man comforting anxious woman in coffee shop

To My Significant Other About What It Means to Have Anxiety

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My dearest boyfriend/girlfriend,

Thanks for taking the time to read this today. I’m sorry if it interrupted your schedule. See, part of my mental illness is to make me feel guilty and ashamed for things (I’m told) I shouldn’t. After the guilt and shame set in, anxiety creeps up. Some people get anxiety and stress confused. Anxiety isn’t stress. You can redirect stress and calm yourself relatively quick. Anxiety isn’t so easy. Let me explain.

I get tense. First in my chest, shoulders and neck. Then, it flows into my arms, hands and stomach. Next, I clench and grind my teeth without noticing. After a while, my jaw hurts so badly that I nervously adjust it back and forth, only to clench again.

I know by this point my anxiety is getting bad. With that, I get more anxious over the wait of an inevitable panic attack.

The interior monolog is the most toxic, horrendous part of it all. I would withstand my racing heart, clenched jaw and fighting tears if only the interior monolog would quit. It’s my own voice doing it to myself, and it’s overwhelming. Let me show you what five minutes inside that monolog feels like.

“Why did you say that? Now everyone is going to judge you. He’s probably angry because you aren’t being grateful enough. I’m so selfish! Why is he even with me? He’s probably thinking of how to break up with me. Stop rubbing your hands all over your body! It’s fine, just breathe. Remember who loves and is here for you. Why would they love me? I’m always dragging them down. I should cut all ties off with them so they can be happy. They aren’t really here for me. That’s why they live so far away; they don’t have to deal with me. No wonder my boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t want to spend much time with me. School is just their excuse. You’re a bad mom. You shouldn’t be allowed to be a parent.”

All these things and more flood my mind, making reality a pool of murky water in which I’m drowning.

However, there is clarity in my muddy waters. It’s you. You, family and friends all can help me resurface again. You can help me by putting my doubts and fears to rest by answering some “obscure” questions. Questions such as, “Am I bothering you? Do you still love me? Why? Are we OK? Are you sure it’s OK?”These “obscure” questions can mean the difference between a short anxiety bout, a panic attack or a month-long session of worry and anxiety focused on one main topic.

Constant apologizing is common for me too, as you know. Unfortunately, for me, it’s not a conditioned response brought on by society. For me, when I say “I’m sorry” over even simplistic things, I say it because my mental illness makes me loathe myself for whatever just happened. So again, the interior monolog starts and if I loathe myself, then you must too — hence I need to apologize before something worse happens.

You can make those interior monologs fewer and not so horrible. Here’s some helpful tips I’ve discovered. First is physical interaction. Holding me does so much. My mental illness likes to make me feel alone and caged even when you’re right next to me. The longer you hold me, the safer I feel. Next, if you see the warning signs explained earlier, try to ask questions and reassure me. Chances are I am too nervous or anxious to start the conversation myself. If you have time, talk to me one on one.

Mental Illness is scary and overwhelming. It’s not easy, but it doesn’t need to be so bad either. The love of others makes all the difference. That being said, I have mental illnesses, I am not them. I am me. There is so much more to me and you have already seen that. I’m a mother, daughter, sister, girlfriend and friend. I’m a woman who loves animals, I love to cook and I love art. I sing and dance in the shower with the music turned up loud. These and many more things make me. I just need help remembering that sometimes.

So, my dearest, thank you for taking the time to read this. You mean the world to me and I only want to grow closer to you. Understanding me in my entirety means a lot to me. I love you.

Love,

Your Girlfriend/Boyfriend with Mental Illnesses

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Thinkstock photo via AntonioGuillem

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These Are the Many Forms of My Anxiety

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If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

Anxiety is inconsolable tears. It’s not being able to answer the phone. It’s pushing away the people you love. It’s uncontrollable shaking. Sometimes it’s not wanting to live. It’s missing out. It’s scars on my stomach, legs and arms. It’s horrible hatred that consumes your whole mind.

My anxiety is constantly changing, always taking on a new form. Although it looks different it is definitely not better, and it never becomes easier to manage. Going from separation anxiety from my mum, to suicide attempts, to shrinking my world, to medication and not being able to do the things I love, it takes all my energy and every time there’s something new. What worked once most likely won’t work the next time.

I have tried different medications and methods to make my anxious thoughts at least tolerable — exposure therapy, light therapy, aroma therapy, occupational therapy… I now think of each therapy I try as an extra tool I have to use in my box.

