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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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Thinkstock photo via Transfuchsian.

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How I Was Wrong About My Panic Attacks

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My panic attacks have had a very distinct and identifiable history: labored breathing, feeling faint, difficulty breathing, the “impending doom” of the world caving in around me, and crying, crying hysterically at … I don’t even know what sometimes.

I can usually predict it, too. The perfect storm for a typical panic attack is to feel like I have a thousand things to do and not enough body parts to do it. In my mind, I feel like Inspector Gadget but 12 arms extending in various directions. Meanwhile, I have a scroll of demands from family, friends, co-workers, finances and my health. My mind can’t keep up, so I throw my hands up in frustration, anxiety, disappointment and sadness. I break down in exhaustion, wondering why I can’t keep up, and how other people can deal with these same tasks with ease and grace. I blame myself, start the self-sabotaging negative thoughts and reprimands, and hate myself for not being all the things I want to be and should be. I shut myself off from the world, take some medication, cry it out, and be left with zero self-esteem and absolutely no energy to do the simplest tasks for the remainder of the day. If I exposed myself to the world for the rest of the day, I risked not being at my best and thus feeling embarrassed about my inadequacy.

A few days ago, my idea about panic attacks changed. No, it wasn’t amidst the hyperventilation fest or even on the same day. I reflected on my feelings and emotions for days after it happened, perhaps the first time I’ve done this after a panic attack . The truth is, I didn’t even realize I was having a panic attack when it happened because it was silent. A busy day adhering to the demands of e-mails, phone calls, appointments and errands left me unable to think about anything. Not crying. Not my list of things to do and people to call. Not the things left undone in my life. I just sat emotionless, unable to open my eyes for a long period of time, and drained from all things which made me human. I felt frozen in time and paralyzed by my own anxiety and panic. A zombie.

This couldn’t be a panic attack, though … right?

I went home, changed into my softest leopard print pajama set, turned my phone off and fell asleep on the couch at 4 p.m. I had to reduce the stimuli in my life to recenter my body and mind.

It was a panic attack; it just didn’t fit my self-created mold. The odd thing about having anxiety is that I can’t even explain this “thing” that affects me every day. I don’t know if it’s going to manifest itself in awkwardness in conversations, in hard work because I’m afraid to fail, or in debilitating nothingness for days. How can I live every day with something I cannot explain?

What I can explain is how important it is to understand your body and your mind. This actualization is why being reflective, inquisitive and self-aware is so important when it comes to mental health and wellness. You may not always understand why anxiety does what it does, but you can understand it is unpredictable. You can understand yourself and what helps you during panic attacks or extreme moments of anxiety.

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When Your Mask Falls Away and Your Anxiety Is Released

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I grew up with a mother who repeatedly emphasized that appearances mattered above all else. As a child, behind all my decisions, my mother’s voice was ever-present, asking, “What would the neighbors think?” The household was a dysfunctional battle zone, but only behind closed doors. From an early age, my mother implanted in my head the belief that neighbors gossip and the worst sin of all was giving them any fuel to add to their fire.

So I learned to carry myself a particular way, to walk tall, shoulders back, and smile like everything in the world was just peachy. I built walls to hold in my pain and bolted on a mask to hide my tears. I put on the performance of a lifetime for years, doing multiple shows a day.

On extremely stressful days or periods when my depression is weighing heavily on my soul, I try to push myself to go out in public because that is my last line of defense. Though I might break down and crawl into bed for the day in the privacy of my own home, when I am surrounded by people, my mother’s voice is ever-present with me. Somehow, though I want to curl up in a ball and cry, that little voice continuously harps to “hold it in, hold it together, don’t fall apart.” After all, what would those strangers think if I had a meltdown and became a crying, sniveling mess?

Every now and then, however, the cracks in my veneer begin to show. As much as I try to hold everything together, my walls crumble around me and I become a quivering, sobbing mess as all the depression and anxiety that has built up inside me comes pouring out.

