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by Stephanie Cardamone

Stephanie-C_0.pngLast year, I shared my personal anxiety struggles with the world. I talked about the importance of self-love and acceptance. I wrote that I accepted where I was and what I had been through. Looking back, I was a little ahead of myself. Acceptance for me is truly a journey. Vital, but never-ending. Last May, I had 263 people reach out to me. People that I knew and loved, people that I hadn’t spoken to in years, people that I didn’t know at all. 263 people contacted me to thank me for speaking up; to ask me for help. I was so extremely grateful to know that by sharing I was benefitting others, but true to form, my anxiety reared its ugly head. Only two months after I pled to you about acceptance, I had arrived at the worst day of my life. On July 6, 2017, I attempted suicide. 

My definition of anxiety has changed a bit since July. Anxiety for me is extreme negativity, a general sense of aching. Not like a muscle aching, but an aching in my soul. It makes it difficult to appreciate myself. How badly I just want to accept it, but no matter how hard I try, what I achieve, or how much I improve, it is steadfast. Like a deep burning. A dull ache in my childhood grew into a nagging soreness in my adolescence, then spiraled into a throbbing pain in adulthood. It was always there. I couldn’t escape. I couldn’t avoid it. 

The few people who knew about last July asked me why. What got you to this place? To elaborate on last May’s article, I spent my life chasing perfection. In my childhood, I was surrounded by people who always wanted more from me. In my teenage years, I looked up to people who tried to mold me into someone I wasn’t. Who tried to change me to reflect their standards of perfection. Who told me that who I was wasn’t enough. In adulthood, I faced physical trauma. I was surrounded by loss. I was isolated. I hurt someone I loved so intensely. In a moment of selfishness, I made a mistake. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I hated myself. 
 
After that article came out, everything I had spent that last few years trying to accept came back with a vengeance. I spent the weekend prior to July 6th surrounded by people I loved, and I was still miserable. The temporary avoidance wasn’t enough. I spent the minutes dreading going home; dreading having to confront the pain; dreading being alone. On my way back, I prayed for my plane to go down. I prayed for the pain to be taken from me. But when I landed, it was still there. The agony transformed into a hole in my chest; an emptiness in my heart. The emptiness became unbearable. The mistakes I made were irreversible. The person that remained was irreparable. I was finally done. 

This year of my life is not something I have an easy time sharing with people, but I write this because July 6th truly changed me for the better. It gave me purpose, it revealed my calling, and I learned lessons that I need to share because if I didn’t, I would be doing the world a disservice. I was on the right path last year with self-love and acceptance. Those are two very important and therapeutic things, as is speaking your truth. I learned about transparency. I know that just because you struggle with something, doesn’t mean you aren’t strong. It doesn’t mean you’re vulnerable. It doesn’t mean you are any less than anyone else. I learned about resilience. I saw how low life can take you. I know exactly how it feels and exactly how long it takes to repair a soul that is broken. I discovered how strong people can be in those moments when life is telling you to surrender, but you choose not to. 

The most touching lessons are those that I learned from other people and how they reacted to July 6th. I learned selflessness from my family, who dropped everything to be with me and stayed by my side until I could stand on my own again. I learned empathy from my friends who constantly checked on me, who flew out to be with me, and who sent me care packages to let me know they were thinking of me. I learned it from my Aunt who still, to this day, sends me texts of hearts that I wake up to every morning. She hasn’t missed a day since July. My most important lesson, and the one I struggled with the most, was forgiveness. I learned this from my best friend and the person that I was in love with, who forgave me for my mistakes, even though he didn’t need to. I learned this as I forgave myself for my faults, for my slip-ups, and for years of torture that I put on myself.
 
If you have ever felt like me, please hear me- the pain you feel is not forever. It is not irreversible. You can come back, and you will come back. Find your community and immerse yourself in them until you can stand on your own again. If you look around and think you’re alone, you’re not. I am your community. ADAA is your community. The people who have written their personal stories of triumph are your community. If you can find the courage to admit that you are struggling, the people will manifest before you to support you. I am here with you. I will stand with you. That’s what people did for me- my family, my friends, complete strangers. They stood with me, whether they realized it or not. 

