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How My Dog Helps My Anxiety and Panic Attacks

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I say all the time that I don’t know how I would have gotten through all of the really intense anxiety stuff without my partner and my sister. And I really don’t. But I also wouldn’t have gotten through it without my dog. There are a lot of things she helped me with that I didn’t even realize until later, and to this day, she keeps helping.

1. She gives me unconditional love.

Anyone who has a pet knows how much this matters. There’s a person who I adore who adores me back? Sign me up. This is especially helpful with anxiety and depression. So much of the self-talk that comes up in people dealing with these conditions is negative: something is wrong with me, it’s my fault, I’m broken, I’m a mess, etc., etc. There was a lot of this going on for me when the anxiety stuff first started because I was so used to keeping my emotions to myself, and also because it’s very common in my family to put others ahead of yourself. A lot of the work I initially did in therapy was discovering that anxiety comes up for me in situations I can’t control or when I feel like something has the potential to make me look selfish, incompetent or thoughtless. Having the dog around when I was thinking these things was so helpful because she was always happy to see me, and she showed me so much love. None of it was based on who I was or who I was trying to be; she loved me no matter what.

2. She gives me a purpose.

When I got back from that first trip to Florida, I got up each morning intending to go to work and then ended up sobbing over the sink and dry heaving. It was rough. Physically, I felt awful, and it wasn’t helping that I just kept thinking, “What’s wrong with me?” My partner was still down at his parents’ house, and I was on dog duty. I hated the prospect, as all I wanted to do was stay in bed and cry and watch Bob’s Burgers, but in retrospect, it was probably the best thing for me during that time. Interacting with her, feeding her and walking her gave me a purpose. It gave me a reason to get up. It reminded me that taking care of people helps me feel like myself, which I sorely needed. And it got me outside. It got me moving. The science behind anxiety and depression shows over and over that exercise is really important because it releases endorphins, which help to elevate mood. It would have taken me longer to recover, longer to feel like myself, if I hadn’t had the dog to force me outside.

3. Her level of concern is just right.

Anxiety can be maddeningly inconsistent. During one attack you really need physical comfort; the next, you don’t want to be touched. This has been the subject of a lot of conversations for me and my partner, and we’ve navigated our way to having a system for check-ins in place that really works for us. To be honest, that process would have been a lot longer and harder without the dog. Whatever she did always seemed just right, and it helped me to articulate to the dude what I needed and why, which I was really struggling with. The first thing is that it was obvious she cared. She would follow me around with a concerned look on her face, and if I left the room, she was right behind me. She was always in a place where she could see me. She would also sit next to me instead of on top of me, so I got to decide how much contact I wanted, if any. And because she doesn’t speak, she wasn’t asking me a million questions I was in no shape to answer. She let me know she was there, that she cared and then she let me take it from there. Noticing this pattern is what helped me articulate to my partner what went on during an attack, and now he does the same thing except in his own extra special and human way.

image of young woman looking down at black labrador dog

4. She motivates me to actively manage anxiety.

This one is more subtle than the others. The catalyst for going to therapy was twofold: having panic attacks on our trip to Florida, and listening to my sister tell me that when she looked at me, she saw someone who was in a lot of pain. They’re the reasons I started going, but the reasons I kept going were my dog and my partner. (And also my own stubborn determination to get it figured out, but we’re going to ignore that for now.) I started having panic attacks right around the time when I realized shit was real with my partner, and that was a big motivation for therapy. I didn’t want anxiety to be the reason we weren’t together. But a bigger question for me was if I could parent with this happening: all my life I’ve thought being a parent is the most important thing I will ever do and I was terrified anxiety would end that dream. As mentioned above, I learned I could still take care of someone while I was anxious, and a few months later I learned I could do so while in the middle of a panic attack. I will never forget sitting in the back seat of our rental car with the dog, telling my partner to keep driving as I cried my eyes out, doubled over with nausea, and yet still somehow held up the garbage bag for the dog to vomit into and gave her water. Obviously, an infant is a whole different situation, but having to take care of her in the middle of the attack helped me to see it was possible, and if I kept working hard on treating anxiety, it was a situation I could actually function well in. It blew my mind to realize that.

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The Depressed Side of Me Most People Don't See

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The author I guess you could call it acting without the recognition and awards. I did want to be an actress at one point as a child, so slipping between roles comes natural at this point. Behind the happy and exciting pictures on my social media lies the girl strangers don’t see. In public I appear to be a normal girl with a normal life. Hanging out with friends, dealing with college and going to work. Unless I told you, or you know me personally, you would never guess I have anxiety and depression.

