For those who are lucky to not have to experience mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or an eating disorder, I consider you to be lucky. There are so many things that you may not know – or even understand what it’s like to have to deal with the effects of one.
I have anxiety. Having anxiety means overthinking everything – from the way that you said hello to someone, to how you worded that text message, or why the guy that you like isn’t texting you back – the thoughts circling around your mind like an endless drain. Having anxiety means having panic attacks – often over something small or nothing at all. Having anxiety means living in a constant state of worry, even though you may have nothing to worry about. Having anxiety is often being scared over things that seem small to the naked eye, and not being able to do something because of that fear. And that is only giving you the Reader’s Digest version of what is truly like to deal with anxiety.
With that being said, there are so many things that someone who doesn’t have anxiety may not get. For example, if they see someone on the street having a panic attack because they are about to go on a date with someone and they are afraid of what may happen, they may think that they are crazy or over reacting.
I can assure you that they are not. I can simply say that it’s their anxiety. And, no they are not overacting. They are not doing it to get attention. They are not saying that so you can drop whatever it is you are doing to get your attention and affection. And yes, they are doing the best they can to control it, but sometimes their very best isn’t enough.
They are saying that because their brain is telling them that there is a danger of some sort. They are feeling that way because the fear of doing whatever has taken over their body like a parasite, and sucked everything else out of them. They are doing that because they cannot help it, and if they could, do you really think that living their life in that constant state of mind?
I don’t think so.
And the same thing applies to those who have other mental illnesses, although I myself can not speak to what it’s like to deal with those on a daily basis. I can tell you this, though: every day, someone with a mental illness is doing the best that they can to float through daily life. And, you should understand that, and remind them that they are awesome, and give them a hug.
Having a mental illness – or even just going through a rough time – can be the most isolating thing on the planet. It is like you are in a downwards spiral, and have no way out of it.
With that being said, it’s hard to think that there will be an end to the suffering and the pain that you are dealing with. So, I’ve decided to provide a list of mantras for those who are going through a mental illness or a rough time to serve as reminders that you truly can get through it.
May is Mental Illness Awareness Month, and while it is great to have a whole month devoted to it, I think that every month should be. Anyways, I digress.
Mental illness has come a long way from being damning to being accepted. However, negative stigmas still exist. And, they need to not.
There are so many, myself included, that deal with the effects of a mental illness – whether it may be trauma, anxiety, bipolar disorder or depression. We struggle, and it’s much easier to throw in the towel instead of facing it. But, so many of us choose to be strong, and choose to say I’m broken, but I am not going to let it break me. And, with each passing day we get better. We repair the damage, bloom, and then we grow.
And, with all of us united as one, we too can end the stigma that comes with mental illness.
To all of those who are still struggling, please know that it is okay not to be okay. It is okay to say I need help and to accept it. It is okay to talk to a therapist, who will help you get you back on your feet again. It is okay to cry when you need to. It is also okay to talk about all of the things that are bothering you.
And, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Let’s use the month of May to educate ourselves and others about mental illness and what it is like to have one. Let’s change that stigma and talk about the issues that surround those who suffer with it day in and day out. Let us come together and bridge the gaps, so that no one is truly alone.
This will be the first post in a series throughout the month to spread awareness for mental illness, particularly anxiety. Stay tuned as we fight to #endthestigma
I am 22 years old, a college graduate, and I’ve never been drunk or set foot in a bar. At parties, instead of drinking the punch, my red solo cups are filled with ginger ale or water. And no, it’s not because I am super religious or super innocent. It’s not that I am judgmental or a prude. It’s because I have anxiety.
Anxiety and booze don’t mix. I know many people who have anxiety or depression and have used drugs or alcohol as a crutch to get through their rough time. According to an article from Healthline, anxiety can worsen symptoms, and those who have anxiety can develop a dependence on it.
I was diagnosed with anxiety officially a year and a half ago – however, I’ve been in therapy for the effects of chronic stress and anxiety for almost two years. And since then, I haven’t touched a drink.
