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When Depression and Anxiety Speak

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

When my anxiety speaks, it’s fast, incoherent and makes several interruptions. Consciously paying attention to my actual thoughts is exhausting. If I can make anything out in the chaos, I typically hear words like, “should,” “what if,” “hate,” “can’t” and “why.” When I choose to not consciously pay attention to the noise inside my head, I grind my teeth, clench my jaw, tighten my shoulders and try to move on with my day.

But some days, I can’t. Some days, I feel like I am falling into a pit of voices that all shame me, mock me and I feel helpless and terrified. Some days, I feel everything. Crying feels good though and it becomes all I know. I keep crying because it’s the only thing telling me I am alive. I am surviving by crying. There comes a point where I become angry. Self-harm comes into play. I want out of this mess, so I scream. I run out of tears. That is when I fall into depression.

When depression speaks, it whispers shame statements behind me. It’s like hearing your name behind you where you have to turn around and face the person talking to you. When I face depression, I sink. I sink into the pit and make a bed there. I feel numb and worthless, yet anxiety is still near by to make sure they aren’t done with me yet. Depression tells me lies. I will never change. I can’t change. There is no hope. There is self-harm, there is alcohol, there are a number of ways to feel. I desperately want to feel the intensity of this, but it’s so hollow. I am in a hallway with no emotion, just anxiety banging on the walls. I self-harm to document what is happening inside and to punish myself. I’m never really connected with myself when it happens. I feel alone. I feel like I am never going to make it. I feel “crazy.”

And then anxiety decides to obsess over one of those lies. I decided to obsess over the belief that I am “crazy.” I fear I am so “crazy” for all of this. My teeth grind more and I might start crying on the freeway. I might start crying in class.

Miniature versions happen every hour sometimes. Their intensity is the same, but masked behind smiles and business. The pull between the numb, hopeless words of depression and the jolting, pressure-shaming of anxiety make for exhausting days.

Today wasn’t much different, but I went outside. I felt the pull when I woke up this morning. Stronger than usual. I cried for an hour feeling like hope was gone. I went outside in the sun. I walked for two hours. I even ran a little bit. I breathed. I breathed again. I still listened to depression and anxiety. They didn’t completely go away. But I breathed through it. I survived. And sometimes that’s what we have to give ourselves. The affirmation that we survived one day.

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 opium_rabbit.

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6 Tips for Conquering Anxiety at School

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Being in high school and having anxiety is one of the hardest things about having anxiety. When you’re in a class and everything seems perfectly fine, then boom. It hits you. Your heart starts racing, you feel like the room is closing in on you, you start getting shaky and you feel like you can’t catch your breath. Yes, you are having an anxiety attack. The last thing you want are your peers knowing you are freaking out. You go to walk around, take a breather, but then you get even more anxious thinking about if you are gone too long. What will the teacher say? Will they even notice? What if you go back and you are still having the attack? What if you can’t stop it? What if you classmates see? What if (fill in the blank)?

Believe me, I understand.

These are some things I have found that help:

1. If possible, try to catch an attack before it happens.

Now I 100 percent know this isn’t always possible. Sometimes, at least for me, I get very anxious an hour before it turns into a full on attack. This happens maybe 30 to 45 percent of the time. When this happens, and I realize it, I work to try and calm down. Just going to the bathroom, eating or drinking water will help a lot more than you think.

2; Remember to breathe.

Anxiety attacks can happen for so long that you start to feel dizzy because you can’t catch your breath. It’s helpful to think “in” and count to 7, then “out” and count to 7. If you focus your mind on breathing, it can help you come out of the anxiety rush and back into a calmer mindset. There are apps out there that can also help. If you just search “breathing” or “anxiety” in the app store, there are some very helpful ones. Just sit down somewhere and completely focus on breathing.

3. Get out of the classroom.

This is a huge one, at least for me. Especially if the room feels like it’s closing in on you. If you can get to your own space, your classmates will not see and it’s a lot easier to calm down if you aren’t confined to just one seat or spot. If your school doesn’t have hall monitors, or staff that goes in the hallways often, walk around! One time, I walked around my school for 30 minutes. When my friends text me asking, “Why are you gone for so long?” I either do not respond, respond with, “I’m fine, just walking off stress,” or depending on the person, tell them I’m having an anxiety attack. “Walking it off” helps so much. Another option is going to the bathroom and just sitting down. I have found sitting on the cold floor of the bathroom can help a lot. And if someone is in there, you can just lock yourself in one of the stalls and calm down.

