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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!

Follow this journey on Travel Bear.

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“What are you anxious about?” the nurse asks, placing the blood pressure cuff around my arm. I am at a routine physical exam, but there is nothing routine about the way I panic before medical appointments. On the morning of a doctor’s appointment, my heart races the minute I awaken from sleep, my body acutely aware of what the day will bring. I spend the time leading up to the appointment in a state of abject terror. I regularly cancel and reschedule appointments over and over again. Once, an office secretary snapped at me for my long history of cancellations. She must have thought I was just lazy. She must have thought I just didn’t care.

Sure, there are things I dislike about going to the doctor. I despise stepping on the scale with the nurse hovering over me, as I feel absolutely certain I’m being judged. I’m scared of having my blood pressure taken, riddled with the fear of having a high reading, even though I have no reason to suspect such a thing would happen under normal circumstances. Frustratingly, since these appointments are not normal circumstances to the bucket of fear that is my nervous system, my high anxiety does typically send my blood pressure and pulse soaring. Not only does this increase my distress, but it also leads me to explain to the staff that, no, I really don’t have a blood pressure problem; I have severe anxiety.

On this day, in spite of my explanation, the nurse is marveling at my 140 bpm pulse reading. She asks me why I’m anxious in a kind of accusatory tone.Does she think I have something to hide from the doctor? I don’t know, but she has skeptically noted my Xanax prescription.

“It’s not any one thing. I have an anxiety disorder,” I tell her, annoyed. This is in my chart. “Hence, the Xanax.”

She doesn’t look convinced, and this isn’t helping my body’s fight-or-flight response. “Oh,” she says absently, watching as the blood pressure reading rises to meet my pulse.

I wonder why she was skeptical about the Xanax. It seems pretty evident that I need it.

At the end of the appointment, another nurse will check my blood pressure again. It will be normal this time, my body satisfied that the appointment, and thus, the trigger, has ended. It was just anxiety. It is always anxiety.

I think that anxiety has become so synonymous with stress that some people cannot fathom the concept of anxiety existing as a series of disorders all on its own. One would never, for instance, take the temperature of a person with the flu, and then ask why they have a fever. With anxiety, I’m constantly asked why I am anxious, even, as evident by the nurse’s reaction, from within the medical community itself.

So, here’s my answer. I am anxious, because something is wrong with my brain. I am anxious because I have a disorder as real and uncontrollable as the aforementioned flu. I have tried every trick in the self-help book. I’ve tried self-talk, visualization, hot baths and SSRIs. I’ve tried herbal teas and bottle after bottle of magnesium supplements. I write. I listen to Stevie Nicks. I read poetry.

I’m still anxious. I have stood on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as pods of stunning dolphins, my favorite animals, coursed through the clear, blue waves, and yet, I was still anxious. It was still there, lurking just beneath my heart beat, asking me what would happen if I were to suddenly have a brain aneurysm, and pondering the meaning of life.

And, it was there that day, in the ambulance, that horrible, embarrassing day when I was careened down the street en route to the hospital, only to be told that what I perceived to be an early-onset heart attack was really just a panic attack.

“What are you anxious about?”

I guess the real answer I should be giving is that I’m terribly anxious no one will ever understand.

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

While social media sites like Facebook can be great tools for connecting with others, sometimes looking at your newsfeed can feel discouraging when it’s full of the “best snapshots” of other people’s lives. When you live with anxiety, this can be especially true on hard days.

Maybe you’ve just had a panic attack or flunked a presentation at school because you couldn’t control your breathing or still your trembling fingers. Maybe you couldn’t get up and go to work at all because anxiety had you in its grips. However anxiety affected you today, sometimes you just want to see something real on Facebook — something that proves you’re not alone in your experiences.

For those of you who look at your newsfeed and think, My life looks nothing like this, or feel the pressure to always look “OK” online, this one’s for you.

We wanted to know what people with anxiety want to post on Facebook, but feel like they can’t, so we asked our mental health community to share one photo they wish they could share about their anxiety. It’s important to remember anxiety looks different for each person who experiences it. While some can hide everything going on behind a smile and perfectly rehearsed act, others may not have the ability to do so all the time. Whatever way your anxiety manifests, you deserve to talk about it.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. This is what anxiety feels like for me. Too much happening, overwhelming, so much that I can’t see straight. Everything is breaking around me until I eventually fall into an attack. I’m afraid of the negative or judgmental comments people may make. You’re always so happy, how could you have anxiety? [and] You always seem fine, are ones I get quite a lot.” — Savvy W.

anxious woman

2. “When I took this photo I was supposed to be at work already. I really wished I was, but anxiety didn’t let me leave my bed. I was laying like this for hours trying to convince myself it’s safe to go, but I physically couldn’t leave. I took the photo because I felt like I had to prove my feelings were real even though no one asked for proof. It’s a suffocating feeling you can’t describe. I never posted it because I’d be afraid people would think I did it for attention. I just wish people would understand what it’s like.” — Lena M.

woman in bed

3. After losing my mom, some days I wake up and stare at her picture on my dresser and dread facing the world.” — Bianca N.

woman sad

4. “I’m a prescription drug addict [and I’m] five years clean, so I can’t take medications for my anxiety. If it weren’t for my mindfulness meditation practice, I’d be a hot mess. I don’t post pictures of me meditating because for some reason our culture still finds it ‘weird.'” — Chris B.

