Living with Anxiety
When I was a kid, I would fall apart flipping through my textbooks. My vision would blur, my hands would shake, and I’d cry to my mother because I was sure there was no way I could ever finish my assignments. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was struggling with anxiety.
To this day, I am anxious more often than I’m not.
It’s not some occasional visitor who chimes in when something big and scary is happening. It hangs around waiting for any reason to start shouting. Phone calls, public speaking, introducing myself, going somewhere new, car rides, storms, making mistakes, forgetting things, annoying people. Writing them down feels silly. They’re insignificant, yet they still cause me to panic.
Anxiety doesn’t play fair. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in my room reading a book when it decides to pick a fight with me. It makes no sense but I can never rationalize it away. My heart rate quickens, my stomach drops, and I don’t have a single clue why. All I know is I’m scared. I tell myself nothing is going to happen, but the fear is flowing through every vein and my entire body feels like I need to run or hide or to do anything at all because something is wrong.
It’s every bit as fun as it sounds.
Having a day when I don’t feel anxious is so rare that after sitting here for ten minutes I couldn’t remember the last time it happened. In college, I sort of figured out that my options were to get things done while I panicked or to give up. In the end, my fear of getting in trouble or letting down my family and professors won out. I would check my answers dozens of times and take frequent crying breaks, but I always did my work. It was unhealthy, and I worked three times as hard as I needed to, but I figured out that I could be productive and afraid at the same time.
I’ve worked really hard to be able to hide it.
Most days I can smile and hold a conversation. I can make plans and even keep them, probably because saying no also makes me anxious. I am always actively working to make sure that my anxiety doesn’t affect other people. The only times it really does is when I’m in the middle of a particularly brutal attack.
I usually come across as angry instead of terrified. It’s like my brain is running a mile a minute and all I’m trying to do is function at an incredibly basic level. I literally have to tell myself to keep breathing. When a conversation gets thrown into the mix, I hit my limit. I snap.
People think that I’m mad at them but in reality, my brain is telling me ‘okay if you don’t figure this out RIGHT NOW you’re going to lose all your friends everyone will hate you and you’ll probably die.’ No matter how hard it is to not let that take over, it’s not fair to hurt another person no matter what you’re going through. When that happens, my anxiety leaves me feeling awkward and apologizing.
I think the hardest thing about living with anxiety is that I struggle to enjoy things in the moment.
There are times when I’m at a concert or hanging out with someone and I’m not even really aware of what’s happening. Instead of having fun, I’m worried about what to say next or what everyone is thinking about me or what I’d do if a fire broke out. How would I get through the crowd? Would anyone help me? How bad would it hurt? Would I die fast?
Usually, I’m in the car headed home when I realize I wasted an experience I was looking forward to because I couldn’t relax and be present. There are times when I try and remember what happened and draw a blank. It’s like I wasn’t even there. I missed everything because I was too busy stressing.
I convince myself that my friends don’t like me on a regular basis. My brain likes to tell me they only spend time with me because they feel obligated. Every time someone leaves my apartment, I replay all the things I wish I hadn’t said and wonder which one was the moment they decided I was annoying.
I miss most of my calls because I freeze up the second my phone starts ringing. I have to listen to the voicemail at least three times to make sure I have the name and number written down right before I can work up the courage to call them back. Usually, I have to practice what I need to say a few times, too. Even then, I get super sweaty and shake until I hang up the phone. Sometimes if I don’t force myself to write down notes during the call, I forget everything that was said.
I go through all the motions, but the only thing that really registers is panic.
Sometimes it feels like my heart is going to burst through my chest. Other times I’m shaking so hard and too weak to move my fingers when all I want to do is hold onto anything for dear life. One day my mind might be racing and another it’s blank. My ears go hot and I swear the only thing I can hear is my blood rushing throughout my body.
There are time’s when it’s subtle. My mind and body stay calm, but it feels like there’s someone or something just behind me out of sight. Not enough to overwhelm my thoughts, just enough to unsettle me. I’ll laugh with my friends and have a good time, but my palms never stop sweating because I’m just waiting for something bad to happen.
Obviously, I know that my anxiety is irrational.
I get that this all probably sounds really weird and overdramatic. To be fair, it kind of is. But knowing that doesn’t fix it or take away the pit in my stomach. Shockingly, everyone’s stellar advice to “just remember it’s all in your head” actually helps no one. I know it’s in my head, the problem is I don’t know how to get it out. Your brain is incredibly powerful. It’s not always like you can turn the volume down when it’s feeding you lies.
I work on it every day, and I’ve definitely gotten better over the years. It sounds so strange when I explain it to anyone, but for me, it never feels strange. It’s my normal. I used to think that this was something everyone dealt with. When I finally learned that some people don’t feel like they’re going to cry while they order food at a restaurant? Mind blown. Those people are too powerful, and I hope they order me some fries.