Monica Drake

@monica-drake | contributor
Monica's goal is to raise awareness about suicide and help erase the stigma associated with mental illness. In 2012, she won first place in News Enterprise Reporting by the Michigan Press Association for her series on suicide in the community, and in 2013, was named “Digital Innovator of the Year” by the Local Media Association. She started the blog Meant to Live to help others by sharing signs of depression, reasons to live, resources, suicide and bullying prevention groups, other people’s stories and memorials. She especially wants to show people that they are not alone.
Monica Drake

7 Tips to Protect Your Mental Health When Online Dating

The horror movie “Fresh” pretty much epitomizes how terrifying modern dating is. Without giving any spoilers about the rest of the movie, “Fresh” starts out with Noa, the main character, going on a Tinder date. After the guy criticizes the way she dresses and yanks the leftovers she paid for, he asks if they can do this again sometime, and she responds, “I don’t think we’re really a match.” He shoots back: “I was literally just being polite. You’re not even my type. Good luck finding a guy, you stuck-up b*tch.” Dating can really put your mental health and your self-esteem through the wringer. I remember one time, during my single years, I hung out with this guy every Tuesday for a month, and when I asked if we could hang out on a Saturday, he called me clingy and needy and stopped talking to me. And it made me question myself, wondering if I really was asking for too much, instead of realizing um… this guy is probably either married or has a designated girl for every day of the week and was mad when I challenged his system. I am thankful to now be in a healthy relationship  — with a man who actually wants to see me every day (it’s a miracle). It’s sad that, with all the bad dates I had been on previously, I used to think this kind of relationship was impossible. But, I recently endured from a cruel flashback to my dating life and a reminder of how hard the words and actions of people you just met can affect you. I went to the bar with a friend and after returning from the bathroom, she told me that a guy hit on her and told her she was “more attractive than her friend” (AKA me). And it shouldn’t have bothered me. Who cares what this stranger thought of me? But the fact that, in order to hit on my friend, he also had to diminish the way I look — it shattered my self-confidence and heightened my anxiety symptoms for days. Those with depression , anxiety disorders, and other mental health conditions are more likely to struggle with their self-confidence. And, when you already have low self-esteem, when just one person says anything negative about you or does anything negative to you, you often believe it because, well, that’s the way you feel about yourself. For those who are dating — especially in the age of online dating — you are in more situations than ever that can affect both your confidence and mental health (and this doesn’t even take into account the additional anxiety about your personal safety with each new person you meet, but that’s for another day and another blog post). The derogatory messages on dating apps. The ghosting. The games. The anxiety that comes from wondering, “Will they text me back?” And sometimes insults when things don’t work out. So, what are some ways you can stop thinking it’s a reflection of your own self-worth when someone objectifies you or tells you they’re not interested in you? 1. Remind yourself: Just because someone doesn’t find you attractive, doesn’t mean you’re not attractive. I know it’s easier said than done, but when someone doesn’t want to be with you, you need to stop thinking it’s because there’s something wrong with you. Because there’s not! It’s something that’s happened to the best of us and what you’re feeling right now, please just know you’re not alone. “Chemistry — the ‘spark’ or that feeling in your stomach you get when you’re around someone you think is attractive is a very subjective feeling not based on anything that makes logical sense,” writes Megan Boley, copywriter for the relationship blog  P.S. I Love You . “If someone you’re into turns you down because the sex wasn’t that good or because they just decided they aren’t attracted to you — you can’t take that personally … You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re still a stellar human being who’s interesting and beautiful and attractive, even if one person doesn’t think that you are.” 2. Realize that some people are just emotionally unavailable — and there’s nothing you can do about it. On dating apps, you will definitely find your fair share of people who don’t want anything more than “casual” or people who will consistently flake out on you. And you may think to yourself, “Well, I can change that! If they liked me enough, they would change!” Stop it! It’s not you. They would treat anybody they meet this way. “No matter how gorgeous or funny they are, if you get involved with someone who can’t consistently line up their actions with their words, you’re going to be miserable with them. So do your future self a favor and just say no to psychological stunted Romeos and emotionally immature Juliets,” writes psychologist and blogger Nick Wignall on  Medium . 