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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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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How Anxiety Almost Prevented Me from Discovering My Heart Condition

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Even on a good day, anxiety can make you feel like you’re constantly on the verge of having a heart attack.

Every move causes your heart to race out of control, and as soon as you lie down it feels like it’s skipping beats left and right. These are things I accepted as part of my mental illness. However, an unexpected collapse at work was about to change everything.

When I arrived at hospital, I found that the “Consultants in Cardiology” office wasn’t just an “office” — they took up an entire 5th floor of a hospital wing and consisted of at least 10 different cardiologists. My anxiety told me to run as far away as possible because as soon as I checked the box next to “anxiety” on a form in a doctor’s office, I knew that nothing I said after that would be taken seriously. I sat impatiently tapping my feet. I let nurses hooked me up to an EKG. My anxiety was laughing at me, calling me paranoid and pathetic, telling me I was wasting some doctor’s time because it’s all in my head — not my heart.

I sat alone in a room for what seemed like an eternity. When the door finally opened, I only noticed two things about the guy who walked in – he was wearing a white coat, and he was young. My anxiety was screaming at me what a mistake I had made — what a joke he was going to think I was, and how ridiculous I was being. All I could hear was my anxiety screaming that there is nothing wrong with me. All I ever hear is my anxiety screaming at me. But he heard something else — and half an hour later he ordered a series of tests. By the time I got to my car, I was having a panic attack. I couldn’t even remember the doctor’s name I had just spent 30 minutes talking to.

The world was spinning, my heart was racing and I just wanted to go home. The next few weeks were a blur of tests, monitors and fear. Not the fear that something was wrong – but the fear of having to go back to that office and be told it was all in my head. My anxiety had only managed to increase day by day, until I finally returned three weeks later. He pulled up my echocardiogram and gave me a crash course in interventional cardiology. I was fascinated. But when he said, “That racing heart thing, we call it inappropriate sinus tachycardia (IST),” I don’t think I really registered that he was telling me something was wrong.

And then it hit me like a freight train. This is not all in my head after all.

Suddenly my anxiety wasn’t the only thing I could hear. I could hear a very clear, very confident, very smart physician, telling me I had a physical condition, not just a mental one. It wasn’t what I was prepared for — and I tried hard to pretend like I wasn’t crying. Finally, I gave up and apologized profusely for my little breakdown. But he just told me, “It’s OK. It happens to everyone, some people are just better at hiding it.” There was no pity, no frustration, no impatience. Just understanding. It’s not often doctors are faced with someone crying in their office out of relief that they were diagnosed with something.

He put me on medication to control my heart rate, and over the next month, things began to change in a way I never saw coming. The immediate effects were obvious – I no longer felt like I was having a heart attack after walking up one flight of stairs. My heart felt stronger, and so did I. But the more subtle changes took longer. I was a little less afraid of the world. I could drive somewhere without the all-consuming fear of what would happen if I got lost. I could meet someone new without feeling like I might pass out. I could walk through a crowd and not notice the lack of escape routes. I could breathe again. Above all, I could breathe again.

For the first time in over a decade, I have been able to find moments in my day where I am not being suffocated by anxiety. It’s not a cure-all. It’s not really a cure-anything. My anxiety is still very present, but now I understand that sometimes, it’s the rapid increase in heart rate caused by IST that makes me feel anxious, and not my anxiety actually causing my heart to race.

It is easy — too easy — to get caught up in trying to treat one’s mental health and forget to pay attention to one’s physical health, and vice versa. Anxiety can make you afraid to ask for help, afraid to complain, afraid of everything. But there is no rule that says it is an “either/or” situation.

You can have both mental health problems and physical health problems. In fact, it is not at all uncommon for one to exacerbate the other. Physical illness can be difficult to diagnose when it hides behind mental illness. But the hardest part is finding doctors who are willing to believe in both — and more importantly, willing to believe in you.

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22 Things People With Anxiety Do First Thing in the Morning

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Mornings are a fresh start, an opportunity to set the tone for the rest of the day. Whether you wake up with a pounding heart and overwhelming thoughts or rise with a sense of calm — for people with anxiety, starting your day on the right foot can be especially important. When you’re overwhelmed or nervous about everyday tasks, mornings can either be a chance to create a plan of attack or struggle with the anticipation. You probably experience a mix of both — you can’t wake up every day completely ready to tackle anxiety, after all. And that’s OK.

We were curious to see what people with anxiety do first thing in the morning, so we asked people in our community to paint us a picture of what happens when they wake up. Their insight offers tips that might help you in the morning as well or, at the very least, provide something you can relate to.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “When I first wake up, my previous day smacks me in the face. I’m reminded of every single problem or struggle I had. I overthink everything, which almost always results in a panic attack. I try to focus on my breathing for a few minutes. I also remind myself that this is another day and I will get through it.” — Anne J.

2. “I have a wall of pictures that comfort me: family, friends, colors and accomplishments. When I find new things, I add it to the wall. I wake up and the wall is the first thing I see. It’s a great reminder of who I am and helps keep me grounded.” — Marissa R.

3.Anxiety hits me right away. My mind wanders to my bills, dog food and medication, fixing my car… I usually shed a few tears… and I know I have to get up. It’s really, really hard, but you must continue to try.” — Heather M.

4. “I get myself out of bed and take care of my animals because I know no matter how much anxiety I have, I can’t let it affect them. They do not understand and it wouldn’t be fair to them. Waking up and seeing them every morning is a sweet reminder I’m still here and I’m still OK.” — Shayna D.

