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After years of working — sometimes three different jobs at one time — I was able to retire. I had visions of spending lots of time with my grandchildren, taking trips and enjoying life with my husband. Unfortunately, this did not happen!

I have experienced bouts of anxiety off and on for most of my life. It has made it difficult to get close to people many times, and it was always a black cloud hanging over my head. I have taken meds off and on, gone to counseling and participated in many treatment options. I worked very hard at keeping it hidden, though. I considered it my “big secret.”

For the most part, no one knew that I struggled with anxiety. When I would have episodes, I would just take a step back and “deal” with it. Because I experience chronic pain due to many health issues, my family just attributed my “off days” as just having another bad day with pain. That became easier and easier as I got older. Retirement changed all that.

I went from working a very busy full-time job, actively volunteering and trying to be an involved wife, mother and grandmother, to not being able to leave the house without a full-blown panic attack. Sometimes being stuck in the house for months and months at a time. Or going out with my husband and gritting my teeth so hard I would give myself horrific migraines. And, what felt the most humiliating to me was when my claustrophobia had to make an appearance to the point my husband would have to sit on the toilet seat cover and talk to me so I could take a shower with the shower door open.

I don’t remember any of this being part of my retirement plan. The saddest part is I was talking to women I had met standing in a store and they were talking about not being able to get out of the house, and I asked to join the conversation. To my surprise, we were all three newly retired and experiencing similar episodes. The first thing that jumped to my mind was I don’t remember seeing anything about this in the barrage of “getting ready for retirement” mail and solicitations I had received. Nor any warnings from my friendly neighborhood physicians!

How many of us are there out in the “Congratulations, you are now retired!” community? I thought life would get easier in retirement, not more difficult.

So, I make appointments with myself. I set a date on the calendar, the same as I would for a medical appointment and leave the house. Even if it’s just to take a walk on our 60 acres, I make myself leave the house.

Easy? No!

Needed? Yes.

My husband is beginning to understand what is happening and the guilt I have for not being able to be the “fun wife” walking into retirement with him. This has felt unbearable at times.

So I take my anxiety meds, make my appointments and work at trying to deal with this. But I know now I am not the only one. I can think of at least two others!

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Thinkstock photo via mheim3011.

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My friend and I were sitting outside of a quaint coffee shop on a warm spring day. The sun warmed our faces, and a gentle breeze rustled through our hair.

My thoughts whipped through my mind like gusts of wind in a storm, standing in stark contrast to my placid surroundings.

Do I have to tell her? I should, she deserves to know the truth! But what if this changes everything?

“There’s something I’d like you to know,” I said, as calmly and evenly as possible. Though as I spoke, I could feel my heart race and my stomach drop. I reached in front of me and took a small sip of my hot chocolate, though it was little more than a delay tactic. A way to postpone revealing my potentially friendship-altering secret — if only by a second.

My friend leaned toward me intently. I noticed a glimmer of concern flash across her face, but her gaze radiated warmth.

“I… um… I’ve been dealing with anxiety,” I stammered, wishing I had maintained my collected demeanor instead of sputtering out my words.

I scanned her face for traces of pity or signs of judgment, but I found none. Her expression was kind as I looked into her eyes.

Then, with one subtle act, my friend forever changed the nature of our friendship.

She leaned toward me, gently and silently, her gaze nurturing and nonjudgmental. Her silence spoke volumes.

In her silence, she seemed to say: I’m here for you. I’ll never leave you. I promise I’ll be with you every step of the way.

And she listened.

She listened as I shared that I felt I needed to be open and honest about my mental health because my anxiety was worsening. She listened as I told her about the night I experienced the worst panic of my life — the night I realized I could no longer struggle in silence. She listened as I lamented that I knew I needed to stop pushing myself so hard, but if I slowed down, I might never achieve my goals. She listened as I confided that the prospect of asking for help terrified me.

She did not interrupt. She did not change the subject. She simply listened.

Occasionally, when I paused to collect my thoughts, my friend would ask for clarification. She otherwise allowed the conversation to progress naturally — to meander its way through the challenges I was facing.

After a few minutes, I asked her about her life, and our conversation shifted. We chatted lightheartedly about everything we always had — work, school, the activities we just had to do together before we went our separate ways post-graduation.

It was then I realized my friend did not perceive me as “crazy,” or as “insane,” or as any of the other derogatory misnomers people had used in the past to describe my anxiety. She did not even see me as “anxious.” She saw me.

Just me.

All of me.