I grew up believing that we need to go through things alone to avoid being viewed as weak. To the 263 people that wrote me last year- you showed me that I’m not alone. There are lessons learned in isolation, but there is far greater strength in community. You can succumb to difficult days, you can succumb to your mistakes, you can surrender to negativity, or you can use them. You can let the things that have broken you fuel you. You can realize that you were broken for a reason, and then you can put yourself back together. 

Gratefully, 

Stephanie

Watch Stephanie on this February 26, 2018 CBS news story about teens and anxiety and depression. 
Read The Many Ways Anxiety Affects Those Who Suffer From It

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Comments

Stephanie, you are a strong woman. Thank you for sharing your journey. I, too, suffered horribly last year and am in a good place now. I'm tired of the stigma attached to mental health and I had nowhere to really turn for help in my community. I am starting a support group in my town now. It has been extremely therapeutic for me too. I wish you the best and know you will continue going forward.

Heather- thank you for your kind words! I’m glad to know that you’re doing well and are making good out of a bad situation. I commend you for starting your own community and can only imagine how many people you’re helping in doing so. You’re a very inspiring person! Stephanie

I want to explain what a panic/anxiety attack is like - associated or compared to something besides heart palipitations, sweating, nervous and etc. When I was in the hospital someone associated it with something some people could more relate too I wish I would of wrote it down - one person said it's like going up a roller coaster and getting to the top but no bottom. That doesn't do it for me like I said I wish I would of wrote it down. What do you think what is it compared to in everyday or life situations? Thank you

Hi Debra- thanks for your question. To be honest, I’m not sure I have experienced an anxiety/panic attack before. My anxiety is more a constant feeling instead of what I would call an “attack”. I do have friends who have experienced this though, and other than the feeling of chest palpitations, they’ve described it to me as a feeling of “intense dread”. Not sure if that resonates with you at all. Sorry I couldn’t be of more help! Stephanie

Thanks to all who have commented. One question I wanted to answer as I am now making Friends with my anxiety and it goes something like this : I am getting ready slowly to jump into a pond and below the stuff that lurks I can’t see, but it feels icky and it untangles itself around my toes and my legs I imagine.

Having a shower to go out at times is much like this for me I am not afraid of Soap or Shampoo but I know once the shower is done my Journey to go is in order and at each step I feel the murk, the darkness I can not see but fear is there. It’s a horrible metaphor I agree but it is what I am dealing with each time I am getting ready to walk out the door. I prolong the shower so long it sometimes can cause me to be late or to not go at all. It is sad I do know but at least I am aware of the “What” is happening internally before the Anxiety hits and now to be able to go the rest of the way without being worn out by the mind game and have a mind game of my own. I can not seem to reward myself because the outing itself it’s it own reward. I feel myself an extrovert after I am finally on my way to an event. I do not look forward to the part prior at all .... EVER ! My Anxiety prevents my abilities to move past the shower at this very moment and I have already missed the event tonight and now on the other side I wish I was all the way through and had that time with people tonight instead of debating tomorrow’s shower already. It’s ridiculous I do know but it’s my feelings and I want to be able to stop this negative thinking that is paralyzing.

I am happy to have read your Stories all of them just wanted to answer your question and look what I found ... “ it’s the murk I am afraid of ... the unknown “. Hell who isn’t afraid of it a little bit ? All I know is one medicine helped remove some of it almost clearly gone until I was denied it any longer my quality of Life has suffered. That’s another story and Five years I cannot recover lol but I am at least beginning to plow through it simply by identifying its existence is a huge start.

Thank you all for reading and for your posts !!!

Jan- wow!! Thanks for writing this. I’m always curious how anxiety effects different people. I haven’t experienced something like this but glad to be educated on others experiences. You sound like a very strong person both to share and to go through that type of anxiety. Sending you thoughts of positivity and healing! -Stephanie

Today was my first time going to the this website, and yours was the first story I read. I just wanted to say thank you for your honesty with something I know from experience is incredibly hard to talk about. I’ve had similar struggles in the past three years, and emotionally investing myself in community has been so helpful during that time. Your strength makes others believe in their own.