Usually, it is in response to something someone has said or done to me, especially if they are unnecessarily hostile or aggressive towards me. It pierces through my artificial calm and triggers my flight response. Alarms sound within my mind to flee, to find somewhere safe before the fragile walls I’m hiding behind begin to shatter.

I honestly hate that I am so fragile, especially when it comes to conflict. For me, hard-wired somewhere in my brain is a connection between conflict and abuse. When I was a child and my mother became upset, some sort of harsh and irrational punishment was guaranteed, whether it was warranted or not. When my older brother saw red, I quickly learned to get away before fists began to fly. Though that little kernel of logic in my brain might reassure me that not everyone who acts aggressively means to inflict physical harm, my mind and my body react impulsively as if imminent danger lies ahead.

When I can neither flee nor quiet the alarm sounding in my mind, panic sets in and a meltdown occurs. The artificial calm demeanor I have created begins to collapse and it feels like the floor has dropped from beneath me. I feel as if I’m tumbling down a never-ending hole with nothing to grab onto, no way to prevent myself from falling apart.

I begin to feel unsafe, unheard. I am transported back to a time when I was a little child with a little voice that went unheard. Instead of reacting rationally, the floodgates open and a river of emotions cascade out.

My hands begin to shake. My mouth struggles to find anything coherent to say. I want to cry out and run away, yet I feel frozen in place, my feet cemented to the floor. I find myself sobbing, melting down, babbling this endless stream of verbal diarrhea, trying to simultaneously explain and defend myself. My thoughts and statements ricochet all over the place, from one topic to the next, following no pattern, rhyme or reason.

Inside, that young child is screaming, “It’s all too much, I can’t take any of this, it needs to stop!” She is in a complete panic, scrambling for the right words to say to make it all go away, to make herself feel safe again. An endless stream of, “No more! No mas!” echoes within every word she manages to squeak out between sobs.

Meanwhile, the older, wiser, more rational part of myself seems to be standing to the side, witnessing it all in disbelief. That logical fragment passes judgment, demanding to know what on earth I am doing, insisting I stop making a “spectacle” of myself.

Back and forth they battle in the background as the meltdown continues. The small, injured childlike facet of myself falling to pieces while the other more logical facet scoffs and demands I pull myself together. Little by little, my body and mind exhaust themselves and the river of sobs transitions into a slow trickle of tears. I find myself mortified that I allowed it to happen again because I feel I should be stronger than this. I’ve had a lifetime of building walls and bolting on masks. They should be strong enough to withstand anything by this point.

I wipe away my tears, take a deep breath and take my walk of shame out the door, because I know this won’t be the last time I fall apart or melt down. It is all part of the burden of the functional depressive. Though we may put on a brave face and act like our world is full of sunshine and peaches, our walls are made of dirt bricks that cannot withstand the waves of aggression from others or our own flood of tears that follows.

Follow this journey at Unlovable.

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When My Anxiety Stops Me From Spending Time With Friends

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It’s Friday night and I’m curled up in bed beneath the covers, watching films on the tiny screen of my phone. I could go and get a cup of tea, but my body feels too heavy to move. I could sleep, I should sleep, but even though my eyes feel heavy and I know I’m tired, I know sleep isn’t happening any time soon.

Even the distraction of one of my favorite films isn’t enough to make me forget that for what is probably the thousandth time, I have forgone an invitation to spend the night out with my friends. I haven’t seen them in over a week, and still I declined when they asked me to go out with them, instead opting for the comfort and security of my bedroom.

This isn’t an unusual occurrence either.

In the days before I knew I had anxiety, so throughout my late teens and all throughout university, it was the same thing. My friends would be off somewhere and I’d be there with my plethora of excuses: “I haven’t got any money this week,” “I’m really tired today,” “I’m busy tomorrow.” The list went on and on and on.

Nowadays I’m more open about the reasons why I won’t go out. Big spaces, loud music and huge crowds are completely overwhelming. I start to focus too much on where the exits are, and I withdraw completely as I desperately try to ignore the sounds going on around me.