5. “A shower. The shower is one of my safe places at home, and when I take a shower I feel like I can think clearer… And I am less foggy. Makes me ready for the day. I can’t leave the house unless I shower.” — Kortney F.

6. “Slow, deep breaths and waking up slowly help me stay calm. If I jump out of bed and start rushing around, my brain goes into overdrive and I start to panic that I’ll forget something or I start having vivid pictures of horrible things happening in my head. If I take it slow and talk myself through my morning I’m usually OK.” — Melissa W.

7. “A cup of coffee. Every day. Even if I’m staying in a hotel. It helps to have something I can control. How much coffee I put in the cup. The amount of creamer. How many cups I have all help me stay calm in the morning.” — Joseph C.

8. “I wake up and feel a moment without anxiety. I think, hey I don’t feel anxious! It feels good. For about three seconds. Once my brain ‘wakes up,’ it realizes it is time to feel anxious again. Weight on your chest. Uneasy feelings in your chest. Paranoia that you aren’t good enough. Not even for yourself. That no one can stand you. That you screwed up bad… It’s pressure to be perfect. It tells you that’s impossible, but demands it. It’s demanding the un-demandable.” — Vince F.

9. “My anxiety is usually the thing that wakes me — pounding heart, racing thoughts, clammy hands. So I immediately take my medicine. I know it will help, and if I can get from now to when it kicks in, I will be OK. I wish exercise or meditation helped, but if I’m panicking upon waking, I’m not able to even do those things! Medicine first, deep breathing, then coffee and my journal. Routine helps too.” — Amanda E.

10. “I keep a composition book right by my bed in my nightstand. I keep a pen there too. That way I can write down all the things I’m thinking, that rush into my head right when I wake up so I don’t carry them around with me all day. I need that outlet of thought-expulsion or I go into a panic or I let my brain convince me not to get out of bed. I don’t even think about what I’m writing, I just need a few minutes to wrestle with the million thoughts that punch me in the face.” — April D.

11.‘It’s OK. Everything’s OK. Even if things seem like they aren’t.’ Sometime back, I would repeat this to myself over and over again whenever I began to feel my heart hurt, my breathing shallow…  After doing this for quite a while, I find myself conditioned enough so that if I ever find myself needing to repeat these three phrases, it would make me feel tons better; as if I might just carpé the diem after all.” — Arsh K.

12. “I give myself 20 to 30 minutes every morning to stare at the ceiling and carefully plan out my day. My anxiety makes me feel as if I’m out of control of my life, of my surroundings, of everything. So if I thoroughly talk out my plans with myself, it makes me feel like I have it together (even though I know I don’t). There’s no more secure of a feeling than me feeling like I have my life together. Even if it’s only for 20 to 30 minutes.” — Dynasty L.

13. “I always set my alarm for a half hour before I have to actually be up. (I have two alarms set for this reason.) Sometimes I will turn off the first alarm and get a few more minutes of sleep, other times I will use that time for some me time before getting ready to face the day. Usually I’ll turn on Hulu or Netflix with a favorite show and listen to an episode while catching up on Facebook and snuggling with my kitty. It helps me to relax a little before having to face the day. Also, taking my meds first thing in the morning helps as well.” — Jessica E.

14. “Count to 10. Put one leg out. Do it again. Other leg. Seems to work. Write down a list of what you are going to achieve today.” — Ross J.

15. “I meditate. It’s a new practice. I’m finding it very beneficial. And while my mind and body are still when the meditation is ending, I move into a prayer so that I can stay one with my spirituality and let go of the issues from the day before. It keeps me from overthinking things that are already done. It’s not perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than it was a month ago.” — Kiersten A.

16. “I wake up as slowly as possible. I allow myself time to read at least a chapter of a book before I get up — entering someone else’s world so I can slowly slip into my own one breath at a time. I’ll typically keep an art project I’m working on nearby as well, so I keep my mind focused on creating beauty in the moment instead of fighting to see it.” — Arielle B.

17. “I wake up and my mind starts going a 1000 mph. What I need to do today. What I didn’t do yesterday. I lay there and try to focus… then I get up and get my son up. He helps my mind slow down some… he’s 7 and the best thing in my life ever” — Michelle W.

18. “On good day, I’ve slept right through till my alarm wakes me up, and I get up and turn my alarm off. Then I wash my face with super cold water. On a bad day, wake up way before my alarm, and lie there planning out my entire day from memory –from my clothes and makeup, to my parking spot or which checkout I should use the supermarket that evening.” — Sami N.

19. “Find my comfort object (in my case, a pillow I’ve had since I was a baby), clutch it close, and think of a reason I need to get out of bed. An appointment, a meeting with a friend, a nice lunch waiting in the fridge.” — Skylar W.

20. “Breathe and ground myself with my senses. Pointing out a few things I see in the room. Whether or not sunlight is streaming in. What am I smelling? Drinking a glass of water always helps too. I feel it allows my heart ease its work in my body, allowing the positive endorphins to flow through my system better.” — Dylan H.

21. “I get moving. If I lay in bed, it gives my mind the chance to go off the rails. If I can get out of bed and take a walk or focus on taking care of my dogs or keep my mind in the moment, I can keep it together.” — Susan T.

22. “I write down everything that’s going to probably happen that day so I can prepare myself for it. I also write that I can get through the day and get through my anxiety.” — Mackenzie G.


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