Anxiety and the Fear of Public Speaking

When I was in highschool, the thought of public speaking made me want to throw up. I would stress and panic over it and I would be nauseous all day. I would shake and nearly cry at the thought of having to get in front of a classroom to present whatever it was that I had to do. The more I got my anxiety under control, the easier it got, but I still struggle with it to an intense degree.

To get my college degree, I am required to take a business and professional speaking class. I would be lying if I said I jumped at the opportunity to take it right away – as I am currently taking it in my junior year. I thought that the class would help me immensely but the anxiety remains. I still am nervous to a high extent, I still nearly throw up each time I go to present, and I still shake terribly. I am not as stressed before going up to present, but it is during the presentation and after that gets to me. Sure, I am becoming more comfortable with talking in front of a group of people, but the anxiety remains.
So you might be asking: How does an anxious person get comfortable with presenting in front of a group? The short answer is: you don’t.

Those of us with anxiety are obsessive. We want everything to be perfect to the point it plagues our minds. We stress out over every ‘um’ and the thought of stumbling and fumbling over notes in front of everyone makes us anxious. The presentation I had to give last Thursday was a required PowerPoint. You want to know what made me the most anxious? The thought of getting up in front of the class and starting my PowerPoint the wrong way. I stressed about hitting the stupid ‘start presentation from the beginning’ button. I stressed about whether I should email it to myself or I should put it on a flash drive. But what if the flash drive didn’t work? What if the class saw the start to some of my emails? Was my presentation informative enough? Maybe I should’ve done an easier topic. Is the presentation too intense for some people?

I have gotten to the point now that telling myself that everyone else in the room is nervous doesn’t help. People telling me that they too are nervous doesn’t make me feel any better. Meditation doesn’t work. I have gotten to the point now where I just have accepted the fact that public speaking is unavoidable. I’ve gotten to the point where I just need to be one of the first presenters, get it out of the way, and return to the back of the room to stress over everything that went wrong. It has been four days since my presentation and I’m still stressed about it.

Being a good public speaker doesn’t happen overnight. A public speaking class doesn’t mean you’re willingly going to jump at the opportunity to speak in front of the class. Being anxiety ridden and obsessive equals out to you just having to find a way to be comfortable. Maybe that means going first and getting it out of the way. Maybe that means going last and leaving it in the past the moment you sit back down. Maybe its hours of prep work beforehand (or none at all).

Being anxious doesn’t mean you are a horrible public speaker – as most people can’t even tell I have anxiety when I speak. It just means that you have to push your boundaries and make it so that you are comfortable. Find what makes you comfortable. Remember that every speech has a beginning but also must have an end. That being said, once you start you are that much closer to being done and sitting back in your comfort zone.

Vulnerabilities Part 2

Whenever I first started therapy in my junior year of high school, now 4 years ago, I was embarrassed to say I started therapy. I didn’t want to go to begin with, but as I’ve continued my mental health journey I got more comfortable with sharing my life story. That being said, I’ve become very open and have encouraged people to start therapy. I am the first to start stories with “So in therapy the other day…” or “My therapist said…” I have become someone that is transparent about my struggles and about my mental health journey – and have truly become a mental health advocate. I’ve posted on Facebook about my struggles, and hell, I’ve dedicated an entire blog to my anxiety.

All of that being said – I am still vulnerable.

Yesterday I had to do a presentation in my Business and Professional Speaking class. Yes, you read that correctly. I identify myself as an anxiety ridden little bean, and yet I’m in a class where I have to speak in front of other students. That statement alone shows how much I’ve improved in four years’ time, considering my senior year of high school I had to deliver a small speech from Great Gatsby and nearly threw up. Anyways, whenever it came down to choose a topic, I decided to talk about my anxiety.

Going up to it I was super confident, my professor was eager to hear what I had to say, I talked about it with my therapist, and I felt like it was a really good topic. Making the PowerPoint proved to be difficult, but while practicing my speech I was finishing around 8 minutes – over the set time limit. With a flash drive in hand, I wasn’t nervous until I sat down in my class and looked around at the other students. What would they think of me? How would I go to class afterwards with everyone knowing I have a mental disorder? Would they think differently? I have slowly grown with this class of 12 students, and yet, I was being so raw and open with a group of strangers. Sure, I had other classes with some of the other kids, but they didn’t know me.

