You might think I’m high-maintenance or tell me I should just accept that everything is OK.
What you don’t see is the enormous effort it takes to simply live my life. My mind is never quiet, running through multiple scenarios constantly. I agonize over whether I have offended others inadvertently, whether I have done or said “the right thing” in any given situation, whether I will be abandoned because I am not “normal” and have an illness that still carries a stigma.
I wish you could see the things that really matter about me. How hard I work to advocate for other people, how much I love my children. The way I can see into people’s hearts and help them work through their pain. I wish you could see how I cherish my friends, making an effort to know them deeply, to be there for them. To love them. I wish you knew how much I cared — about you and your well-being, my family, my clients, the larger world around me. I wish you knew that when I’m told I’m too intense, it invalidates the very quality that gives me my passion and my capacity for empathy.
My anxiety is a part of me, and I spend time and energy coping with its symptoms and trying to manage them the best I can, to not be a “burden” to the people around me. But it is not all of me. I am so much more than that, and I have so much to give you and the other people around me if you can just be a little patient with me. Give me a chance to show you who I really am and what I have to offer. See me through my anxiety and I guarantee you will have a loyal, loving friend for years to come. A friend who will always try to see you through whatever challenges you may have.
I’m here, I’m waiting. See me for who I really am. I’m worth the time and effort.
I owe my friends an explanation of why I don’t — and can’t — hang out with them much. I’ve kept the reason to myself because I fear judgment, misunderstanding and criticism, but I realize that in order for my friends to understand my social anxiety, I have to explain it to them.
I want my friends to know these seven things about my social anxiety so they know it has nothing to do with them, or me.
1. I don’t want to cancel our plans.
I really like spending time with you, and I really don’t want to cancel the plans we make together. But when we make plans a few days in advance, that’s too much time for me to rack up a bunch of anxiety, and as a result, I cancel. I don’t want to, but I do because my anxiety takes over when it comes to social situations.
2. But I don’t want to make plans either.
Making plans just means I’ll probably cancel them, which I’m afraid will disappoint you and hurt your feelings. I’m hesitant about making plans with you because I don’t want you to be mad at me if I cancel them.
I’ve missed out on a lot of fun we could have had together, and that upsets me. What is worse is the amount of fun I still have to miss out on because I don’t have a handle on my social anxiety. You’re not alone in your disappointment when I cancel plans; the disappointment I have in myself really gets me down.
4. It’s not that I don’t like people.
I love people. I love watching them. I just don’t like interacting with them because of the anxiety I feel when I do. I don’t like social encounters with people because of my physical response to my social anxiety. I’m afraid people will see my red, blotchy hives and sweaty face and think I’m “strange.”
5. I’m sorry.
I want you to know that whenever I cancel our plans or deny your invitations, I feel awful. I’m sorry my social anxiety takes a toll on our friendship. I’m sorry for all the cancelled plans and missed opportunities for fun. I’m sorry, and I hope you understand.
It’s always been easier to give in to my social anxiety than to try and make it better. But because I care about our friendship, I’m going to try harder to get the upper hand over my social anxiety. I’ll try different forms of therapy, meditation — whatever it takes — to be able to do fun, social things with you.
7. I miss you.
When I decline your invitation to go out and am sitting in my room alone, I miss you. I miss you making me laugh, comforting me and reminiscing over funny things in our past. I miss you when you’re out with our other friends, and I’m disappointed I’m not only missing you, I’m missing out. You mean a lot to me, and missing you fuels my desire to get control over my social anxiety so I don’t have to miss you anymore.
My social anxiety is a big part of my life. It also prevents me from enjoying my life and our friendship. I’ve spent too long being alone in my room, hiding from socialization, and hiding from you. I care about you and our friendship, and I don’t want to be alone anymore. Please understand, and be patient with me, while I find what works for my social anxiety. And please remember: it’s not you, and it’s not me — it’s my social anxiety.
It’s been hot here in New York, which means beach days and barbecues and bike rides and… anxiety.
