students at table with "anxiety"person in black morph suit

Since third grade, high school senior Zach Perry has lived with anxiety. Around the same time, he became interested in filmmaking, when a Christmas film he produced for his church proved to be immensely successful.

Perry found a way to merge his passion for filmmaking with his experience living with anxiety for a short film he created for his senior project at Discovery High School in North Carolina titled “PANIC.”

Perry’s high school requires each senior embark on a yearlong journey driven by a central topic the student is passionate about. As part of the project, students must write a paper, make a presentation and create a product that has a lasting impact on the world — whether it’s one person or one thousand people.

Perry’s topic revolved around anxiety and how to explain it to others. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for two years,” Perry told The Mighty. “But it’s something really delicate and really important and I wanted to make sure it was done right.”

The film follows a student named Kevin as he experiences an anxiety attack during a music class one day. When the teacher questions him, the film shows Kevin in different settings — underwater and in quicksand — to show what an anxiety attack might feel like. At one point, Kevin’s anxiety manifests into a shadowy, physical form and follows him wherever he goes.

Perry hopes that everyone can take something away from the film, regardless of whether they have anxiety. “If I impacted just one person,” he said, “I’d consider that a success.”

For those living with anxiety, Perry wants viewers to know they are not alone. “They’re not alone, that what they’re feeling is something similar to what thousands of people go through,” he said. “You don’t have to be burdened and it’s so important to get help because it works…  Anxiety is nothing to be embarrassed about because you can’t help it and it’s part of who you are.”

As for viewers who do not have anxiety, Perry hopes the film can help them understand what anxiety feels like and how important it is to support your loved ones living with the condition.

“I couldn’t have made the film without my friends,” Perry said. “They were very helpful in every aspect. Even if they didn’t quite understand some of the metaphors at first, as they kept helping they saw how different things related to each other and explained anxiety.”

Seeing the examples illustrated in his film, Perry’s friends were able to understand how physical and real it can feel. Perry said that his friends, with their dedication and sympathy, have been one of the best support groups.

Perry’s film has made it beyond his high school. What originally started as one Facebook post has since been shared by hundreds of people beyond his community. “It was shared and shared by people who I have no idea who they are,” Perry said. The film also won the grand jury award at the Southeast Psych Student Film Festival in Charlotte, NC.

Perry plans to study film at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts in the fall. “I want to spend the rest of my life making movies and films,” he said. “The fact that you can share emotions and make people feel things without necessarily saying a word is amazing.”

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“Raising boys is not for the faint hearted.” That’s how the saying goes, right? Well, I believe it’s also not for the young mother filled with anxiety either. Well, it is, but it just isn’t easy.

Now, let me tell you. I know there are mothers out there going through struggles harder than I could imagine. After all, I have a healthy 2-year-old, his father stayed and loves us unconditionally and heck, we’re getting married next spring. We own a beautiful house and have full-time jobs at the ages of 22 and 23. We are beyond blessed when it comes to love and material items.

However, having a beautiful little boy watching my every move and me knowing every choice I make impacts him and who he will grow up to be? That’s a lot of pressure for me. It has me in a constant state of restlessness.

Did he get enough to eat today? Did I hug him enough today? Did I kiss him enough today? Did he get to play enough? Is he happy?

Yes. Is he happy? It’s a question I ask myself daily. Multiple times a day. Because I couldn’t handle knowing for a second that the sweetest, most innocent boy I’ve ever laid eyes on is even the slightest bit upset when he lays down to go to bed at night. I know that you’re thinking. He’s 2 years old. What 2-year-old isn’t happy? Give him a lollipop and he’ll be on his merry way.

Since becoming a mother at the young age of 19, I’ve grown in so many ways. All of that growing in such a short time — something I think a lot of people don’t experience for years — has sparked a whole new fire of anxiety. I lay in bed at night with these thoughts and questions racing through my mind.

