When Anxiety Rears Its Ugly Head

When Anxiety Rears Its Ugly Head

My anxiety is like a monster from under my bed, but it’s with me all the time, always lurking in the back of my mind.
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You remember the monster from under your bed from when you were a child? The one that you were so sure was there but whenever your parents would look it suddenly disappeared? And as soon as they walked away, it was back to taunt you and keep you awake for seemingly all night with fear.

Now I know that monsters aren’t real in the physical sense, but let me tell you, living with anxiety really feels like you’re being haunted.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “Kylie, quit being so dramatic, we all get a little worried sometimes.” But that’s not what I’m talking about.

We throw the word anxiety around so much that it’s beginning to lose all meaning. I’d go so far as to say that stress is glorified in today’s world.

But you’ll never catch anyone with an anxiety disorder bragging about how worried they are, and how much they have on their plate. And let me tell you why.

My anxiety is my biggest bully. It’s the monster from under my bed, but it’s with me all the time—always lurking in the back of my mind.

It whispers in my ear, a constant nagging that never goes away.

It’s not that I can’t handle criticism, it’s that I’m the first and the only one to put myself down.

It turns me against myself.

It tells me you hate me.

That for some reason I’ve done something to annoy you. That I’m an annoying person.

That you’ve moved on and no longer are interested in me.

How could I have been so stupid to think you were interested in the first place?

I can hear it laughing whenever I start to feel the slightest bit confident in myself. “You think they actually want to be your friends? Just you wait, it won’t last long.”

And just like that, one insecurity spirals into the oh-so-familiar pit of worries. One concern leading to a larger worry and a larger one, until I can’t take it and eventually I’m pacing back and forth. My body is shaking, and I can’t recognize my voice when I snap at my family that I’m fine.

It creates a monster out of me, a reflection of itself.

My heart rate slows and my muscles relax. He’s gone.

He hides for a while, but his job is far from done.

I can see him in the stressors around me. The food I don’t want to eat, the fear of rejection, not being good enough, and the feeling of being forgotten.

Anxiety never goes away. It’s something I deal with on a daily basis. Some days are better and some are worse.

But there’s always an upside, I suppose. I’ve hit rock-bottom, and I know I’m never going to let myself slip so far again.

Never again will I contemplate suicide or cry looking in the mirror. I’ve learned that my anxiety isn’t something to be ashamed of, and I don’t have to hide it.

Those who love you will accept you and embrace your imperfections, including the monsters you carry with you.

Cover Image Credit: Kylie Hofmeister

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I Weigh Over 200 Lbs And You Can Catch Me In A Bikini This Summer

There is no magic number that determines who can wear a bikini and who cannot.
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It is about February every year when I realize that bikini season is approaching. I know a lot of people who feel this way, too. In pursuit of the perfect "summer body," more meals are prepped and more time is spent in the gym. Obviously, making healthier choices is a good thing! But here is a reminder that you do not have to have a flat stomach and abs to rock a bikini.

Since my first semester of college, I've weighed over 200 pounds. Sometimes way more, sometimes only a few pounds more, but I have not seen a weight starting with the number "1" since the beginning of my freshman year of college.

My weight has fluctuated, my health has fluctuated, and unfortunately, my confidence has fluctuated. But no matter what, I haven't allowed myself to give up wearing the things I want to wear to please the eyes of society. And you shouldn't, either.

I weigh over 200lbs in both of these photos. To me, (and probably to you), one photo looks better than the other one. But what remains the same is, regardless, I still chose to wear the bathing suit that made me feel beautiful, and I'm still smiling in both photos. Nobody has the right to tell you what you can and can't wear because of the way you look.

There is no magic number that equates to health. In the second photo (and the cover photo), I still weigh over 200 lbs. But I hit the gym daily, ate all around healthier and noticed differences not only on the scale but in my mood, my heart health, my skin and so many other areas. You are not unhealthy because you weigh over 200 lbs and you are not healthy because you weigh 125. And, you are not confined to certain clothing items because of it, either.

This summer, after gaining quite a bit of weight back during the second semester of my senior year, I look somewhere between those two photos. I am disappointed in myself, but ultimately still love my body and I'm proud of the motivation I have to get to where I want to be while having the confidence to still love myself where I am.

And if you think just because I look a little chubby that I won't be rocking a bikini this summer, you're out of your mind.

