little ballerina giirl holding flowers and teddy bear smiling at camera

Before my daughter could walk, she could dance. When she heard a song playing, she was moving her cute chubby baby arms to the beat. Once she learned to walk, there was no stopping her from moving and grooving with her talented little legs. When my baby girl turned three years old, I enrolled her in her first ballet class and she did absolutely amazing! She listened to her instructor very well, followed directions great, and I feel she was one of the best dancers in the class. All of her dance moves were on pointe. (Get it? A little dance humor for you there.)

Fast-forward two years later and my little ballerina is now five years old, which means she is old enough to participate in the dance school’s grand ballet recital. Dancing on the big stage in front of a large crowd with bright lights and loud music can be intimidating, especially for little kids, and this is why the dance teachers constantly talked about it with the students throughout the year. I can still hear the dance teacher asking the class, “Is dancing on the big stage scary?” and the students answering with a resounding “No!”

Parents were also highly encouraged to talk with their kids about what being on stage would be like, which I did. The teacher asked for two to three parent volunteers to be Backstage Moms at the recital. I didn’t volunteer, because:

1. I had never been to a ballet recital before and I didn’t know what to expect backstage.

2. I had seen way too many unbelievable episodes of “Dance Moms.”

3. I didn’t think my daughter needed me back there with her.

Whenever I talked about the recital with my daughter, she was always happy and excited. Her little eyes would light up and she would get a great big smile on her face. It felt like she would ask me when the recital was every single day. When it was time to purchase her recital costume, I did. When it was time to purchase recital tickets, I did. I invited our relatives and they bought tickets as well.

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The dress rehearsal was the day before the big recital. I had asked my mom if she could take my daughter to the rehearsal, because I had to take my other daughter to an important doctor’s appointment. I told my mom it would be easy peasy for her since my daughter was so excited about the recital. Man, was I wrong.

She won’t get onstage.

That was the text I got from my mom. I texted her back: What do you mean? My mom then called me and told me my daughter was scared, crying and clinging to her. She was refusing to go onstage, despite my mom, her teacher and friends trying to help calm her down and give her words of encouragement. I told my mom to tell her that if she goes onstage, I’d buy her a new toy. That didn’t work. My mom tried everything she could think of to get her to go onstage, but nothing worked. Absolutely nothing. My mom had no choice but to leave the theatre and bring my daughter home.

When I got back from the doctor’s office, I gave my daughter a great big hug and I sat her on my lap. I asked her what happened at the rehearsal and she told me she got scared because she didn’t want the audience looking at her. I told her it is OK for her to feel what she is feeling. I never told her “Don’t be scared,” because honestly, I knew that wouldn’t have done any good. The same goes for telling someone to “calm down.” Instead, I told her I was going to tell her a secret. The secret was this:

“The only people who will be looking at you are your family, who love you very much. All the other people will be looking at their dancer, not you. All you have to do is go onstage, look at your teacher, do your dance, and get off the stage. That’s it.”

That night, my daughter fell asleep easily, probably because she was so drained from crying earlier. I think our talk helped, but I could tell she was still nervous afterwards. She needed more than just a pep talk and I already knew bribing her with toys wasn’t going to get her onstage either. What she needed was to have faith and trust. Oh, and something I forgot… dust. Yep, just a little bit of pixie dust.

Before I get into the fairy magic I made happen while my daughter was asleep, you have to know my daughter absolutely loves and adores fairies, especially Tinker Bell. She says fairies follow her around, she can talk to them, and she can always tell where they’ve been because they leave sparkles. My mom (aka “Nonna”) created a fairy garden in her backyard that my daughter visits every chance she gets. To say that fairies are a big part of my daughter’s life would be an understatement. They are her entire world!

I had previously bought a light up figurine of Tinker Bell on my last trip to Disneyland, which I planned to give my daughter when she was a bit older, but I decided to give it to her now and have it be a special gift from Tinker Bell instead. I wrote a letter to my daughter from Tinker Bell, letting her know she was flying over to watch her dance in her recital and reminding her to look for sparkles backstage. (With all of the dancers running around back there in their glittery costumes, I knew there were going to be a lot of sparkles on the floor!) I also knew that looking for sparkles would take my daughter’s mind off of being scared and nervous. I left the statue and letter out on the kitchen counter for my daughter to find in the morning.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen my daughter’s eyes as wide as I did that morning! She was extremely happy about the surprise Tinker Bell left for her. She was practically radiating joy and excitement. She couldn’t wait to get to the theatre to look for sparkles backstage and to dance for Tinker Bell on stage! Yes! My plan had worked!

