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By unveiling how anxiety impacts people’s lives, we hope to spread empathy, ideas for coping, and a more open conversation on mental health. This is a powerful perspective.

BSM is a 27-year-old student who lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He discovered he had anxiety around the same time he experienced his first bipolar episode. He has begun coping with his anxiety through medication and other strategies, but previously struggled to ask girls out, attend social events, and otherwise interact with people.

Here’s his story.

When did you first realize you had anxiety?

I realized I had anxiety immediately after my first bipolar episode. It then continued for several years at a constant level. It would get worse during times of stress. About three months ago, I was prescribed a medication for my anxiety, and so far it has worked wonders.

How does your anxiety manifest itself physically?

When I experience anxiety at a baseline level, I feel like I’m constantly worrying about nothing. It feels like there’s something right around the corner that will be devastating. It makes my heart race and my legs shake. It’s more of a mental or emotional feeling than a physical one.

At its highest level, during or leading up to a panic attack, my anxiety feels like I’m falling. If you’ve ever gone up a flight of stairs and thought there was an extra step but there wasn’t, and felt a feeling of falling or sinking, it’s like that, but for an extended period of time.

How does your anxiety manifest itself mentally?

Mentally, it feels like there is always something I forgot, or that something is going to happen that will not be pleasant. It feels like no matter how much I tell myself it will be OK, or that it’s illogical to be afraid, a part of me still thinks, “But what if it does happen?” It’s worrying that people are judging me. It’s worrying about worrying, if that makes sense. Thinking about not being anxious makes me anxious as well.

Do you have any habits or behaviors associated with anxiety that are unique to you?

My legs are ALWAYS shaking, 24/7.

What kinds of things trigger your anxiety?

I generally have constant anxiety, but at its baseline level, it’s manageable. Things that trigger my anxiety to be higher than “baseline” include: conflict or confrontation, commitment, new experiences, large crowds with too much sensory stimulation, or even just my thoughts or memories of situations like these.

Sometimes, it doesn’t take anything to trigger my anxiety. It just happens. There are days when I have no reason to be anxious, and it takes very minimal triggers for it to become more of a problem. An example of this would be someone asking me how I’m doing on a bad day — I’ll lie and say I’m fine, but just thinking about the fact that it is there makes my anxiety worse.

How do you manage your anxiety?

I have been on Lamictal for a few months. That, along with avoiding conflict, has made my anxiety a lot better. I used to avoid seeing people and putting myself in social situations, which is not healthy. I do not recommend anyone do that. The more you put yourself in situations that make you anxious (but not to the point of an anxiety attack), the better chance you will have of finding healthy ways to cope with your anxiety.

How has anxiety affected your relationships?

I have had a hard time asking girls out on dates. Before my first bipolar episode, I had absolutely no problem doing so. I’ve been on and off dating websites and apps for years now. Since being on Lamictal, I have not had this issue. It still comes with some anxiety, of course, but it’s a lot easier now.

What would your life look like if your anxiety were under control?

My new medication is practically a miracle. I’ve been mostly anxiety-free for a few months now. I’ve started to go back to school. I’ve been seeing a girl for a while now. I had the confidence to ask her out, which is something I would have had trouble with when I had severe anxiety.

What is something you wish other people knew about being anxious?

I wish people knew that when it comes to anxiety, it’s not something that can just be turned on and off. Being told to calm down or asked, “Why can’t you just relax?” does not help. In fact, it makes it even worse. Being told things like this makes me feel very judged or as though I’m not doing the best I can. Anxiety is not easy to deal with, and this mindset other people have makes me feel that it should be, which is unrealistic.

Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for health. Her work has appeared in The Cut, Chicago Tribune, Racked, Business Insider, and Success Magazine. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found traveling, drinking copious amounts of green tea, or surfing Etsy. You can see more samples of her work on her website. Follow her on Twitter.