But knowing I have anxiety doesn’t make these instances any easier. There’s one particular bar I will actively avoid because two out of the three times I’ve been there, I have left within minutes because of a panic attack. If anything, knowing and understanding what’s going on in my head makes it worse.

People stop asking me to go places, or when they do and I say no, I spend what feels like an eternity analyzing their response and the way they looked at me. The fear of missing out is huge. I’ll see the photos and hear the stories the next day. And then I silently kick myself because I know I’ve missed out on making memories with the people I love and that mean the most to me in the world.

The constant insecurity of people not wanting to spend time with me sits like a block of concrete on my chest. But then the voice of reason will tell me that’s all ridiculous because these are your friends. These people know you and love you for you.

So to the people whose friends have anxiety:

Know that when we say no to going out, it’s not because we don’t want to spend time with you but because the thought of being in those situations is exhausting beyond belief. Don’t stop asking us to come with you even though you might be sure of our response. Because the moment you stop is the moment when we start to wonder whether you want to be our friend, no matter how much we know it’s not true.

Or maybe ask us what we want to do, where we want to go and what we feel comfortable with. Know that if we suggest going out to a particular place, it’s because we desperately want to spend more time with you but for that to be somewhere we know we’re not going to find ourselves spiraling towards an anxiety attack.

Being around you is something that can give us strength, even when we’re at our lowest. And because at the end of the day, we love you and value your support, friendship and presence more than you’ll ever know.

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9 Ways You Can Support Me Through My Panic Attacks

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I keep having panic attacks at church. I don’t really know why. I have been having difficulty in crowded places — I think that is part of it. And maybe part of it is that my mind is coming to associate church with panic attacks. I go to church afraid I am going to have a panic attack. I get so nervous about it that I have a panic attack. That’s how panic attacks seem to work. I worry about panic attacks, which causes me to have a panic attack, which causes me to worry about them… It’s a vicious cycle.

Anyways, I know some of my friends and people in the church have been wanting to support me in this struggle, but don’t know exactly how. I thought I would write out how they can be helpful or unhelpful.

1. Please don’t stare at me or come up to me when you notice I am starting to panic.

This is when I am using my coping skills to try to stay calm. When people approach me or even just look at me intensely, I get self-conscious and my anxiety rises quickly. I get easily startled when anxious. People approaching me startles me, and it makes it harder to be calm.

2. Please don’t follow me when you see I am leaving the room due to a panic attack.  

When I am having a panic attack, I need to be alone. I need fresh air. I need space. I need rest. I appreciate people following me outside to see if I am OK, but I’m embarrassed about people seeing me in that state. In the end, it’s really not helpful, it just stresses me out.

3. Please do check in with me later to see if I’m OK.

I mean much later. Like in the evening if I had a panic attack in the morning. It usually takes me a few hours of rest to recover from a panic attack. When I am calm again, it is so encouraging when a friend asks me how I am.  And with my anxiety, a text or email is less stressful than a phone call because sometimes phone calls overwhelm me. Text me or email me to make sure I’m OK.

4. Make plans with me in the future.

Panic attacks can be so isolating. I feel so alone afterwards. I need time alone to recover from them. But after I’ve recovered, I feel distant from other people. Show me I am still valuable to you by making plans with me sometime soon. Let’s get coffee, go out to lunch, catch a movie. Show me I still matter to you, even when I’m having some problems.

5. Don’t press me to share details about what happened.  

I’m embarrassed sometimes that I have these problems. I am fine with you asking general questions like, “What is like to have a panic attack?” or “How do you cope?” But please don’t ask me to give you a play-by-play. It was embarrassing and traumatic and honestly, I don’t want to think about it too much. If I start thinking about panic attacks, then I have more panic attacks.

6. Listen to my story without judgment.  

I know panic attacks don’t make sense. They’re not logical. Mental illnesses are not always logical — they are illnesses. It often helps me to talk things over with people. But please don’t try to diagnose me, or judge whether I handled everything well. Please just listen and give me grace.