Um, yeah. You see, I don’t love the heat (or humidity), and this discomfort has historically been one of my triggers for a potential panic attack. Not to worry, I have not recently had a panic attack or even come close, but not because I’ve stayed inside in the air conditioning and avoided all scary situations that might trigger me – because, um, that would suck and make for a very lame summer. Instead, I have learned what my anxiety triggers are and do my best to take care of myself so I can enjoy the sun and fun that summer in NYC has to offer.
Whether you’ve experienced panic attacks like me or just get a little jittery from time to time, it’s useful to know what might bring it on, and take extra good care of yourself when faced with these feelings. So here are mine.
Heat: Feeling like I’m overheating can make me woozy. I’ve learned if I don’t find a way to cool down at least once a day (e.g. taking a cold shower or sleeping in the AC at night), it can kinda build up. But I don’t avoid situations where I might get hot; I simply plan for them: I wear comfortable and cooling clothes, bring plenty of water, and maybe even a hat. I’ll take breaks in the shade and make sure to cover my bases with the rest of my triggers…
Hunger: After experiencing debilitating panic attacks years ago, I realized the feeling of hunger is akin to the feeling of anxiety in my belly. When I feel like I’m starving, I can begin to feel faint and weak and talk myself right into that “I’m not OK” mindset, basically creating my own panic attack. I decided back then I’d always rather be full than worry about eating too much. I bring snacks with me if I know I’ll be out for a while, and I never push myself too hard. Skipping meals doesn’t do anyone any favors; you need to eat, you’re a human.
Crap food: OK, so maybe I should be a little more precise – eating crap food doesn’t make me feel like a million bucks, either. Although at times of discomfort I often want to turn to foods like pizza and ice cream, I know it’s not what my body needs. Science tells us the foods we eat can affect our moods, so I focus on the good stuff. I avoid processed and instead eat whole foods, making sure to get protein to feel strong and energized and full.
Caffeine: At the time my panic peaked, I was crushing a four-shot Americano every day. Yup, that’s a lot of caffeine. No wonder I was feeling jittery and my heart was racing, only to take an energetic nosedive later. I now avoid the stuff almost completely and feel balanced throughout the day.
Sugar: I know I recently went on a rant about sugar, but I really can’t say it enough: it is the worst for me. It hides in everything from cereals to breads to pasta sauce, and it causes a similar spike and crash like coffee. It messes with my insulin levels and leaves me feeling tired and bummed out. This is not the pick-me-up I need when I’m feeling a little off to begin with.
Alcohol: I know, I know. But alcohol is a depressant, and while it might feel pretty nice at first, that aftermath can leave me feeling pretty low. My biggest and scariest panic attack ever came in the middle of a terrible hangover; in fact, for a while I thought it was just the weirdest hangover I’d ever had. A few drinks are fine; I just try to avoid the hangover.
Sleep: I always, always, always try to get enough sleep. All systems are basically down for the count when I haven’t been getting rest. I notice I feel hungrier when I’m tired (see note about hunger above), and tend to want to eat crap (again, see above), and just generally feel weak and not-so-confident.
It’s no coincidence that the ways to reduce anxiety are also the ways to just take good care of yourself in general. And while anxiety can go much deeper than these triggers, I find as long as I’m feeling healthy and strong, I can pretty much tell myself I’m OK if any of those old familiar feelings start to crop up.
Just this week I faced a potentially triggering situation, where I had only gotten one hour of sleep, barely ate, and took the subway at 3:30 a.m. into Times Square to do yoga with a bunch of strangers. I caught myself checking in: Am I OK? I’m tired and hungry and I’ll be in the middle of the city and far from home and nobody there knows me and will know how to take care of me if anything happens! I realized I could sit there and talk myself right into a panic attack, imagining the scene where I become stuck to my yoga mat in the middle of Times Square and totally ruin this awesome experience for myself — or I could imagine the opposite: a strong, albeit tired, version of myself, rockin out some yoga in one of the most iconic places on earth. I chose the latter, and as soon as I stopped focusing on it, those jittery feelings subsided.
What makes you feel shaky or uncomfortable? How can you avoid those feelings, without avoiding life? Find this post helpful or know someone who would? I’d love it if you’d share it.
It’s just another day and I have no freaking idea what’s going on with me yet again. I do know I have a million things to do and a family and house to run. I don’t have time to be anxious.