3. And realize some people are just plain cruel. There are plenty of cowardly and just plain cruel people in the world (and if you’ve watched the movie “Fresh,” you’ll see multiple examples of this!). And, when you’re online dating, you are bound to find some of these people, and oftentimes people are even more cruel when hiding behind a computer. Just know you didn’t do anything to deserve the way you’re being treated. Washington Post staff writer Lisa Bonos recounted a time when she was waiting for a date to show up at the bar — and then realized that, not only was he not showing up, but instead of canceling like a minimally decent human, he had blocked her on the dating app so she couldn’t contact him. Stories like this are, unfortunately, not uncommon, and if something like this happens to you, instead of placing blame on yourself, thank your lucky stars they showed their true colors early on so you didn’t have to waste anymore time on them. Dating isn’t a one-way street; it’s about what you want, too. 4. Identify your feelings and let yourself grieve. It sucks when things end. And there shouldn’t be any timeline for that. I know people who have had a relationship end after four-plus years and they were relieved — but then had things end with someone else after only a couple dates and they were devastated. Let yourself feel how you feel because often when you try to force yourself to stop, it only makes it worse. So take that time to cry while watching breakup movies and eating chocolate. When you identify how you’re feeling and realize your feelings are valid, then you’re giving yourself that time to mourn and then move on. 5. Know your own power when it comes to dating, too. When you struggle with your self-esteem, you may be unconsciously giving all the power to the other person. You may be overlooking the things that just aren’t right because you want to feel wanted by another person. You may feel like you’re the one being rejected all the time, but you need to realize your own self-worth. If you don’t feel that “spark” or you’re not being treated the way you deserve, take your power back and you end things. Dating isn’t a one-way street; it’s about what you want, too. 6. Connect with friends. As they say in “Sex and the City,” “Maybe our girlfriends are our soulmates and guys are just people to have fun with.” Remember to regularly meet up with friends when you’re dating — because having those people you can rant to about the latest date-gone-wrong and having your friends remind you of your worth and how much they love you, it really is a lifesaver. Right after my last breakup, my friend came over to my apartment within 30 minutes after my ex left, and we drank wine, talked crap, and watched the movie “John Dies at the End” (because, well, I wanted to watch anything but a romance flick). And that was definitely the kind of therapy I needed right then. 7. If you’re feeling a strain from dating, take a break. I took a dating hiatus for several months at the end of 2016 after dating pretty consistently for more than two years. I was emotionally exhausted and didn’t want to get to know anyone else just to have it end and start all over again. Just like occasional breaks from social media, I think breaks from dating are also necessary for your mental health and to make time to focus on yourself and your own needs. Spend the time you would have spent dating on a new hobby, going to the gym, traveling, taking some classes, getting an extra part-time job to get that moola, etc. Also, have you ever heard the saying, “Good things come when you least expect it?” For me, during that break from dating, I actually ended up finding my current boyfriend, who I’ve been in a relationship with for the last five years. He kept in contact with me for six months, even though I kept avoiding him whenever he asked me out on a date because I figured, “What’s the point? It’s not like it’s going to work out anyway.” But because I took that break from dating, it opened my eyes to the fact that there was a good, stable man out there who liked me enough that he was willing to wait six months for me to be ready to date again. I’m not saying this should be your reason for taking a break from dating but, hey, you never know what can happen. Your break could reveal to you the people who are actually worth it. For more ideas on things to do instead of dating, read this article on  Thought Catalog .

