Maybe you’ve never met me. Maybe you know me well.
Maybe you’re not familiar with me. Or maybe you’d never tell.
Maybe you know someone who knows me. Maybe you’ve come across me once or twice. Maybe you hate me; wish you’d never known me. Maybe I’m attached to you, tightly like a vice.
Maybe I’m with you daily,
Something you just can’t shake.
Maybe I haunt your dreams,
Then with you again, as soon as you wake.
Maybe I am the increased heart rate,
That quickens your breath and tightens your chest. Maybe I am the nausea and lightheadedness, That stops you feeling and doing your best.
Maybe I am those irrational thoughts,
That flood your mind and confuse your thinking. Maybe I am the shaking hands and mumbled words, The gaping hole into which you feel you’re sinking.
Regardless of how much you bother me,
How much you like to control some of the things I do. I know what triggers your presence now,
And I understand what makes you, you.
I know you’ve caused some damage, But I know the damage will heal.
I know I never chose you,
But I definitely know you’re real.
I know you can be managed,
You can be tamed, treated and set free. I know that you are anxiety,
But I also know that anxiety is not me.
My name is Linda. I have anxiety, but anxiety is not me. It is a part of me, but it does not define me.
In the beginning.
I was always an anxious child; I hated change, I loved routine, I would worry incessantly and I was a perfectionist. Without realising it, I have probably suffered with anxiety for as long as I can remember, but it wasn’t diagnosed until my late twenties. I am now thirty-four.
Over the years my anxiety has manifested in a number of different ways.
I experienced my first ever stress-induced migraine when I was in Grade 5; I was 10 years old. After feeling numbness on the right side of my body and having slurred speech, I was taken straight to the emergency department. Thankfully, stroke was ruled out, but I have suffered migraines ever since.
Throughout my high school and university years, my anxiety manifested as obsessive compulsive behaviours – excessive hand washing, routines and checking things due to paranoias and superstitions. Most of these ‘routines’ were completed in secret (more from embarrassment than anything else), but thankfully over the years, they have subsided.
Then, in the later years of my teaching career, the world as I knew it completely changed.
After 6 years of primary school teaching, I was questioning whether I wanted this to be my ‘forever job’. As much as I loved being a classroom teacher, I felt like I wanted to experience new opportunities. I just couldn’t put my finger on what I wanted to do instead.
I went to my former principal for advice, chat to my current principal at the time about how I was feeling, and also consulted a life coach. I came to the decision that I would apply for a teaching position in a secondary school, to see if this was the new path I was searching for.
In the end, I never had the chance to find out.
In early 2010, with a very heavy heart, I resigned from my teaching career due to severe anxiety and panic attacks.
I think the unknown (or even the known – the fact I wanted to change career paths) set off my anxiety without me realising it.
My anxiety and panic attacks became so severe that I was house bound for almost a year. Everything I knew – my daily routines, my thoughts, my feelings – they all changed. I was losing control. I was no longer me. I had no purpose. No reason to
get up in the morning. I was in a very dark place.
I spent almost every day on the couch in front of the TV. I watched the same TV shows every day. I had breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time every day. I had formed new routines, but they were not routines I wanted.
Because my anxiety was causing so many physiological symptoms, I was too scared to leave the house alone. Some days I was too scared to be alone in our home while my husband was at work. I worried that panic would set in and there would be no one around to help me.
I was always lightheaded but in a way I’d never experienced before. I felt like my head was in the clouds; like it was hovering over my shoulders, floating. I initially thought it was blood pressure related, but every time my blood pressure was tested, there was no need for concern.
I experienced nausea on a daily basis, too. I was always hungry. I knew my nausea would pass once I ate, but I found it difficult to swallow and push past the nausea. It was a vicious cycle. My nausea would wake me during the night, too. I had a container of crackers by my bed so I could have midnight snacks without getting up.
Surprisingly, I was able to sleep well most nights. Unless I had an appointment the next day; then it would take me hours to fall asleep. And knowing I wasn’t yet asleep made me even more anxious. I heard every noise. I felt every movement as my husband rolled over in bed. I counted every hour until my alarm would sound.