Now get up and get going! Paralyzed? What is this heavy weight surrounding my body? Why do I feel like I got zero sleep? Why are my thoughts consuming me? Why do these thoughts have to rush in so quickly that I can’t even pull one down to digest?
The dizziness starts. My muscles vibrate.
Am I going to vomit? It’s not even 7 a.m.?! Get up and get going! At least get a cup of coffee in before the first signs of panic set in. Wait! The irritable bowel syndrome is flaring up because that is what the anxiety has caused. Wow! If I could just get up and get dressed, then things will get better, right?
For so long, I thought I was coping. I thought I was effectively handling the anxiety, handling the constant barrage of daily effects anxiety causes. There was no way out. This is how I was wired. I had to deal, put on my big girl pants and kick anxiety in the ass, but constantly the spiraling would come back. The spiraling into the abyss of darkness taking over my body and soul would continue.
The anxiety has caused my once over-extroverted self into a lifeless, confused loner. I thought I was getting rid of the triggers, isolating myself more because of the pain and suffering every situation brought on. I felt the need to apologize to strangers for being so anxious when they had no clue. On the inside, even in the calmest of situations, I would tremble, tremble with fear that the panic was going to set in at any second. Waiting for the rush of stinging pain and tingles to overwhelm my entire body.
When would my heart start beating out of my chest? When would I no longer be able to catch my breathe? I knew it was only a matter of time. When would the anxiety fill me next? I was a ticking time bomb, pushing everything down, trying not to let the anxiety win and exhausted to no end in the daily fight with an invisible battle.
The more I pushed it away, the worse it got. I thought I was dealing. I was doing everything holistically possible to find some sense of reprieve. You name it, I was trying it. After trying medication in the past and not having good outcomes, I knew I needed something different.
The anxiety won over me. The constant thoughts consumed every moment of every day. The physical effects the anxiety brought on could no longer be avoided. I thought, “Well, maybe the misery the medication provided was better than this awful reality?” But, instead I decided to fight. I decided to break this chain of continuous contention.
Now through therapy, I have found the root of my anxiety, the long lasting effects of conditioning and abandonment issues. I now have an insight of the turmoil. I will allow myself to explore the demons that have been eating my insides, causing this disorder. I will continue to allow self-compassion. I will continue to allow myself to feel the pain, instead of blocking it away and telling myself it isn’t real or to stop having a pity party.
I will allow myself to heal, no longer pretending to cope but actually cope. I am so glad I overcame the trials and tribulations of finding a good therapist to help me in my healing journey. I’m proud of myself for taking the time to allow myself to heal. I’m thankful for having more understanding of my personal journey. I’m proud of myself for finding self-worth and consistently working on my self-esteem.
I am better than I was yesterday and can only hope for a better tomorrow. I will have to work, work hard, but it will be worth it. I will continue to have my healthy mantras and focus on the good. I am awakening into a whole new being without any borders and am excited for what my future holds.
I can’t speak for anyone else, but I know I’m not alone when I say I’m struggling. I’ve been struggling and the day came to finally do something about it.
Anxiety has had a presence in my life since I was a young girl. Unfortunate circumstances and stressful times dealt me a hand of heavy responsibility and crowded emotions. We all have a story, one that’s left us helpless and scrambling. However relevant it may be, that story isn’t the focus of this. The damage is done, and time ticks on. Life carries on. Here we are.
There I am, a young adolescent, moving through the drudgery of life. As I look over my shoulder, I build a defense so the past never repeats itself, a wall sturdy and strong. While I calculate my plans and analyze those in them, I steer clear of any opportunity to feel pain or hurt. I am being introduced to anxiety, although I won’t know it until my late 20s. It’s there from a young age, and grows as I grow.
Anxiety feeds me insecurities and fear. It gives me sweaty palms and a racing heart. It keeps sleep from me and wakes me with thoughts that don’t make sense, but they somehow do in the dark quiet of the night. It depletes relationships and group gatherings. It hinders my role as a wife and mother. It takes from me my confidence, all that was left of it anyway.