Monica Drake

Read This If You're Scared of Having Children Due to Mental Illness

When many people imagine their futures, “having a baby” is one of the top things on their lists of what they want to do in life. But, for people with a mental illness , “to have a baby or not to have a baby, that is the question” isn’t such an easy decision to make. For me, my anxiety has definitely made me doubt if I ever want to have children because: 1. I’m scared of passing my anxiety on to anyone else. 2. I’m scared of going without my anxiety meds for nine months. 3. I’m scared that, because of my propensity toward depression , that I’ll experience postpartum depression after the baby is born. 4. When even the most menial things can make me anxious, I’m scared how raising a living human being will affect my anxiety. During season four of “This Is Us,” the character Randall found out his daughter inherited his panic attacks . He said, “When you and I had kids, I couldn’t wait to see what they got from me … Having anxiety and panic attacks is the thing about myself that I like the least.” And, when he said that, I just started crying. Because, wow, I felt that deep in my bones. If you have these same fears as me, below are some options and answers to the questions and worries you may have — things to consider before you decide to either start trying to have a baby or swear off pregnancy altogether: 1. Know that you’re not just your mental illness — and your child won’t be either. No matter whether you have a mental illness or not, your child won’t be “perfect,” just like you’re not “perfect” because that’s what being human means. I personally wouldn’t want to live in a world where you can make a designer baby, picking out the exact traits you want it to have. That’s creepy. And, oftentimes, it’s humans’ imperfections that are my favorite parts of them. So, yes, your baby may inherit your mental illness, or they may not. Your baby may inherit your migraine episodes or your diabetes or the gap in your teeth or your acne or anything else you may not like about yourself. But your baby will also inherit your many amazing traits, too. That’s the chance all parents take — not knowing how their baby will turn out. But it’s a chance millions of people are willing to take, and I bet they’ll tell you it was all worth it. You’re not just your mental illness; there’s so much more to you, so many traits that any child would be lucky to have. 2. There are medication options while pregnant. While you may not be able to take some of your usual meds, there is still treatment available while pregnant. Discuss your options with your therapist, physician and OB-GYN. According to the  CDC , 9 out of 10 women take medicine during pregnancy and, in some cases, stopping a medication can be more harmful than continuing to take it. You can visit  Mayo Clinic’s website  for a list of some antidepressants safe to take while pregnant. Most studies show that many SSRIs aren’t associated with birth defects, and those which are associated with birth defects still represent a very low risk. 3. You can prepare for postpartum depression before you give birth. Just because you have a mental illness doesn’t mean you’ll experience postpartum depression, although it may put you at a higher risk. But, if you know there’s a possibility, then you can prepare for it.  Healthline  writer Hattie Gladwell, who has bipolar disorder , said: “Learning more about the condition before I’m diagnosed with it — if I’m diagnosed with it — means that I have time to come to terms with it. … I feel if I had experienced it without warning, I may have been in denial, worried that if I opened up about what I was experiencing, I’d be seen as a bad mother or a risk to my child. But knowing that postpartum depression affects between 13 and 19 percent of mothers helps me realize that this isn’t true. That I’m not alone. That other people go through it too and they’re not bad mothers.” 4. Adopt. I am a big proponent of adoption. If you don’t want to bring a child into the world or you can’t have a baby of your own, there are so many children out there who already exist who are in need of a family to love and care for them. For adoption resources, visit  childwelfare.gov . 5. Don’t have children. Of course, there’s always the option to not have kids. Having a child isn’t the end-all-be-all. It’s not something you should do because “all my friends are doing it.” It’s a decision you need to make for yourself. Humans have so much more purpose than just to procreate. Stop listening to your family members who keep pestering you, asking, “When are you having babies?” It’s none of their business! You can live a great, fulfilling, world-changing life without having any children.