It’s hard, living with anxiety. The ultimate goal is for it not to affect how you do things — to be able to continue a normal life. I have had to come to terms with my disability. Disability? Strange but true — this mental disorder is a disability. It affects every aspect of my life. I struggle on a day to day basis with work, my relationships, even sleep. Emotional stability is something I am never going to be in control of — the unpredictability of my anxiety is the most difficult.

I have come so far, yet I have so much further to go. Only recently have learned life is not about winning the race but about finishing it, and it’s taken me a long time to want to finish this race we call life. It is something I wouldn’t wish upon anybody, and for those of you struggling, you are not alone and I encourage you to keep moving forward.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Unsplash photo via AJ Yorio

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To the Stranger on the Train Who Knew What Was Happening

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Dear stranger on the train,

Thank you for watching from a distance and seeing my breathing change.

Thank you for coming over and offering me water.

Thank you for not judging me when I started to cry for seemingly no reason.

Thank you for giving me the space I needed, whilst still letting me know you were there.

Thank you for reminding me it would pass.

Thank you for breathing with me.

Thank you for staying until you knew I was OK again. You sat with me, sharing in my silence. You knew you didn’t have to speak. You just sat across the aisle from me.

To those who just watched, even those who moved away — I know it’s scary; believe me, I know.

It can be difficult to know how to react in an unfamiliar situation; things we don’t understand tend to make us uncomfortable. They can even promote fear within us. So, for that reason, I don’t blame any of you for not checking on me. I don’t blame those of you who felt you had to move away. I understand; I have been you.

I only ask one thing — if you encounter this again, no matter who it is or where you are, just please don’t whisper, please don’t judge and please don’t stare.

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Unsplash photo via Alex Klopcic

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What Helped Me Get the 'University Experience' With My Mental Illness

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When I announced to my friends and family I was planning on going to University there wasn’t a lack of shocked faces. Me, the shy, anxious little girl who had never been away from home for more than a few nights was announcing she was moving hours away to study for a degree. Not only have I never felt the “smartest” one in the family, I have definitely never felt the most confident. My choice to go to University was the result of a burst of confidence I had on a “good day.” This choice changed my life path.

There’s many expectations when you move away for University:

“You will become best friends with everyone you live with.”

“You will have so many great new experiences.”

“These will be the best few years of your life.”

When I arrived at University and I wasn’t immediately having the best time of my life, I felt cheated. Apparently, it doesn’t actually work quite like that. With the expectations of University life playing on my brain, I got frustrated when I couldn’t join in with all the “normal” aspects of life due to my struggle with anxiety and depression.

My anxiety often stops me from going to lectures and seminars, and when I am able to go, I can’t hear through the voices in my head rendering my attendance useless. I will frequently have panic attacks over mundane tasks, such as getting a book out of the library. When it comes to the social side of University life — well, many people with anxiety and depression might agree on how mentally excruciating things like meeting new people and nights out can be, and this tends to be a big part of University life.

I didn’t quite imagine my University experience to consist of days stuck in bed due to anxiety, or countless visits to the doctors and a number of desperate visits to the “Student Life Center.” All the expectations I had for University seemed shattered right before me by my mental illness. Mental illness doesn’t seem to take days off for important events, and it doesn’t disappear when something exciting and important happens to you.

A lot of University involves self-motivation. No one is going to care if you don’t go to a lecture, no one is going to chase you about your assignments, no one is there to check if you’re feeding yourself. Illnesses such as depression can make self-motivation hard, like getting out of bed in the morning, go to a lecture or write an essay. I struggled with this a lot in my first year of University and still struggle with it daily, but I’ve learned ways to help me through it.

My tips:

  • Routine — routine is so important, write out a very simple to-do list with achievable targets.
  • Forget all expectations — when you expect something to happen and it doesn’t, it can be a setback. If you put less pressure on these expectations you might feel more relaxed.
  • Ride the waves — in my experience there are always going to be ups and downs at University, especially when you add mental illness on top on everything else. In my experience, accepting defeat on the smaller things helped me accomplish bigger things.
  • Praise yourself — sometimes simple things aren’t so simple for someone with mental illness. If getting out of your room was the biggest thing you did in the day, don’t be hard on yourself, be proud.
  • Get to know your University — your University may offer help for students with a mental illness, get to know what they provide and make good use of it.

It helps to remember these feelings are “normal” and help is out there. I have made some amazing friends who have helped me through a lot, and I feel I am in a very supportive environment. You are not weak if you reach out for help. You don’t have to have the stereotypical #unilife experience; everyone’s University experience is different, just “ride the waves” and try to make the best of it.

