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When Intrusive Thoughts Ruin a Family Outing

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My family was getting ready to go run an errand and go to the library. My husband made my coffee, I got the baby ready to go. I was heading out the door, with baby and coffee in the same arm, when she suddenly jerked the cup from my hand, spilling its contents. Luckily, I only drink iced coffee, so no one was hurt. No one was hurt physically, anyway.

Every time I spill my coffee first thing in the morning, my day is ruined. This dark cloud fills my mind. I get that “sense of impending doom” and my mood is instantly bad. I begin to make a mental list of everything that could possibly go wrong, in relation to the present day’s tasks. This goes on for hours and everyone around me will bear the wrath of this intrusive line of thinking.

“We’re going to wreck the van.” “We’re going to get robbed if we go to the downtown library.” “The kids are going to make too much noise and get us thrown out.” “We’re definitely going to wreck on the way there.” “They won’t have the books I need and we will have wasted our time.” “Everyone is going to stare, because I can’t control my rowdy toddler.” “I just know we’re going to wreck on the way there.”

In case you didn’t notice, my anxiety is greatly centered around driving. But that’s a story for another day.

When I’m overly anxious, I can’t be bothered with the simplest of questions or the smallest of talks. I am incredibly snappy, without even meaning to be. My poor husband gets the brunt of it and it really puts a damper on his mood as well.

I relentlessly fidgeted with my cube, turned up the radio and counted things outside my window. Nothing was working. My replacement coffee wasn’t the flavor I’d ordered, which made me angry and further verified that the day would be all sorts of wrong. I began to feel mentally drained from all the racing thoughts. I just wanted to cry. I just wanted to scream. I just wanted to run away until the feelings and thoughts passed, so my family didn’t have to put up with another one of Mommy’s silly meltdowns.

We parked the van downtown and started unloading the kids. Of course, our toddler immediately started screaming “I walk!” when she was put in the stroller. That drove home the thought of my parenting being judged. There was an elderly man going by in a motorized wheelchair, that tried to talk to her and calm her down. “He’s going to try to take her!” How unrealistic, right? I feel so bad now for even thinking that. Also, rather silly. But intrusive thoughts are often outrageous and make little sense.

We finally got everyone inside and the baby started crying. Our toddler was getting crankier by the second, because she hates being in a stroller. Our 6-year-old was looking embarrassed, because she is her mother’s daughter. My husband looked more aggravated with my reaction, than what the kids were doing. “We’re seriously going to get kicked out of here, before I even get anything done.”

So, he took them on a walk while I used the computer to print something. The stupid numbers wouldn’t type for me to log in. Here comes social anxiety Shelly, approaching the front desk to ask why the number keys wouldn’t work. After a few awkward sentence exchanges I said, “it couldn’t be that the number lock is off, because the zero key is working.” So, the librarian walked over and rudely hit the number lock key for me — of course it worked after that. “OK?” She said it loudly and I felt like the smallest person in the room. I just wanted to hide under the desk. This day was turning out to be even worse than I had imagined.

I finally got done with my print job, my family had returned from their calming stroll and we made our way to the children’s section. More crying, more crankiness, more of me wanting to scream and run away. I told them they were embarrassing me, to which my husband replied, “You’re what’s embarrassing.” And he was so right. I walked to the bathroom, feeling like the worst person in the world, so I could finally let the tears fall. I had been so rude to everyone, including the young staff member at the children’s desk, when she simply asked how I was doing.

We were finished getting books and movies, so I quickly took the baby to the van, speed walking past the desks, avoiding all contact with anyone else. I was so ashamed of myself, but the ride wasn’t over. We didn’t have a wreck, or get robbed, or thrown out of the library, but I continued to be rude and snappy for at least another hour. My husband was getting more and more frustrated with my behavior. I don’t even remember what finally brought me out of it, but the damage had been done. I just did my best to make it to the end of the day, with a few more snappy patches, because the day was just a bust.

Every time I spill my coffee, first thing in the morning, my anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) ruin my day.

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Thinkstock photo via Olarty

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What You Should Know Before Casually Saying 'Anxiety Attack'

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.

When someone says they “literally had an anxiety attack” when something stressful happens, try thinking about this next time. An anxiety attack are two words I would love to never say again, never have again and never hear again. It hurts when you hear someone use a term that is utterly devastating to you as a joking phrase. This is what my anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorders are like. Next time you are stressed out and you say you had a panic attack or anxiety attack, reevaluate your phrasing. Please, on behalf of everyone with a mental illness, just think before you speak.