Monica Drake

Depression in Older Adults: Signs, Risk Factors, Treatment

Two months ago, I started working for a health insurance company. One of my recent (and most time consuming) tasks has been to read through all of the comment cards submitted to our Medicare magazine. One of the questions on the card was “What health topics would you like to read about?” Looking through the cards, one of the most common answers was “Depression and mental illness in older adults.” I talk a lot about mental illness and suicide in teenagers and young adults. But, the truth is, suicide rates increase during the life course, according to the US National Library of Medicine, and depression is often underdiagnosed and undertreated in adults age 65 or older. Some risk factors for depression in older adults include: History of depression Chronic or severe pain Vascular illness Being a widow/having someone you love die Lack of a supportive social network Living alone Reduced independence Damage to body image Fear of death Side effects of meds It’s true what actress Bette Davis once said: “Getting old ain’t for sissies.” Aging isn’t easy. It’s rough. Obviously, the older you are, the more you have gone through in your life — the joyous, the tragic and everything in-between. And the older you are, the more wear and tear that’s been put on your body (I feel my age every time I wake up in the morning after a night of drinking. And then I think to myself, “You’re not 21 anymore!”). So, if depression is more likely as we get older, then why is depression underdiagnosed in this demographic? Twenty-five percent of seniors experience some form of mental illness, according to the National Council on Aging, yet two-thirds do not receive the treatment they need. One reason is because the baby boomer generation is less likely to believe they need mental health care and so they are less likely to bring it up. “Older people grew up in an era when talking about a psychiatric issue was certainly frowned upon, so there may be a generational issue,” Dr. Philip R. Muskin, psychiatry professor at Columbia University Medical Center, told U.S. News. During the years following WWII, learning disabilities, autism, ADHD, anorexia, etc. just weren’t talked about or diagnosed. Just in the last decade or so, we’ve made great strides in raising awareness and changing the conversation surrounding mental health. Sure, you may make fun of us millennials for a lot of things. But, you have to admit, there is one thing we do right. We’re much more likely to seek help if we have a mental illness – because we’ve received a lot more social support than those in previous generations. Another reason why depression is underdiagnosed in seniors is because the signs of depression may be misinterpreted. Difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, lack of concentration and forgetfulness are all signs of depression. But these signs could also be mistaken for other health conditions. Dr. Muskin admitted to U.S. News, “If a young person is not sleeping, has no appetite, no energy, the first thing I think of is depression. An 85-year-old with those same things, depression is not going to be high on my list. … Too often, changes in mood, interest, activity level and personality are incorrectly attributed to aging, and the possibility of a mental illness is not considered.” So, knowing this, what do you do if you’re over 65 and think you’re depressed? 1. Realize that depression is not a normal part of aging! If, for the last two weeks or more, you have been feeling constantly sad, lost interest in things you once enjoyed, are having trouble sleeping, have changes in appetite, and/or have thoughts of suicide, you may think, “Oh, this is just happening because I’m getting older.” No! These things are not normal, and you shouldn’t be feeling this way! 2. Recognize that depression is a disease like any other. If you felt a sharp pain in your chest, you would go to the doctor. If you felt a lump on your body, you would go to the doctor. If you feel symptoms of depression, you should go to the doctor! Depression is an illness that you can’t control. It’s not your fault, it’s not a weakness and treatment is available that can help you feel better. 3. Know the symptoms. Symptoms of depression in older adults may be different than the symptoms in younger people. You may think, because you don’t feel sad, that means you aren’t depressed, right? According to helpguide.org, many depressed seniors say they don’t feel sad at all. Depression doesn’t just mean being sad. You may have other symptoms, such as low motivation, lack of energy, unexplained aches, neglecting self-care and memory problems. 4. Make an appointment to see your doctor. With a physical exam and/or a lab test, a doctor can determine if the symptoms of depression are caused by a physical medical condition or are a side effect of medication. If the depression cannot be attributed to a physical cause, then the next step is a psychological evaluation. According to the National Institute on Aging, “Treatment choices differ for each person, and sometimes multiple treatments must be tried to find one that works. It is important to keep trying until you find something that works for you. … With treatment, most people will begin to feel better. Expect your mood to improve slowly. Feeling better takes time, but it can happen.”

Community Voices

Why I talk about my mental health on social media

Last week, I went to see a therapist for the first time in years. For those of you who are my friends on Facebook, you already know this — because I’m weird and, when some people post perfect selfies or cute pictures with their boyfriend or baby/pet photos, I post —  for almost 2,000 FB friends to see —  about how I went to see a therapist. Next thing you know, I’ll probably be the only person who actually “checks-in” online when I go to see my therapist.

The thing is, people usually post about the perfect things in their lives and their retouched photos (guilty as charged for editing out a pimple on my chin that makes me look like the wicked witch or obsessing over the perfect Instagram filter).

But very rarely do people post about the “real,” everyday things. We share a very select version of our lives. We want people to congratulate us on our new job or engagement or baby. We want to show off our good hair day or brag about being on vacation or post mushy stuff about our relationship that will probably make our friends gag a little.

But, did you know findings suggest that depressive symptoms and social media sites are linked? Because, as suggested in the 1950s by psychologist Leon Festinger, humans have the innate tendency to determine their self-worth by comparing their lives to others. And, today, with social media, this is even more true. As we scroll through Facebook, Instagram, and other social media sites, we are comparing ourselves to others almost constantly.

According to an article in www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/04/ways-to-use-faceb..., “Research has found that making social comparisons, especially ‘upward’ comparisons (to people we deem above us, to whom we feel inferior, for whatever reason) are associated with negative health outcomes like depressive symptoms and decreased self-esteem. Because Facebook tends to serve as an onslaught of idealized existences—babies, engagement rings, graduations, new jobs—it invites upward social comparison at a rate that can make ‘real life’ feel like a modesty festival.”

That’s why, while there is nothing wrong with posting the “good things” on Facebook, I try to post the real things too. Like the fact that I started going to a therapist. Like the fact that I recently found out that, what I thought was just a bad case of #Anxiety, is actually #Depression. Because that’s the kind of stuff that matters. That’s what shows people, “You may be scrolling through Facebook and everybody seems so happy and you think you’re the only one who’s not. But you’re not alone. And it’s okay to not be okay. It’s okay to seek help.”

While it feels nice to be complimented when I post a picture of my good hair day, it means even more when someone tells me, “I read your Facebook post and, you sharing that you went to see a therapist — it gave me the courage to seek help too.

