Why Climbing a Mountain Was a Lot Like My Anxiety

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I’ve always found it really difficult to explain my anxiety and the effect it has on me. Often I can’t even really understand it myself, therefore explaining it to others is near impossible.

I’ve been thinking of how to explain my struggle, and finally, I’ve cracked it. When in doubt, use a metaphor. So that’s what I’m doing.

It’s time to talk about the mountain I climb every day.

Let’s start off with a bit of context; last October, I climbed a mountain. It felt somewhat poetic to conquer this mountain towards what was the end of the worst year of my life. I thought climbing the mountain would be the perfect end to a dreadful year. Not only had I conquered this year, but I’d take it a step further and climb a mountain just because I could. My anxiety couldn’t touch this.

The day prior to climbing the mountain, a few of my housemates mocked me for thinking I could actually do it. Those words hurt, but more than anything they motivated me to prove them wrong. I started the climb with their words in my mind — I told myself I would do it, even if it was just to prove them wrong.

That determination didn’t last long — 20 minutes in and I was already struggling. I thought to myself that my housemates were right; if I was already struggling now, then why even bother to continue? I would never make it to the top. I might as well turn back now than in an hour or two after all that wasted effort. So I started to turn back — then I turned back again. I had to believe I could do this. I survived this past year, I could survive this small mountain!

So I started to climb again and within minutes I fell face first, but I just got up, dusted myself off and carried on. Eventually, I made it to the top. It was a struggle but I was so determined, I couldn’t feel the pain or the exhaustion. I had made it! And it felt amazing … for a total of two seconds. I realized I made it to the top, but that just meant I was only halfway. I still had to get all the way back down.

That’s when the intrusive thoughts started. I made it up without any injury, so the chances of getting hurt on the way down had surely doubled. It was a steep climb, so getting down meant I could easily slip and fall at any moment, right? I’d managed to get all this way up, but it didn’t matter because I was probably going to die on the way down. I’d never make it the rest of the way, I was doomed to fail.

This was the start of a two and a half hour panic attack on the way down this seemingly never-ending mountain. Struggling to breathe. Holding back my tears. Just wanting everything to end because it seemed like I’d never get to the bottom of this mountain and prolonging this pain just wasn’t worth it.

At the end of the day, for me, this had been one of the most emotionally exhausting days in a couple of months. To everyone else though, I’d just successfully climbed a mountain, what an achievement! Woo.

What’s this got to do with my daily experience of anxiety? Well, this is what I go through on most days. I may not literally climb a mountain, but all the mental aspects and struggles of climbing this mountain exist in my everyday life.

Those housemates who mocked me are the sound of my anxiety any time I try to do anything, telling me I’m not good enough. And every day I try to prove my anxiety wrong. I take those first steps even though they terrify me. I apply for that position I want, open myself up to people and have faith they won’t hurt me, speak up for myself and so much more.

There are obstacles and multiple times in a day I just want to give everything up, drop out of university, quit all my extracurricular responsibilities and stay in bed all day. But I fight. I do as much as I can. Even though I know that if I get that position, for example, I’ll only enjoy it for a second before I drive myself “crazy” thinking I’m not worthy of it. That one second is worth it; for that one second, I’m content before my anxiety ruins everything.

Every day, I climb a mountain and wonder how I’m going to survive this day. Every day, my anxiety exhausts me so much I consider giving up before the day has even started. Yet, every day I refuse to give up on myself and I try my best to get through the day no matter how exhausting it is. From an outside perspective, my life is a success; in reality, a struggle exists behind every single thing I do and I’m the only one who knows it.

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How I Use the Moon as a Metaphor for My Anxiety

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The moon. One side of our moon faces the sun while the other side is completely swept in darkness. The only side we ever see… the side that faces the sun, faces the light. To many, the moon is a symbol of a light in the darkness. We tell stories about the “man on the moon.” The Japanese say it is a rabbit.

What do you see?

It’s just the moon, though, right? Nothing special. It’s just there. It gives us some light in the darkness. Gazing at the harvest moon is a wondrous sight. We all see it, but do we really see?

Anxiety and the moon are quite alike.

Now, just wait and hear me out on this one.