When it came time to present – nothing was helping. Breathing techniques, meditation, telling myself that every other person was also nervous, absolutely nothing. By the time I got up to present, my hands were shaking as I turned in my notes to my professor, anytime I pointed to the board my hands visibly shook with fear, and my voice stuttered the entire time. I rushed it so much that I was below the required time frame of the speech by several seconds. What turned into a speech that could be stretched to 7 minutes and 51 seconds turned into a rushed and anxious speech ending in 5 minutes 55 seconds. I felt as though I was going to vomit and felt extremely anxious before, during, and after the presentation.

I don’t regret it in the slightest.

I got to open up my journey to a class of only 12 students. I got to tell them about my struggles. I shared photos of me dancing on stage and showed pictures of my picked to shit fingers after an anxiety episode. I was open. It was raw. It was me showing my demons to the classroom. It wasn’t easy, but it was vulnerable. I could’ve talked about the history of ballet class, I could’ve talked about how to sew pointe shoes. Instead I showed my struggles. In my research statistics show that someone, if not several, of those students needed to hear what I had to say. They needed me to come out and be vulnerable, if not for me, then for themselves.

Being vulnerable is in no way easy. It is not a walk in the park. I did it with shaking hands, busted up fingers from picking, and a speech shorter than the 6-8 minutes required. But I did it. I opened the room up for discussion. I helped open the eyes to students to show that even ‘normal’ students struggle, and hopefully I made those people realize that they weren’t alone.

Vulnerability

I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember. As a kid I would write fiction Halloween stories, I would write with people online, and would give out copies to my moms work friends. As I moved into high school I wrote my first novel – finishing at an impressive 100,000+ word length. Even then, however, I felt scared to tell people what my novels and stories were about.

Throughout high school I’d be more than willing to post updates on my writing “I wrote ten pages! Only a short amount of time before my novel is placed into the world!” However, whenever people would ask me what said novel was about, I’d shell up and tell them “It’s too complicated to explain,”

My novel, Selection Day, was written my sophomore year of high school and still has yet to be published. Not because of getting rejected by publishing houses or anything – but because I’m scared to put that part of myself out into the world.

I’m now in my junior year of college and just finished a second novel that I’ve been working on for years. I’ve posted a few excerpts on here and have put pieces of Submerged in Paranoia out into the world. Whilst writing it out in my notebook, I was avidly searching for editors and asking friends if, when I typed it up, if they’d read it and tell me what they think. However, the more I type it, the more I feel myself beginning to close off that part of me again. I keep making excuses. Like, I don’t want to rush it, or I might want to change the ending, or maybe the pace of the novel is too fast, maybe it’s not good enough.

My sister has been offering to take my notebook and type my novel up for me so I don’t have to, but part of me lives in fear of judgment. I’ve stopped looking for editors on Fiverr even though those people don’t even know me. Maybe it’s because the novel itself is dark and deals with topics that aren’t light and fluffy. Maybe it’s because I don’t want my family to worry about me. Maybe it’s because I don’t think it’s as good as it sounded when I was writing it.

I still want to publish this book within the next few months. I’m just struggling on feeling as though I’m good enough to do so. I’m struggling on feeling like it’s possible.

Why Being Lonely Isn’t Always a Bad Thing

The only person that truly knows you is you.

How can we be expected to love someone else whenever we don’t know what it takes to love ourselves?

For many years I would cry due to the fact that I was an outcast – that I was so lonely. I would cry saying I wasn’t going to have many stories to tell my kids whenever I was older and that I would regret sitting at home all the time. In high school, I wasn’t like most teenagers. Drinking and football games had no appeal to me, I wasn’t looking for a boyfriend, I had two to three friends total, and so on. I had labeled myself as an outcast and I hated it. I cried and wished to be ‘normal’.

I struggled with being alone – so much so that I would sit at a lunch table with people I didn’t like just to avoid sitting by myself and looking like a ‘loner’. Even though I looked at other people doing things on their own as a bad thing, I also secretly wished that I had the nerve do just do things on my own.

Flash forward to now, I enjoy going to the movies by myself and I prefer doing things on my own. Whether that is gym-going or shopping, or the occasional concert by myself.