Monica Drake

Burger King Creates 'Real Meals' for Mental Health Awareness

I worked at McDonald’s the summer after high school and the first couple years of college. The over-sized red button down shirt with a grease stain down the front. Getting multiple blister burns on my hands from the hash browns and french fries. Working on Saturday nights. Disgruntled customers degrading us employees. And especially, dating a co-worker and then still working with him after we broke up. Yup, that job was definitely not a “happy” one. And, even while eating a “Happy Meal” during my lunch break, it didn’t increase my joy (it did increase the size of my waistline though). OK, OK I’m not dissing Mickey D’s. I love me a McGriddle or a breakfast burrito in the morning. But calling it a “Happy Meal” — are we really that happy while eating it? (I mean, maybe if you’re a kid excited for the plastic super hero or My Little Pony toy inside.) Recognizing that sometimes we’re just not happy, Burger King has decided to create “ Real Meals ” for Mental Health Awareness Month. Poking fun at McDonald’s “Happy Meals,” Burger King is now offering meals symbolizing all of your moods — the Pissed Meal, Yaaas Meal, DGAF (Don’t Give A F**k) Meal, Salty Meal and Blue Meal. The tagline to Burger King’s mental health awareness campaign is, “It’s OK to #FeelYourWay.” In their new commercial, it opens with a man, sitting on a bed with his head down, saying, “Not everybody wakes up happy. Sometimes you feel sad, scared, crappy. All I ask is that you let me feel my way.” The video address topics like bullying , teen pregnancy, depression , student debt and being ghosted. The text on the screen at the end reads, “No one is happy all the time. And that’s OK.” Watching the video, I got a little bit emotional, and that’s definitely a first for a fast food commercial to make me feel like that. The meals, which include a Whopper, fries and a drink, are currently available in Austin, Seattle, Miami, Los Angeles and New York City. (Please, Burger King, bring them to my home city of Detroit!!) According to a press release by Burger King , “A natural extension of encouraging people to ‘be their way’ is encouraging them to ‘feel their way.’… With the pervasive nature of social media, there is so much pressure to appear happy and perfect. With Real Meals, the Burger King brand celebrates being yourself and feeling however you want to feel.” I applaud you, Burger King, for using your platform to raise awareness of such an important cause, to use your advertising to show your customers that they’re not alone, and for recognizing that it’s OK not to be OK .

Monica Drake

What Lucy Hale Taught Me About Self-Care

So, I kind of feel like I know actress Lucy Hale now, even though I met her for a grand total of 10 seconds in March. I went to the South by Southwest Conference in Austin, Texas for work and, one of the nights, I attended an after party hosted by Bumble. And then I noticed her — standing in line at the bar. Yeah, I know, I know, she was minding her own business, just wanting her drink. And, of course, I had to be the one obnoxious girl who went over, tapped her on the shoulder and asked for a picture. But… I digress. This story has a point, I promise. So… since I posted a picture with her on my Instagram and since social media creepily pays attention to everything we do, Instagram now highlights her stuff under the “Things you may like” section of my feed. And one of her posts that recently popped up was particularly inspiring. Last month, Lucy, who currently stars in the CW show “Life Sentence,” went on a trip by herself to Arizona. She wrote  on her Instagram , “I spent my days hiking, meditating, and spending time with myself. I’ve never done this before because I used to feel that putting myself first was selfish. It’s not. Not only is it healthy, but it’s necessary so that you can be the best for everyone else around you.” “This trip was a beautiful reminder that my health and happiness are crucial to the life I want to live and in order to be the best for my career and my loved ones, it’s necessary to do really nice things for yourself. SO, I highly recommend treating your mind, body and spirit right (and taking a solo getaway).” First of all, kudos to Lucy for taking time away by herself! The only time I’ve ever traveled by myself has been for work, and that’s been nerve-wracking enough. Many of us don’t spend an adequate amount of time with ourselves — actually enjoying our own company. Many of us are scared to be alone. And many of us spend so much time constantly being busy and constantly being around other people that we hardly even know ourselves at all. That’s one thing I’ve realized about myself lately. One of the triggers for my depression, I think, is the fact that I don’t let myself process my feelings. Most days are spent either going out for drinks with friends, working late or going to bed early — because I’m scared to be alone and actually spend quality time with just me. And, in doing so, I feel like I’ve lost some of myself. I’ve spent so much time trying to be what other people expect me to be or trying to make others happy that I don’t even know who I am or what I actually want anymore. You are the only person in your life who, no matter what, will always be there. Yet, many times, our relationships with ourselves is put on the back burner. It shouldn’t be like that. Like Lucy said, giving yourself “me” time isn’t selfish. Instead, it’s necessary for your health. Whether it’s going on a solo trip or spending time meditating in the middle of the living room floor, I vow to take more time for myself and actually learn how to enjoy my own company. I vow to stop pouring from an empty cup and, instead, allow myself to be replenished.