4. Find a teacher you can trust.

This has been one of the best things that has happened to me. I have two teachers who know I get anxiety attacks and it has been so beneficial. I went half of this school year without them knowing, but I got an anxiety attack that was so bad I felt like I couldn’t stop it. So I went to a teacher who I trusted (it was actually a student teacher for the class I was in) and she helped so much. I told a different teacher when I was having an attack again who really helped me. Actually, just today, I was having an anxiety attack and I went to one of these teachers. Even though they had a class, they told me just to go into their office and sit down and they would come in when they can. It helps so much just knowing someone at school who is a teacher is looking out for you. I was in that room for 30 minutes and they even talked to the teacher that I had during that time so I wouldn’t have to worry about that. Telling those two teachers has been the most beneficial thing I have done for my anxiety. I have felt like I was annoying them. I have said this so many times to a teacher and she always says, “You will never annoy me over something you can’t control.”

5. Try to identify triggers.

Anyone who says triggers don’t exist must be kidding because they most definitely are real. It helps to identify a certain class, test or anything that may set an attack off so you can prepare yourself if you know that situation may come up. I, personally, know some things that trigger me, but also anxiety can be totally (or feel totally) random and out of control. It’s OK! Being able to alleviate some things can help so much though. I promise.

6. Remember it’s OK and you are not dying.

Sometimes during an anxiety attack you feel as if you are going to die right then and there. In these moments, remember you are not going to die. That it will pass. It may 100 percent not feel like it is ever going to end, but just remember it will eventually pass. It may be over in two minutes, 10 minutes or even 45 minutes, but it will end. It’s OK that you are having an anxiety attack. There are probably other people in your school (or even teachers) who are going through the same thing. Everything will be OK. It may also be helpful to think of small goals. Don’t set a goal like, “Have no anxiety attacks and be done with anxiety in a month,” because that is probably an unrealistic goal. Think of goals like, “Try and cut my anxiety attacks from 15 minute down to five or 10.” 

And lastly, remember that just because you have anxiety, doesn’t mean you’re a “bad” student. It doesn’t make you any less human and it doesn’t make you a failure. Anxiety doesn’t define you, it just is a part of your life. And remember, you did not ask to have anxiety. It is something that you can’t always control, and that’s OK. 

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Thinkstock photo via janniswerner

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The Loneliness That Comes With Anxiety

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Imagine standing on a crowded street in Times Square. All around you, lights flash, car horns blare, street performers call out to tourists. You stand, feet glued to the pavement, as streams of people bustle around you, jostling you, yelling at you to move. But you can’t move. The sounds and lights and movement enclose you, the stimulation causes you to freeze. You can focus on nothing but your Converse shoes that are cemented to the pavement, wishing all of the chaos would turn to frozen silence. This is anxiety, back again.

All the while, you are surrounded by people. You feel them all around you, brushing by as they hurry on their way. When you look up, some smile, some wave, some might ask if you’re lost. But you can’t smile back, you can’t wave back, you can’t say, “Yes, I am lost. I am lost beneath an ocean. I am lost in the crashing waves of anxiety.” You are frozen, unable to ask for help, completely alone.

The loneliness feels like a weight pressing upon you. Instead of standing on a street corner in Times Square, you are being crushed by the gargantuan pressure of the ocean. The loneliness drags you down to the bottom of the deep blue water, a sandy bed. Sometimes you stare at the ocean floor and wonder if maybe it would be better to lay down and bury yourself under the sand, say goodnight to the world.

The thing about the loneliness that comes with anxiety is that you can be surrounded by people, standing on that street corner in Times Square, and still feel like you are the only person on the planet. Anxiety clouds your vision. The saltwater seeps into your eyes and makes the world a blurry blue, a sad blue, a lonely blue. Ocean blue. Beneath the surface of the water, you hear the world as if from behind a glass wall, the sounds muffled and distant. The silence magnifies.