Sometimes, I don’t even want to allow him to leave my arms because I’m filled with voices in my head telling me this world is evil. That no one is truly just here to be nice anymore. All I want is to see him grow to be happy and healthy and to achieve any goals he has in life.

He’s only been gracing this earth for two and a half short years, and yet, he’s already the biggest dreamer I know. He’s got plans for this world, and Lord help us all when he finally gets going. The impact he’s going to have on this world will be mesmerizing.

I can’t wait to watch it happen.

I tell myself daily that I have to let him fly. I have to prepare myself for the day he no longer says, “Mama, help!” When it’s time for that day to come, I worry my anxiety and fears about this world are going to hold him back, when all I’m trying to do is protect him. 

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Thinkstock photo via Thomas Northcut.


I don’t remember when I first met him. Perhaps, it was when I was in sixth grade when I had to first give a speech in front of my class. Or maybe it was fourth grade on an elevator when my face turned white and my mom asked what I was so afraid of. Maybe it was when I was about 7 and was sure the parking garage was going to come down around us. Either way, Anxiety claims to be my advisor, my closest and oldest friend.

He comes to me and whispers worrying thoughts. He whispers about how absolutely everyone saw me slip in the dining hall and is laughing about it with their friends. He assures me my friend who isn’t texting back finds me annoying and hates me. He tells me that one failed test will ruin my entire life.

Sometimes he comes with a reason. Like when I’m in traffic, and someone tails me. Other times, he shows up without warning. I know he’s here when my heart races and my hands shake. He yells over my sobs and grips my hands so they sweat a cold and clammy sweat. He ties tight, inflexible knots in my stomach.

I thought he was everyone’s friend for a long time. I thought everyone worried like I do. A lot of people struggle with giving speeches or being in tight spaces, or meeting new people. But I was wrong. He singled me out, made me special. I only learned when the effects became apparent to others.

“That’s an irrational thought to think! You aren’t making any sense.”

“You know that’s not true. Stop being difficult.”

“Are you sick? You look so pale.”

But then, he came more and more. In the car on the way to school, he’d rant about how horrible today was inevitably going to be, so I ought to turn around and go back to bed. At night, he’d keep me up with his questioning. What is going to happen in the future? Well, you’ll probably fail. There’s no point in even trying. He could immobilize me, make me throw up and have me sobbing and shaking on the floor of my bathroom with the door locked.

I knew then I had to fight back. I got weapons and started defending myself against his slander. I grew stronger and separated myself from his toxic presence. Even still, he creeps back, however. He comes on the worst days. He comes when I’m alone and thinking too much. He makes me question all my success and all my relationships. I battle against him every day, and I have partners in my crusade. The clash will continue on forever; I know this. But I will never let him win. He is no longer my friend.

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Unsplash photo via Alexandru Zdrobau.


At 16, I have been diagnosed with neuro-psychiatric presenting Chronic Lyme disease. This means I often feel like a nervous wreck, can’t remember things and have dealt with insomnia and depression since I was young. I wrote this poem about how hard it is to be in a room of people and not really be there because anxiety taking over every crevice of my life in those moments. This happened to me so much that I had to quit public school and start my online journey to educational independence. There is nothing better for em than to finally be able to live a life that lets me be without the stress of an anxiety attack every other hour. 

The world moves in mysterious ways.
The tides of life moving in and out,
Ebbing between OK and not breathing.
I stand on the beach at low tide,
Reveling in the rays of pure enjoyment
Ignoring the sinking feeling in my stomach.

Then out of nowhere,
The tide has all but taken over the beach.
I have no way out.
The sky is all but crashing down,
Threatening chaos over all that reside on this beach

Tears stream down my face as I try to brave this storm,
But I cannot breathe.
No matter how much I inhale,
I can never have enough.
The wind is throbbing in my ears,
Salt stings my wind chapped lips.

I am no longer on the beach.
I am in total darkness,
The world has crashed around me.
I feel totally alone.