I also experienced vertigo on occasion, which was triggered by my anxiety. This was usually on the day of, or the day after, a major event or outing. For days before the event I would work myself up. Irrational thoughts would fill my head. I would worry incessantly and I was panic ridden.
The actual panic attacks were what bothered me the most. They were triggered by a number of things – being alone, going to the supermarket, being in warm environments, standing for too long, having a steamy shower, driving over bridges, being in elevators, driving in unfamiliar streets and driving on freeways.
My panic attacks would start with an elevated heart rate, then quick breathing which resulted in lightheadedness. This would then lead to nausea and my stomach would drop. Cold shivers would run across my body, all while feeling clammy and sweaty. My body would shake involuntarily and my mind would be racing. I couldn’t process my thoughts. I couldn’t think clearly. And I spoke with panic and desperation.
Then I would cry. I would cry out of sheer frustration that my brain was letting me and my body down. I would cry out of embarrassment. I would cry out of relief once the panic subsided. I would cry because I hated feeling this way and I wanted it to stop.
Although some of my triggers still remain, I was able to work through others. By doing
things over and over again, and knowing I was going to be okay, it helped to build my confidence. Now, things like being alone, going to the supermarket, standing, driving in familiar places and having a hot shower, have become normal, everyday tasks for me again. Things I don’t think twice about.
Six years ago, it was hard for me to think that I would feel like myself again. I honestly thought suffering severe anxiety and panic attacks would be a daily struggle for me.
I consulted a naturopath, a dietician and a couple of psychologists. I also had monthly check ups with my GP, who recommended anti-anxiety medication, but I was too anxious to use them (the irony!!).
What I found to be most helpful was having a creative outlet. In 2011, I started my own online business designing and hand-crafting personalised name art for kids’ bedrooms. Creating artwork for children helped occupy my mind and time; it gave me purpose again.
During my six years as a teacher, and my five years creating artwork for kids, I met and connected with many people. What I came to realise was that many of these people, especially children, also suffered from different forms of anxiety and mental illness.
Sadly, it also became hideously clear that mental health issues still carry an ugly stigma; and they shouldn’t!!
I want people to know that mental illness is real. It is not ‘made up’. It is not something we choose. It is not an ‘excuse’ or an ‘easy way out’. Quite the opposite, actually!
But most importantly, having experienced anxiety from such a young age, I want to help children. I want to empower them. I want to let them know that they are not alone. I want to help comfort them.
So, I decided to take action.
After spending almost a year researching, designing and chatting to parents, I designed the little wuppy® – a sausage dog worry puppy.
This is my way of turning my life experiences into my purpose; my way of helping others.
Everything that happened in my life, lead me to where I am now.
My name is Linda. I suffer from anxiety, but anxiety is not me. It is a part of me, but it does not define me.
The little wuppy®.
The little wuppy® is a sausage dog worry puppy designed as an aid to help ease children’s worries, and to help comfort them.
Children can talk to the little wuppy®, hold it in their hand, pop it in their pocket, bag or pencil case, place it under their pillow, keep it in a special place in their room, or use it in any way their imagination takes them.
The special feature of the little wuppy® is its heart. When placed against a child’s heart, a child can send their worries to the little wuppy® so they don’t need to worry anymore.
About the Author: Linda Privitelli.
Linda is a 34 year old former primary school teacher and artist from Werribee, Victoria.
By combining her love of drawing, her obsession with all things sausage dog, her personal experience with anxiety, and everything she has learnt whilst teaching, Linda designed an aid to help ease the worries of children.
To learn more about the proudly Australian made little wuppy® visit www.littlewuppy.com.au or follow little wuppy® on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
I too have an anxiety condition which I am just beginning to name and recognise if not deal with properly yet. It started as rituals to stop bad things happening and has turned now to certain unlucky objects which I can’t touch and if do have to wash hands for fear of the bad thing happening. I am with a CBT compassionate therapist but going is slow and still not getting over it but I will. Thanks for your post.