The pictures and happy posts? That’s still me — the juxtaposed social introvert, the hopeful, jovial and optimistic friend with the bubbly smile. When I share the pictures of my adventures it’s because I want to celebrate the good things I have. Those moments remind me that there are good things to look forward to, What about the writing, the cosplays and the art you ask? Those are my forms of expression when I can’t verbally express myself… In a way, they keep grounded.

They’ve become a mask for me to hide behind (both figuratively and literally). Coping mechanisms if you will. Crying out my emotions can only do so much.

You would never know that my mind never stops racing. It never lets me fully relax. One moment I worry about the future, about what’s coming next, about the things beyond my control. Another moment I look and linger in the past, asking myself, “What if?” criticizing myself for things that I wish I could have said or done differently.

Even with medication and therapy, it takes a lot of my willpower to function as regularly as I can. There are times when my depression will stop me from going to the doctor or the therapist. Other times it takes a major event for something to finally click in my brain because of my anxiety.

My low self-confidence and self-esteem partially stem from the anxiety, but it’s also due to the bullying I experienced as a child. That bullying only made my anxiety worse over the years. That’s why I’ve struggled so much in public settings. I have my secrets and keep myself guarded because I don’t want to feel unsafe again. My anxiety has my mind on high alert whenever I make new friends. Whether I want to or not, depression reminds me that some of the “friends” I made weren’t really friends, just kids who needed help on homework. They just wanted to use the smart girl, the Hermione Granger of the class. It takes a while to remind myself that not everyone is out to get me.

Yes, I am clumsy and shy when I’m around new people. But it’s hard to be yourself when you wonder if people will judge you when you trust them enough to admit that you have not one, but two mental illnesses. I know it’s not my fault. Talking about mental health is still taboo. If I talk to you about my personal struggles with it, it’s because I trust you or I feel comfortable around you to some extent. Whether you’re someone I’ve looked up to, or a friend, understand it’s taken a lot of courage for me to share it.

Even if you don’t understand what my brain goes through, what will help is listening. If I apologize for something that I couldn’t control, reassure me that it’s not my fault. If I doubt a decision I made even if it is the right one, reassure me that things will get better. If you notice me shutting out the world and losing focus, sit me down and ask what’s wrong . I don’t always say what’s wrong with me because I don’t want to feel like a burden. Reassure me that I’m not alone and that you’ll be there to listen.

Remind me that my anxiety and depression do not define me.

Remind me that there is hope.

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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Taking Baby Steps Through a Morning With Anxiety

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Drip. Drop. Splash.

Drip. Drop. Splash.

Drip. Drip.

Splash. Splash.

To some people, the sound of water dripping from a pipe is nothing. But for me, it can be the most pleasant music ever, or the most excruciating noise ever.

4:50 a.m.

I wiped the foggy mirror till I saw the reflection of myself. The sunken eyes, the chapped lips, the hollowed cheeks. It was no wonder people would point at me, saying that I need help. That I’m drifting away.

5:50 a.m.

I exited out from the foggy bathroom, which was due to the scalding hot water I always use when I have the blues. I gave a glance towards my entire room space. The thick blanket was falling from the bed towards the floor. The unkempt wardrobe from a week of unfolded clean laundry. The workspace which had three empty mugs of coffee or tea and books. I gave out a loud sigh, thinking this is a new day. A new day which I can’t help to mourn for with my condition. I put on a black abaya which had appropriate warmth in usual days, but not in the extremes of winters these days. I turned up the heater to the max, boiled some water and took the fourth mug which was clean and put into it a packet of green tea. I stared blankly towards the mug I’m holding, mind flying away from what I should do today.

Bullet Journal.

I tried to remember what I wrote last night during my episodes of early insomnias. So many things to do. From revising for the upcoming final exams, to reading research papers, and not to mention those papers I had to write for the upcoming meeting. So much in a big blank space. Suddenly, a feeling too familiar starts to creep up my mind. The sense of helplessness. The hyperventilating and cold sweats which I can’t control. The tremors and weakness in my arms and legs. The scream in my head calling out for help.

Suddenly, a high pitched noise from the kettle awaked me up from the terrifying incident. I quickly wiped my sweaty palms and took the kettle. Poured the boiling water and immediately took a sip into my throat. It burned, but it did more help than harm for me right now. I took my mobile phone and looked at the home screen.

6:15 a.m.

My how time flies, I thought to myself. I took a seat on my study chair and quickly ran my hands over the papers and books of neuropsychiatry. I took the one with thick pages and red back cover. I opened the page of our first lecture in the department. Anxiety Disorders.

My, my, how ironic.

I opened the page after bismillah, and did a speed reading for the content. It wasn’t that hard since I prepared for neuropsychiatry long before I entered the department. But what frustrated me the most was only few points were describing the actual disorder. I opened my laptop and tried to search for my own readings.