It wasn’t much of a loss, because I wasn’t much of a drinker to begin with. However, when you’re the only one of your friends not getting a beer with dinner, why I don’t go out for drinks with the cute guy I matched with on Tinder, or the only one at the party who doesn’t take anything from the punchbowl, it can cause some to wonder why isn’t Natalie having a cocktail like the rest of us?
Not drinking was a choice that I had to make, and I believe that it was the right one for me to make. Anxiety has impacted my life in so many different ways, and this is one of them.
However, often with choices that are abnormal, there are people that do not respect them. I have had people say to me it’s only one drink, what’s the big deal? It’s important to me, and it’s my decision. Just like I respect that you are spending all of your time and money at the bar. Plus, by me not drinking, I can be your designated driver.
I don’t know if I will ever get a chance to drink more than the Seagrams I had right before being diagnosed with anxiety, and the champagne glass I shared with my ex-boyfriend to celebrate my 22nd birthday. Some days, I think I feel like I am ready to have a drink. Other days, I still feel like I am not there yet. One day, I will get there.
A few weeks ago, I left my therapist’s office for the last time. Leaving my therapist’s office, I had realized how everything had come full circle since I had first attended therapy about ten months ago.
It is safe to say that my 2016 was spent in a therapist’s office. I started going to therapy in February 2016 to find the cure for why I was a hot mess who cried at the drop of a hat, and why I was so stressed out.
What I got out of therapy was much more than that, thanks to my therapist Jessica. Going to therapy changed everything about me-who I was, who I am, how I approach the world and my perspective on it. I would like to think that Jessica was the catalyst of that change, however, I realized that I was the one who was doing all of the work.
Before going to Jessica, I had gone to my campus’ counseling center. For me, the experience was less than satisfactory. My therapist was nice and wanted to listen. However, it always felt that he had a game plan for me, one that was similar to a checklist with meditation and eventually anxiety medication. Those steps were the only steps. I had never had the desire to even attend my therapy appointments, because I had always felt that I was falling short of the steps that my therapist said. Little did I know, those were not the only options for curing anxiety?
When I met Jessica, what I liked about her was her approach to therapy. It was different. It was laid back, and she was approachable with an interesting take on everything. This was something that I really liked about her, because she was more interested in seeing what works for me, rather than a quick fix that was used on everyone.
Since going to Jessica, I began to notice a change in myself, and the way I perceived things. For example, I learned to take something that may not be the most fun, such as finals week, and insert a treat or something positive in to make it bearable. I learned to distract myself whenever I felt overwhelmed, whether it may be to take breaks when I feel overwhelmed, or to rub my hands in lotion to transport myself from the stressful office to something more positive.
Most importantly, I learned how to live with my anxiety, and become a normal human again who is truly happy. I thank Jessica for the ability to live without panic attacks, because I know not to let it get to that point in the first place. And for that, I thank Jessica every day.
It is safe to say that I am not the same person who I was when I first entered her office ten months ago. However, I am proud of the person I am now, as I am a strong person who was able to conquer her anxiety and learn to manage it.
And, I have Jessica to thank for that. Thank you Jessica for everything. You have no idea the impact our sessions had one me.
There is something that I want every single person out there who is reading this to know about my anxiety and about me: it does not make me fragile.
Anxiety causes me to be a bit more sensitive than a person who does not deal with anxiety symptoms, and the smallest of things can often turn into the biggest of deals. Sometimes, I have panic attacks. But, so what?
Just because I deal with (or I should say dealt with, as I am happy to announce that the majority of my symptoms have subsided, and I have not had a panic attack for the past five months) with anxiety does not make me weak or fragile.
In fact, I would like to argue that it has made me stronger. After all, I had just spent a year in therapy learning how to deal with them on my own, and investing time and energy into growing myself. I learned how to deal with it, to truly learn how to be strong, and maintain a positive outlook on life. I grew stronger and more independent, and I am pretty damn proud of this person that I have become.