This is great, especially the poem. I kid you not, I wrote the very words “I have anxiety, but I am not anxiety. Anxiety does not define me” in my notebook this morning. Thank you for sharing your story. I, too, suffer severe anxiety. I only gave it a name about a year and a half ago. Since that time I have learned how to manage it from ruling my life like it has since I was a child. I even look at anxiety as a “friend” in many ways now, being that it stirs my creativity and writing.
Hello dear Linda, I’m not certain how I got to this post. I think it came to me on a circuitous search on Pinterest. I love you for sharing your story, the pain, the sense of loss, confusion, fear and “life put on hold”. I have suffered from sever anxiety and chronic depression for almost 30 years. I am currently in therapy and have been for the past 15 years. My anxiety, particularly the social aspect of it, has rendered my life a cloistered one. Your post speaks od happiness and hope amid the ruins. I felt hope. If not for the gift of hope, how could we endure the darkness. Be blessed.
Hi Linda ~ I’ve just read your amazing article now (yay for evergreen content!). Thank you SO much for sharing your story and your experience with anxiety.
I have had seasons of anxiety in the past but, ironically, it ceased when I had my kids. They are now 4 and almost 3 so it’s been a long time since I have had to try and manage anything remotely like anxiety. Late this past summer – around the time this article was posted, actually – I got very sick with a severe ear/nose/throat infection. It lasted 3 months and was very hard on myself and my family. Now, I am physically over my infection but am dealing with some major residual anxiety. Super jittery, pounding heart, high BP, trouble falling asleep, outrageous amounts of worrying, crying lots and really just “feeling all the feels.” But this article – and the previous comments; thanks, folks! – has helped me understand that I am not alone (as my anxiety wants me to believe). Equally important, it has helped drive home the fact that this is not who I am, and that I will not feel this way forever. I’m so glad you’re doing well and have discovered ways to manage your anxiety that work well for you. I’m working on doing the same – moving my body with yoga and walking, mindfulness practice and writing and art – and counseling too. Plus loving on my kids and husband, who bring me great joy and peace. I hope to be where you are – managing my anxiety and living life to the fullest – soon. 🙂 Thank you again, so much, for sharing. xx
Thank you for your honesty and courage. Your article has helped me to understand myself and my experiences of anxiety better, too. Even though I saw a counsellor for years (who was fantastic, found after much trial and error) and have made massive improvements, it is only now that I see that I have always been anxious, from childhood to now. I just thought that was ‘normal’, since I had not known any different…It was a special soft toy that kept me going and from which I felt unconditional love, and I think your wuppy could definitely be that special carer for other children…especially if it is given to them by someone who loves them. I really admire how you followed your creative passion. For so long I have been wanting to draw, do embroidery, garden, make ear-rings, do interior design activities for fun, etc, and have kept saying I am ‘too busy’, it is not ‘productive’, it is ‘selfish’, and I feel guilty if I try to do them…or even just try to rest. What do you tell yourself if you start to say similar things?
Thank you so much for your comments, Andria, and for your kind words and feedback – they are very much appreciated.
Like you, I didn’t realise I had anxiety at a young age until I was diagnosed at an older age, but it all makes sense now!!
Anxiety sucks and I’m so sorry that you suffer from it too. But I am so thrilled for you that you are able to manage it and are moving forward.
In regards to your question, these are my thoughts…
The year 2010 was one of the lowest for me. I had felt I had no purpose. I felt scared. I felt lost. And I didn’t feel like myself.
And some of the things that helped me find purpose, that helped me feel myself again, were many of the things you mentioned.
I know that I never want to feel the way I did in 2010, and doing the things you mentioned – being creative, following a passion, being productive, helped me get to where I am now!!!
So I say, DO IT!!! Do all the things you love. Do all the things that make you happy. Do all the things that bring you joy and fill your life with purpose. They are not selfish. They ARE you!! They are the way you express yourself.
Don’t ever wonder, ‘What if?’. Just do it!
Finding my purpose and pursuing my passion made the world of difference to me. And I always say, you’re no good to anyone else unless you are good to yourself.