It’s being worried, actually petrified, for no reason at all.

It’s your brain telling you anything and everything is wrong and you have no idea why.

It’s a fog inside your mind that’s impossible to clear no matter what you do.

It’s your heart racing and palpitating when you aren’t doing anything more than watching TV.

It’s thoughts racing in your mind faster than you can possibly keep up with and an overwhelming feeling to the point you have to give up and zone out of reality.

It’s not being able to fall asleep because you keep replaying the day in your head and what you should have done differently.

It’s not being able to relax because you keep thinking about a mistake you made three years ago that only you remember happening.

It’s getting to an appointment an hour early to make sure you don’t disappoint whomever you’re meeting since there’s always a chance of being late.

It’s checking on your little brother three times in the middle of the night because every noise you hear is him being kidnapped.

It’s texting your dad when he’s alone downstairs and you hear a thump so you can make sure he’s OK and isn’t having a heart attack with no one around to help.

It’s walking into a room and feeling that every single person is staring at you and judging you for everything you’re wearing, everything you do and everything you say.

It’s not being able to make a phone call because there’s a chance they will ask you a question you don’t have the answer to.

It’s not answering a phone call because you didn’t have the chance to prepare for the conversation yet.

It’s locking yourself in your room because being around anybody would take too much energy.

It’s washing your hands a literal hundred times a day with the fear there could still be a germ left.

It’s sanitizing before and after you are in every room, every store and even your own house.

It’s washing your hands after you get out of the shower.

It’s sanitizing after you washed your hands.

It’s having to eat food in even numbers.

It’s eating food in certain color orders or matching sizes.

It’s noticing things that are out of order or out of place and if you don’t tell someone or fix, it will continue to nag you in the back of your mind for the rest of the day.

It’s having to scratch your left leg because you scratched an itch on your right one and it would be uneven if you didn’t.

It’s picking at your nails and surrounding skin until your fingers are raw and bleeding.

Its picking the bumps on your arm that leave permanent scars to remind you of your illness every time you look in the mirror or when you catch someone stare at the marks.

It’s tapping, shaking, patting, standing up, sitting down, wandering — it’s never sitting still.

It’s profusely sweating in stressful or new situations.

It’s your heart rate spiking when a stranger talks to you because it could lead to having to answer a question, or even worse, deal with a confrontation.

It’s ever muscle in your body being tense at all times of the day.

It’s telling your parents and your doctor.

It’s trying medicine.

It’s researching, learning, and understanding what you are living with.

It’s being diagnosed with mental illnesses for over two years, but living with them for 21.

It’s fighting.

It’s surviving.

It’s my obsessive-compulsive disorder.

It’s my generalized anxiety disorder.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via Anna1000Arts

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Why I Struggle to Explain My New Anxiety Diagnosis

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The third trimester of my senior year — a month from graduation — I learn I’m failing chemistry.

“I’m going to art school,” I think to myself as I sit on the floor of the third-floor girl’s bathroom. “I’m never going to use this. I’m terrible at it anyways. I can’t do this. I’m going to fail out. I’m going to live on a bench. I’m a failure. I’m a waste.”

And the spiral continued. I sat on the filthy bathroom floor, ugly sobbing and hyperventilating, close to passing out. Then my phone went off in my pocket. My teacher got concerned I’d left class for an hour. (“I’ve been in here an hour?”) So he called the front desk who in turn called my mom, who ended up calling me. I told her everything, and even though she assured me I had plenty of time, I was close to vomiting because I was convinced I had ruined the rest of my life. A reasonable assumption for me, but apparently not for my mother.

This was my third anxiety attack in the span of a few weeks, but this was by far the worst. The other times, I had just been standing in a crowded room and nearly passed out on my feet because I started wondering if everyone was looking at me to make fun of me. In hindsight, I just heard a girl laugh, not uncommon in high school, but I became convinced I did something wrong and the entire room was laughing at me. But while I was thinking about all of this,

I was still trying to breathe on the floor of that filthy bathroom, and my mom was trying to calm me down.

“What am I going to do, Mom?”

“We are going to the doctor tomorrow. We need to get you help.”

The assessment didn’t take long. My doctor heard my story, took my heart rate, watched me constantly fiddling with something, all while remaining silent. I should mention that this wonderful woman has been my doctor since I came into this grand, old world. And with that point, I mean she knows me very, very well. She handed me a slip of paper and told me to answer some questions with a scale of 1 to 5. When I came back with a perfect score of 30 (“That can’t be good…”) she informed me she would be prescribing me my first dose of SSRIs.