When we got to the theatre, I brought my daughter to the back room and got her situated. I helped set up a game of Candyland for my daughter and a couple other girls to keep them busy.  Soon, it was time for the parents to leave the room, so I gave my daughter a big hug and I told her I was super excited to watch her dance and I would see her after the recital. I let go… but she didn’t.

She began crying, and not just little tears. These were big tears streaming down her face. She was yelling that she was scared and she didn’t want me to leave her. I held her, dried her tears, and repeated all of the things I told her the day before… but it wasn’t cutting it. She wasn’t just crying now. She was shaking, sweating, and her heart was pounding. My baby girl was having a full-blown anxiety attack.

I could hear the announcer telling everyone to find their seats, and I could feel the eyes of everyone in that back room looking at us. I knew I was supposed to go to my seat. I wasn’t a Backstage Mom. I wasn’t allowed to be back there anymore. Some of the other Backstage Moms and the kids tried to comfort my daughter, which I truly appreciated, but my daughter didn’t need them. She didn’t need fairy magic either. What she needed was just Mommy. Just me.

So what happened next was that I just sort of, kind of, never left my daughter and became a last-minute Backstage Mom, which I never thought I would have done in a million years. I sat on the carpet with the kids and played games with them, introducing them to the classics like Telephone. I sang Moana’s “How Far I’ll Go” with them. I interviewed the kids and asked them silly questions that made them laugh. I helped give out snacks, made sure their hair looked good and helped clean up. This all came very naturally to me because I am a retired daycare provider and I can honestly say I had a blast being backstage with those girls. The best part though was how simply being backstage helped my daughter feel less anxious, nervous and scared. I, on the other hand, was nervous about getting into trouble about staying backstage without permission, but to my surprise, the teacher, director and theatre employees were all very supportive and appreciative that I decided to stay back. Whew!

I am happy to report that, because I stayed back to be with my daughter, that was all she needed. Although I could tell she was still a little nervous before she walked onstage, I had provided her with just enough confidence to get out there and dance her little heart out. As always, she did amazing. Although I never did get to sit in my seat I had purchased, the director pulled me aside as the kids were going onstage to let me stand directly next to the teacher while the kids performed. I felt like I had the best spot in the whole theatre. Tears filled my eyes and pride filled my heart as I watched my little ballerina dance onstage for the first time. I will never forget that incredible feeling and I am blessed to know I will get to experience it over and over, most likely as a Backstage Mom again, because I will always be there for my daughter in any way I can for as long as I can.

Someday, my daughter will be ready to let go when I tell her it’s time for Mommy to leave (and I’m not just talking about dropping her off backstage at her recital). I’m talking about when she goes away to college, moves out, and even when I die. Thinking about those life-changing events for too long makes me cry, but knowing my daughter will have the strength and confidence to handle them gives me such pride in being her mother.

Just keep dancing, my little ballerina, and Mommy will keep helping you one step at a time.

Previously published on www.mylittlevillagers.com

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I have had depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. I remember crying at night, terrified I had swallowed a piece of glass, or balling my eyes out because of the starving children commercials I had seen.

Having depression had given me an overpowering sense of empathy for others, or maybe it was my empathy that gave me depression. Either way, I had to learn to survive with my condition. I had no idea what it was and I didn’t have any treatment until way into adulthood.

When I was in my 20s, I learned a trick to help curb my anxiety. New people are always the hardest. You do not know them and any new meeting could go either way.

I learned that when I could make them feel at ease and happy, it would also put me at ease. My empathy would also allow me to feel how they felt, and feel outrage when they did, so I would agree and help them in any way I could. I would in a sense treat them how I would want to be treated. I heard that golden rule long ago and had thought “Well, why wouldn’t you?” In life, not everyone has empathy and I feel many don’t have it to the degree I do. It can sometimes consume me — it feels like what the other person is experiencing is happening to me.

When I can make someone smile and be happy, or just laugh for a moment in a world like this, then I feel more at ease. So, maybe I don’t do it for them. I do it for me. I do it for my anxiety. I do it for my depression. I do it for those who may be struggling right now, and you may never know what going on beneath the surface.

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Thinkstock photo via lorenzoantonucci


Panic takes over. My ribs quiver with the force of my heartbeat; my eardrums throb with the sound. It’s deafening: an aggressive, quickening crescendo that demands my attention and mutes all else. I’m consumed at once with sensory overload and with numbness.