All the very best, Andria – believe in yourself and what you are capable of…
My daughter is 13 and going through this. It’s so awful. We’ve been working on it for a year but it just seems to be getting worse. Reading this at least gives me hope that we can find a way to help her. She’s so scared that she will never feel better. She, too, is an artist. When she’s drawing she’s calm, but she has to put the pencil down sometime and live. Anyway, thank you for your article…..it is helpful.
Oh, Shannon, I am so sorry to hear that your daughter suffers, too 🙁 It’s horrible, but it will get better, I promise. With the right strategies and support, your daughter will feel more and more like herself again.
I can completely relate. I would sit at home and think, this is it. This is how I’m going to feel forever, Then something happened and I was having more good days than bad. It gave me the confidence that tomorrow might be a good day, too.
Try to have your daughter celebrate all the good things within a day – all the things she was able to do – get her to celebrate her wins.
And yes, drawing is a wonderful way to escape the anxiety. If you’re worried she spends maybe she could use her a in art, and not living, maybe she could use her art to help others. I found that once I had a purpose, my anxiety started to clear. Could she teach others to draw? Could she use her artwork and have it published (RedBubble.com)? Could she visit schools, or nursing homes, or even hospitals and draw/paint with others?
Giving to others and doing things for others has helped me immensely.
I truly hope you are able to find strategies that help your daughter; having you in her corner is the best thing she could have.
All the very best, Shannon,
Thank you so much for writing back and making those suggestions. I will consider all with her!
All the best to you too!
You’re most welcome. Shannon (and I apologise for the typos and jumbled sentences in my reply).
All the best to you and your daughter, thank you x
Thank you so much! I have anxiety off and on. Leaving my bed, leaving my house. My husband is my big help. Must learn to worry less. Bless you for sharing.
Ahhh, if only we could just worry less 😉 We’d be set!!
When people say to me, ‘Don’t worry about it’ or ‘Don’t stress!”, I often say to them, that’s like telling the sun not to shine!!!! 😉
Thank you for your kind words, Diana.
My husband is wonderful, too! I don’t take my family’s support for granted. Not everyone has supportive people around them, but they still need to know that they are not alone.
Thanks again and all the best, Diana.
Thank you so much for sharing your experiences with depression. I have it off and on,depending how much happens in my life. Just going to my Quilt Guild once a month is sometimes too hard. Other months I am ready the day before and good to go. Had migraines for a while,taking care of Mother-in-law, with a job and a drug prescribed son in pain, younger daughter with ulcerated colitis. Some clearing came for a few years, migraines stopped. The anxiety continues, but I’m up everyday and go as much as I can. Bless you for your words for our journeys. Better knowing others are around. Thank you!?
Good on you, Diana!!!
Anxiety is one of those things that can completely change your life, and we need to push through certain things to make sure it doesn’t change our lives in a negative way.
Like you, certain events can bring on my anxiety and I worry about them for weeks. Other events have me beaming and excited. Sometimes, you just have to roll with the punches and completely make the most of the great days!!
Migraines are horrible and suffer from them, too.
I hope you have found what helps you cope and manage your depression/anxiety/migraines so you can live a happy life.
Thank you for sharing, Diana.
My son was 6 years old at the time I took him to our GP to discuss his anxiety and some low level compulsions that were developing. In visiting the child psychologist, I realised the ‘worrier’ label given to me as a child was really anxiety. I had been treated for depression a number of years earlier and my treatment was very much undoing to layers of control (rules) I had put up to manage my worry about the people in the world around me. I didn’t make the connection though from childhood anxiety to depression before the child psych visit.
Your article really brings to light the ‘illness’ in mental illness – something that so many people are unable to truly understand. It’s not something you chose, or would even wish upon your worst enemy!
My son is making great progress. He is now almost 10 and has great strategies to help him. We’ve had 2 cycles of psych sessions – the first at 6 years and the next just earlier this year at 9 to upgrade strategies and address responses to new worries that are part of growing up.
I love your ‘wuppy’! Had it been around earlier in our journey I think it would have been a hit. As it is, sharing your story is appreciated for its honesty, enlightenment and connection with so many similarly affected people – either personally or for others around them.
Oh, Sarah! Thank you so much fro sharing your story and for your kind and generous words about mine.