 

After browsing a few pages, I found something interesting. Too interesting that it made me scoff. It was a to-do list for the people who live with generalized anxiety disorder. It said that breaking a big picture into smaller ones might help to relieve the anxiety they struggled with.

The thing that made me scoff was that I had been doing that for the past two years. And it didn’t do much help. Bullet journals. Planning things three days ahead of time. Avoiding things which came too suddenly. I prepared everything ahead and made it perfect, so I won’t face unnecessary worries. But it still doesn’t help me with my anxiety attacks nor with my panic disorders specifically.

But then, I might be too much of a perfectionist. When something happens, I brake down quite easily.

I forgot everything I plan has flaws. That the tips in these self-help books and pages had flaws as well. And maybe, it just meant to be flawed as it is. Not flawless, like what people expect it to be.

Maybe I should made my aim of the day, “Making cup of green tea deliciously,” instead of, “Finish reading a whole book of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.” I’m not Spencer Reid, even I wanted too! But I can still be him. Slowly, with my own pace.

So I took a piece a memo-pad. Made five bullets just like ones in my bullet journal. Only instead of “Things To Do” as the title, I wrote “Baby Steps” instead. And those five bullets I wrote something trivial, but it left me feeling greatly satisfied when I finished it.

• Wear myHigh Silver Converse and tie it perfectly, so it won’t become loose during my outings.

• Make a cup of my own vanilla cappuccino.

• Binge and treat myself with a healthy episode of “Criminal Minds.”

• Read five pages of “Hunchback Of Notre Dame.”

• Go out and play with the kittens outside the building.

This list will definitely not be going into my oh-so-professional-and-sophisticated bullet journal. But it might help me little by little.

I look at the clock of my laptop.

7:15 a.m.

And I’m late five minutes from my perfectionist schedule. I quickly put on my scarf and niqab and go quickly to the front door (poor green tea, which had become cold!). As I pulled my usual black wedges from the cabinet, my body stopped. My mind wandered to the “Baby Steps” list. I closed my eyes and let out a deep sigh. I put away the black wedges and get my High Silver Converse. I put them on carefully and tie the knots tightly, so it won’t get loose, otherwise it won’t be considered a victory on my list. Wearing it with satisfaction, I exited the house towards the street.

Whoever thought a small goal could give you such pure bliss?

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When I Doubt If My Own Anxiety Is Real (Even Though I Know It Is)

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One of the toughest things about an anxiety disorder is that most of it takes place in my own head. Sure, there are physical symptoms, sometimes tons of them, but the thing causing the physical symptoms is a battle raging inside my mind. The tricky thing about this is it’s hard to win a battle you can’t see. In fact, as humans, we tend to doubt what we can’t see — even when it’s happening inside our own heads.

I have an anxiety disorder, and sometimes I find myself doubting the reality of my condition. Me, the person living with the diagnosis, finds it hard to believe the thing I’m struggling with is real.

The doctor said it’s true. It’s right there in my medical file. And there are hundreds (if not thousands) of articles and books confirming the existence of anxiety as a medical condition. But I can’t see it. I can’t touch it. It’s not real to me in the same way as a broken bone or a scratch on my hand.

Instead, my anxiety often feels more like a personality flaw rather than a disorder. Why do I worry so much? It’s not because of a disorder. It’s just because I’m not trusting enough. Why do I get so anxious over small things? It’s not because of a disorder. It’s because I can’t handle even the least difficult of situations. It’s not a disorder. It’s just me. I’m just not strong enough to handle life’s simplest problems.

I can tell myself over and over that my anxiety is indeed real, but some tiny part of me holds onto the disbelief. The self-doubt. And if it’s that hard for me to believe it’s real, it’s only logical to conclude it is even tougher for those who don’t have an anxiety disorder themselves.

So to all of you out there who have a friend or family member living with anxiety, please keep trying. Keep trying to understand and believe that anxiety is a real thing. We know it’s hard. We may have a hard time believing in it ourselves. But keep trying. And help us believe in it too. Because it’s easier to fight this invisible battle when you’re on our side.

“Is this real? Or has it all been happening inside my head?”

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

— J.K. Rowling, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”

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Photo by Jacob Morrison, via Unsplash

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19 'Red Flags' That Might Mean It's Time to Get Help for Your Anxiety

19 'Red Flags' That Might Mean It's Time to Get Help for Your Anxiety

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Acknowledging you need help for anxiety can be really difficult. Sometimes it’s a specific moment in time, marked by the realization: I need help. Other times, it may be the culmination of living with exhausting anxiety symptoms for an extended period of time. Whatever the situation may be, it’s important to know the “red flags” that signify it may be time to find support.