If YOU feel confident, and if YOU feel beautiful, don't mind what anybody else says. Rock that bikini and feel amazing doing it.

Cover Image Credit: Sara Petty

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No, I'm Not 'Just Shy,' I Have Social Anxiety Disorder

Mental illness is not, and never has been, black and white.
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The other day, my parents and I were talking about mental health, and I was being very honest about my experiences for one of the first times. It's always been hard to talk about, and I know it's hard for my parents to hear, since I isolated myself and wouldn't let them help, despite them being completely willing to. But it really hit me why they hadn't known something was wrong, aside from my willing isolation: "When I was younger, we just didn't talk about anxiety or depression."

As someone who grew up with what I thought was fairly visible social anxiety, it just hit me that parents might not know exactly what social anxiety is in children, and it's one of the few mental disorders that often does show up in early childhood.

However, it's so often dismissed as "oh, they're just shy!" by parents, and that creates a dual problem: parents don't know something is wrong with their child, and their children don't know either, because they believe that the persistent anxiety they experience is just shyness.

This then leads into people also not recognizing it in adolescence, because at that point social phobias are confused with agoraphobia--people assume that if you get out and do things, you don't have social anxiety.

This could not be more wrong.

For me, looking back, I saw the signs even when I was very very young. I had a very hard time with new adults or overstimulating situations, meeting new people was hard, and having friends over was stressful. But it didn't start to get memorably bad until midway through elementary school--that was when my "shyness" turned, unbeknownst to me and everyone around me, into something more.

I remember not wanting to have friends over anymore, because I was scared they'd judge me and because I didn't know how to entertain them. Buying things for myself at stores was very, very difficult, and even seeing people I knew at stores was stressful.

The biggest issue honestly became food. I've grown up with body image issues for just about as long as I can clearly remember, though it probably turned really bad when I started to hit puberty early, in about the fourth or fifth grade. Ordering food was a nightmare when my parents didn't do it for me, and it was especially a problem if it was stereotypically unhealthy. I have a very vivid memory of my mom offering to give me money to buy a snow cone in the height of July and not having the courage to go do it.

Especially in junior high and high school, eating with friends was like calculus. I never ordered based on what I wanted to eat. I ordered based on what I could get while remaining under the radar. If I got something "too healthy." in my mind, that would earn a comment, but if I got something too unhealthy, people would think I was fat. Of course, this was totally ridiculous, my friends probably wouldn't have cared.

It was a huge issue for me because my anxiety amplified everything.

Shopping on my own was awful too - I swore I could feel everyone's eyes on me, I could practically feel total strangers judging me based on what I wore. Again, in reality, honestly, no one likely cared. But it caused me enough distress where I stopped doing things with friends, almost exclusively went shopping with my mother until about the tenth grade when I started to get therapy.

Even then, it was difficult until I started anxiety medication--I remember before my first date with a guy I really really liked (and my first date ever) having at least two full blown panic attacks, crying, almost throwing up, and then going to meet him.

Social anxiety was a huge player in my life for a long time.

However, for many of you who know me and are reading this article, you'll be thinking "That doesn't sound right." You might be thinking, "Rachel, you did speech and debate and did okay." or "But you had friends and did clubs and extracurriculars!"

To those around me, I probably didn't seem like the socially anxious kid. But it's only because I learned to hide it.

Yes, I did speech and debate. I also had panic attacks before every speech and I swear my heart rate didn't dip below 100 beats per minute through a whole tournament. I did it to acclimate myself to the anxiety. I joined clubs--but did I interact with people outside the club? Not really. I did have friends, but when they offered to do something with me, I always had an excuse.

Always.

I was high functioning with my anxiety, but it was awful to live with.

I have never been "just shy."

Social anxiety is more than never leaving the house.

Plenty of people deal with it and likely don't show the signs that we think are obvious, and don't get the help they need. But if we're more aware and help people realize, it can do amazing things. Now that I have therapy and medication, I go out with friends, I can go buy food or things I want on my own, and I have had a healthy romantic relationship, something I never thought I'd be able to do, all because I got the treatment I needed.

So if you're experiencing distress because of social situations, or if someone you love is, they might not be "just shy." Look for more than the obvious--mental illness is not, and has never been, black and white.

Cover Image Credit: @theswirlblog

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