And what did you do this past year?
Lets face it-having anxiety sucks. However, I learned to deal with the symptoms. Let me say this once and for all: not everything gives me anxiety, and it is not up to you to control my anxiety. My anxiety does not have to do with a lot of things that I deal with daily. I am not anxious writing this blog post. I am not anxious petting my dog, going to the store, buying a coffee, you get the picture. And, even if it did, it is not up to you to help me deal, although I appreciate the support. It is my problem, and I think that I do a pretty good job dealing with them.
That may be harsh, yes. However, whenever I tell someone that I have anxiety, I often feel that they treat me as if I were made out of glass and easily broken. And, that frustrates me. Just because I have some sort of mental illness does not mean that you have to treat me like I am a child and protect me. I can do that by myself, thank you very much.
So, the take home message here? Just because someone has anxiety (or any other mental illness for that matter), does not mean that they are weaker than you. It does not make them fragile. It makes them strong, and that is why they deserve to treated as every other damn human on the planet, with a bit more understanding of course of what they went through, because they went through hell to get to the point where they are at today. We are not the label that we possess-we are so much more than that. Be sure to remember that.
Being a significant other to someone with an anxiety, or any kind of mental illness for that matter, can be a daunting thing, especially if you have no experiences with the disorder. Anxiety can cause many different problems, especially in your point of view, you do not understand why your partner is freaking out about something small or a larger thing.
As a person who deals with anxiety, and has had relationships, I can tell you that it is not easy. In my experiences, my anxiety had become the third wheel in my relationships. While I was lucky to have a partner who wanted to understand, dating someone with anxiety can be tricky, and I hope this list becomes a resource of everyone who has a partner who has an anxiety disorder. While these tips pertain to people who have anxiety, these also pertain to all mental illnesses-from depression to eating disorders.
1. Communication is key. This is crucial in any kind of relationship, but this is especially crucial in a relationship with a person with anxiety. Ask them about what makes them anxious, ask them about what triggers a panic attack and talk to them about the things they can do to help make them feel better. The more talking you do, I think the better off you are.
However, with that being said, dating someone with anxiety can be overwhelming. If you feel like they are leaning on you too much, be sure to tell them (in a nice way, naturally). I am the first to admit it is not the easiest thing to date me because of my anxiety. With that being said, I also think that if my boyfriend should speak up if he is feeling like he is lost in my anxiety, because I feel like anxiety can consume the relationship as well. Therefore, if you are feeling like that, then please speak up.
2. Do not ever make them feel guilty or tell them how to feel. One of the worst things that anyone can do with someone who has anxiety is make them feel guilty for their anxiety, or tell them to stop feeling anxious over something so small. Whenever I hear that, I want to slap someone in the face, and say “if I could control it, don’t you think I would?” By saying that, you are shutting them out, and making them feel even worse then they already are. Instead of saying “stop being anxious,” replace the sentence with “I do not understand how you are feeling, however I would like to try to. Can you tell me what is going through your head?” This sentence is ten times better because not only are you opening up communications, but you are also making them feel like they can come to you for support, and not pushing them away.
3. Remember they are not just their anxiety. As I mentioned in my sermon, I am a lot more than my anxiety. That is something I want every guy I date to remember. Sure, I deal with this thing called anxiety. But, there is more to me than that. I am sure that every person out there who deals with any kind of mental illness can attest to that. Chances are, there is a reason why you are with that person, and attracted to them, whether it may be because of their sense of humor or the things you both have in common. Therefore, remember that their mental illness is not the whole part of them.
4. Come to a therapist appointment, if you want. In my last relationship, my ex-boyfriend attended a therapist appointment with me to further learn how to manage my anxiety, and become a support system.
While I do not think it is a necessary thing to do, I do think it is something that is beneficial for both communication factors and to help understand exactly the circumstances of your anxiety is. In addition to that, I think it is important for partners to do this, just because it can help create an honest communication with each other, and learn more about anxiety/whatever if not familiar with it.