With every fiber of my being, I want to miss my flight. But if I don’t see this backpacking trip through, I fail. I’m incapable, inadequate; I’ll never overcome my fear. Or so says my anxiety – the reason I’m feeling this way in the fucking first place.

I’m embarking on this journey to prove something to myself: I am stronger than the ocean of fear in which I perpetually swim. I can battle the currents; I can ride the waves. Fuck you, anxiety. You won’t stop me.

I caught that plane.

As long as I can remember, I’ve been navigating the dark waters of anxiety and panic. It’s a constant battle between the conflicting forces of restlessness and inertia. Adrenaline courses through my veins, begging for action. It also keeps me awake and on edge until I’m too fatigued to do anything at all.

In this, I am not alone.

Around 1 in 7 people are affected by anxiety disorders in Australia — roughly double the worldwide statistic — and those are just the diagnosed cases. But alas, strength in numbers won’t deter the periodic onset of frazzled-fragility. I become unable to concentrate, think or converse. I’m a version of myself I don’t want to be. Rather, I imagine a wild-eyed, fearless me: an independent explorer, a headstrong leader, a social butterfly. I crave freedom – the opposite of what I know. I seek to feel this, to become this, through travel.

Perhaps counterintuitively, many of us who live with anxiety are drawn to adventure. We dare to provoke our neuroses, searching for relief in the depths of great discomfort. We imagine that by handling such unbelievable situations, we’ll never be afraid again.

As I write now, I’m three weeks into a daunting 10-month travel stint. In the lead-up to my arrival here in Bali, I experienced panic attacks and stomach ulcers that left me vomiting up blood and unable to eat.

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young woman lying in clear ocean wearing red bathing suit

Such is life for the anxious traveler. Noisy, light polluted dorm rooms leave you sleepless. Tension and stomach ulcers exacerbate the effects of food poisoning. Muscle aches make you think twice about hiking that volcano. “Normal” situations such as communal kitchen conversation or even nursing your hangover can kickstart the panic. Cue mad scramble away from the crowd to hide the hyperventilation, trembling and tears of frustration.

We don’t endure all of this just for the Instagram photos. We want to prove we are capable of being outside our (microscopic) comfort zones. That we can make friends effortlessly, skinny dip without insecurity or bungee jump over a waterfall. Travel provides all of the necessary opportunities to prove our bravery, egging us to grab life by the balls. The only problem is, pressure is not a friend of the anxious mind.

The cruel paradox of anxiety is that it will push with all its strength to keep you from pursuing a goal, debilitating you with fear and indecision; meanwhile punishing you relentlessly for being unable to succeed.

Travel addresses both poles of the paradox.

On the road, we’re faced with tough situations. We are encouraged, or even required, to do things that make us uncomfortable. Failure to fulfill our own valiant expectations is accompanied by incessant overthinking, self-deprecation and self-doubt. Over literally anything. For example, declining an offer for a stick-and-poke tattoo from some Colombian dreadlocked hippy may seem like a sensible decision. Well, for some it can result in days of regret and self-loathing for “being so fucking uptight.”

I’ve become grateful for my daily confrontations with this disheartening internal monologue. It exhausts me. It leaves me no choice but to accept my imperfections and vulnerability. I may not always be as bold and energized as other people, and that’s OK. With that, I have begun forming relationships and having adventures of my own prerogative – not to prove myself, but to seek genuine thrill. I know the resulting challenges and triumphs will slowly settle the tumultuous oceans of my anxious mind. It’s already begun.

fisheye lens photo of woman packing up tent in sunshine

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix for anxiety and there is no single solution for everyone. There is only a slow process of healing that starts with letting go of expectations and canning the negative self-talk.

So I choose to disregard the doubtful voice in my head. I’ll dance topless in the rain because I want to, not because I’m boring if I don’t join in. I’ll do it for the feeling, the genuine smile, the contagion of my laughter. From now, I’ll pay attention to my senses, not my insecurities. I’ll be patient with myself, and dare to try – dare to fail.

And sure, the challenges associated with travel can raise the tide in an anxious mind – but if you ride the waves, you’ll come out a stronger swimmer. Congratulate yourselves for each firm stroke, my friends, and rest assured that one day we will rest, our feet firmly planted on solid ground.

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

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Extrovert (noun): An outgoing, overtly expressive person.

Introvert (noun): A shy, reticent person.

Extroverted introvert (noun): Me.

