Teenager girl with remote control laying down and watching tv eating popcorn.

Watching the same TV show over and over again gives me the ability to relax. I know that sounds weird and not many people understand why I do it, but it is calming. It is like a security blanket.

I know what is going to happen — there are no surprises. I know it will always be there (thanks, Netflix). Watching the same TV show provides a routine for me. I do not have to take the energy I would need to watch something new (a great deal of this stems from my anxiety and depression).

Watching something new requires so much energy because I’m not sure what it is about. I don’t know if there is content that will be a trigger for me. I’m not sure if I can handle something new on top of the crazy changes I’m already facing. It’s OK to want something familiar at the end of the day. It’s OK to want some background noise that isn’t music or something distracting like the news or a TV show that you don’t really have to focus on.

You might be thinking, Well, how did you land on TV that you watch repeatedly? That’s a great question! I grew up watching “Gilmore Girls.” An episode here or there, but it was only when I got Netflix in middle school did I watch the entire series (thanks, Netflix). There are some days when I have the energy to watch something new. Right now I’m watching “How I Met Your Mother” and I am loving it. I just recently finished “Private Practice” (a spin off focusing on Addison from “Grey’s Anatomy”). I’m also watching the “Fast and the Furious” movie series with my partner.

Bottom line: It’s OK to not have the energy to watch a new TV show or movie. You’re allowed to do what works best for you and if that means watching “Gilmore Girls” for the billionth time — go for it. You do you, my friend.

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It’s a powerful, complex mixture of antidepressants, benzos and sleeping pills.

It’s weeks of waiting to find out side effects, withdrawal symptoms and maybe needing to start all over… again.

It’s baring my soul to a counselor, diving into painful childhood memories then needing to find another because we just don’t mesh.

It’s being unable to work, but feeling “lazy” because I also don’t have children.

It’s time passing by with too few accomplishments.

It’s caring too much and not caring at all.

It’s like right now… 7 a.m., eyes burning, head pounding, panic escalating, no sleep at all yet because the sleeping pill didn’t work… again.

It’s finally falling asleep. Peace! Just kidding… then it’s the recurring nightmares, clenching my teeth and sometimes scratching my face.

It’s sleeping too much or not enough.

It’s no rest, whether awake or asleep.

It’s wanting, needing to live my life, but feeling incapable of taking a shower.

It’s dreams on hold, pressing in, but feeling too empty to care.

It’s all or nothing.

It’s feeling like a disappointment… again.

It’s having tense, painful muscles. Always.

It’s begging my brain to let me socialize with friends, to be denied… again.

It’s agonizing over what those friends think about me when I have to cancel… again.

It’s hopelessness, guilt, exhaustion, racing thoughts, pounding heart… all rolled together in a vicious cycle.

 

It’s being so thankful for an understanding husband, but feeling so bad for adding to his stress.

It’s being paranoid about others and second-guessing myself, but feeling powerless to stop.

It’s knowing others don’t understand, think I’m just weak and don’t have enough faith.

It’s a panic attack ruining… everything.

It’s knowing the goal of the right combination of pills isn’t to get high or “feel good,” but to just feel like me.

It’s looking irresponsible because I can’t keep that commitment… again.

It’s simply someone knocking on the door to deliver a package, but triggering so much more.

It’s feeling a sense of dread, even though it’s a beautiful day.

It’s hard to be vulnerable, so it’s putting on a smile and saying, “I’m just fine.” Again.

It’s praying for a miracle, but knowing it may always be this way and having to accept that.

It’s knowing despite all of this, I am still blessed.

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For years I have experienced different manifestations of anxiety. From OCD to generalized anxiety, to feelings of panic. I have had triggers that come and go and triggers that stick around for the long haul.

For anyone who has an anxiety disorder or who has loved someone with an anxiety disorder, it can make for an unpredictable life. New worries crop up as old ones fade. Anxiety is a mystery in many ways.

 

But the most baffling feeling is when my anxiety questions itself. When it looks at itself in the mirror and questions its own existence. That is when it starts to get scary.

There is a feeling of dread when I’m deep in a spell of anxiety and suddenly I think to myself, “Maybe I’m just making all of this up. I’m not really anxious.” Bam! All of my feelings of credibility are out the window. I suddenly feel as though I’m over-exaggerating my anxiety. As though I’m making all of this up for attention.

“I’m not really anxious…”

Then, the feelings of guilt come in. I feel terrible for allowing myself to stay in, lounging on my couch and watching my favorite reality shows to ease my anxiety. I feel disgusted for crying to my boyfriend, ranting about my anxiety and the frustrations I have with myself. I feel awful for having made him worry about me. “Why am I making such a big deal out of this? I’m not really anxious.”

Some might say this is a result of stigma. That I’ve internalized what the world says about anxiety and mental illness. And that may be true, but that doesn’t make this feeling any less real.

I need to learn how to give myself credit. Not only for what I’ve accomplished, but also for what I feel. I feel how I feel. I have an anxiety disorder. I am anxious.