man meditating

5. “The reason I don’t post to Facebook is because people deem me to be ‘too young’ for all these pills. I’m very open about my anxiety disorder and many people find out within a week of knowing me that I [struggle with] anxiety, and yet it is so invisible to them that no one would think this many pills are required for me to be ‘normal.’ What people also don’t realize is that I’m ‘normal’ when I’m at work, but they do not get to see that I spend all my days at home — alone mostly — and have trouble enjoying things that include me leaving the house. Friends are far and few between, but even the ones who have known me for a while are surprised by the amount of medication necessary for me to live the way I’m living currently.” — Sandy B.

medication

6. “This is a photo of me that’s very much accurate to my anxiety. I put on a happy face for friends and family to see but when alone or even deep down, my anxiety is unbearable and can reach panic attacks. It’s the life I live every day and not everyone understands it. This photo, my anxiety (on the right) was caused by wearing clothing and looking at myself in the mirror. Struggling with borderline personality disorder (BPD) (with a strong sense of abandonment), anxiety, OCD and eating disorders — my self esteem isn’t the best and thus, anxiety peaks. I blogged about it (using this photo) and people still don’t get it. I will continue to try and explain as it helps me understand myself. Anxiety comes in all shapes, forms and breakdowns and that’s why I love this little community. You get me.” — Kaleena S.

anxiety woman

7. This is a picture of me right after I had a panic attack. I never share things like this on Facebook as I feel friends might think I’m doing it for attention and [worry] they won’t believe this is an actual illness. Whenever someone challenges the fact I have anxiety, it just makes the anxiety even worse so I never post pictures like this to avoid the chance of this happening. Most of my friends don’t even know I have anxiety as I have a fear of people not taking it seriously.” — Tia D.

woman in bed sad

8. My support dog comforts me during anxious times. Why I don’t post it? It sounds ‘ridiculous’ to people who don’t have it.” —Taylor R.

girl and dog

9. Someone once asked me what it was like dealing with anxiety and depression and if I could explain it. I decided to draw this picture to use as a tool to better explain myself. I said depression and anxiety is like being in the middle of the ocean with no boats in sight, floating with only your nose above the water with a 50 pound dog named anxiety sitting on your chest and a giant hand named depression pulling you under at the same time [when] all you want is to breathe.” — Chris C.

anxiety man drawing

10. “This is from last fall. I actually did post this and I captioned it, “This is what nine hours of sleep over five nights looks like.” I was exhausted, I literally couldn’t think straight. Could barely see straight. What I didn’t tell them was how I’d been losing weight rapidly because my stomach had tensed up so much from anxiety.” — Gina B.

woman selfie

11. “After barely surviving a massive heart attack with congestive heart failure, then a open heart surgery that went bad, my anxiety was through the roof. It was so bad I stayed constantly fatigued and nauseous. The constant body aches were unbearable… Dogs are the best thing you can have, if I start feeling bad I just sit down and hold my puppy and everything is better.” — Brent T.

man and dog

12. “I have chronic hives but I mainly get flair ups when I’m anxious, which happens to be most of the time I’m out in public. Normally I wear high shirts to avoid people seeing them. I took this picture and even though the hives aren’t the main focus of this picture it’s all I can see.” — Kalyn L.

girl smiling

13. “This is my representation of anxiety and my longing for childhood whenever I get an attack. I never posted this because I thought no one would understand my drawing and they might ‘unfriend’ me because I fill up their newsfeed with ‘nonsense.’ At least here [there] are people who will understand me entirely!” — Dieuwke L.

anxiety drawing

14. “I’m dead scared of not appearing happy, so I overcompensate by smiling in all my photos, despite having a good or bad day. It’s like hiding behind a mask, [so] no one can truly see what’s really happening.” — Anna Y.

woman selfie

15. I lost it a few weeks ago and it has never been this bad. Usually when I start shaking and my head goes ‘crazy’ I bite my hand hard while taking deep breaths. This time it didn’t work, I kept biting and biting. This was during work… I took this picture just because I never been that bad. I won’t post it because I don’t want questions. I don’t like the robot responses people give because they don’t understand. Sadly the only person who calmed the noise has left so the noise since doubled.” — Eric K.

man biting hand

16. “I took his picture a week after my husband left for Army boot camp… I felt empty and scared to confront the anxiety alone. I don’t post these type of pictures because I feel like people think I’m trying to seek attention when I am just trying to express my feelings.” — Bianca M.

woman selfie

17. “I’m a Navy veteran and I have depression [and] anxiety. I pick my skin too! At times I can sleep a whole day [or] for over 36 hours. I’m trying new ways [to cope] and one is exercising like in my picture.” — Steven G.

man selfie

18. “I took this photo a few minutes after calming down from a panic attack. I rarely take photos of myself, so I don’t even know why I took this one. This is a version of how I sometimes look after having an anxiety attack. I have depression as well and I always feel depressed and guilty after panicking. Especially when often I’m panicking over things I feel I shouldn’t panic over like riding in a car during a storm, the thought of people looking at me in public, going somewhere alone, a change in plans/routine, talking to people I’m not comfortable with, my eating disorder and body image, etc. I wouldn’t post this on Facebook because it makes me anxious for people to see me like this and I fear what people would say or think. I think I’m weak and I usually feel like I have to at least try to hide it from my face when I’m around other people.” — Erin H.

woman anxious selfie

Photos via our community


18 Honest Pictures People With Anxiety Want to Post on Facebook, But Don't

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