Monica Drake

Why Panic Attacks Aren't the Same as Panicking

Within the last few weeks, my 8-month-old cat, Finn, has developed a newfound fascination with what’s on the other side of my apartment door. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat, but it did leave the cat in the hallway of my apartment complex, alone, for about seven hours. Last night when I got home, I opened my apartment door and Finn kept trying to dart out. I pushed him back but, apparently, as I was closing the door behind me, he must’ve run out between my legs or something. I went to bed oblivious, and when I woke up this morning, Finn was nowhere to be found. I brought out the cat treats — a surefire way to get him to come out of hiding. Nothing. I looked in all the cabinets, under the bed, in the closets and even in the refrigerator (just in case). Nowhere. And then I heard his little squeak and the sound of him clawing the doormat. He had spent the entire night in the hallway by himself. I felt horrible about it and that I didn’t notice until that morning. When I told my boyfriend what happened, he asked, “Did you have a panic attack?” And I responded, “I panicked, but I didn’t have a panic attack.” And it made me think. There’s something very different about feeling anxious about a stressful situation, something that happens to everyone, and having anxiety or panic disorder. When I was looking for Finn, yeah, I was nervous about what had happened to him. But my brain was on high alert as I searched for him. I have an  anxiety  disorder, but when I go through an actual stressful event, I react like everyone else — sometimes even better. I’m actually less anxious during stressful events than I am during a panic attack. When I worked at the newspaper, something stressful could happen on a daily basis. Picking up the phone to someone screaming at me. Having to call a parent whose child just died. These things would make anyone anxious. But for me, the girl who actually has panic attacks, I was fine in these situations. At my job now, when I have a last-minute project due or when I have four different managers asking me to do four different things or when I barely even have time to eat lunch, that’s when I thrive. The difference between being anxious and having anxiety disorder — for me at least — is that my panic attacks stem from something that wouldn’t make a normal person anxious. I will panic when I’m bored at work. I will panic when I’m home alone, lying on the couch. I will panic when I’m checking Facebook or text messaging a friend. I will panic when I’m talking to someone and I misinterpret their tone of voice. When I’m having a panic attack, I can’t think. I can barely move. My breathing is labored, my chest hurts, and I’m pretty much incapacitated to the world. And many times, there’s no logical reason for feeling this way. That makes it even scarier. I’d rather know I’m feeling anxious because I can’t find my cat, than feel anxious and have no idea why. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via Stockbyte.