Being lonely doesn’t always have to be a bad thing or a negative character trait.

Whenever you are alone you don’t have to worry about anything or anyone else other than yourself. When you do something on your own, you are using that alone time to recharge your batteries that burn out when you are putting all of your energy into other people.

Doing events by yourself such as going to the movies or going to concerts takes away the possibility of being held back. Maybe if you go on your own you wouldn’t be fifteen minutes late to your favorite movies, or maybe you could get that spot a bit closer to the stage (or further away). Being alone opens up the opportunities to meet new people and to be comfortable with your loneliness.

We live every day in constant social situations. Whether that be work, school, shopping, dining out, you name it. Everywhere you go you are put in situations that slowly drain the battery that keeps you going. It is alright to take time for yourself to be an independent person and to enjoy your alone time.

So go to that concert that no one else wants to go to. Go enjoy that amusement park or ride that no one else wants to ride. Go enjoy a movie where you can work on your own timing and have a whole bag of popcorn to yourself.

Don’t be afraid to live a life of loneliness – because once you stop worrying about everyone else, you can start to live a life of experiences made for you.

Because someday someone will look at you and be inspired by your courage to do things on your own.

What I’ve learned

In a year of blogging I’ve learned that writing is a great stress relief for me. In a year of blogging I’ve learned that you can be strong and independent – but at the same time still be weighed down by a controlling and toxic relationship. I’ve learned that some things just aren’t worth posting about – that some victories and frustrations are just better left unsaid. I’ve learned that keeping quiet is sometimes the best response you can have.

I haven’t been the most consistent when it comes to posting on this blog. I’ve had bursts of inspiration – so much so that I created an instagram page for this blog. I’d feel this excitement – only to be weighed down by exhaustion after I smacked into the wall of writers block. Today my WordPress membership has been renewed for an entire year.

I am uncertain as to where my future with aberrations lies – but I know you will be there with me.

It’s okay to not be okay

She has the tough girl demeanor

She hides her emotions well

For there is never a bad mood that can’t be hidden away

With some makeup or a swipe of a tear

She stays, cloaked in strength and happiness

For tears, she feels,

Are a sign of weakness

Her strength is embedded into her bones,

Exhausting herself with the weight she carries

On weakened and skinny shoulders.

Maybe, someday, she will learn

That it’s okay to not be okay.

Me Minus Anxiety – Who Am I, Really?

What I wouldn’t give to be normal. To live in that bubble, the reality of the naive.

What would my life look like without anxiety?

How much would be different?

What would change?

This is a question I have asked myself time and time again. However, I can never come to a real answer.

Maybe I would have more friends, maybe I would go out more, and maybe I wouldn’t be afraid to speak in public. Maybe my schedule would be filled with less appointments with different doctors for different reasons. Maybe my grades would be better, and I wouldn’t stress myself out before exams and maybe I wouldn’t pick my fingers until they are bloodied, gross, and running the risk of infection.  Maybe I wouldn’t sit in silence for hours on end – not knowing how to contribute to a conversation. Maybe the fear of making myself look dumb wouldn’t exist.

Back whenever I feared going into gas stations and before whenever I was scared of leaving my home, I would ask myself the same question and come up with nearly the same possibilities. Maybe I would’ve been able to walk into the store later at night to get the ice cream I was craving. Maybe I would’ve been fine to walk into the bank and do a cash deposit instead of waiting in the way longer line at the atm in my car.

I have struggled with anxiety since I was a little girl. It only came to a dramatic point whenever I was in high school. At that point in time I knew anxiety was apart of my identity. It was a character trait. It was a character flaw. I related to the quote that said, “I am anxiety, fear, and panic”.

So, yes, anxiety has been in my life for a long time. I was an anxious seven-year-old, an even more anxious high school student, and expected it to sort of just disappear in college. If it was in my life for so long and apart of my identity for so long… who am I without it?

I have come to realize now – anxiety is not apart of my identity. Yes, I am a college student and yes I have severe anxiety.

Because, after all, my blog posts are mainly about anxiety. My very first blog post ever is titled “The A word”, where I then begin to describe what anxiety is and what an aberration is.

Who am I though?