Wow. This is extremely kind of you to say. Thank you for your kind words. I know how much investing in myself has helped me mentally, physically and spiritually. I hope you stay strong on your own path to happiness! Thank you

I try everyday to overcome but the sadness is stronger . Trying to be perfect for everyone around me . As a mother I can’t show weakness but it’s stronger than me

I suffer from anxiety in many forms. I am bipolar type 2, I have ocd. I also have adhd. I constantly feel pulled in different directions. I have trouble getting things done, I hone in on one thing and it can take me hours to get through it as I want to get it “perfect.” All is this gives me extreme anxiety and I struggle to breathe well. All of these issues feel interelated and it is frustrating. I am on a few medications and I work with my psychologist using an acceptance and commitment therapy approach. She helps me with coping mechanisms. I’ve also participated in group sessions where numerous topics are discussed and approaches such as ERP are practiced.

These are lifelong issues that I’ve only recently faced as a person well into my 30’s. I hit rock bottom and almost gave up. But meeting my wife and having a strong support system have kept me going and fighting. I don’t want to ever give up hope.

Thank you for sharing your story.

Thank you for sharing with me, Mike! You are a very inspiring person. I’m glad you have your focus on the positives of your life instead of being sucked into the negatives. I’m happy to hear you are investing time and resources into your mental health. I was going to a therapist that recommended Cognitive Behavioral Therapy which helped my anxiety TREMENDOUSLY. Give it a try if you’re interested and let me know how it goes. So much love to you. Stay strong! Stephanie

Thank you for sharing. I've been fighting anxiety for several months. I've had an MRI, EEG and blood work...all came back normal. They put me on meds and I'm going to therapy. Sometimes I think I'm getting better then sometimes I get worse. What kind of treatments did you try to get through it? Thank you!

Hi Danielle- thanks for your question! I was on an anti-depressant called Fluxotine for a little less than a year, and I went to a Cognitive Behavioral therapist. I would check out CBT- it helped me a lot when it comes to negative thinking. I’m a work in progress but feel and function much better now that I know CBT. I also am a practicing Christian and put a lot of emphasis on my faith, which helps immensly. I hope this helps! Good luck!!! -Stephanie

What a beautiful, strong young lady you are. I have struggled with anxiety to some degree most of my life (I am 60) but it was only during the last year due to some specific events that occurred in my life that the anxiety peaked to the point of sleepless nights, ocd and ruminating thoughts. I am working with a therapist, going to an anxiety support group and recently started medication which I hope not to be on forever. I want to believe that the pain I feel is not forever but many days I struggle with the thought that I will always feel this way and that depresses me greatly to the point where I feel quite hopeless. I have the world’s best husband who is so supportive and who deserves better. I feel like a burden to him. Your words however have given me strength. I especially like the line where you say that we can let what has broken us fuel us, I can only hope that I can put myself back together. You are an inspiration. Thank you for sharing your story.

Mary, thanks so much for your comment. I have all the confidence in the world that you can put yourself back together. It sounds like you’re on the right track already with your therapist, medication and support group. It feels like a long, painful process I know, but when you’re growing, it always feels slow. It’s infuriating, but the process is teaching you something, and when you look back, you’ll realize it was necessary. Someone told me once that growth is like a broken bone- if you break your arm, your doctor puts the arm in a cast. Unfortunately, that cast restricts the arm and it isolates it. That’s what my progress with anxiety felt like- It felt dark and restricted and isolated. But the cast doesn’t stay on forever- only for a season. The cast is necessary, the restriction and the isolation are necessary- without them, your arm would stay broken. When I’m feeling down, I try and look at progress that way. This is only for a season. The pain is teaching me the places that need healing. I hope you can find some comfort in this. Always here for you xx -Stephanie

I am going through an intense amount of anxiety, and it helps to read stories of success, because when you are going through it, it feels like it will never end. I am glad that you are feeling better.
Stefanie