As someone who has always deemed herself an “extroverted introvert,” my life has never been necessarily “easy.” Working in emergency medical services (EMS), I have to talk to people — a lot of people — every day. Even when talking to people is the absolute last thing I want to do. And working for a small to medium sized hospital-based service makes it even tougher. The corporation I work for contains seven EMS services, four community hospitals, several doctors offices and thousands of employees. Yes, thousands, with a “S.” If you were to ask any of my coworkers, I think they’d use the words: responsible, Type A and outgoing to describe me. But the me they see and the me that I actually am can be two totally different people.

The me they see is the extrovert. The girl who fakes a smile, regardless of how she’s feeling. The girl who says “hello” to everyone as she walks through the halls of the hospital. The girl who comes in early, stays late and takes on everyone else’s problems as her own because she’s dying to make a difference and help in any way she can. They see the 20-something-year-old, goofy kid, whose goal in life is to make people feel good by making them laugh. That’s the me they see.

The me they don’t see is the introvert. The girl who is having a full-blown panic attack when talking to anyone new. The girl whose mind is asking her five million questions about the most random bullshit while you’re talking to her. The girl who is constantly worried that she’s not making a good impression, she’s not working hard enough, she’s not helping out enough, she’s not giving enough and that she’s just in no way, shape or form… enough.

At age 15, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I was on and off medications for years. Being so young, I just wanted to be “normal,” so keeping up with my daily medications was never my top priority. As an adult (I’m almost 30 now, ouch), I’ve definitely come to learn that one of my top priorities each day is to take my medicine. Not that the medication fixes everything. It is most definitely not a cure for everyone. But it helps. My anxiety and depression “spells,” as I not-so-lovingly like to refer to them, don’t hit often, but when they hit, they hit hard. And when I say hard, I mean like a freight train slamming into a concrete wall at full speed. These “spells” can be life-altering.

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Even when I’m in a “good place” and things are going well, the daily task to keep my anxiety at bay can be a daunting one, to say the least. I constantly worry that I’m doing something wrong. That I’m too much or that I’m too distant. That my anxiousness is flashing in big neon lights across my forehead. So when I’m in a “bad place,” it gets even worse. Getting out of bed seems like the most impossible task. Forget going to work, showering, doing laundry and general pickup around my apartment. The autonomic task of simply breathing is absolutely exhausting. My friends and family say things like “just stay positive,” “you don’t need to be alone right now, so why don’t you come over,” or “you can’t let this get you so down.” They love me and think they’re helping, but unfortunately, all of those little “cheer you up” sayings tend to just make things worse.

So, what do I need when these spells hit? I need you to not think that I’m “crazy.” I need you to be there but not be pushy – offer to hang out, but if I say “no,” don’t be hurt and let that be OK. Saying things like, “I’m here if you need me,” or in the case of my innocent and precious Southern Baptist grandmother, “I’m praying for you,” is OK. Those things are good and very much welcomed. But say it and then move on. If I want to talk about it, I will. But the chances are, I don’t want to. So, while I love and appreciate you for caring and for loving me, what I need and what you want in times like this are likely on complete opposite ends of the spectrum. Just because I back off for a bit doesn’t mean I’m backing off forever. It means that I need some time and space to process whatever bazillion things are going on in my head and heart at the time. Let that be OK. If you do, I swear that, in time, it will become easier for me to be honest with you about what I’m thinking and feeling.

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Unsplash photo via Vanessa Serpas


This piece was written by a Thought Catalog contributor.

It could be happening to anyone around you. Think of any of the people in your daily life. It could be a mother, a father, a brother, a sister, a friend, a co-worker — even someone I look up to as a role model. The scariest part about “high-functioning” anxiety and depression is it’s not something you can clearly see. Sometimes, even the people I am around all of the time don’t know I’m struggling because I’m able to cover this up and keep it hidden.

When I’re sick I can go to the doctor, get medicine and get better — all relatively quickly. Sure, there is medication for mental illness too, but it often isn’t as simple. Especially for a “high-functioning” person like me battling demons every day.

It’s not so easy to explain to people. It’s actually really friggin’ hard to try to explain to someone that I have anxiety and depression when I’m a high-functioning member of society who gets up every day and goes to work as well as maintaining many close social relationships. This part is really difficult for people to understand.

For most people, it’s almost impossible for them to understand how I could be struggling internally when on the outside, my life seems successful and filled with happiness.