In that moment, I knew my intuition was accurate. Revealing my experiences with anxiety to my friend had permanently altered our friendship.

It deepened our bond. It strengthened our trust. It drew us closer than we ever could have imagined. It was a gateway to honesty, a key to openness, a door to vulnerability.

It was the moment I realized the paradox of disclosing my anxiety. In a few minutes of conversation with a friend, nothing had changed between us and everything had changed between us.

We stood up to leave. “Thank you for sharing your story,” my friend said, hugging me tightly.

I remained silent as my friend and I hugged. I was so overwhelmed by her love and support that tears began to well in the corners of my eyes. My silence spoke volumes, expressing the flood of emotion that overcame me — an outpouring I could not put into words.

Thank you for accepting me as I am. Thank you for standing by me in my most difficult moments. Thank you for being my friend.

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People always tell me I wear my heart on my sleeve. To some degree, it’s true. If someone tells me something and I’m excited, confused, or uneasy, they can usually tell by my vivid facial expressions. But that’s only the layer they see.

I’m a theater person, so after years of being on stage I’ve learned to wipe my face of emotion. To go “neutral.” To hide what is raging inside of my head. People don’t realize how much I live — as so perfectly described in Broadway’s “Finding Neverland” — in the “circus of my mind.” I live in my fantasy worlds, mostly because they revolve around all the things I am longing for in my life: people listening to me, caring about what I say, understanding and supporting me. It’s like a more intense version of daydreaming. I write my own stories about what I wish my life would be life — almost as my version of a coping mechanism. During times when my anxiety is really bad, I take myself out of reality and go to the happy place of my imagination. Instead of coping, I bury the thoughts I am having.

But when I’m in a state of intense anxiety to the point I have to take myself out, I still appear perfectly calm. My mind races. My heart beats like a drum inside of my chest. My hands are shaking. But nobody can tell. I like to keep it that way. I fear if I tell anyone, they will think I’m “crazy,” just as the people tell J. M. Barrie in “Finding Neverland.” I’m afraid they will tell me “It’s over, I’m leaving you behind to the circus of your mind.”

It creates a spiral — a black hole. I’m afraid of what people will think, so I hide. People wonder why I’m quiet, and I say “I’m fine” and they believe me. I’m afraid they will realize I lied to them, so I continue to hide. In my head, they are all judging me for my weakness. But like a black hole, you can’t see it, only the things it affects.

Every day of my life, I play a character. The person who is happy, carefree, confident, sassy, outgoing, well dressed. Inside? I’m worried. Anxious. Panicking. Doubtful. Sassy, simply to hide how insecure I am. I dress nice so people notice that and not how I’m nervous and shaky. The few people I’ve let my guard down for I don’t get to talk to very often. I hate texting people out of the blue when I’m anxious because I’m sure they have more problems of their own. Maybe someday I’ll take off the mask and stop acting, for once. But for now, I write.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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I want to be the girl who worries about a chipped nail.

But I’m the girl who wouldn’t notice if her nails were falling off.

I’ve struggled with a rare dissociative and a severe anxiety disorder, characterized mostly by depersonalization, derealization, and panic attacks and, for most of my life, like many of us, have been searching for a cause.

But the weird thing is, there isn’t one.

I grew up the quiet girl with the book. Always reading. Always escaping into another story, fantasy. A way I could feel alive — reading about other people. Melting into stories.

Reading has had many benefits for me — doing well in school, landing a good job, making me extremely book smart (but because of my disorder, not very street smart). Whether being smart is a curse or a blessing I have yet to figure out.

In fact, I am the type of person who thinks about things until I exhaust them. I like to think that’s where the root of my anxiety lies. I think and think until everything seems unreal. How could it be real? What if it’s imagined? I think so much about how things exist that I struggle to live in the moment, in the now.

I worry so much about not living in the now that I rarely live in the present. I’m so worried about the future that I forget I’m alive.

From childhood I was captivated by the world itself. Its beauty. Everything it has. The endless opportunities and beautiful things to see. I wanted to do everything. I wanted to see everything. But I always feared, “What if something happens to me before I can be something. Be someone?”

I’ve been around the world in many ways: many doctors, many appointments, many medicines. I’ve been around the world in my own mind. But, unfortunately, my anxiety prevents me from actually going forward (or anywhere far) physically.

Back to the world. Back to dissociative. I smell a flower. I feel nothing. I look at a tree. I feel nothing. I feel my feet on the ground — no, I don’t. I often feel like I’m floating.