I wasn’t happy with my diagnosis, but I really wasn’t happy with the idea of taking meds. I thought they would make me seem “crazy;” I thought I was fine. It wasn’t until my parents sat me down and begged me that I did start. Now, if I didn’t hate this new world of mental illness already, those pills would do the job for me. Anyone who takes any kind of medication for their mental health will tell you that some just do not match. And those were in no way a match. I was tired even though I did nothing but sleep. I wasn’t hungry; I could be filled after eating a granola bar. I was bloated and irritable and dizzy.

“Alright, we’ll go back and get you some new ones,” my mom said.

And we did. And it was a match, one I still use, but it isn’t perfect. But I don’t know how to tell my doctor that because I don’t know how to describe what I’m feeling. A part of me, the anxious part, is worried that if I say the wrong thing, I discredit everything. That obviously wouldn’t happen, but anxiety doesn’t make sense. I would try to be open about my diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), but I would get the lovely follow up of: “So you get nervous?”

“Well, that isn’t working,” I thought.

So like anyone else these days, I went online and searched for how other people described it. On The Mighty, actually. However, I quickly found that people seem to describe it slightly differently from one to the other. One says they feel such and such, another says they felt invalid because they’ve never felt such and such. This meant I had to make up my own vocabulary. Not just for others, but for myself. I thought that if I could communicate how I was feeling, it would help me feel less alone in it, as cliché as that sounds.

Fast forward to now. Summer just before my second year of college. I made honor roll in all of my classes. Came home. Got an awful summer job, but I was just able to tell my manager the date of my last day of work. And I was in a good mood. Not only that, but I stayed past my shift time to help out and I was exhausted because I work at a Dunkin Donuts first thing in the morning. So I wanted to get home, went too fast on a road I thought had a higher speed limit, and got my first ticket. I’m normally a pretty boring driver, so this was my first time getting pulled over.

Now, I went to my dad out of frustration. I was barely over the speed limit and there was someone who passed me going 15 mph faster.

‘You’re a teen, still.’ He says, ‘Don’t worry. We’ll just go to traffic court and I’m sure the judge will say this is too pricey for a first time mess up.’

And I’m sure you could guess my reaction to the idea of doing something scary and legal I have never done before — an anxiety attack so bad I throw up the lunch from earlier because my anxiety didn’t make me hungry for dinner. Sobbing, shaking, inability to breathe properly, the works. But my parents did something any other person would do — they told me to calm down. It didn’t offend me in any way — I’m hard to offend — but it made me sad because they don’t know how to help me because I can’t figure out how to tell them. I would like to conclude my story with the best description I can muster as of this moment. (Monday, 9:42 p.m., July 10, 2017, partly cloudy and humid)

I get butterflies in my chest — the kind you get when you see your crush or rip the wrapping paper off something you’ve wanted for years. But for me, it means I have to sit down somewhere quiet and calm myself down. My hands will start to feel like the way television static looks. If you sleep the wrong way in a cold room, your muscles ache and stiffen up; that’s how my body feels. It feels like someone is pushing in on the front of my ribcage and pushing down on my shoulders. The world starts to move so fast that it feels like I’m in one of those dreams where you’re running but not going anywhere. My ears ring like I got hit in the head with a ball in gym and my throat burns like I just tried the “Screamin’” level of a Buffalo Wild Wings sauce. But while I feel physically immobilized and sometimes in pain, my mind won’t stop moving. And even though I’m trying to hear you, I can’t.

I’ll be honest: When I started writing this, I didn’t plan on finishing it. So I don’t exactly know how to end this. I guess I’ll end it by saying this: drink some water and take time to sleep.

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Thinkstock photo via FS-Stock

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The Anxious Thoughts I Keep Hidden With a Smile

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I want to speak about me. I want people to understand or at least try to… that is all I ask. Because speaking out about one’s own troubles can be scary. Opening up and sharing can leave you exposed and vulnerable. But if we all stay quiet, then ignorance reigns supreme, and any relationships you have, whether family, friends or others, may be based on a facade. So here I go.

My mind is my prison, or at least it has been for the last three. If I’m not battling anxiety, I’m battling depression — sometimes both simultaneously. The smile I show you is not always genuine. It has been perfected to an art form so you don’t feel uncomfortable being around me. I smile to cover up the real thoughts that fly through my head faster than I can interact with at times. I smile so you don’t see the self-criticism I have going on inside my head. I smile so maybe, just maybe I can believe in my own fake smile for just a moment and experience a moment free of unrelenting questioning of myself. I smile in the hope that I can genuinely feel it like I used to. I smile so you will continue wanting to be a part of my life.

