time I wash my dishes and eat a vegetable, every time I put on my nice make up and brush my hair, every time I kiss my precious little girl and she looks at me with the adoring gaze she reserves just for me. I win every day, every hour, every minute.

And you’re winning too. Your beast has a name too. So, give it its name. Separate it. Take away its power. Take your day a minute at a time. Be kind to yourself. You are you, you’re not that beast. You are wonderful and special.

She has a name, but her name isn’t mine. She isn’t me.

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Thinkstock photo via ruddy_ok.

I am in recovery.

I’m in recovery from an anxiety disorder, depression and an eating disorder. And it’s been going well. Very well, actually. Up until last week, I would have said I am “recovered.”

But life isn’t that simple.

Today, I got back from my first holiday since I went on a weekend trip to Edinburgh last summer. I was really looking forward to it because it was going to be my first holiday free from my anxiety – which caused me to have a violent panic attack in the airport and break down with fear several times during the last trip. It was going to be my first holiday free from depression and my eating disorder which caused me to worry constantly about what I was eating. I worried what I looked like and what I appeared like to others, and that caused me to spend my time in Edinburgh mostly in tears. It would be my first holiday free from the “black dog” that followed me around for months.

I was ready.

“I’m so much better!” I enthused, as I told people about my holiday plans. I’d dealt with my problems, worked through everything with my therapist, had just changed medication and was enjoying my new positive lease on life.

I spent the first few days in Croatia living it up in the sun – chilling out and eating and drinking whatever I wanted, as most people do on holidays. I was ready. I was “cured.” I was truly recovered.

Then it hit me. The fear — the unexplainable fear that something was wrong or something was going to go wrong. The sadness had returned. I felt like I was ruining everything. I felt like a horrible person, terrible and selfish and bad for having these thoughts. I shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy myself. I felt an overwhelming sense of guilt. I couldn’t believe I had dragged someone else along with me when I was feeling like such an awful person – they didn’t deserve to be saddled with me and my stupid problems.

I spent the next couple of days in a mood – crying, shaking, not sleeping and angry. So angry that these horrible thoughts had returned and I couldn’t seem to get rid of them. I tried everything I had learned in therapy, but to my frustration, it wasn’t working fast enough. My thoughts were spiraling. To the social media world, I was having the holiday of a lifetime – posting pictures of the happy days of the holiday with a huge smile on my face all over Instagram. Being so annoyingly happy that what I’m saying now could seem like a huge fabrication. But it’s real.

I’m taking off the mask. Behind the scenes, I had turned into an angry, miserable, anxious version of myself. I was taking it out on the on two people — the only two I had access to — myself, and my boyfriend. He spent his time trying to convince me it was all fine. There was nothing to feel guilty about. I hadn’t done anything wrong. But the more he tried, the angrier I became. I thought he was wrong. How could he lie to me like this when he could easily see just how horrible I was? I thought constantly, “why is this happening to me, now?” I was surrounded by amazing views and had no responsibilities — I should be feeling peaceful. But all I could see was darkness, all I could feel was fear. The voice in my head was screaming abuse at me. I must be so ungrateful, so terrible. I ruin everything.

The more I questioned and ruminated on these thoughts, the larger they became. They grew until I exploded in rage one night and couldn’t seem to drag myself back from the dark thoughts spinning around in my head. I was at my worst, my scariest low point.

Then I received some advice that spoke to me somewhere in the back of my mind. Accept it. Accept you’re sad, accept you feel worried and angry. Don’t question it. Accept it, take a breath and know that you won’t find the answer by questioning everything, but you’ll find an answer by choosing to accept you can’t change anything like this.

I’m not going to lie, it didn’t solve my feelings of unending sadness or worry. It didn’t stop them. But it gave me breathing space to stop ruminating on them all the time – to stop panicking and just sit with my feelings, feel them and accept them.

I’m taking the mask off. It may look here as if my holiday life was perfect. But it wasn’t. I became calmer after that, but I fought every day to stop questioning and accept the way I was feeling, and was able to enjoy my remaining time there. I wasn’t well. I was recovering. I still am. But I made it through that episode, and I will make it through again. I will go back to therapy and continue to work on myself.

I hope whoever is reading this will gain a little insight into what it’s like to live with these disorders, if you don’t know already. And that you will know that there are ways to get through it. It’s hard. It seems impossible sometimes. But just as there are good days and bad days in life, there are good and bad days in this recovery. It’s a journey, not a destination. I learned I needed to accept what I was feeling, take my mask off sometimes and breathe.

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.

Unsplash photo via Annie Spratt.

I see my anxiety like a dragon in his cave, and my brain is his treasure.