Stefanie- I’m praying that you feel some relief soon. Stay strong, be honest with yourself, and above all, make sure you cut yourself some slack. Life is hard. Very cliche, but true. No matter who you are, life throws things at you that you think you can’t handle. But that’s not true- you’re strong enough to overcome the adversity you’re facing and through all of the negativity, there is definitely something you’re doing right. Remember that the next time you start to feel down. You can do this!! And if you need it, you have a friend in me. -the other Stephanie :)

thank you for sharing your story. I have struggled on and off with mild to moderate anxiety and depression since I was a teen. I was sexually abused by a family friend when I was 7 until I was 11 when we moved out of state. I lived what my counselor calls "egg shell living" until I was about 25 bc my father was a volatile alcoholic. constant anxiousness. I did just fine except for a bout of post partum 9yrs ago when my son was born. 9 months ago the poo hit the fan and many stressful things went on in a short amount of time. I broke. I was afraid of everything even being alone with my son. I checked myself into a crisis unit bc I thought for sure I had lost my mind and was an unfit mother and wife. things have been better but not anywhere near 100%. I struggle to move, to enjoy the things i once couldn't wait to do. the guilt. the shame. the feeling that i will never get better and this will be my forever normal. it's so easy to be discouraged. all i want is to help people like me who feel like there is no light at the the top of the pit. i am now on an a.d. that i believe will be "the one". i just want myself back but I'm beginning to forget what that even looks like. the mom in the pictures from one year ago almost looks like a stranger. my husband and son deserve her back. not this person I have become. it's nice to hear that someone has regained their life. I'm hopeful

Sara- you are incredibly resilient and strong! You’ve faced so many tough things in your life, it’s honestly a miracle you’re still here. I have felt the same way- about wanting to be who I was when I was “happy”. Then I realized, I can’t go back there. And not only can I not go back, but I don’t want to be that person anymore. Isn’t that the point of life? To be constantly evolving? I want to be better and stronger and kinder to myself than who I was. I’m sure you can look back and realize the same- that maybe that point in your life seemed happier, but our minds are just romanticizing what used to be because we are unhappy in the here and now. You can be better and happier than who you were, but first you have to stop worrying about your family and do what’s right for you. Your husband and kids love you regardless. Over-communicate with them about how you’re feeling and they will understand. Making the right decisions for yourself is always first. And if nothing else- remember that what you are going through is not for nothing. If you are in a season of grief that doesn’t seem to be ending- it’s not ending yet because it’s trying to teach you a lesson. Put yourself first and maybe you’ll start to figure out that lesson. I’m sending so much love your way- you inspire me, Sara!!

Jon- I hope you can find some comfort in the fact that being in a dark place like that is scary, and while I was there, I felt like I wasn’t strong. And now a year later, I am happier and healthier than I’ve ever been. It might feel like it’s impossible to overcome while you’re in the thick of it, but I promise you- you’re stronger than you think. I hope you start to feel better soon. -Stephanie

Your story was so similar to mine that I wept in public when I read it. The difference, however, is that the one I selfishly hurt will not forgive, making forgiving myself quite difficult. Anxiety is hard enough to deal with when life is smooth, but sometimes life gets tough. May you remember that you will need to find the strength to fight depression and anxiety many times in your life. It sucks. Do what you can to keep it in check.

Robyn- thanks for your kind words! I'm sorry that you're having a difficult time forgiving yourself for your mistake. I've learned that most people just need time- whether that's a month, or 5 years, they will come around. All we can do after a mistake is change our behavior. If you don't learn from the mistake and change because of it, then it's a missed opportunity. And if you're rolling your eyes at me saying, "Steph- it's been x amount of time and they still haven't forgiven me", then maybe it says more about them with their inability to forgive, then it says about you. I pray that both you and your loved one receive clarity- them to become more empathetic to the situation, and you to know that one mistake doesn't define you, and you are still a good person. Don't let the guilt win. Thinking of you, Robyn. -Stephanie

I have also suffered from generalized anxiety disorder,but my anxiety issues were not continuous,or lasting for a couple of months ,they were more like attacking me in my weakest moments. I have had major anxiety issue during the month of February and march when I was so stressed and my life felt like falling apart,i was always thinking about my work and at last I had a panic attack in middle of school exam.
now after few months I feel my anxiety is kicking again, the more I try to supress it ,it hits harder.....
though I can get over with it a cople of weeks but I don't know when will it completely stop...(HOPE YOU READ IT)