I am so sorry to hear that your son suffers, too, but I thrilled to hear that you have found what works for him and he is able to manage his anxieties.
I think I am the same – I didn’t realise as a child that what I was experiencing was actual anxiety, I thought I was just a ‘worrier’.
I;m so glad you have been able to work through your own thoughts and feelings too.
Your son is very fortunate to have your love and support.
Thank you so much for your honesty and for sharing. All the very best, Sarah – to you and your son.
This is a great article. Thank you for sharing such a personal story. We’ve taken our 12 year old daughter to specialists and they’re leaning towards it being anxiety. The way you described your panic attack sounds just like her. She ends up crying afterward and we try to console her but then realize she’s mad at herself. I hate that she feels this way, but your story makes me realize it won’t be like that forever. So glad you’ve made such a great recovery. 🙂
Aww, thank you so, so much, Samantha.
I am so sorry to hear that your daughter is suffering but it’s so wonderful to know that you are doing what you can to help her.
Yes, panic attacks are so frustrating – for me, when I experience them, I know there is no reason for me to feel the way I do but my thoughts overwhelm my rational thinking and the panic sets in. I can very much relate to your daughter and how she feels.
You’re doing an amazing job! My parents, family and husband were and still are, really supportive. It makes a huge difference, and I can promise you, your daughter LOVES that you support her. She may not be able to openly express it, but the relief you feel when there are people on your side means so much!
All the very best, Samantha. Here’s to helping your daughter manage her anxieties.
Thank you for sharing your journey. I, too, struggle with depression and anxiety/panic attacks. For people who have never experienced this, it is so hard for them to understand. God bless you.
Oh, Kay, I completely agree. Tying to explain how you think and feel to others, is one of the hardest parts of anxiety.
Many people understand what it feels like to be stressed, but to feel that overwhelming panic and anxiety is so different.
it’s lovely being able to chat with people who ‘get it’ and don’t judge.
I wish you much happiness, Kay.
Oh, Sylvia, you’re gorgeous!!! Thank you so much for your kind words.
I’m hearin’ ya!! It was almost a year before I finally realised that my symptoms were not due to some fluctuating blood pressure issue, but because of my anxiety!! Anxiety sucks!
I thought I was lightheaded because of low blood pressure or hypoglycemia, but it turns out, anxiety causes lost of symptoms you think are something else (Google hypoglycemia and I bet you have felt all those symptoms, too!!).
I promise you, you’re not losing it. I promise you, you are not alone. And I promise you, anxiety is REAL!! It is not made up.
I hope you are able to find strategies that help you manage your symptoms.
I cannot thank you enough for your kind words and am absolutely humbled that you consider my writing even close to Karen’s in terms of good articles. Man oh man am I humbled.
Thank you, Sylvia and all the very best x
Linda, I can’t begin to describe what I felt when I read your article. That’s ME! I have had anxiety for years, but some of the symptoms/syndrome didn’t register as anxiety – oh, it is the dizzy drowsy meds you’re taking, etc. Thank you, thank you, thank you for this writing. I really have been thinking I’m losing it, but I feel better already. You’re an answer to prayer. I think what you wrote here is going to help thousands of people. And thanks to Karen Young for adding this to my collection of “The Best of Karen Young”. Love from me to two wonderful women!
Linda , thank you very much for sharing your story . You are extremely courageous and I appreciate your candor . I have struggled with the anxiety you refer to here and I know how debilitating it can be . I have come to understand where these feelings come from and narrow it down to simply having adrenaline running through my body caused by my thoughts , it is , though , exhausting to battle with these all the time . Reading stories like yours is what normalizes these feelings and makes me capable to simply allow them to float through . Thank you again for sharing and I pray you will continue on your path .
Aww, Raul, what beautiful words, thank you.
Anxiety SUCKS!!!! And I am so sorry you suffer from it, too.
It’s so hard to explain to others what it feels like to experience anxiety. It completely overwhelms you and can make you feel so out of control.
I am so happy that you recognise what sets of your anxiety and I hope you are finding ways to help manage it.