Yet, I am standing in a room full of people.
People who are there,
But also on the other side.
I can but barely see their faces,
I am alone in a room full of faces.
And I am the only one facing this storm.

The wind still feels as if it is whipping around me,
I can almost feel the cold sting of salty rain,
My little patch of beach is barely there.

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Thinkstock photo via Grandfailure.


I used to rarely speak.

When I was in middle school, not yet diagnosed with both anxiety and depression, I was afraid to speak. I was afraid people would judge me. I was afraid people would know everything about me. I was afraid people would misconstrue everything I did and said. I was afraid people would pretend to like me, while really they were secretly making fun of me. I was afraid anything I said would be offensive. After I was diagnosed, I was afraid people would think I was “crazy” or “psycho,” words that were so often thrown around but apparently had real meaning. So instead, I drew in even further to myself, letting only a select few in.

I was afraid of everything. I was afraid of anything.

But now I am loud.

It has taken years, but finally, in my late 20s, I am loud about these conditions inside me, talking to everyone in person and shouting into the internet.

The anxiety and depression are constantly at war with each other, and frequently I wonder if the turbulent waves will pull me under. Instead, I fight to tread water. I am still trying to find the perfect fit of medication, a psychiatrist and a therapist. I can barely get out of bed in the morning, and my internal monsters affect my passion for an industry I fought long and hard to get into. Simply being each day is more of an effort than I let people believe.

But I am loud.

I look back to the girl I was, the girl who felt physically ill at the thought of saying “here” during attendance in class. I wish I could help her, but now I can help you.

So I am loud.

That girl would have given anything to know how she felt was “normal” — that there was no reason to feel like nothing, no reason to feel like her thoughts were insignificant. I know that girl lives on in countless others, and many feel the same or different, and that is OK.

So I am loud.

You need to know that these tides do not own you. You need to know that even though some days you feel like you are drowning, you are still keeping your head above the water. You need to know that you are not alone. You need to know that you deserve the happiness I have briefly tasted and that I am fighting to find again. You need to know that the middle school girl should never have anything to fear.

So I am loud.

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Unsplash photo via Li Yang


Anxiety feels different for everyone. For many people, it’s a natural part of life — the quickening of your pulse when your child won’t pick up his cell phone; the beating in your ears when curfew comes and goes and he doesn’t appear. The apprehension in your stomach with every moment of silence. And then: the relief and anger that floods you when he finally appears, whole and unharmed. Anxiety dissipated. That is “normal.”

Then there is the other anxiety: the waking up with a start at 2 a.m., certain your child is dead in his bed. Not being able to breathe until you have checked his respirations and pulse for yourself three times. The feeling of doom in the morning, like you know something terrible is going to happen today, something life-altering and horrific but you don’t know what. The feeling that persists and won’t go away, no relief, like a pit in your stomach, a hole in your very being. What if this time, you get into a car accident? Maybe today, you will lose someone you love. Or maybe you’ll die. The feeling of nervous apprehension, of waiting. Nothing ever happens … or something does. It doesn’t go away.

Sometimes it’s different. Sometimes, it’s that pervasive feeling of forgetting something, like when you pack for a trip, you’re on the road and you just know you’ve forgotten something but you don’t know what. It’s feeling like something is missing, maybe something you never had. Like longing for someone you never knew, or a place you’ve never been. Friends you have yet to make. The feeling of not belonging anywhere, that maybe you never will. It’s doubt — maybe they’ll leave you. You’ll have no one. You aren’t good enough for them. That’s why. What if they just won’t tell you?

Anxiety is different for everyone. For some, it’s part of the normal trajectory of life. It should be that and nothing more. Anxiety is a part of life. It should not be taking over your life. No one should have to live with anxiety so severe, it is disrupting life. Live life, not anxiety. Fight it, treat it. No, it’s not easy. But it’s worth it.

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Thinkstock photo via Volodina

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