Monica Drake

What It's Like to Fall in Love When You Have Anxiety

If there’s one thing that triggers my anxiety, it’s love. I’m not afraid of spiders or snakes or heights or small spaces. It’s love that I’m afraid of. In the last decade, I’ve gotten my anxiety under control with the help of a psychiatrist, medicine and the support of my family and friends. In high school and the beginning of college, I was having panic attacks almost every day. Now I have them once a month or less. I have become an independent person with a good job and my own apartment. I no longer get anxious when talking on the phone, approaching strangers or public speaking. With treatment, I’ve become the person I am, instead of the person that anxiety made me. But, when I’m falling in love, I revert back to being an anxious, awkward, self-conscious teenager who says, “I’m sorry,” way too much and has panic attacks on a daily or weekly basis. I’m great at dating. First dates — those are my jam. I’m confident, I ask questions, I have plenty of funny stories to tell, and, afterward, I’ll wait just the right amount of time to text you back or call you. But, now, for the first time since my first love, I care about and trust someone enough to be in a full-fledged, exclusive, meet-each-other’s-parents, exchanging-keys kind of relationship. Yet he may as well be the creepy clown from Stephen King’s “It,” ready to devour me, because, to be honest, I am terrified. Many men hold a stereotype against their girlfriends — that we’re nit-picky and needy and jealous and indecisive and that we say “I’m OK,” when we’re not actually OK. This is an unfair generalization and, most of the time, it’s not true for me. But, when I’m falling in love, my anxiety turns me into this exact stereotype. Because there’s nothing worse for someone with anxiety than uncertainty. And there’s nothing more uncertain than falling in love. If you let yourself fall, will someone be at the bottom to catch you or will your heart just splat on the ground below? While many people can just go on with life and hope for the best, I am not one of those people. I’ll panic over something stupid like a delayed text message response or a “Morning!” instead of a “Good Morning!” One time, I called my boyfriend and it went straight to voicemail. I immediately thought he blocked my phone number instead of thinking like a “normal” person — that his phone died. Any little thing will make me think, “Oh my God. He’s breaking up with me.” But, to my boyfriend, I want you to know that it’s not you. It’s the lies that my brain tells me when I’m in a relationship. You’ll say something perfectly innocent, romantic even, and my brain will decide to dig up, from the very back files of my memory, that time some guy who turned out to be an asshole said those same words. And, just like that, to no fault of yours, my anxiety will rear its ugly head and whisper in my ear, “He’s going to do the same thing that guy did to you. Just wait and see.” You’ll say a sarcastic comment that I know is meant to be a joke, and I hate being that girl who gets offended because my last boyfriend said that same thing but, unlike you, he was criticizing me and he was serious. Or you’ll call me out of the blue, and I’ll remember my first boyfriend who, with no warning, called me during my five minutes between classes to break up with me. And you don’t deserve that. You’re the most sincere man I’ve ever met, and you don’t deserve to be compared to past experiences. Yet, still, when my heart is racing and I can’t breathe and I feel like I’m going to hurl because I’m having a panic attack, those are the thoughts that run through my head. I recently watched the movie “The Girl in the Book” on Netflix and there was one line that resonated me — “I start wondering, ‘What’s wrong with this guy? Why can’t he do better?” Sure, there are many times, between us, that are perfect. But, when I’m having a panic attack, all I can think is, “What’s wrong with this guy that he would want to be with me?” And I know there’s nothing wrong with you. The reason I’m thinking that is because, when I’m having a panic attack, I think there’s something wrong with me. When I’m having a panic attack, I despise everything about myself and all I need is to be reassured that you do care and that everything will be OK. I know it can be exhausting when I text you, multiple times, “Why do you like me?” or “Do you even care about me?” or “Do you wish you were with someone else?” But I can promise you, when I’m not dealing with my anxiety, I’m a pretty great girlfriend. So, thank you for not defining me by it. Thank you for letting me cry for no reason and thank you, especially, for never once calling me “crazy.” We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via Radiomoscow

Monica Drake

How Chris Cornell's Suicide Impacted His Fans

Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts or have lost someone to suicide, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. My boyfriend worked late on a Wednesday night, so he passed on the chance to go to Soundgarden’s show at Fox Theatre in Detroit. There’s no way he could have known that this would be their last ever show with lead vocalist and guitarist Chris Cornell. “If I knew that was his last show, I would have shelled out hundreds of dollars for the tickets,” my boyfriend told me. “I’ll miss the way he used to write and create. I’ve never heard another band that I’ve felt so deeply about as the bands he’s been in.” But the thing is, Wednesday night shouldn’t have been Cornell’s last show. He should’ve been playing into his 70s like Mick Jagger. Instead, after the show was over, Cornell, 53, died by suicide. As I listen to “Black Hole Sun,” I wish Cornell felt like he had something to live for — a feeling his music gave to so many others. Sarah Wojcik, a reporter at  C & G Newspapers , said that Cornell’s music made her feel like she wasn’t alone during some of the loneliest and most depressed times of her life. “So many people are so sad about it. He died hours after a sold out show in his self-professed favorite city,” she said. “The crowd adored him. I wonder if he had already made up his mind to do it and wanted to go out on a high note. Just so many questions. I wish he would’ve kept living because he was so brilliant and talented. He had a family and young kids. He had so many people that loved him.” Michael Grosvenor of Union Lake, Mich. saw Cornell live three times in three bands — Soundgarden, Audioslave and Temple of The Dog. He most recently saw him with Temple of The Dog just six months ago at The Forum in California. “Having been a fan for 20 to 25 years, this news was terrible to wake up to, and I’m still a complete shock,” he said. “He was the most versatile vocalist in rock music, bar none.” Cornell’s wife Vicky Cornell told  TMZ  that there were no signs at all that her husband was suicidal or depressed. The only sign Cornell gave was during the last song he performed, where he reportedly sang the lyrics to Led Zeppelin’s “In My Time of Dying.” William Cyprian, saxophonist in the band  Motor City Groove,  said, “I want to say that we as musicians, but also as people, must look out for one another.” “Though the signs may not be apparent, we have to do what we can to check up and love each other. A simple ‘Hey, Just checking up on you’ could mean the world to someone going through things they can’t talk about. Maybe this applies, maybe it doesn’t, but it is something to think about.” Like Cornell’s death, many times  suicide  is not preceded by warning signs. Annmarie Dadoly, former editor of Harvard Health, wrote, “Many suicides (estimates range from 30 percent to 80 percent) are impulsive, with just minutes or an hour elapsing between the time a person decides upon suicide and when he or she [acts].” There’s no way anyone could have known that this was going on in Cornell’s mind. It’s no one’s fault. But I wish that he would’ve given someone the chance to stop him. I wish Wednesday night was not the last time Cornell sang a note, played a guitar or talked to his wife on the phone. I wish there was more. Caitlin Renton, an Oakland University grad, told me, “When someone seems like they should be on top of the world — great career, family, etc. — you never know what they’re really going through.” “This is exactly why it’s so important to pay close attention to your friends and family no matter how busy life gets. Talk to them, ask questions and make sure they know you care.” 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 . We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo via Chris Cornell Facebook page