7. Give me permission to keep having panic attacks.

Sometimes I feel like there is pressure on me to “just stop,” to recover from my problems and be “normal.” I am working hard to be healthy. But the panic attacks may continue for a while. Please try to be OK with that. I am doing my best. I might keep leaving places due to panic attacks. Or maybe I won’t show up places, afraid of being triggered. Either is OK. Show me that either is fine. I am OK the way I am.

8. Ask me how you can help.

There might be something I need or something you can do in that circumstance. Again, don’t approach me right before, during or after the panic attack, but when you check in with me later, ask me if there is anything you can do to help. I don’t know if I will have any ideas, but it is so nice to be asked. It’s nice to know you are there for me.

9. Remind me you still want to be my friend.

I know panic attacks are not very “attractive.” I don’t like the nervous, scared person I seem to be when I have them. Show me in small ways that you still want me in your life. Show me I am OK just the way I am right now. Even if it’s just smiling at me when I come into church, or inviting me to parties, even though I might not feel up to coming. Remind me that you still want me around.

I have wonderful friends who have supported me through my mental illness. But sometimes people don’t know how they can be supportive. Hopefully this list can help.

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Thinkstock photo via Tishchenko.

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What This 4-Word Text Can Teach Us About Helping a Significant Other With Anxiety

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It can be hard to know what to say when someone you love is dealing with anxiety. Part of the problem is there’s no magic combination of words guaranteed to make anxiety go away — and how you support someone who’s anxious depends on who they are and what they need.

But when Callie Theodore told her boyfriend she was feeling insecure about their relationship, his answer was pretty much as perfect as you can get.

Callie posted a screenshot of their conversation on Facebook, and his response — and her message — has been shared over 130,000. Her post also appeared on Love What Matters.

“Someone with anxiety is inclined to assume everyone is going to leave. The truth is they battle something they can’t control,” she wrote. “Find yourself someone who doesn’t make you feel like loving you is a job.”

Callie said she decided to share this conversation on Facebook because she wanted others who are in a dark place to know they aren’t alone.

 “This post was never meant to go viral, but I am so blessed in did. People from all other world are telling me my post saved their life and that it gives them hope,” she told The Mighty.

 

Her entire post read:

Someone with anxiety is inclined to assume everyone is going to leave. The truth is they battle something they can’t control and there is a sense of insecurity within themselves when it comes to relationships and simply, just life. They know it’s difficult and they don’t want to burden you with their irrational thoughts and worries. So instead, they try to push you away before you get the chance to leave yourself. That’s the reality.

It’s hard loving someone who suffers from anxiety. They will be over sensitive, they will make up scenarios in their head causing an argument, and constant reassurance is needed.

Find yourself someone who doesn’t make you feel like loving you is a job. Someone who will assure of you the little things. Someone who doesn’t tell you that you’re overreacting. Someone that will rock you on the floor in the dead middle of an anxiety attack. Find someone that no matter how hard you push them- they do not leave.

There are people out there like that. People that calm you and bring you a sense of security- that will be stronger than any dose of medication that can be prescribed.

You may have anxiety, but anxiety doesn’t have you.

Inspired by her sweet post, we wanted to know what other people needed to hear from their significant other when a rough moment with anxiety. So, we asked our mental health community.

Here’s what they told us:

‘You are not your anxiety.’ He reminds me of this all the time. He reminds me how much fun he has with me, how he loves me unconditionally and how he would be so unhappy without me. He has to do this so often thank God I have such a patient and supportive husband.” — Megan R.

“I used to be in a relationship with a person who didn’t understand my anxiety, so when we had fights he would tell me, ‘Why do cry so much?’ ‘Why do you overreact about a single discussion.’ So if I had a mental breakdown in front of him I had to hide it because he would tell me, ‘Why are with me if you’re going to end up crying and shaking like that’… eventually I’d hide from him if I felt anxious and made me feel ashamed of my illness… it’s hard to feel judge from the person you love… I guess the best thing to hear is I don’t really understand what is going on you but I support you… and be there in the mental crisis, just holding my hands can make a difference.” — Daniel S.