You stare out at the chaos of Times Square, the distorted shapes of rushing pedestrians and honking taxis, and wonder if they know about the chaos taking place in your mind. You wonder if they can feel the turmoil radiating off you as they bustle passed, if they can hear the crashing waves inside your mind. But you know they can’t. You know that all they see is an immobile figure on the corner of a crowded street in Times Square. The only thing they wonder is why you are standing there frozen, why you aren’t speeding along with the flow of the crowd.

In the middle of Times Square, you have been overcome by a wave of anxiety that you cannot control. This has happened before and it will happen again. You are well acquainted with your pounding heart and pulsing veins. You are well acquainted with the ocean that pulls you beneath its surface. Most of all, you are well acquainted with the loneliness. The loneliness that comes from the feeling of hopeless that grips you as anxiety pulls you beneath the waves, as you struggle to keep your head above the surface. The saltwater floods your lungs and you cannot scream for help. Fear is in your veins. You are immobilized, unable to tell anyone about the chaos ripping through your mind. You worry that they will not understand, that they will not want to save you, that they will leave you to drown, and so you stay silent – you allow the waves to drag you into the riptide of loneliness.

You are not alone.

You are not the only one who has frozen in the middle of Times Square, forced to fight an ocean of anxiety. The waves will be rough as they crash around you, the current will be strong as it tries to pull you under, your eyes will sting with the saltwater that clings to your lashes, and you may feel like you can’t hold on any longer. But you can. And maybe knowing you are not alone will make the holding on a little easier.

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Pixabay photo via masterbee3

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When Anxiety Presents as Anger, Not Fear

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I have been anxious for as long as I can remember. I grew from an awkward and anxious child to an awkward and anxious adult. As a teenager I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression, but it was only as an adult that I learned more about what it actually means to be anxious.

Having anxiety doesn’t just mean being nervous or worrying. When my mind starts racing and I can’t decide which thing to think about, that’s anxiety. When my chest feels like it’s going to explode from pressure, that’s anxiety. When I snap at a co-worker for no reason at all, or I am inexplicably moody, that’s anxiety. When I spend the entire weekend wondering if I’ll be fired for something I said on Friday, that’s anxiety. When I randomly start crying, or laughing, or jumping up and down, that’s anxiety. When I flake on plans at the last minute, you can bet it’s because of anxiety.

Anxiety presents in lots of ways that may not be obvious. Unfortunately for me, most of the time mine presents as anger. What does that mean? It means when I feel anxious on the inside, it manifests itself on the outside as me being pissed off. So when I was a kid and my sister was comforted for being upset, I was scolded for losing my temper. Not that I hold anything against my parents, because I really was a little shit. Back then my anger-anxiety looked like me losing my temper all the time. When I lost a video game, I would throw the controller. When my sister teased me, I would hit her. Tiny triggers were huge triggers, and my level of anger-anxiety varied from moment to moment.

Now, with the help of medication, my anger-anxiety is more subtle, but still debilitating at times. Anxiety makes me snap a response without thinking and what I say sounds way different in my head than it did coming out of my mouth so I think about it constantly for several days, but I am also too anxious to correct what I said in the first place. It’s a snowball effect that can get out of control. When I talk negatively, complain, or rant, that’s usually anxiety. Even as I type this, my chest feels like it is being stepped on by a stiletto heel. That’s anxiety.

I don’t want to be irritable, or mean, or moody. I do everything I can to control it, but sometimes that’s not good enough. Sometimes I still snap, for seemingly no reason. The reason is anxiety. Please try to be patient.

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Thinkstock photo via Nastia11


When Anxiety Presents as Anger, Not Fear
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Why Being a Mom With Anxiety Fills Me With Guilt

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I feel guilty a lot. I try not to feel that way, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t.

Living with anxiety means you become creative with your parenting. You plan staycations instead of far away vacations. I can vacation, but not alone with my child like I wish I could. You say no when you want to say yes. You risk your child asking you why a lot. “Why can’t we go to the aquarium? Why can’t we go to the Jays game? Why can’t you drive here or there?” When I hear those questions I also hear in my mind, “Why can’t you be like other moms without anxiety?”

From there the guilt seeps in. Even though I do my best to make childhood fun and exciting, I sometimes feel it’s not enough. Not enough resonates deeply for me. I have not always been the mom who can’t. I’ve had periods in my life where I have been the mom who goes on the school trips and drives further than out of our town.