My biggest fear, the root of my anxiety, is never getting the opportunity to experience things fully.

The hardest part is, a brain disorder is invisible. People often say to me, “I never knew,” or “You look fine,” or they just think I’m a fair-weather friend.

Even to this day, I’m the strong girl. Sure, my family worries about me, but they know I will fall and get up again; I will lose and not be defeated.

This has become, again, a blessing and a curse.

After all, author George Martin said in his book “A Dance with Dragons”: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

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I am a liar. By no means can you ever trust a word coming from these lips. I have learned the art of making stories seem so real you have no doubt they are true — especially when I tell you, “I am OK, and I’ll eventually see things through.” It’s rough, pretending to others you’re as courageous and strong as they believe you are.

Sometimes you rather not let others down, by not letting them see you so far down the rabbit hole. I am a great pretender. I’ve mastered the art of letting stories take my actual presence; it’s a superpower, really.

I tell lies. Practically stories, of people who are me but not me. Stories of someone I wish I could be when anxiety doesn’t destroy me. It’s my great escape and terrifying curse, because it’s so much cooler to be someone else than me.

I am a skilled actor; I jest. I’m truly very good at just making up stories to hide my fears. Why? Because if I were to tell the truth — that working 80+ hours a week, being a full-time student, married with high-functioning anxiety and depressive disorder causes an internal destruction of my sanity? I’m called lazy as hell, that I’m a whiner and I need to grow up, or that I need to put my “big girl pants” on and face the real world like everyone does.

I’ve learned firsthand, secondhand, and thirdhand that telling the honest truth about why I need to come in later for work or even take a day off from work will cause people to shun me. I’ve seen the look on their faces when I openly tell the truth and was told it was all in my head. I’ve always had someone make my reasons feel invalidated by statements like these:

“Well, I’ve had a bad day too but I’m still working hard.” Or… “I get tired too, you just have to pull through it, it’s all in your head.”

Well, that’s just it. It is all in my head because my anxiety and the depression monsters love playing tag and jumping up and down on the cushions of my brain. Wreaking havoc and destruction on my concentration, deliberately dangling normalcy in front of me like a piece of meat but then jerking it away when I want some semblance of peace.

It’s hard to express I am not OK; it hurts so much to tell someone the truth. Because I’ve already seen so many witch hunts on people who struggle like I do, in silence because we feel invalid by our illnesses.

That is why I feel I must paste on my fake personality — pretend I am invincible when I feel like I’m dying from my insides caving in on each other. I have to don my clothes, even when my body hurts from crying and shaking from the terrible thoughts running in my head. I must paint a face upon my true face, to hide the flaws and the dark circles around my eyes from the lack of sleep caused by nightmares of possibly messing up and losing my job. I must be perfect. I need to pretend to be damn good at being someone who doesn’t struggle with anything. I must be… an excellent citizen of society.

I must be the perfect liar.

Follow this journey on Letters from a Highly Functional Walking Disaster

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Unsplash photo via Jorge Rojas


When my anxiety takes over, I fall back into a pattern I know all too well. I create distractions. I jump into everything head first and just go. The less time I have to let my anxiety take control, the better.

When my anxiety tells me I’m not good enough or can’t do this, I’m competitive by nature, so I push harder. This sounds like it would be a good thing, but it’s not. Average isn’t good enough. I have to do better, no matter the cost. So I shut everyone out, I lose all interest in any social interaction and I push everyone away. I stop looking forward to days off and start to dread them.

My anxiety won’t allow me to slow down. I can’t take any breaks. I sleep more, or I sleep less, depending on the day. I keep my head up and a smile on my face so no one knows I’m coming undone.

My anxiety tells me no one cares so I don’t need them. I shut down and go on autopilot. I become irritable and stop returning phone calls and texts. I don’t want anything to do with anyone. I’m hard to live with, hard to talk to. People who know me well know to wait it out, others call me “selfish,” “bitchy” or “stuck up.”

This is my anxiety when it’s at its worst. This is a time when I need to push through it and work it out. This is a time when I need to be in control of my surroundings and this is a time when I see clearly which people need to be shut out of my life. Those who truly love me understand what I need and give me space. Those who don’t, cause drama, back stabbing and name calling.

To understand me, please understand my diagnosis isn’t imaginary or an excuse to be “lazy,” “stuck up” or “selfish.”  Understand it is a disorder that involves high levels of self-care that can be exhausting.

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Thinkstock photo via Tishchenko.

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