(Really, this could apply to a whole host of “invisible illnesses.” So if you fall into the category of an “invisible illness,” keep reading.)

I see the moon hanging up there in the sky. It’s bright and beautiful, even when only a crescent. The moon is certainly not alone in the galaxy, either; a whole host of stars, planets, and other interstellar objects are around it. And not to mention, the billions of people living on this planet gaze up at it nearly every night. We write songs and stories about the moon. This moon is pretty popular, isn’t it?

But wait. Earlier I was just talking about the moon having a dark side. That couldn’t possibly be true, could it? Something so beautiful and so popular could not possibly have a side of it constantly cast in the shadows — a side we never see.

Think about all of the people we see on a day-to-day basis: co-workers, the people at the restaurant where we buy lunch, the UPS driver, nurses at the doctor’s office, the police officer directing traffic, that one lady in the blue Nissan who you meet on the road every morning you drive to work, sometimes even our friends and family. Unless they specifically tell us or let us see (not unlike before we learn that we only see one side of the moon), how are we to know that part of them is also cast into a shadow? We would never see it.

It’s amazing how we can hide our troubles. It’s amazing how we can go years directly facing the sun so our backs are figuratively constantly in a shadow. It’s amazing how people only see what is in front and can easily be completely unknowing of this shadow.

Anxiety happens. It knows no boundaries.

 

Our human minds are either in the dark or facing the sun. We often choose to forget that the moon even has a dark side in the first place. People tell us, but we choose to ignore them. It doesn’t really matter, does it?

Yes. It certainly matters.

And I am also here to tell you that you matter. If you too have a side cast in darkness that you hide from the rest of the world, I’m here to tell you that I get it. And I sincerely hope using this metaphor will help you understand those who live with invisible illnesses. There’s a reason they choose to hide this side. There’s a reason some people choose to ignore it. There’s a reason for everything.

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Photo by Angelina Litvin, via Unsplash

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Why I Dream About Taking Off the 'Mask' That Hides My Mental Illness

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I have worn my mask for so long that it fits like a second skin and I often feel naked without it. I like what I look like with my mask on, it hides the parts of me that aren’t very pretty. I don’t go out in public without wearing it like a coat of armor for protection. It is not only physical in nature — it manifests itself in my behavior as well. My mask is one of happiness: smiles, energy and laughter. My mask is also one of strength: confidence, determination and toughness. I wear it to hide my truth.

What is it that I’m hiding? What do I look like underneath? Below the surface, I am a woman battling mental illness. My mask hides anxiety: fear, racing thoughts and panic attacks. My mask hides depression: hopelessness, sadness and tears.

When my mask is on, I am invincible. I can light up a room and be the person I wish I could be.

I don’t wear a mask because I am ashamed of myself and my illness, I wear a mask because I am too proud of myself to allow my mental health to stop me from living.

My mask has been a part of me for years, but it is not all of me. I have donned my mask for so long and it has been repaired many times. Perhaps that is why it slips down sometimes and I let some of what is hidden, show. When I let my mask slip for too long, I start to feel vulnerable and I pull it right back up. If I don’t like what lies underneath, what will others think of what they see?

People like the “fun me,” the woman who has it all together. But if they could see even half of what I feel, I don’t think they would know what to do with me. I don’t often know what to do with me… So I wear my mask not only to protect myself, but to protect others from the real me. I don’t want to lose my friends and loved ones, and I don’t want to put them in the position of having to leave me because I am not who they thought I was.

Lately I have seen my mask start to crack, and that scares me. At the same time, I dream about how liberating it would be for the mask to crumble so I could just be me — all of me. To be able to celebrate my strengths, while embracing the weaknesses I work so hard to overcome, would be so much easier than suffocating behind my mask.

I took my mask completely off recently. It was scary to allow myself to trust completely and to be so vulnerable, but it was also liberating, beautiful and so very special to finally feel safe enough to do so. To be seen for who I am — anxiety and depression included — and to be accepted and embraced, is a powerful and humbling experience. It was like feeling the sun shine on my face for the first time.

But then the fear of getting burned became too strong, and I wear my mask once more.

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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Thinkstock photo via Victor_Tongdee.