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I consider myself relatively personable. I’ve never had problems making or keeping friends. I’m not terribly outgoing or social, but I have plenty of friends and a comfortable social life.

I’ve never quite been comfortable telling others about my anxiety. But currently, I have four friends who know about my anxiety and help me through rough times. I don’t know by what bit of fate these wonderful people came into my life, but I thank God for them every day.

It started with one friend. I don’t know what it was that made me tell her, but I did and I am so glad. I was having an anxiety attack and I had never told anyone, but I told her and she seemed to know exactly what to say. She stayed with me and talked to me and did not do the one thing I was terrified she would do: leave me because I was anxious. It helps that she herself has struggled with depression and anxiety. She always knows how I feel even if I don’t actually say it, and she always assures me that my feelings are valid.

 

For a while I was comfortable with my best friend being the only one who knew. But time passed, and a day came along when things were falling apart at the seams and I could barely keep afloat in the ocean of my life. I told another friend and she was as sympathetic as humanly possible. She didn’t mind that I told her about my anxiety and encouraged me to get help. She has walked me through a night when I was so nauseous I couldn’t function properly and has always made an effort to check in on me.

My third friend appeared in my life out of nowhere. I had only known her for a few months when she caught me on a day when I was dealing with the aftermath of a panic attack. She had a terrible headache and I asked her if she was OK, and we both agreed it was just “one of those days.” I admitted that I didn’t want to talk about what I was going through, but I told her over text. She has helped me through bad days and terrible nights, school stress and panic attacks. We have so much in common, we could be sisters, but we differ in ways that help us help each other. And I don’t know what I would have done if she didn’t appear in my Spanish class second semester.

The most recent friend I told has actually been close for longer than any of the others. We bonded freshman year because we somehow ended up in three classes together. I helped her through breakups and boy troubles, as well as bad days with her depression. It wasn’t until a month or so ago that she realized something was up. I finally told her about my anxiety and was happy to see our friendship wasn’t changed at all, which I had always been afraid of. She understood everything I was telling her and reminded me that I didn’t have to deal with this alone.

All four of my friends have dealt with and still deal with depression. Three of them deal with similar anxiety to mine. I do not know how they all ended up in my life. I do not know if I am just drawn to others who are struggling or if they were drawn to me. I am unimaginably lucky to have four completely different friends who help me through thick and even thicker. Different ages, different personalities, vastly different ways of helping me but all as close to me as family. I don’t know what I did to deserve these people in my life. All I know is that I would definitely be hurting without them.

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I used to be such a social butterfly. When I was a teen, I constantly had plans, and in my early 20s, I loved going out every weekend.  Even on weekdays after work, I’d book up most of my nights. Crowds were no problem at all. I absolutely loved concerts and loud music.

I worked in customer service and didn’t mind the confrontation. Situations would arise where I had to come up with solutions for unhappy customers and I’d figure it out. When I got invited to events, I would be so excited. You could bet I was going unless I came down with something serious.

Somewhere along the line, a lot of that changed. My anxiety, which used to be mild and managed, manifested itself strongly in me. If I could guess, it had a lot to do with hormonal changes after having children and my stress levels going up. Whatever the cause may be, the fact remains: I am less social than I used to be.

 

I do still love my friends very much. But when my anxiety kicks in, I want to be alone. No phone calls, no texts, no plans. On the days when I’m feeling highly anxious, the thought of plans makes me cringe. What used to excite me makes me nauseous. Crowds and loud noise make me want to run away and lock myself in my room.

For a while I thought maybe as I’m getting older, I’m turning into an introvert; but it’s not just a matter of being introverted or extroverted. It’s a lot deeper than that, and it’s something I’m working on.

Now that I know what issues I’m dealing with, I can face them. I know when anxiety kicks in, I need some extra space to breathe. In time I know the social butterfly in me will start to appear more often.

I guess you could say I’m a work in progress; but it’s OK not to be perfect.

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I live with anxiety and depression on a daily basis. This is something I have to live with for life now, which I haven’t quite accepted yet. This also makes the thought of traveling to the other side of the world quite daunting. I’m scared of leaving the handful of extraordinary friends who understand me and love me despite everything. I started to think about when I was at my worst and what got me through it, other than those wonderful people. When I was at the peak of my breakdown, the thought of leaving the house would reduce me to tears. During this time I couldn’t find comfort in anything. I couldn’t focus on TV or movies because my thoughts were screaming so loud I couldn’t even hear what was going on. I couldn’t confide in friends because I believed they hated me and wouldn’t miss me if I was dead. Everything was dark and pointless. However, one day I had been shopping with my mother and happened to stumble upon a book. A real, paperback, bright yellow book. This book was “Mad Girl” by Bryony Gordon.​​

“Mad Girl” is the story of Bryony growing up with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and trying to have a normal life while thinking inside that you’re losing your mind. I fell in love with this book from the moment I started reading it. She faced similar challenges to ones I had come across in my short 25 years of life. She spoke in such a refreshingly honest light about these issues (abusive relationships, self-destructive behavior and mental illness) and how it somehow always seems be reflected badly upon us when we actually had very little control over it. It was the first time ever that I felt like someone else in the world understood how I was feeling and that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t “going mad” after all.