When you ask me if I’m OK, of course I’m going to say I’m OK. I don’t want to burden you with my thoughts. If I don’t understand them, why would I expect you to? In my head, I’m surprised I have any friends/family left. I mean truly, in the last three years since my breakdown and four years since my separation, I’ve had more disappear off the face of the earth than I want to count. So it only stands to reason, in my head, that a happy Barb is one people want to be around. And when I’m not happy, they disappear or cause harm. I think most of you would say good riddance.

“If they are not by your side to support you then they are not your real friends/family anyway.” An extremely valid point… I hear you, believe me I do. However, anxiety and depression serve only to reinforce the negativity. “They left and/or hurt you, despite all the good you did.” So I don’t see my worth, I see only the bad. And that is what drives it. It’s unrelenting and soul-destroying, and yet as bad as I know it is, I cannot stop.

Anxiety is the voice that drives my decisions. It is the voice that tells me to flee and protect myself at all costs. It is the voice that shrouds my goodness and accentuates my flaws. It is the voice of constant questioning and negative reinforcement. It is the voice that strips me of my trusting nature and conditions me to expect the worst. It is the voice that pre-empts outcomes before they have happened. It is the voice that wakes me at night, the voice that tells me I am not deserving, the voice I could never imagine using on someone else, yet I allow it so freely to be used upon myself. It is the voice that has become second nature.

Anxiety tells me I don’t deserve love because I will more than likely wreck it anyway. It tells me to distance myself and run so I don’t hurt others or let others hurt me. It sadistically allows me to catch glimpses of myself that I am proud of, only to rip it away with a vision or statement of how I will fuck it up again. It is the doubt beyond all measurable reason that I am not worthy of true happiness. Yet it taunts me with the thought that I am worthy too. Worse still, it shows me how happy others are and how miserable and lonely I am. It highlights all they are and have and how little I am. That despite everything, my world keeps shrinking. And so in my mind, I assume and validate that it must have been something I did wrong. Something I wasn’t and still am not.

Anxiety is the questioning. Is this good enough? Am I good enough? Have I done enough? Is that right? Be better, stronger, faster, smarter, prettier. It is the people pleasing. Perfectionism. Because what if they saw the real me? Would they still like me? It is the knowing inside that I have a lot to give but the doubt in my ability to give it. It is the nervousness inside that I will fail again and again and again despite all my efforts. It is the self-sabotage and annoyance in my behavior. It is the questioning of just about everything I do. It is the cold sweats, fuzzy mind, trembling hands. It is the palpitations and second guessing.

Anxiety is the constant sorry’s that escape my lips. The sorry for reacting a certain way, feeling a certain way, thinking a certain way. It is the sorry for not being enough and making mistakes. For being too open and not open enough. For talking too much or not talking enough. It is the sorry for all my actions I see that have never been enough. It is the sorry for not seeing what others see in me. It is everything I wasn’t and now am. It is the everything I was and now am not.

Anxiety is the knowing I deserve more but somehow being scared to let myself enjoy what could be. It’s the knowing I’m worth more than what I say to myself, but the fear of the inability to live up to it. It’s the knowing that I do have people who care but dreading the sadness I see in their eyes when they don’t understand the conversations that run riot in my mind. It’s the knowing I need help, but the fear that I will never get better.

Anxiety is the counterpart who robs me of enjoying any beautiful moment, thought and opportunity fully. There is always that voice that lingers in the shadows of my mind just waiting in eager anticipation to watch me fail, doubt, question — and it’s persistent. All I want is a magic pill, and I know there is none. I want to be free but feel shackled. And no matter how unfair it all seems, somehow I have beaten myself up enough to believe I deserve it. As ridiculous as that sounds and as untrue as I know it is. It is confusion at its best.

And that is what lives in my head. Raw, uncensored and me.

Follow this journey on Gently She Goes.

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Thinkstock illustration by Maria Kuznetsova

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Why I Feel like 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Anxiety'

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Editor’s Note: This piece contains spoilers of the Harry Potter books and movies.