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When Anxiety Tells Me Everyone I Love Will Leave Me

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A woman talks about how her anxiety spirals downwards, out of control, and convinces her everyone will abandon her.

Read the full version of When Anxiety Tells Me Everyone I Love Will Leave Me.

Read the full transcript:

When Anxiety Tells Me Everyone I Love Will Leave Me

I feel like I am holding a bundle of helium-filled air balloons, and the more I talk to someone, the
tighter my grip on the string gets, and the less likely they are to get away.

Yet, life and experience have taught me this is the exact thing that makes people want to leave even more.

The more I smother and pull, the farther away they get.

I’m scared to be alone because that means I will be alone with my thoughts.

This downward spiral of not wanting to be alone has gotten to the point that if I don’t talk to someone every day, I have accepted the fact that they hate me and have rid me from their life.

However, reality has taught me people just get busy — for days, weeks or even months at a time, and that doesn’t mean they don’t love you anymore.

My goal is to try and start controlling my anxiety and channeling it in different ways than tethering myself to everyone around me.

I want to be able to let myself fly away sometimes.

I want to be able to enjoy being alone, entirely and solely in touch with myself and how I feel.

I’m hoping this will start to allow me to trust others more and believe in myself.

Believe in yourself.

Written By Dakotarae Anne

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To My Best Friend, Whom I Talk to When I Am at My Worst

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I am so lucky.

I wake up every morning knowing that no matter what happens, you will still care about me at the end of the day. And with anxiety, it is so hard to be confident in a relationship. So, I am lucky to have you, someone who understands what I am struggling with and who is willing to remind me, as often as I need it, that you will never leave me.

Thank you for answering the phone at 10 p.m. because I am having an anxiety attack while driving home. Thank you for talking me through my tears and helping me ground myself. Thank you for not getting off the phone with me until you knew I was safe at home. Thank you for knowing exactly what to say and making me smile when I was so afraid of how I felt.

Thank you for leaving me an audio message instead of texting me when I was convinced you would leave me. Thank you for knowing I needed to hear your voice and making sure I knew you would never stop caring about me.

I doubt every relationship I am in and there are nights when I am sure I have no friends, but you are always there to assure me I am not alone and will never be alone.

You know more about me than any other person on the planet and there is no one else I would rather have at my side when I am having an anxiety attack.

Thank you for being the only person who has ever understood what my anxiety is like. Thank you for telling me that, no matter what happens, things are going to get better. Thank you for calming me down and reminding me to breathe.

Thank you for not just seeing me for my anxiety.

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Dear Teen With Anxiety: This Is What You Have to Know

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Dear Teen,

I hear you are feeling pretty bad. I’m so sorry. I have felt like you do, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

Listen — anxiety doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you. I know it seems like you are the only one struggling like this, and that feels embarrassing, but anxiety is so common it can be considered more normal to have anxiety than to not have it. It’s just that it is invisible, and just like you can hide it pretty well, all the other people with anxiety do the same thing.

You don’t have to anymore! Many, many people, like celebrities Adele, Kim, Zayne, Selena are being more open about what they are experiencing. They have felt as alone as you and want you to know that you are not “crazy,” and you are not going “insane.” You will not feel like this forever. If someone told you that you will, they were misinformed about anxiety. People used to think of it in a different way. Now we know better, but the word is not as widespread as it needs to be.

Trust me. I’ve struggled. I clawed my way out. I have witnessed the recovery of thousands of others in my counseling practice get better. What you are experiencing is temporary and it is OK to ask for help.

You might feel like nobody understands, but that’s not true. People do understand. Everyone experiences anxiety on some level because the parasympathetic nervous system is biological. Everyone releases adrenaline and norepinephrine. It’s just that people think about anxiety, worry, fears, stress and panic in all different ways, and they use different words to describe it. Plus if you say, “You don’t understand!’ enough, people will start to believe that they don’t. Or agree, “You’re right, I don’t understand,” so they validate you hoping it’ll make you feel better. They are scared and worried and feel helpless.