5. Take care of you. Just because you are dating someone with anxiety, and needs constant support, does not mean that you have to give up everything just to be there for them. Going through a year’s worth of therapy helped me learn to manage my anxiety on my own. However, from time to time, I lean on the support of friends and family. Leaning too much in any relationship can lead down an unhealthy path.
What I want partners of anxiety patients to know is that they do not have to feel like they are on call consistently. As I could imagine (and hope for that matter), you have a life outside of your relationship, whether it is work, school, friends and family. Sometimes, if your partner is having a crisis, you just can not be there for them for whatever reason. And that is okay, and if your relationship is a healthy one, your partner understands that. You need to take care of you, which is something that is important. This includes making sure that you are getting your work done, making sure you do things that are fun for you and making sure you do things that make you happy.
However, I would also like to add that whenever you are able to talk to them, you should aspire to let them know that you are there for them to offer support when needed. That alone can mean the world to them.
6. Be patient and let them feel what they need to feel. Anxiety is often the combination of several thousand feelings at once pulsing through your brain. When I have a panic attack, I am hysterically crying, and feel like I just can not breathe from the weight of the anxiety. Panic attacks come from all sorts of triggers (which is important for you to learn about them), and as I mentioned earlier, some of them you might not understand. Being able to support them and be patient with them is a combination of traits that I think everyone who has a significant other with anxiety needs to have to make the relationship successful.
However, it is important for you to remain patient and let them feel that anxiety. The more you do this, the more comfortable and supported they feel. Speaking more you do not let yourself feel that anxiety, the more destructive it can be.
So while you do not understand why your significant other may be crying in a corner, remember to remain patient with them, hold their hand if you are able to and if you are not able to, just say that you care/love them, and will always be there for them.
I can speak from experience by saying anxiety is tough, and is especially tough to deal with in relationships. With that being said, constant communication and discussion can be your weapons in dealing with its craziness.
The following is the transcript from a sermon I delivered at Luther House Yale on Nov. 28, 2016. A special thank you to Rev. Kari Henkelmann Keyl for allowing me to come and speak about my experiences, as well as the advice to make it the best as I can. Also, thank you Paul for the feedback and advice to compose it, as well as my friends who came to support me and listen to me share my experiences.
A fun fact about me is I am a huge Elton John fan. What makes his music so legendary is the combination of beautiful piano accompaniment, along with poetic lyrics written by songwriting partner Bernie Taupin.
While I think all of the lyrics he pens have the power to stay with you, there is one lyric in particular that has always stayed with me, which are “I won’t break, I won’t bend, but someday soon we’ll sail away from innocence and the bitter end.”
The lyrics are from the song “Simple Life,” a song from 1992’s The One, and something that I always found to be inspiring and comforting while dealing with my anxiety symptoms.
I have dealt with anxiety for over a year now. While I was always the slight bit more anxious than the average person throughout my life, it had skyrocketed throughout my last two years at college. Between taking upper level classes and working two or three jobs along with online internships, I suddenly felt a crushing weight of anxiety, a reminder that I was stuck forever in a state of unhappiness.
Suddenly, my personality changed. I was crying constantly, just because I felt like I could not breathe from the weight of my ‘to-do’ lists. I had lost a ton of weight, just because my stomach was constantly tied up in nervous knots for me to eat. I was constantly on edge, and something as so small as a friend not calling me back at a certain time would lead to an argument.
I was heading down an unhealthy road, and I felt like I was powerless to stop it.
Of course, I tried to change things. I cut down my hours at one of my jobs. I became a slave to using a day by day planner in the attempts to stay organized. However, when those things didn’t work, I went to the counseling center on my campus. It was then I was formally diagnosed with anxiety.
Therapy, at first anyways, was never something that I made a priority. I would skip out on therapy as much as I could, because I was afraid that the people on my campus would judge me for seeking the help that I desperately needed. I would have a hard time scheduling a therapist appointment because I constantly had other things that needed to be done, so therapy ended up on the back of the list.