I’m a full-time student and I work three jobs that I love. I am an avid concert goer. I am a movie guru. I am someone that has a small quantity of true friends – those that I don’t see often. I am a girl who has a lot of internet friends and spends too much time on YouTube. I love nerdy things and also love makeup. I love sitting and gaming. I am a hard worker – even with my anxiety flaring up. I am honest and compassionate – with the tendency to put everyone’s needs before my own. Sometimes I care too much about what others think and other times I care too little.

I am not anxiety and I am not panic. My life story is not going to go down as the girl with anxiety.

Anxiety does live within me and I have known her well. Anxiety can sometimes be an extension of my personality – but it will never describe me. At the end of the day I am still the busy, hard working, full time student, who also loves to dance, go to concerts, meet like minded people, and be free spirited.

 

Your Nerves are not the Same as My Anxiety

“Yeah, I get anxiety sometimes before job interviews and stuff, it sucks!”

“Everyone gets a little anxious sometimes!”

“Omg, seeing my ex totally gives me panic attacks lol.”

The term anxiety is often at times thrown about carelessly and almost unknowingly to those that do not understand what it is like to live with it on the daily.

What the “anxiety” to an average person feels like would most likely be as follows:

  • The nerves that twist at your stomach and almost make you feel as though you are going to throw up.
  • The moments where it feels as though your heart picks up several beats a minute.
  • Sweaty palms before an interview.
  • The feeling as though you cannot sit down or keep still.
  • An uneasy mind
  • A disturbed sleep cycle.

These are just to name a few of the things that take place before a big presentation, an interview, a first date, and so on. After it is over though, you are most likely not going to be feeling these symptoms again until the next big event that takes place, until the next presentation, until the next first date, etc.

This is what those of us with anxiety disorder feel every single day – times ten.

Now while I do not want to make it seem as though I am invalidating people that have very real and very scary symptoms of nerves and anxiety, I do find it hard to feel sympathy for those that get nervous every once and awhile and pass it off as anxiety.

For many years, I was getting nauseous on the daily. No matter what I ate – whether it was vegetables, gluten free foods, greasy foods, etc. – I was getting sick to the point of almost vomiting. Sometimes it didn’t even matter if I ate five minutes ago or two hours ago, almost every night I felt as though I was going to throw up everything in my stomach.  After several visits to GI specialists, a few scopes, scans of my gallbladder, food journals, and other forms of tests – they could not find anything wrong with me.

It was only after therapy that my stomach issues slowly dissipated far into the past – to the point that I sometimes forget about the period of 3 to 4 years that I spent feeling nauseated.

I had no idea that anxiety could affect the body to that degree and that badly.

In my worst anxiety times I would pick my fingers so badly to the point that I would have to wear socks on my hands to stop picking. Wearing nail polish never helped as it was another thing for me to pick and peel off of my nails. It would get even worse if it was finals week or if report cards were about to come out.

At my worst point, I couldn’t go into gas stations or convenience stores – my irrational anxiety brain telling me that there would be a shooting or robbery if I went in. You could forget the chances of me going into movie theaters, too. It got so bad that everywhere was dangerous to me – from gas stations to a Subway sandwich shop.  I wanted to be placed near the exits at restaurants so that I could run out the door if something were to happen and at every concert, I went to I had several plans of escape if a threat were to enter.

That was the way my anxiety brain worked. I knew that at every concert I went to that every person got checked by security, their bags were checked, and they were patted down – but my anxiety and fight or flight brains were confused by the amount of fear that I placed into my body. Everybody was a suspect and no place was safe.

This was how I lived for a very long time and still have the tendencies to get “sketched out” in situations that I am not used to.

I for many years struggled – and struggled terribly with anxiety. I wasn’t going out with friends, I was a home body to an unnatural sense,  I was having anxiety attacks weekly, and I was literally making myself sick with anxiety.

I overcame a lot of struggles to get where I am now.

So yes, the quickened heart rate, sweaty palms, the tendency to bite your fingers, and your uneven breaths are all normal to feel before events like tests, presentations, job interviews, exams, etc. Your nerves are not anxiety.

In a world where mental disorders such as Bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety are “aesthetically pleasing” for a Tumblr layout or a funny tweet, it is hard to take mental illness seriously.