At first, like any true adventurer, my goal was to kill the dragon and reclaim my mind; I thought I’d be better off without him, left to be just myself. Not surprisingly, that didn’t go too well. At first, he was content to let me off with a warning — a flick of his tail with his eyes barely open to show just how little effort it took to defeat me. I’d walk away bruised but more or less fine. Able to try again another day. But after a while, I guess I really started to annoy him, and he’d decide I needed a real lesson on etiquette. Or rather, a fire-breathing rampage where the flames were darkness, blinding me to everything but him, as if nothing else had ever existed, and drowning out all sense of hope and happiness. It was a struggle to make it out of alive, and there were times I almost didn’t.

After years spent bouncing between trying to fight him and cowering in the corner of his den, just waiting for him to finish me off, I’ve learned to accept I live with a dragon. It’s weird and it’s messy, but for the most part, we get along; but he is a dragon after all, so there are times he gets upset and I’m not sure why or at what or how far he’s going to take it. Maybe he’ll just get grumpy and growl and we can talk it out or I can give him space until he calms down. Maybe he’ll throw a little tantrum and while it definitely affects me, the way he makes the ground shake and little bits of rock tumble from the ceiling, I can just distract myself in another part of the cave or go for a walk until he’s let it all out. But maybe — maybe he’ll completely lose his head and start a rampage, and all I can do is curl up and try not to get hurt.

We have our bad days, and we have our good days. Most days are just OK. But OK is more than OK when living with dragons.

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Thinkstock photo by Grandfailure

Spoiler alert, I have anxiety.

My husband and I were recently enjoying a date night at a small local bar when, for whatever reason, a wash of anxiety suddenly came over me. He looked at my face and knew something wasn’t right. My heart started pounding, my body temperature started rising, my breathing became shallow, and I scanned the room for signs of danger (a shady character, a fire hazard, a blocked exit). Then I recognized this panic attack for what it was, and in my head I said, “Oh, hello anxiety. I know it’s you again.”

Along with my chiropractor, PCP, neurologist, transplant docs and nurses, and acupuncturist, a psychiatric nurse practitioner is part of my health care team. I have a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder and have tried a dozen prescription medications, a dozen more supplements, and numerous alternative medicine techniques, but my anxiety is not going anywhere. And I’m not alone.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, “anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18 percent of the population.”

That’s a lot of people. Maybe like me, you are one of them. Or maybe you know someone living with anxiety.

Anxiety Feels Like…

For me, anxiety produces the same feeling as unexpectedly running into an old fling or an ex-friend. Do you know that feeling? Even though you are not involved with that person anymore, seeing him or her is like a ton of bricks hit you in the chest. That’s what a panic attack feels like to me. My anxiety is like the ongoing fear of running into that person, having a confrontation (or not having one!), second guessing everything that happened, and expecting something terrible to occur as a result. The irrationality is that in this metaphor, the ex now lives in Siberia and the likelihood of a chance run-in is tiny.

Mindfulness and Anxiety

A few weeks ago, I had an Aha! moment when I realized (while talking to my NP) that yes, I still have anxiety, but I now can recognize it as anxiety. Recognizing when my thoughts are anxiety-driven takes away some of their power. Being able to identify a wave of panic for what it is makes it less scary. In the best times, I can catch my anxious thoughts before they start to spiral. It is still super hard (and not so fun), but at least I can give irrational thoughts a name when they show up. The mindfulness I’ve been “practicing” for years seems like it finally has made a difference in my mental health. I have focused on mindfulness as the key to my sitting meditation ritual and have used mindfulness to examine physical symptoms in my body for years. Now I’m starting to use mindfulness to notice when my thoughts are anxiety-driven rather than reality-based.

When Mommy Has Anxiety

It’s one thing to have a panic attack when I’m out with my husband, and a completely different thing to battle constant anxiety or a encounter a panic attack when I’m with my kids. What’s a mommy to do? I breathe. Notice how it feels to squint my eyes tightly. I pray. Listen to the sounds around me. I put on sunglasses. Ask Alexa to tell us a joke. I randomly break into Pilates (another reason I always don athleisure wear). Breathe again. And I call out the anxiety or panic for exactly what it is. In the best times, my mindfulness helps me to notice my anxiety like I notice that my daughter needs to blow her nose. Hopefully it is in that order. In the worst times I put on the Beatles, text one of my closest friends, have a cry under my sunglasses, make avocado pudding, and bring the kids to the library.

When you fly, you put your own mask on first. As someone who has anxiety, I learn to recognize my own anxiety first, and then I can move on to mommy duties. I try to avoid triggers I know will make me anxious, but that simply is not always possible. I am not a mental health practitioner, but I can tell that my anxiety isn’t going anywhere despite my attempts to evict it. Instead of fearing anxiety as the ex that I should fear seeing on campus, I try to accept that if I can notice my anxiety first, then I can give a requisite head nod and keep walking. And that feels OK.

Follow this journey on Mom Seeking Balance.

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Thinkstock image by TakakoWatanabe

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