Although an anxiety “red flag” for one person might be different the “red flag” for another, we wanted to know when people knew it was time to seek professional help. So we asked our mental health community to let us know what “red flag” told them they needed to get support for their anxiety.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “When I could no longer leave my house without [having] a panic attack. I only felt safe at home. If I was out, no matter where I was, I was in a constant state of fight or flight… I’m blessed with a great doctor who saw me the day after I called, and immediately started looking for the right meds for me. I have my life back now.” — Amanda C.

2. “When suicide became an option in my thinking. When I cried every day for any reason. When life seemed like a punishment. When I felt I was no longer a value to anyone, it was time to seek counseling.” — Kierstyn A.

3.After my uncle passed, I knew it was time. I was constantly having nightmares and panic attacks at night almost on a daily basis. His death was traumatic for me, and it took over a year to get over.” — Cherish I.

4. “When my self-destructive episodes started to cause problems at work.” — Andy S.

5. “The big sign was when I stopped eating. I was so anxious I couldn’t keep anything down, and my stomach always felt like someone was squeezing my insides together… I was always dizzy and shaky, and that’s when I realized my emotional state was serious, and that I needed to get help.” — Erika K.

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6. “When panic attacks started to rule my life — everything revolved around them. That’s when I realized I couldn’t go on like this.” — Megan E.

7. “When I could no longer face work and the stress and the demands of teaching. I would wake up at 4:30 a.m., wet from sweat, night after night, thinking of the day ahead and how to make it through.” — Jamie S.

8. “I realized I needed help when I would cry over and obsess over the littlest things.” — Ashley H.

9. “I would avoid certain things (speaking up in class, learning how to drive, turning in homework, etc.) to the point where it made my life much more difficult. I also had panic attacks almost daily and would cry myself to sleep. I didn’t know I had anxiety, but I realized I needed to reach out for help.” — Nicole C.

10. “When being near more than a handful of people made my heart rate soar.” — Annie O.

11. “[When] my safe place was no longer my safe place because of my thoughts and feelings.” — Taylor S.

12. “When I, as a nurse, would imagine every ache or symptom I experienced was something fatal, and I’d spend hours thinking about it and examining myself. I’d lie awake in bed at night and be scared I wouldn’t wake up the next morning.” — Laura N.

13. “When my mom approached me and literally asked if I needed help. I hadn’t realized it was that obvious.” — Reming M.

14. “When I couldn’t take my newborn to get diapers.” — Jessica H.

15. “When I stopped seeing the point in living. When I was afraid to wake up and face my demons, and [felt like] I’d rather just disappear and not burden anyone. That’s when I realized I needed help.” — Savannah A.

16. “When I started to realize that anytime something would get difficult, I would run.” — Samantha M.

17. “When I started to realize how much my friendships were breaking down from my anxieties. It got to the point [when] I couldn’t have a conversation without my insecurities erupting and creating a conflict. I was slowly starting to isolate myself until I finally got help. Five months later, and I’ve never had a closer knit support system!” — Kira M.

18. “When I got sick of being scared of everyone and everything.” — Nathan B.

19. “When I found myself on the floor crying because I was so overwhelmed. My then-1-year-old came over and just started hugging me. I remember thinking, I have to get better for him… I called a therapist and got in that day, and have [since] been working on myself. It’s been almost two years, and I feel like a whole different person.” — Kristin B.

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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10 Embarrassing Things About Being a Teenager With Anxiety

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As if being a teenager isn’t hard enough, fighting two mental disorders doesn’t make it a walk in the park. I’m writing from my experience, just so other people don’t feel alone. I more than often feel like a burden to my friends. And it leaves me feeling embarrassed. I don’t often speak about my anxiety or depression because some days I feel ashamed to be living with it. I have thoughts in my head saying, “Why can’t you be just like a normal person?” “You’re a burden to everyone.”

Well, I want to talk about it now. Here are some things I feel embarrassed about:

1. My fear of big crowds. Not knowing if you will be alright or not. Not knowing if you’re able to make it out of a room before you start to panic.

2. Making my friends walk a different way so I don’t panic in the hallway at school or college.

3. Asking my friends to walk me to class because I’m scared of walking in and everyone staring at me.

4. Random outbursts of panic when I’m in a relaxed situation. When my mind feels at rest, but it certainly isn’t.

5. Asking my friends if I can sit in a certain place so I don’t feel attacked by random people, who haven’t even done anything wrong.

6. Hiding my food in the canteen because I’m worried about people seeing me eat a burger for lunch.

7. Asking my friends to meet me because I can’t walk around school or college alone.

8. Asking for support and reassurance from friends. I find that this can make me feel embarrassed, because I feel like I shouldn’t have to ask them.

9. Having panic attacks in public. This makes me feel as if everyone around me is judging me because I’m panicking.

10. Asking my friends to make sure they ring me so I don’t panic when walking home alone.

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