And, whenever I was in the therapist’s office, I often felt that I was on the road to failure. You see, my therapist had a specific game plan. If this did not work, try this, etc. And when all else failed, I would be given anxiety medications, something that scared me.
During this time of turmoil, my relationships had suffered as you can imagine.
However, the biggest relationship that suffered was the one that I share with God. I constantly questioned whether or not God loved me.
If he did, then why was I so anxious? Why was I constantly crying in a corner? Why couldn’t I gain control of my life? So, instead of turning to God, I turned against God.
Whenever something would go wrong in my life, I would blame God instead of asking for the strength that I needed to get through it.
Little did I know, in a strange way, God had actually given me the strength to get through it.
He gave me the strength to try a new therapist, who approached therapy in a different way, one that was more effective.
God gave me the desire to change my thoughts, to face things that I never wanted to face.
God had given me the motivation to get better, which was a year long process of self reflection, of changing how I would talk to myself, and finally learning how to say goodbye to things that were toxic to me.
God had given me the strength to figure out that writing in a journal, or listening to music is one way that I could stop a panic attack in its tracks.
So, in some way, shape or form, I guess you can say that I in fact got the strength that I desperately craved from God.
It just needed to start with me.
I wish I could sit here and tell you that I’m cured from all of my anxiety symptoms. I wish I could tell you that I beat anxiety, kicked its butt and never have to worry about it effecting it again.
That is not how anxiety works. Somedays, I have good days. Somedays, I have bad ones. And, at the end of the day, as long as I learn how to take care of myself when I need to, I think that is pretty good progress.
Anxiety will always be a part of me, although I would like to point out that it not the whole part of me.
I am a lot of things-a journalist, a classic rock affenicado, a friend, a daughter, a student, and a woman. However, I am not the panic attacks that I suffer from. I am not the anxious tears that I cry. I am not the anxious thoughts that I radiate from.
And, as I sit here tonight, I have a lot of things to thank God for.
I thank God for giving me the courage to deliver this sermon, because public speaking is something that scares the living crap out of me.
I thank God for all of my support systems cheering me on, such as my friends, my dog and family.
I thank God for getting me through four and a half years of undergraduate education, with three semesters on Dean’s List, being able to be in an English Honor society, and for the chance to take classes that helped shape me both as a journalist and a person.
I thank God for being able to have a therapist that truly cares about me, and points me to the right track.
I thank God for learning how to self care, and realizing that I am worth it.
I thank God for my ex-boyfriend, who despite all that went wrong between us, supported me through every panic attack I had, and helped encourage me to become stronger and to branch out to new experiences.
I thank God for my mother, for her countless sacrifices as a single parent, both personal and economical. Thank you God for teaching me to be strong like her. Thank you Mom for paying for my undergraduate education, so I can graduate debt free, for reading every mediocre article I have ever written, and being a pillar of support throughout my life.
But, most of all, I thank God for being able to say that it has been over four months since my last panic attack, and to be able to quote my favorite singer in saying “I’m still standing, better than I ever did, feeling like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid.”
For the past year, all I have been talking about and thinking about is my graduation. In my phone, there is a countdown to the big day, which is now only about a month away. Now, I am looking at that day with a sense of dread, because for the first time, I am realizing that I have no idea what I am doing next.
Every day, I send out countless applications to jobs. When I graduate, I lose both of my jobs that I hold on campus. My biggest fear, especially as of late, is that when I walk the stage on December 16, that there will be no job waiting for me on the other side. I have experience. I have a decent GPA, making Dean’s List three times in the last few semesters. I’ve worked hard, and I have over 1,000 clips to prove it. I know I sound like a whiny two year old, when I ask: what gives?
The thing about the future is that we do not know what it holds, therefore it produces anxiety. We worry about the worst, such as when we bring our car to the mechanic for an oil leak, and worry that it may be the end for the car. The question of what if this happens is something that continues to cloud my mind: what if I can not find a job? What if I can not pay my bills?
