“I think–” I started and hesitated. “I think I might have anxiety.” I made this admission to my husband late one afternoon as we went for a lazy stroll together by the lake.
“You think?” he responded incredulously.
“Yeah. I just — wait, how long have you known?”
This may seem unbelievable to some people, but I really didn’t know.
I didn’t know I had anxiety.
Correction: I didn’t know it was OK to know I had anxiety. I didn’t know it was OK for me to say out loud what I kind of knew for a long time. I didn’t know it was OK for other people to know.
I didn’t think anyone would believe me because I didn’t believe me.
I thought for so long that because I looked OK, acted OK, sometimes even felt truly OK, that the label “anxiety” was off limits to me. I genuinely thought I wasn’t allowed to use it to refer to myself because anxiety was reserved for people who didn’t have their lives together. It belonged exclusively to the poor souls who couldn’t hold down a job, couldn’t go to work or school or even the supermarket because they couldn’t function.
I pictured the person with frazzled hair and her hands held protectively close to her body as she shook and trembled. The person who found some corner at Kohl’s (because who doesn’t find Kohl’s overwhelming?) to curl up into a ball, arms protectively wrapped around his head, because he was having a panic attack.
I imagined a person who was consumed with anxiety. Who lived anxiety. That’s all they were. They owned the term wholly and completely and there wasn’t room for anything else in their lives.
The media helped give me this image. They have defined what anxiety is and what it must look like: The lady hoarding cats and coupons, sleeping on top of a pile of old trash. The old man too scared to ever leave his house. The person bawling and crying in public, red in the face from hyperventilating. The person eventually taken away in an ambulance, strapped down to a stretcher so he doesn’t hurt himself or anyone else.
I never saw myself in those depictions, so I denied myself the naming of my monster.
How could I have anxiety? I have my sh*t together.
I have a job I’m pretty amazing at.
I’m starting my own business.
I did better than a majority of my graduating class in college (take that Praxis exam!).
I have friends.
In fact, I am married to my best friend and we have a wonderful relationship.
I leave the house. I bathe. I go to work. I go to the supermarket. I’ve never once had a panic attack in public.
How could I possibly ever own the word “anxiety” when I have all of that going for me?
But that’s all on the surface.
It turns out I can have and be all of those things and still have anxiety.
I can come right up to you and introduce myself without a hitch, wear bright colors (pink!) and smile a lot, laugh often, talk more than my husband would prefer (and louder too), and say funny or outrageous things without shame. I can be the life of the party. I can be outgoing and suggest we all go do karaoke and take tequila shots together. I can go out dancing all night long.
I can do all of these things and still have anxiety.
It turns out just like the brightness of your tablet screen and spicy food, like hurricanes and humidity, there are degrees of anxiety. It’s not all or nothing. There are shades of anxiety. There are levels intensity.
There’s even a special term for exactly what I’ve been dealing with all this time. It’s called “high-functioning anxiety.” There’s a pretty great article on it here!
And once I realized I can both function and have anxiety, I was so relieved. I was relieved to know there are different levels of anxiety, different severities, and that I could have it. I could have it without the panic attacks in public or the hyperventilating. I could have it while holding down a job, going out with friends, and laughing a lot.
I could have anxiety.
How empowering it was to know to finally know the name of my monster.
Names are important. I believe it is only when we know the name of something that we can ever truly understand it. Elias Canetti once wrote: “You have but to know an object by its proper name for it to lose its dangerous magic.”
And David S. Slawson wrote in “Secret Teachings Art of Japanese Gardens:”
Names are an important key to what a society values. Anthropologists recognize naming as ‘one of the chief methods for imposing order on perception.’ What is not named in a culture very likely goes unnoticed by the majority of its people. The converse is also true: people pay greater attention to things that been given names.
It’s a rather desperate struggle when you don’t even know the name of your personal demon. Think of all those people visiting doctor after doctor, trying to discover what is wrong with their bodies. They need a name, even if that name is cancer, because they need to know what it is if they want to fight it.
I had to know the name of my monster. I had to know its name to fully perceive it. To see it. To pay attention to it. I had to know its name so I could understand it.
Nameless, it would always have control over me. I would always fear it.
Once I learned its name, I could fight it.
Follow this journey on Hot Pink Crunch.
Image via Thinkstock.