1. It’s the feeling of having tons of friends, but some days just not wanting to see them.

How does one of the most social people of the friend group explain why they haven’t come to anything in days? How am I able to explain that some days the pain, depression and anxiety just drown me out and I can’t get myself to be around anyone?

2. It’s the feeling of being completely run down, even when I got countless hours of sleep.

You know that feeling when no matter how much sleep you get you will still be exhausted? Well, this comes and hits me out of nowhere. This comes on a random day, sucks the life out of me and makes it absolutely impossible to do anything except stay in bed.

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3. It’s the feeling of constantly thinking I’ve disappointed someone even when I’ve done nothing wrong.

Out of nowhere, I will feel someone is mad at me. The smallest negative gesture from one of my loved ones can send me into an overthinking spiral of chaos wondering what I could have done wrong, and why this person may be upset with me.

4. It’s the feeling of being terrified to let someone down, even on the days the pain is barricading me.

I am a people pleaser. I want to make everyone happier. Hell, I make plans and obligations so I have to show up. There is no way I can try and explain this kind of “not feeling well” and why I wasn’t able to make it. There are people relying on me.

5. It’s the constant self-criticism, overworking and feeling like nothing I do is enough.

No matter how hard I work, I feel I could do better. No matter what praise or compliments I am receiving, I just don’t see it that way. It doesn’t matter how successful I am, there is always someone doing better and I constantly need to push myself to that point — even when it exhausts me.

This story is brought to you by Thought Catalog and Quote Catalog.

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Thinkstock photo via MistakeAnn.


Driving to work this morning, I found myself crying big, ugly tears blasting P!nk’s song “What About Us” and singing along at the top of my lungs, intending every word to be a breakup anthem to my longtime partner, anxiety.

I have struggled with anxiety — the overwhelming perfectionism, the catastrophizing, the fear of rejection, the self-loathing — since early childhood, but didn’t have a name for it until a couple of years ago. Since then, I have been in and out of therapy, trying to understand that the traits I have long regarded as part of my personality are actually symptoms of a mental illness. It has been a difficult realization, and I still struggle to accept that things don’t always have to be this way. Getting rid of my anxiety doesn’t mean getting rid of me.

I identify strongly with the term “high-functioning.” To observe my life from the outside, it doesn’t look like anxiety has stopped me from doing anything. It hasn’t stopped me from landing the job I always wanted. It hasn’t stopped me from earning accolades as a straight-A student. It hasn’t stopped me from getting engaged to a man who loves me completely. It hasn’t stopped me from forging meaningful friendships with a group of wonderful people.

But it has robbed me of much of the pride and satisfaction that should come with these milestones, and left me teetering on the edge of destroying it all. It has replaced joy and fulfillment with worry, self-doubt and dread. It has reared its ugly head in frantic 3 a.m. emails to professors; and in days and weeks of being late to work because I can’t drag myself out of bed to face the day. In missed deadlines because I can’t start or finish a project for fear of failure. In nights spent sobbing to my ever-patient and supportive fiancé about how I’m not good enough and never will be.

P!nk’s song has helped me to finally boldly question my anxiety. To ask it, for me and all the other fighters out there battling mental illness, “What about us? Who do you think you are? And what good have you ever done for us?” As the song goes, “What about all the times you said you had the answers?” That voice in my head constantly telling me I’m not good enough, telling me I can’t do it, telling me my feelings are irrational and invalid — I can’t trust it like I have for years. That voice is not giving me the answers to my problems.

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So, anxiety, “What about all the broken happy ever afters?” Never has anxiety given me a fairy tale ending. Despite what it tries to tell me, anxiety isn’t the reason anything in my life has worked out. It’s not the part of me that has made me successful. I have succeeded in spite of this constant weight dragging me down, not because of it.

And for myself, I can finally admit that, “I don’t want control, I want to let go.” My anxiety makes me grasp for so much control in my life that I become, as another Mighty article so truthfully put it, a robot rather than a human. I push down my emotions and my needs and my whole self in pursuit of some “perfect” ideal that only thinks and says and does and feels the “right” thing, somehow finding the one “best” path through a world of nuanced gray areas.

I have a long way to go in my fight against anxiety, but at least I have a battle cry. When I lose sight of myself and start listening to anxiety and its lies, I can ask it, “What about me?” And when anxiety has no answer to that, no good reason that I should continue subjecting myself to its torture, I will silence it, if only for a moment, and step up to reclaim all that it has taken from me.

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Lead image via P!nk’s YouTube channel

 

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