Depression introduced itself to me as a young adult. I’m maneuvering through my 20s, feeling like the world is my oyster (if only I could manage this anxiety better.) When my nerves get the best of me and my anxiety gouges me with fear, depression is there.
Depression hovers over me like a fog, fog that has the potential to develop into thick, dense, rain clouds. Showers pour over me without knowledge of why it is so dark. I search for light, and when I find it, the clouds eventually follow. This feeling is foreign, yet familiar, reminding me of darker times as a child. I want to run from that feeling as fast as I can, but it always catches up.
Depression feeds me anxiety and irrational thoughts. It engulfs me in a feeling of being overwhelmed. It gives me sadness and loneliness. It keeps me isolated and unproductive. It takes me away from my family, both physically and emotionally. It provides me a dark hole to hide away in, in pain and achy from stagnation. It places me in the dark, gives me back to the light, only to return again, again and again to take me away.
I’m tired of leaving. I’m tired of missing out on life, because “I just can’t.” I’m exhausted.
I see myself suppressing the anxiety and depression. Everyone else sees my smiling face. My mask I wear it so well. I see myself running on a hamster wheel, trying to keep going. Trying to keep my mind busy from the thoughts that attack me time and time again. Everyone else sees a woman who is accomplished and can do it all. The pressure is suffocating.
I see myself running the rat race and beating myself up when I fail. I see my abilities and potential flying out the window, landing on the opportunities that pass me by. There’s no way I could attempt anything more than I’m doing, which feels like absolutely nothing. I see myself rationalizing the feelings and dismissing them as if they’ll soon be gone with each passing circumstance.
After I finish school, I’ll be fine. After we move, I’ll feel better. After this, after that, everything will be OK. But it’s not.
And I’m not alone.
I finally hit bottom, sitting at the edge of my bed alone with my thoughts of failure as a mother and failure as a wife. I pick up the phone and call my doctor. I walk into her office sweating, on the verge of tears. I sit down with a racing heart and blood pressure so high, you’d think I had just taken five shots of espresso. I sit in her gaze, crying and asking for help as she compassionately asks me the hard questions.
“You should feel so proud of yourself for taking this step,” as she writes my prescription.
I am proud. In this moment, I am more of a helpless child, but proud I am. As long as it’s taken me to get here, it’s not because I think I am exempt. It’s not because I don’t think it can happen to me. It’s not because I am embarrassed. I needed to have a moment of clarity, a moment of realization that I can’t actually “handle” this or “manage” this on my own.
It was an emotional bottom that no one sent me into, not my kids, not my husband, not family or friends. It is no one’s fault. It was my depression and anxiety. They ganged up on me and attacked me all at once. I thank them for that. If it weren’t for that bottom, then I wouldn’t have made the gigantic step I did.
And I’m not alone.
I’ll never be alone in this struggle. I do not stand alone. I stand with a brave and courageous legion, who fight for their lives every day by using therapeutic interventions and medicine. Now we stand together to fight the stigma.
We are not alone.
Depression and anxiety does not discriminate. Every gender, every race, every size and culture suffers from these debilitating disorders. It’s OK because we aren’t alone. We have each other, to rid the shame and embarrassment from our minds and the stigma from our society. I am not ashamed. We are not ashamed, and you don’t have to be ashamed.
Because you are not alone.
Please find my courageous fellow writers’ and bloggers’ social media links below:
For those living with anxiety, it’s not uncommon to feel like your anxiety follows you everywhere. But what if your anxiety physically followed you everywhere?
A new CollegeHumor video, “What Social Anxiety Feels Like,” perfectly captures social anxiety by showing a girl named Katie’s anxiety physically following her around at a party.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in America. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, approximately 18 percent of American adults live with some form of anxiety.
The video, which has been viewed over a million times since it was published last week, highlights the challenges people with social anxiety face. Anxious Katie, the physical representation of Katie’s anxiety, mimics the internal monologue of people with anxiety, questioning everything Katie says and does while at the party.
“He doesn’t want to be cornered by you, and what would you even say? It would be so awkward,” Anxious Katie asks when Katie tries to mingle, interjecting every time Katie makes an effort to be social.
If you live with social anxiety, this might sound all too familiar.