It is important that we note that anxiety, true anxiety, is not the same as feeling nervous for an hour or two (or even a day) once in a while.

Anxiety is very real and very scary but also should not be confused with every day nerves.

“Feeling on the Verge”

A lot of times whenever I sit down and talk to my therapist I often at times can reflect and tell her about the moments where I had a breakdown, often telling her that I could “Just tell that I was on the verge”

But how does one explain these feelings?

On the verge is feeling as though you are standing on the edge of a cliff, half of your foot over the edge already – the arches and your heels remaining on stable cement while your toes hang right over. It is standing there and knowing that one simple gush of wind will send you over.

It is feeling the tears well up in the backs of your eyelids and constantly pushing them back – but also knowing that if one person says the wrong thing that it will release the tears.

It is a constant burden on your chest with an accelerated heart rate that beats almost too quickly against your chest wall.

It is sweaty palms – always.

It is feeling the quickened heart rate, the sweaty palms, and it is the burden on your chest – but you are also feeling numb and the constant switching between the two of them.

It is feeling the work you have to do physically piling on top of you – and you feeling as though that no amount of time in the world could get it done and knowing that one more paper is going to push you over the edge.

It is the feeling of begging something to happen, so you could just get over with it already.

Being on the verge means that you can feel yourself almost to the point of no return. On the verge it is the difference between crying and being okay. Being on the verge is knowing you just need one final push to send you spiraling. Sometimes it can feel as the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Some of us live our daily lives on the verge – almost waiting for that straw or for that gush of wind to send us over.

While we can be on the verge, we also know how it feels to come back down and to recover from our falls. That is what is most important to try to remember.

Why it is Okay to be Selfish

The word selfish is typically one that is looked down upon and looked at in a negative light. Not one person likes to be described with the adjective of selfish, but ultimately, in the world of mental illness and health – it is an adjective that is one of the most important things to be.

There are a lot of people that suffer with a form of mental illness, whether it be anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ptsd, or so on. Some people have it in the slightest forms while others suffer in a more extreme way.

Those that suffer are typically those that you do not expect as mental illness can affect anyone – it does not matter your age, race, or gender.

Most people, like myself, give and bend over backwards for everyone and anyone – often at times putting others peoples needs before their own. So much so that they wind up shoveling emotions and feelings underneath almost convincing themselves that the needs and wants of others are more important than their own. Often at times they will put their needs on the back burner, convincing themselves that the needs of someone like a friend is most important, more important than their own emotions and feelings.
This leads to the burial of emotions and stress that eventually boil up – ready to be set off by the most minuscule things.

Not only does the selflessness of mental health mask our own feelings, it also is extremely exhausting. Some of us will hold ourselves to an insane number ,of standards when it comes to being there for others. We are not catering to our needs but to the needs of others and ultimately draining the energy needed to keep ourselves afloat.
I read somewhere once that the development of mental illness can also contribute to a development of a selfish personality.

Do I consider myself selfish? At times. Am I open about my need to be selfish? Always.

For those of us that have mental illnesses we need to constantly be aware of our wants and needs as humans due to the smallest change causing what could be a downward spiral.

Not only do we need to be aware of our bodies, but our mood as well.

Sleeping and eating on a regular schedule are vital to keeping our mood as stable as possible whenever it comes to self care.

For example, in mental illnesses such as Bipolar Disorder, tracking your mood is essential in staying up on it. It is noticing the most minute of changes in mood. It is essential to notice the changes so that those who are medicated can report it to a psychiatrist which may require change in medications as soon as possible.

You must be extremely aware, not only in your alone time, but when with other humans while being social.

Is my speech slurring due to talking too quickly? Are my conversations bouncing from place to place constantly due to my inability to focus on one topic? Are my responses appropriate? Is this how I act on the daily?

We must be in constant awareness of our mood and how we are feeling, why we are feeling, and to try to judge how long we will be in this state of feeling.

Mental health may also come with a selfish behavior, but that is okay.

I am not telling you to only look out for yourself and no one else, and to push people around for your own advantages – being selfish does not always have to be that negative.
So be selfish. For those that know you and love you – they will understand your need to be selfish and will be there to support you and will still be there whenever you come back.