I’m no Harry Potter. I’m not brave enough to eat gillyweed to help me breathe underwater. When people look at me, they see a nice, happy, quiet girl who would most definitely be sorted into Hufflepuff — and not the Cederic Diggory kind of Hufflepuff. If I looked into the Mirror of Erised, I wouldn’t see my parents smiling back at me. Rather, I’d see myself, free from the dementor inside me.

But all the Expecto Patronum practice in the world wouldn’t be able to save me from my anxiety. I can’t escape it. Can’t push it away. Because although my anxiety sucks away my happiness just like a dementor, it is not a dementor. It’s not some new, unexpected intruder floating towards me in a black cloak. It’s something I am — like how Harry was a horcrux. I can’t kill it without also killing me.

In addition to being the worst part, the best part about my dementor is that it is all mine. That is the one power I have over it. It is confined solely to me. I am its entire world. I’m the only one who can feel its deathly kiss. Because of this, I can bottle it down. Take one for the team. Hide it. Thanks to Professor Lupin’s spell: Riddikulus, I can disguise it.

And I do. I use so much energy trying to disguise it. This part of me is ruthless, cruel, ugly and no one should have to see it in its purest form. So instead I let it do its worst — while trying my hardest to remember Professor Lupin’s verse: Riddikulus. Riddikulus! This monster is ridiculous. I am being ridiculous. And so I laugh with you after I ask if my headache is a brain tumor and I’ll be the first to point out my clammy hands, because I know most of the time I’m just fine. There’s nothing to worry about. I’m overthinking it. But these rational thoughts are so easily drowned out by the siren in my head, alerting me of everything that could go wrong and how I’m practically already dead. But I swallow it back. Put on my mask and play it off as I remind myself of the facts.

1. It’s all in my head.
2. That doesn’t make it any less real.
3. People want to help.
4. People don’t understand.
5. I want to feel better.
6. I don’t understand it. Anxiety My anxiety. Me.
7. Fear of the name increases fear of the thing itself.
8. Anxiety.
9. Anxiety.
10. Anxiety.

So yeah, maybe I would be a Hufflepuff. But not because I’m not brave enough to be a Gryffindor or smart enough to be a Ravenclaw. Maybe I’m used to being overlooked as simply nice and happy. Maybe that’s what I want. While I may avoid confrontations and fights, it’s not because I’m too scared or weak, but just that I’m busy using my resources elsewhere. I’m busy strategizing and battling this bitch of a dementor living inside my head. Although my loving friends and family will encourage me to “beat it” and remind me I’m stronger than my anxiety — despite all their input, I already know how strong I am. I’ve already been battling with it every day. And just because my dementor might win a couple battles and take off its disguise for you to see, I promise you, I am still winning the war.

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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Photo via Harry Potter Facebook page.

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A Letter to My Broken, Anxious Self

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To my broken self: I see you.

On the days when you feel most alone. When you feel like your anxiety is winning and you can’t remember why you continue to fight. I see you fighting this battle while still grasping for all of the things you used to be.

“I used to be confident. I used to be skinnier. I used to be social. I used to be easy-going. I used to be happier. I used to be normal.”

The thing is, you can’t keep focusing on what you used to be because you are not that person anymore. You have changed, you have experienced more of what life has to offer, you have grown. And I know you are struggling to realize this because your mind is telling you that you’ve failed, but I am so proud of you.

I am proud of you because you cried yourself to sleep last night and still got out of bed this morning and faced the day with a smile, even if it was forced.

I am proud of you because you chose to comfort a friend even when you felt utterly overwhelmed yourself.

I am proud of you because you asked for help, even when you were trying to convince yourself that your problems didn’t matter to anyone else.

I am proud of you because you continue to fight every single day, even when it feels like nothing is changing.

I know you have good days. Days when you joke around with friends because you actually feel like smiling. Days when you are excited to do something other than lie in bed or sit on the couch all day. Days when you wake up and just feel it in your heart that today, you are going to be OK.

I also know you have bad days too. Days when you just can’t fake a smile or a laugh no matter how hard you try. Days when you cry alone in your room and you don’t even know why you’re crying. Days when getting out of bed, showering or putting on “real clothes” is your biggest accomplishment. Even then, I am proud of you.

Every single day you prove that you are stronger than your anxiety and your doubts. And every day you give me another reason to be proud of you. You have the biggest heart, endless potential and a lifetime ahead of you. So to my broken self, please, don’t quit fighting. Don’t give up. Do not let your anxiety define you. Because one day you will look back and all of these struggles and difficult times will simply be what “used to be.” You will see yourself through my eyes and you will be so proud.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Thinkstock photo via sSplajn

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