“‘We’ve got this! This isn’t my life or your life. It’s our life. We are in this together today, tomorrow and forever.’ I cried like a baby when he said this to me.” — Tracy K.

“When I get lost in doubt, he reminds me that he loves me and if he didn’t still love me more than anything in the world, he wouldn’t still be here. The evidence is important to me. When my fiancé proposed, the first thing I said was, ‘Are you sure?’ Anxiety likes to be a doubting jerk, but my fiancé is pretty awesome and smacks it out of the way real fast.” — Erin W.

I am humble enough to admit I don’t understand what you’re going through, not a slightest clue, but let me assure you I will be by your side no matter what happens. I love you and it is important for me that you feel that and see that from me. Help me help you get through this. We are in this together.” — Mark T.

‘I am so proud of you. After everything this life has thrown at you, you’re still here. You have fought like hell to be the woman you are today and nothing can take that from you… not even your anxiety. I’m right here and always will be.‘ I’m so blessed.” — Mary C.

“No matter what, I will always be here for you. If you need a shoulder to rest on, I’m here. If you need someone to talk to, I will listen, I will understand and I will hug you until your anxieties go away. No matter what, I loved you..” — Azis N.

“My husband usually tells me, ‘You’ve been my Crazy Lady from the beginning and it’s never bothered me before, it’s not about to start bothering me now.’  Then he kisses me on the forehead and runs me a bath.” — Amanda K.

“I’ll always love you for who you are.” — Erik H.

“Ask me if there’s something they can do, and be content if I say there’s nothing. Sometimes all I need is a hug for something small… just being there without making me feel bad for getting anxious is the most important.” — Maddy F.

“They aren’t going anywhere. My boyfriend (now husband) would tell me, ‘I don’t know what it’s like to have anxiety but I’m not going anywhere.’ He would do this while holding my hand. He instantly calms me with his touch. I do the same for him when he’s stressed. Just his acknowledgment of my ‘freak out; in such a calming and understanding way meant a lot. He just listens and doesn’t have to say much.” — Kylie A.

“He always helps me determine if it’s my anxiety or something else. No matter what I say he knows just by the look on my face when I’m anxious. He’s very in tune with me and my emotional needs. He always tells me he loves me and how I feel isn’t wrong, even if it sometimes is lol.” — Juli K.

“‘I love you babe’ the most powerful thing she says to me. It makes us seem more real and a certain thing rather than what my anxiety wants me to believe.” — Ethan H.

“I feel like sometimes I don’t want to hear anything from my significant other when I am doubting our relationship. All I really ever want is to just be held. When he’s calm and he hugs me, I begin to feel calm too…” — Alex T.

‘I understand’ would be greatly appreciated and not being told to ‘calm down’ or start pointing out all the embarrassing things I am doing…. That’d be grand. — Jenny W.

“I remember once I was driving home from a date with my boyfriend, and I had a huge anxiety attack. I felt convinced that he was over me and the relationship was over. I cried and cried and we had a long talk about it all. The one thing I remember him saying to me was, ‘Your anxiety tells you that you’re this awful person that doesn’t deserve to be loved, but maybe it’s what makes you the most beautiful woman I know.‘ It really resonated with me, and it helped me a lot that day.” — Carolyn A.

“Even though I’m married, I’m always ashamed of how I have breakdowns over the most littlest things. I automatically feel like, who would want to be with me, willingly? Thankfully, he’s always there to remind me that I’m perfect in his eyes and I’ve conquered a lot in my life.” — Leeann L.

“‘I love you and we can get through anything together!’ He doesn’t always understand my anxiety or why I doubt myself or us, but he reminds me that he loves me and I’m not alone in my struggle.” — Bree C.

“My husbands magical weapon for me is laughter! Make me laugh and all my anxiety goes away, instantly. I pretty much just drop whatever was getting me riled up. Great life hack.” — Christa C.

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