Every few years I fall into this soul sickness of raging anxiety where I relapse into agoraphobia, anxiety peaks and panic. I should be used to this by now. I know I’ll get better again. I always do. It’s like any illness with relapse and remission cycles. I know I will one day be better again. I work hard towards that every day. But it is the right now I struggle with. It is the feeling of life passing by and moments missed that eat at my soul. It’s the guilt of time that you can’t slow down or get back. It’s the fact that life still happens despite my hiatus, despite my “be back soon,” or “under construction” status.

How do you explain that to your child? I have tried to explain mental illness the same way as a physical illness but that doesn’t mean the guilt is any less. If I had a physical illness with limitations I would probably still feel huge mom guilt. Are we just prone to feeling guilty for not being perfect? What is a perfect parent anyway? I’ve yet to meet one, but we still have this idea in our head that it’s something we must strive for. We set ourselves up that way.

So, how do we deal with the guilt? Do we wait and try to make up for lost time when we are better? Do we try to pretend it doesn’t matter and that we don’t care and just say “it is what it is?”

I think the best way for me to deal with my own mom guilt is to call it for the shitty feeling it is and just know I’m trying. I’m proactive with my mental health. If I was doing nothing, wallowing in self-pity and closed minded to ideas that might help me, then I just might risk staying stuck in guilt forever. I’m trying. That’s what matters. I can see progress.

Mom guilt is just a feeling, and feelings are not everything that makes me who I am. I will not let this define me, break me, shake me or make me think I’m less than.

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Thinkstock photo via tatyana_tomsickova

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How Gazing at the Stars Echoed Life With a Chronic Illness

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A couple of weeks ago my husband told me he wanted to go to Everglades National Park at the end of the month. I said, “Sure I have always wanted to go there.” Then he added, “…and we need to go at 3:00 a.m. so I can take photos of the Milky Way.”

My response: “What?! You want to go out in total darkness to a place that is infested with alligators and poisonous snakes?!”

Yep, of course he does. He is obsessed with photography.

Fear immediately came over by entire body. What could happen out there, especially with no one else around? Doesn’t the “Creature from the Black Lagoon” live out there? What would I do if my husband got bit by a poisonous snake? How would I help him? My head was spinning with all sorts of scenarios.

Finally, I decided it may not be like that at all. We have been to many nature preservation areas and other national parks. We never see wildlife except for birds and squirrels. So I thought, “Let’s do some research and go check things out during the day to see how it is.”

Well, like most parks there are marked trails with boardwalks so it is mostly safe as long as you stay in the designated areas. We prepared by wearing proper clothing to shield us from the giant mosquitoes and deer flies. We took a first aid kit and we scouted the area during the day so we would know what to expect. We found what areas we wanted to go (and where we did not want to go) and set out a plan. When we went out at 3:00 a.m., it wasn’t so scary. The experience was beautiful and peaceful. Being out in nature under the starlit sky was amazing!

I have been in fear for most of my life. Fear of making wrong decisions, fear of the failing, and fear of the future. The terror of the Everglades at night appears to be a legitimate reason for concern. But after assessing the situation I decided to face my fear of the darkness, and I am so glad I did because I experienced an incredible event with my husband. If I had succumbed to panic I would not have had the opportunity to see the beauty of the Milky Way. Maybe the reason I overcame this anxiety was because I have had several events in the last several years where I had to overcome obstacles. Again, I have defeated fear. It is a wonderful feeling to actually participate in life rather than sit on the sidelines filled with distress. I am finally able to move past apprehension and embrace new encounters.

While gazing at the stars I realized that this experience echoes that of living with chronic illness. When first diagnosed with a new illness, one ponders what will happen in the future. How will daily activities be accomplished? How will this affect quality of life? These are legitimate fears. But first, don’t panic, and then set up a plan. Do research on the disease, talk with others who have the illness in an online support group, discuss with the doctor the available treatment options, and attend education classes about the condition if available. Once the scouting is done the illness becomes more manageable and hopefully not as scary. There will always be low points, but with knowledge and a developed plan for dealing with the bad days, the instances will be less stressful. Management will create a more consistent living pattern which will result is more frequent good days. By moving past fear of the illness, establishing a treatment strategy and accepting the situation, the future will shine as bright as the stars in the sky!

Follow this journey on I Got M.A.D.

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Thinkstock image By: den-belitsky

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