Monica Drake

When My Cat Was Diagnosed With Anxiety, I Learned Something Important

A veterinarian told me recently my cat has anxiety. And I had to laugh to myself. Of course me, of all people, would get a cat with an anxiety disorder. My Calico cat, Katniss, has wounds or “hot spots” on her stomach from excessive licking, which my veterinarian told me is a sign of feline stress. She was given a steroid shot, which cured the hot spots for a few months. Now, within the last week, she’s back to licking off the fur on her stomach. Now, medication is the next step. Just like her mama, my cat is going to have to start taking anxiety medication. Katniss is more than just a pet to me. She’s family. And, now, looking back on it, I think her anxiety is what made us “click” in the first place. I will always remember when I first met her. I wasn’t planning on getting a cat. I was just tagging along with a friend who was thinking about adopting a dog. While at the shelter, I went to the adult cat room and sat down in the middle of the floor. Katniss was the first cat to come up to me and sit on my lap. And my jealous kitty would swat at any other cat who came near me. It was love at first sight. While I sat there petting Katniss, volunteers came into the room, in awe. They told me Katniss (named “Little Miss” at the time) had been at the shelter longer than any of the other cats there and had never come up to a person before. She had never walked around with her tail held high, the sign of a relaxed cat. Yet she did that with me from the beginning. The volunteers told me most of the time, Katniss hid in a corner by herself, not even interacting with the other cats. She came to the shelter after someone threw her out of their car and she was lost in the woods behind the shelter for a week. And of course, an experience like that changed her. I knew right then I had to adopt Katniss. And yes, she has a funny personality. When it’s just the two of us, she’s the friendliest cat in the world. She sits on my lap, rubs her face against mine, cuddles up to me at night and is always playing or jumping around the apartment. Yet as soon as someone else comes over — even just buzzes up to my apartment or knocks on the door — she immediately hides under the bed for hours until the person leaves. My cat has social anxiety. She has nervous ticks. When she’s in uncomfortable situations, her body shakes and she meows in a high pitch whine. She’s like a human with an anxiety disorder. Before, I never knew this was possible. I didn’t know animals could have mental health difficulties. But it makes sense. There are many diseases both cats and humans can have — leukemia, cancer, diabetes, immunodeficiency and upper respiratory infections, to name a few. So why not mental illnesses? For instance, a pet can have depression after a major change in its life or a distressing event. According to Pet Care RX , symptoms of depression in dogs are becoming withdrawn, low activity levels, loss of interest in the things they once enjoyed and a change in their eating and/or sleeping habits. And, as my cat Katniss proves, pets can also have anxiety. There are people in this world who still don’t believe mental illnesses are actual illnesses. They think you can just “get over it” or think “it’s in your head” or “you’re just seeking attention.” But, to me, the fact animals can have mental illnesses too proves, even more, they are real. Dogs are innately happy and cats are usually carefree. Do you think our pets actually choose to be depressed? Do you think they’re thinking, “If I just lay here and sleep all day” or “If I lick myself raw then my owner will pay attention to me?” Or do you think they just don’t have the willpower to just “get over it?” No, I don’t think so. Because, just like anyone else who has a mental illness, it’s not a choice. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Photo via contributor.