Summer vacation things neatly organised

The 4 Steps I Took to Beat Anxiety So I Could Travel With My Wife

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I was always a worry wart. I remember it vividly from childhood to my current middle age. But I never understood what it was about. Then there was the bullying, followed by years of low self-esteem, self-doubt and finally, the stress that led to anxiety and then depression. What I didn’t know and needed to learn was that I was a highly sensitive person and that the feelings I was dealing with were not that easy to fix.

By far, the anxiety that made me doubt my life would ever be the same was the agoraphobia that stopped me in my tracks from being able to travel. When I say travel, I mean even to the store down the street. Panic attacks were my new, daily friend and it was all I could do to even get through a day at work. How could I have gone from someone who enjoyed traveling the world to a person who couldn’t even leave his house without feeling sick?

Over the next two years, I learned about complex PTSD that came from a childhood of bullying abuse that would grow and lead to my current problems so many years later. I realized I was far from alone in having these issues, but just living with a major anxiety disorder that creeped up on me. There were so many places I wanted to go, but felt that it would never happen now. As time passed, I learned how to deal with this anxiety.

So, I began the process of learning as much as I could about mindfulness and gratitude. I also wanted to learn to accept the fact that I was highly sensitive and try to make changes in my life that would be uncomfortable at first, but would hopefully help. Why did I do all this? I had promised my wife that we would travel to Europe for our 25th wedding anniversary. I didn’t know anxiety would get to me and now the anniversary date was looming closer. I had one year to get to a point of comfort. Here’s what I did:

1. Fed my brain.

I changed my diet and learned that there were mood foods that help with anxiety. I was not eating right before anxiety entered my life. It was amazing that food could have that effect on the mind. But science has proven that food and the mind are closely connected.

2. Exercised and practiced yoga.

For me, this was so hard to start. First, I wasn’t an exercise person. Second, it required me to go to the gym and fight the anxiety and my mind that kept telling me not to go. Interestingly, at the door to the gym was a sign that said, “Know that getting here was half the battle.” How did they know? Again, a discovery I wasn’t alone. Yoga helped teach me to focus my mind only on myself and the movement. Slowly, the anxiety gave up the fight the more I practiced it.

3. Learned to breathe through the anxiety.

This is a major mindfulness technique that so many people forget.

4. Did the things I didn’t want to do.

Really, it was my mind that didn’t want to do it. The more you go and experience the anxiety head on, the more it will give up the fight. Eventually, anxiety gave up on attacking me.

No, it wasn’t overnight and I had to do all the work. But I did conquer the anxiety through help from professionals as well as helping myself. As I stand now looking over the cliffs of Dover in Europe, I can enjoy myself and this trip once again. My wife has little idea of what it took for me to make this trip the dream trip we thought it would be when we married 25 years earlier. But I got here and she is standing beside me, with no idea what I did to get here.

It’s important, when the chips are down for you, that you set a goal to defeat these things. This trip gave me what I needed to get there. But I had to do the work. I had to want to get better. There was no magic trick to getting better. I wanted to do the work and I did. Today, I am breathing my full breath in Ireland, enjoying each minute of what was a dream 25 years ago. I am lucky that I made it through this battle with anxiety.

I am not naïve to believe it won’t come back. But now I have the ability and skills to fight for my life back. It was so worth it and the view I have now makes me realize how much I could have lost if I had given up. But I didn’t and that is all that matters at this moment.

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Thinkstock photo via ivan101

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Why I Constantly Wonder, 'Is He Happy?' as a Young Mother With Anxiety

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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.

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When I Realized Anxiety Was No Longer My Friend

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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.

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Anxiety by Storm: A Poem

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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.

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Why I Am Loud When My Anxiety Kept Me Quiet

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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

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The Difference Between 'Natural' Anxiety and a Mental Illness

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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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