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Thinkstock photo by: Wavebreakmedia Ltd

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Chuck Mullin of ChuckDrawsThings Uses Pigeons to Illustrate Anxiety

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When you think about anxiety, pigeons might not be the first animal to come to mind, but for Chuck Mullin, the city-dwelling birds are the perfect fit for illustrating her anxious thoughts.

 

“Pigeons have always been my favorite animal, partly because I think they’re cute, partly because I find them to be loveable, silly and relatable,” Mullin, 22, told The Mighty. “They’re generally looked down upon for eating trash and being everywhere, but they’re weirdly funny to watch. I think everyone can relate to being kicked about despite having so much personality to offer, so they seemed like fun little emblems for comics.”

http://chuckdrawsthings.tumblr.com/post/158753397188/cycle

Mullin, who shares her illustrations on social media as “ChuckDrawsThings,” lives with anxiety and depression. Illustrating her anxiety, she said, is cathartic.

“It’s mainly as a coping method, a way to express my feelings in a constructive manner,” the London-based illustrator shared. “Having anxiety means I struggle to vocalize what I feel sometimes, so if I draw something about it, I feel liked I’ve vented in a relatively healthy manner.”

http://chuckdrawsthings.tumblr.com/post/159988906648/stability

Although it’s hard for her to pick a favorite, one illustration Mullin particularly loves is a cartoon of a pigeon going to therapy. “Extreme close ups always make me laugh,” she said. “I think it captures the sense of futility and the struggle that comes with trying to get help.”

http://chuckdrawsthings.tumblr.com/post/157874811683/therapy

Beyond allowing Mullin to express her thoughts, her illustrations have helped others living with anxiety as well. “I really wasn’t expecting it,” she said of the positive feedback she’s received. “It’s been lovely receiving such nice messages from others and connecting with people going through the same thing. I never thought I’d be able to do that on such a massive scale.”

http://chuckdrawsthings.tumblr.com/post/159277000903/sounds-fake

If she could share one thing about living with anxiety, Mullin said she’d want others to know she’s not being shy or rude. “I genuinely can’t control my anxiety,” she said. “It’s so much more than just being a bit nervous – the mental and physical side effects are overwhelmingly powerful.”

http://chuckdrawsthings.tumblr.com/post/158639806088/a-bitter-pill

Header image credit: Chuck Mullin. 

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Why I Hate When Publications Say You Can 'Beat' or 'Overcome' Anxiety

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Because I’ve been writing about stress, anxiety and overthinking for the past two years, nearly every day I receive a new trending anxiety article via text or Facebook messenger from a smart, well-read friend or family member. The piece usually gives advice on how you can “beat,” “overcome,” “conquer” and “escape” anxiety.

I always stand at my computer and groan. This is perceived as what will garner clicks. Whether the writer chose the title or not, this is often how anxiety articles are framed and sold.

The problem is: what gets clicks wends its way into hearts and minds. This framing will not help people who actually have anxiety. In fact, it only exacerbates the problem. In my experience, those of us who have anxiety are always looking for answers. We Google until our fingers are numb. We read every book we can find. We covertly study. We slyly interview. We believe that if we work hard enough, we will find a way to beat, escape or conquer anxiety.

Alas, all of this trying and searching is only adding to our anxiety. It is part of the problem, not the solution. There is no path “out of” anxiety. If you have an anxiety disorder, then anxiety will likely be some part of your entire life. Does this mean you can’t be happy? No. You can find many ways to feel safe and comfortable with who you are, anxiety and all. Here’s a good place to start. But the false promise these headlines are selling in order to get your click — that you can no longer feel the pressure of anxiety if you just read what someone else did to work on theirs — is a lie. And it needs to stop.

We all need to stand up to clickbait anxiety titles, but this critique is really aimed at my fellow writers. Ask yourself, “Do I really mean what I’m saying when I write “beat anxiety?” Or am I just wanting a dopamine hit from getting a bunch of clicks?” If it’s the latter, then perhaps you too need to ride the wave and adjust your expectations.

What I want people with anxiety to know: you’re not alone in feeling confused. There are many tactics to try, but since no two anxieties are the same, what worked for others won’t always work for you. Keep experimenting and you will find calmer, happier shores. And good luck on that wave!

Follow this journey on Beautiful Voyager

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Unsplash photo via Steinar Engeland

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