I know how you feel. You both want them to understand, maybe because you don’t and you hope they can explain it to you. But you also want them to know they don’t understand so they can really get how intense you are struggling. If they understand too easily, they must not get the depths of it, you think. Or, if they don’t feel it, if anxiety doesn’t stop them in their lives, then they can’t possibly understand.

Just for a moment suspend that thought about what other people understand. What if you spoke about your anxiety like everybody got you? What would that be like?

Anxiety is a weird and difficult problem, because it exists alongside most other problems. It complicates other problems and makes them worse. It often becomes a worse problem than the original problem. It can happen to anyone, and it has nothing to do with strength, character and courage. Actually living a day with anxiety takes a huge amount of courage, so people with anxiety often have more courage than people without.

Remember, you are not alone in this feeling.

Here are some things I want you to know about anxiety to get you on the path of feeling better.

1. Anxiety needs you to be scared.

Anxiety perpetuates when the brain continues to release adrenaline when you are afraid of the feelings of it. So this becomes a cycle. Cognitively you know you are not in physical danger, but it feels so horrible you are afraid you’ll lose your mind. The more you are afraid, the more your brain releases adrenaline, the higher your anxiety gets and then the more afraid you are. Understanding what is happening in the brain really helps you to stop this cycle, because you are no longer afraid of anxiety.

See in my bio for a link to a video on the Biology of Fear.

2. Anxiety lies, constantly.

It tells you that you can’t handle it, that you are weak, that you’ll “go crazy,” that this is really something to be scared of, that you bother people, that you are overreacting, that you are losing your mind and that you simply can’t. None of these are true. They are just ideas that sound logical and convincing because everything seems hard when you have anxiety. Anxiety has you seeing all of the bad in you and not see any of the good. This is a ploy to keep you vulnerable to it. As long as you listen and believe it, anxiety will play and wreak havoc on your life. As long as you don’t trust yourself, anxiety stays in power over you.

Stop judging yourself. You are so much more amazing than anxiety wants you to believe right now. Judging yourself — which everyone does — makes anxiety so much worse. Be gentle and understanding to yourself, and then tell the anxiety you will not believe the lies anymore.

3. You have more power than you think you have.

You always hear that most of life is out of your control. I understand why that thought is overwhelming — it would freak anyone out —  but that is not entirely true. The things that are out of your control, like other people and weather, don’t matter as much as the one thing that is in your control: Your response.

You are an agent in your life. No matter what is happening around you, you decide what you can do in response. It’s called personal agency. You have total control over what you think, how you make sense of it, and what you do next.

Your response means more to your mood, your self-image, your level of happiness, your relationships and how you see the world, than what you can’t control. That means your happiness, sense of peace, and self-opinion is 100 percent in your control.

Anxiety might make you think you are out of control, or might “go off some insanity cliff,” but that is a big lie. There is no insanity cliff and I have never heard of anybody in thousands of clients in 20 years as a psychotherapist lose control. It simply doesn’t happen. You always have your wits about you. In fact, the adrenaline makes you hyper-focused.

4. It is temporary.

There is one guarantee: Anxiety never stays the same. It changes, so let’s change it in your favor. Anxiety is highly treatable, we just have to change some beliefs, and we can get you better. We have to build trust in yourself and encourage your self-confidence, and then you will not be vulnerable to anxiety any longer.

Knowing it is temporary will help you be less afraid of it and less judgmental of yourself.

In my book, “You 1, Anxiety 0: Win your life back from fear and panic”, I list 15 skills and abilities people use to get over their anxiety. Some are: find a higher priority, believe you can and remember what you know. They all involve taking action, because action and distraction are the best ways to shift your anxiety.

If you are struggling with anxiety, don’t wait to get help. You don’t have to suffer. Read a book on it, watch videos, see a counselor, start a distracting project and talk to a friend. The worst thing you can do is pull back from everything in life and stay home and think about the anxiety. That will make it worse. The caring adults in your life want to help. They have been where you are. If someone is not being nice to you, find an adult at school who you can trust.

It may seem like you have no one to go to, but that is often the anxiety lying to you about being alone. You are not alone. People do care.

I know life feels out of control right now, but find the little pieces of evidence of the control you have and focus all your attention on that. Repeat it to yourself over and over. You will get better. I promise.

You biggest fan,

Jodi

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