Bryony is so open about her journey and her mistakes. She spoke about her attempt with antidepressants and how in the end therapy and meeting her husband slowly made her feel better. Reading about Bryony’s experience made me feel better and worse in some respects. It was amazing to read someone’s thoughts which were so closely related to my own. But it also made me quite sad in the fact that Bryony had very supportive family and friends and I felt at the time I didn’t have anyone who really understood and supported what I was going through — but I hadn’t in fact really tried to tell anyone. That’s when my journey of being open about what I was going through really began.

After finding such comfort in “Mad Girl,” I began searching on Amazon for books in a similar field. I wasn’t really sure what genre it was, but I knew I needed more of it… now! I finally clicked on “Reasons to Stay Alive” by Matt Haig. I had heard of this book before, as it is in fact extremely popular. However, all the images I had seen of the book tended to just show lists of things, so I assumed it was a book full of listed reasons why this world is so amazing. Oh how wrong was I? I bought this book during a very distressed episode, and I think the poor woman in Waterstone’s feared for my life due to the title (and possibly rightly so). I cried all the way home, made a cup of tea, curled up in bed and began reading. I had never ever felt such a rush of emotion in my life. It was as if Matt was sat on the bed next to me, explaining what was happening in my brain and that it was in fact, normal. He explained that he too had felt like he wouldn’t make it through the next 10 minutes of the day, never mind be writing a book about it years later. He explained that every single person has a unique brain, but they can all “fail” and “break” in different ways. He explained why depression is so difficult to open up about, describing my thoughts and fears almost word for word. He also suggested why it’s so difficult for our loved ones to accept it and handle it. For the first time, I felt like what I was feeling was perfectly OK. I wasn’t going mad, and I wasn’t alone. I read this book from cover to cover in about 12 hours and sobbed uncontrollably for most of that time. Not because the book was sad, but because it was so unbelievably full of hope. It gave me hope that maybe, dying wasn’t the only way for this feeling to go away. There was, somehow, a way to feel better.

At this point in time, I had only opened up to one absolutely irreplaceable friend about how I was feeling, and luckily he was the most supportive and accepting person I have ever known. He encouraged my reading, which then encouraged my opening up to others. I had to be honest with the people around me, and if they were true friends, they would listen and help however they could. I’ve read this book about four times now, whenever I feel a dip coming, I read it and feel less alone, and today I’ve started reading it again. I can’t express my gratitude for Matt sharing his story with the world — because it saved my life, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.

​​After finding these two books, I couldn’t stop reading. It was the only thing that stopped my thoughts drowning me and made me see light, somewhere in the distance. This might not be the end of me. I decided to join the local library — that way I got to read books for free but I had to leave the house to get them. It took about 30 minutes of standing at the front door before I plucked up the courage to walk to the library, but when I got there, there was the saying, “Everything is going to be alright” displayed in lights on the front of the building. I am a big believer in signs from the universe, and the comfort I felt in this reduced me to tears once again. I walked inside and heading straight for the H section in search of more from Matt Haig. This time it was a fiction book that I found from him. “The Humans.”

“The Humans” is one of the most wonderful books I have ever come across. It’s a fictional story about an alien that has been sent to Earth to destroy a family who may have discovered the most unbreakable formula in the world and could basically lead to the end of civilization. But that is not the main point of the story. The story is really about the alien’s journey into human life and trying to figure out why we do all the seemingly pointless things we do as humans — for example: love, wear clothes, live with animals whom we can’t communicate with, the list is endless. It is such a touching and humorous tale of what it truly means to be human and that although it is extremely painful at times to live in this world, it is worth it for those exact things. Again, Matt reduced me to tears for the majority of the book but not for a bad reason. Matt has an incredible ability to write experiences so full of hope and compassion for other humans who may be suffering. Reading these books encouraged me to share my experience; they helped me have the courage to finally go the doctors and accept the help that was available out there, which then led to me finally beginning to feel better and realizing my dreams of travel, love and connection with other people.

After joining the library, a friend from work also brought me a huge pile of books to help distract me from my thoughts. Not only did fiction help, but I also started to realize I liked to research and started planning things for my trip to Florida. Researching and planning helped occupy my time and help me feel productive. I’ve said in my previous posts, Disney World truly was a magical place that made me feel alive again and inspired me to continue traveling. That is when I started to research other places you can travel to and finally booked my flight to Australia. But now I’m faced with the fear of taking all of this with me to Australia. What if I get hit with a wave of depression? What if no one around me understands what I’m going through? What if my anxiety strikes and I can’t leave my hostel? What if I get hit by a bus or my plane crashes? The reality is, all or non of these things could happen. But they could also happen here in Preston. So I started to think of things I can take with me that will comfort me while I’m 12,000 miles away from the people I love — and the list started with my books.

Have you found any books that have helped you through your struggles? Please comment below and let me know!

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