Hi Sam! I’m sorry you’ve had a rough couple of months. I do know the feeling of having everything around you going wrong, and then the anxiety making you more negative and convincing you that the feeling or the situation won’t ever end. Telling you that you’re a screw up and you deserve this. Well, I want you to know that whatever is going on, it will get better. I personally don’t think that my anxiety will ever fully go away. I think it’s something that I’ll battle with the rest of my life. BUT, that being said, I don’t think it’s about trying to pray or wish it away, but instead it’s about maintenance. Learning how to maintain anxiety through coping skills, meditation, exercise, positive thinking, prayer, etc.- whatever works for you. When you start to learn how to maintain, and commit to putting yourself first, everything becomes a lot easier. I hope you start to feel better soon, and MOST importantly I hope that you know you are stronger than what you’re facing! You can do this. Your friend, Stephanie

Stephanie,

My name is Katie thank you for sharing your story. I am just now sharing mine. I experienced the death of my parents within 5 years of each other. I lost my dad while in college to suicide, then I lost my mom 5 yrs later in 2014 to cirrhosis of liver. My anxiety has come and gone and I have been about mange it. Most recently it came back up full force due to a bad friendship with guy. He was narcissistic, emotionally and mentally abusive. I recently ended it. But it still hard. I have been honest about my anxiety and I know what triggers it. I am finding that horseback riding helps me cope. I have amazing friends who are supportive and don't judge me. I think the best thing we can do is talk about, support each other and never hide. It is nothing to be ashamed of and I know it is manageable. Thank you!

Katie from Louisville, KY

Hi Katie.. thanks so much for sharing with me. I can feel your strength radiating through your message. Your story is very similar to my good friend Sara's. She lost both of her parents within a couple of years of each other, had some negative people around her she needed to say goodbye to, and faced extreme anxiety. The reason I tell you this is for two reasons- the first, so you know that you're not alone. There is someone out there going through the same pain and heartache. I also tell you this because Sara is one of the strongest, bravest, kindest people I know. Every time I'm around her I find myself smiling for no reason. She's the type that enters the room and positivity and light follows her. I have a very strong feeling that you are the same way. You've overcome so much and have been through so much pain, and yet you can still spread kindness to others. Imagine how powerful that person is... to have been through the mud and still be LIGHT. That person can change the world. That's you, Katie. I hope you never forget how strong you are just by existing. Sending you love from Los Angeles! Your friend, Stephanie

Thank you so much for sharing your story! I am in the midst of switching my medication because the last one wasn't working for me and it has been SO HARD being on no meds for this week. I'm just doing my best to stay hopeful and know that it will get better. It's hard though!

I'd love to get in contact with you Stephanie... as your story really resonated with me. Are you on Facebook/Messenger?

As an avid sufferer of anxiety and depression, along with Bipolar disorder (2), I think about suicide a lot. I think about how much better off I’d be if I were dead. If I weren’t here to deal with my life being the way that it is. I am 22 years old and I have nothing going for me. I have no job, a less than impressive resume, and my confidence is on the floor. I lost my best friend because I pushed her away and I lost my boyfriend due to distance (I had to move away from him and go back home to Florida because my mental illness was so bad). I saw someone die while I was away from Florida, it was hard to watch a person deteriorate like that. It was my boyfriend’s dad. But anyway, my point is, thank you for posting this story. I’ve thought about suicide so much for the last few months and I feel like it’s inescapable. I feel like there’s no other way out and I too pray for death to come upon me. I relate so hard to this article. It made me cry with relief that someone understands what I’m going through. I wish I could find a way to get better ASAP. I’m so sick and tired of living this way, because it doesn’t feel like living at all.

Sara- I'm so so sorry that you are struggling so much, and glad I could provide some relief in similarity. Have you tried therapy and/or medication? What you are feeling is NOT normal. I urge you that the next time you feel or think of suicide, PLEASE get help. Speaking from someone who has been there and is now in a good place, depression tricks you into thinking that it will never get better and that the only relief you could possibly find is through death, but it's NOT TRUE. You will get better with the right help. I don't care what your life looks like, if you have "nothing going for you" (which I'm sure that you do, just hard to see through the lens of depression), you are always worth it. Your life is ALWAYS worth it. Things are going to get better if you invest in YOU. If you don't know who to turn to, reach out to me, stephcarda12@gmail.com. Please don't give up!
Your friend, Stephanie