One of the amazing articles Karen has written was one about anxiety in children. It simply and brilliantly explained what happens to our body during an anxiety or panic attack and why we feel as we do. I had never had it explained to me quite like Karen does – it is amazing.
I wish you all the very best, Raul, and thank you for taking the time to share and comment.
Linda, thank you so much for penning your story in this article. I have never suffered such debilitating anxiety (although have managed other mental health issues) and your story has given me a wonderful perspective and another layer of understanding of what it is like for some pretty important people in my life. You know that I love your little wuppy product – the two in our home are much loved and utilised often – but even more I love your passion and relentless effort at educating others around mental health, and inspiring those who suffer it. YOU are amazing!
Oh my goodness, Bec!!!! You always have a way at pulling at my heart strings and bringing tears to my eyes.
Thank you so much for your love and support, always!
You know I am here for you if you ever need to chat. You are never alone – this I can promise you.
I truly appreciate your kind and generous words.
I will never forget the huge impact you and your family had on me starting my little wuppy venture. I will be forever grateful to you and your kids, thank you lovely lady x
I am so glad you shared your story. It is so inspiring! Many of us have anxiety but we feel shame because we are supposed to have it all together. I have been on this journey for about 3 years now reading lots of books on these various issues. Self care is such an important tool. I have managed to speak to my husband about anxiety but sadly it falls on deaf ears. I will continue trying to educate him that it is not something you just “get over”.
Oh, Sue! Thank you for your lovely feedback.
Anxiety sucks!! And it’s really hard explaining your thoughts and feelings to people who don’t experience what you do.
Many people think anxiety is just being stressed, but it’s so different!!
Sometimes, I stress, but other times, I experience anxiety – two completely different states.
Keep talking to people. It wasn’t until I started talking openly about how I was feeling, that many others said, well, actually, that’s happening to me, too. I promise you’re not alone.
Take care of you,
I am a 56 year old woman who has suffered from severe anxiety and OCD for most of my life. I have been treated for almost 8 years and have never felt better. Seeing a fabulous therapist and medication has changed my life. I look back on how I suffered as a child, teenager and young adult life. When I get together with old friends that remember how nervous I was growing up. They remind me of stuff I used to do and say…they laugh as they remind me…. Not in a mean way at all.. But as children and teenagers they didn’t understand how and why I did the things I did. Here are just a few : checking the doors in my house before going to bed…. 10 times… Even when I had sleepovers my friends would see me do this… Anytime when someone said something bad I would make them day God Forbid as many times as they said a bad thing… I would let them do anything else unless they said it! I am always reminded of that the most! I always thought something bad was going to happen to me…. Always… I look back and wonder how I had so many friends and had the best social life. I didn’t drink or do drugs… Just loved being social and still do! But now I live a life completely different… I can control my OCD and my bad thinking feelings… I am aware of them. I know they are still there and I know what can trigger them to visit me. I know why I have them that is the most important to me. I don’t blame anyone for them and just thankful for how I feel everyday. I am happily married with two children in their 20’s. My son is a duplicate of me! And has my anxiety… All I can say is…. I have been able to help him manage it… It is still a daily struggle but he is doing fabulous… He always reminds me how lucky he is that he has me to help him and know how he feels. Anxiety is a disease…. But manageable… It is like any other disease… No one should be embarrassed about it or be made fun of having it. It is real and I have made a promise to myself and others I would always be there to help others and support them and their families. Support and recognizing anxiety is the beginning…I am just a regular 56 year old woman, wife, mother and a banker…. That has, lives with and manages anxiety. I hope my story will help others…YOUR NOT ALONE. xoxo
Thank you so much for sharing your story.
I also had OCD tendencies when I was a teenager, very similar ones to yours. But as soon as I was bale to manage them, my anxiety appear in a different way.
It is so wonderful to read how you have managed your anxiety and are so willing to help others. I am sorry your son suffers, too, but he is so lucky to have you as you can relate to him so much.
I agree, anxiety is real and it can be very debilitating.
I wished more people spoke so openly about anxiety so that there wasn’t such a stigma about it!
Thanks again for sharing, Jaclyn – you sound so happy and content and it’s wonderful.