We have no control in the future, although we can do everything in our power to create a positive outcome, and that starts with a positive attitude. While it is good to be practical, it is also important to remember to be optimistic. It is like when the weatherman tells you during a hurricane-hope for the best, prepare for the worst.
And, at the end of the day, it is about all you can do to get to the future that you crave.
There are so many theories on how to live a happy and fulfilled life that it’s even a section at Barnes and Noble. However, I learned that it’s not as complicated as it seems. Here are some easy ways to incorporate mindfulness in your day to day life:
Make an upbeat playlist to play when you’re feeling down.
Whenever I’m having a bad day, I blast my “Upbeat, Feel Good Music” playlist on Spotify, which is filled with several songs that help me feel empowered and happy. Having that playlist helps me not only get out of my bad mood, but is extremely uplifting. For me, my playlist is filled with songs by Demi Lovato and Beyonce, but that song differs for everyone. The key is to have a playlist of music in tow to help you jam out for a while, and essentially just feel empowered.
I’ve kept a journal for the past four and a half years, and honestly, it is one of the most helpful things for me, both as a writer and as a person with anxiety. Recently, I’ve discovered it’s useful to help me reach a calmer sense of self. Whenever I have a panic attack, or even feel one coming on, I break out my pen and pad and begin to write until every emotion I am feeling exits my body, and is on the page. Even if you’re not a writer, I highly recommend you keeping a journal of some sort if you’re feeling stressed, because it’s helpful for you to reflect on yourself and what you’re feeling. Or, you can even use a journal to create a list of stuff that went right in your day. But, if you’re really stuck on how to start, check out this article by Journal to Wellness with some journaling tips for beginners.
Surround yourself with positive quotes.
I have a Pinterest board dedicated to this, and every so often, search for some new ones to use as my wallpaper so I can have some sort of affirmation whenever I’m having a bad day. Surrounding yourself with some positive quotes not only makes you feel empowered and inspired, it also helps make you feel more positive. And who doesn’t need a healthy dosage of positivity in your day to day life? Furthermore, you can also purchase notepads and mugs to further surround yourself with some good vibes.
Make time to do something that makes you happy everyday.
For me, it’s reading a book every morning with a cup of coffee. However, for you it can be something different, such as devoting time to do a craft, or something like that. By doing this, you are not only carving time out for yourself, but also finding time to do something that you enjoy. Chances are, even if you only get a few minutes each day, by doing this you are in a sense happy.
Check with yourself every now and then.
Stressful day? Be sure to check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling, and see what you need to do to take care of yourself. This can be simple as making sure you take some time to eat if you’re hungry, or even take a brief break while at work. It’s important to do this, because if you’re neglecting your own needs, chances are you’re only going to be adding to the stress.
Drink a lot of water.
According to this article from the Calm Clinic entitled “Can Anxiety Be Caused By Dehydration?” not drinking enough water can definitely worsen anxiety symptoms. Therefore, it’s important to stay hydrated through out the day. So, before you leave in the morning for a long day of school/work/both, be sure to make sure you packed a water bottle in your bag. Trust me, it’s helpful.
Create a “carrot” for you to get through the day/week/month.
Midterms/finals are stressful. However, instead of dwelling on the negative, which is only going to bring you down, think of something that you can treat yourself with, whether it may be a cupcake from your favorite place or a night out with friends. These carrots don’t have to necessarily be material things, however, simply by saying to yourself “all I have to get through is one more day, then I’m going to have a fun girl’s night,” will definitely help you be more optimistic.
When stressed, ask yourself what you need to focus right now.
When dealing with stress, ask yourself what you can do right now to help reach that goal. For example, if you’re stressed out about not being able to find a job after you graduate, be sure to take small steps to get there. This may mean getting your resume ready, or tackling a few applications a day. Therefore, by taking those small steps, you reach a larger goal, i.e. full time employment.