When Anxiety Nearly Stole My Identity
I have a history of anxiety and have struggled daily. I want to use my voice to help others and break the stigma attached to mental health. I am speaking out for myself but also for other people.
I never thought I’d be in a position where I would be obsessively whispering the phrase to myself, “I don’t know who I am anymore.” Surely that is a line taken out of a teen crime drama or a melodramatic soap opera? I thought it sounded ridiculous too, but nothing described what I felt more accurately. Slowly but surely, anxiety was spreading to different areas of my life without even a trace of noise, predictability or warning.
In hindsight, the onset was early. It started with things that could be easily misconstrued as timidity or embarrassment. My first public speaking task was in high school, and I vividly remember the palpitations, the sweating and the feeling of being judged before anyone had even opened their mouth to give feedback.
I joined a youth theater group in hopes that acting would help me adjust and make it go away. It helped for awhile, and I began to love it but only because I was in character. I was someone else. If I was myself, then I was screwed. I started treating a lot of things as an act. I was proud of myself because I found a temporary solution to (little did I know) an ever-growing problem.
The problem started to manifest itself in more (unnoticeable) ways. It is only now that I realize because it has interrupted my life for quite some time. My family starting picking up on my irrational fears, such us the overwhelming horror that came with making a phone call, the devilish tear-provoking times I had to stand up in assembly to receive an award or the shameful act of getting on public transport, fearing I would ask for the wrong ticket or get on the wrong bus.
Being in my teens when this all started meant a lot of it could be blamed on “hormones.” I told myself it was normal. My parents, doctors, nurses, teachers and friends all presumed so, too. However, I wasn’t really sharing the extent of it with them. I was absolutely terrified. I started missing out on huge opportunities because I couldn’t even get over the first obstacle. Things that “normal” teenagers would enjoy such as going to clubs, playing team sports and non-school uniform days were my worst fears and took every ounce of courage I had.
I got to the point that life was so full of fear and unbearably terrifying that I’d rather not be living it. I had hit depression, hard.
My anxiety became all-consuming, affecting nearly every part of my world. These are the areas of my life that were impacted by my anxiety:
1. Anxiety affected my self-esteem.
I eventually broke out of my deep depression by changing up my image. In all honesty, I think I helped myself accidentally. I wanted to be noticed by boys and be one of the “popular” girls. When I reached 10th grade, I started dressing up more and tried boosting my confidence. It helped for awhile; I got attention from my four-year-long crush and things were picking up! It still felt like one massive act though because as soon as I got home and locked myself away, it all kicked in again. I remember distinctively covering up mirrors around the house because I had picked up the compulsive habit of looking in it every minute. I’m not even exaggerating. It was hard because my anxiety was telling me people thought I was vain. In reality, it was just my insecurity and me not feeling good enough.
2. My family relationships were affected greatly.
I was an irritable and angry person. I only now realize this was the anxiety. Irritability is something that is very much uncovered during an anxiety attack. I never really meant to lash out, it just all got too much at times. I remember my parents or sister often saying, “Sometimes, I think you really hate me.” I didn’t. Of course, I didn’t. I tried so hard to stop myself, but it often got to be too much.
3. My anxiety affected my senses.
A person with anxiety is generally more sensitive to light, sound and their general surroundings. They automatically try and filter factors to control the situation. Meal times were the worst. The sound of people eating, chewing, talking, the bright lights, often my sister’s baby crying, the dog barking, the radio on, the sound of cutlery on plates and steam rising off of the hot food. Everything was times 10. Suddenly, my tone changed. I fell into an angry, resentful, tense state, which resulted in me often being a horrible person. I wish to this day that I could change it.
4. My sleep patterns changed.
I’d either not sleep much at all due to excessive racing thoughts, or I’d tire myself out in the day so much I would sleep for 17 hours. I didn’t really want to eat. My anxiety gave me a nervous stomach that made me feel nauseous a lot. I had aches and pains in my muscles and joints. I was just so tense and wound up.
5. My memory and thought patterns were altered by anxiety.
Even my focus and memory eventually became fragmented. I couldn’t find anything I enjoyed doing for a long period of time. Nothing was fun anymore. Even if it was, I didn’t have the focus to stick to it. I loved reading, but I couldn’t even read one page at the time. I wanted to sit and watch a film, but I couldn’t follow the plot nor could I sit still for that long because I was so restless and agitated.
6. People’s perceptions of me changed.
My identity was warped by anxiety in front of everyone’s eyes. I was tired, angry, jealous, irritable, insecure, lonely, misunderstood, restless, desperate, anxious and scared. I just wanted to live normally. I wanted to wake up and not be scared of little things. I wanted to not expect the worst out of my day. I wanted to go out and live my dreams without convincing myself I’d fail.
7. Anxiety impacted my ability to have a relationship.
Six months ago, I got into a relationship with a person who I would call my first real love. We are still together now. Anxiety had never affected my relationships before probably because they weren’t serious or it was still “high school.” Maybe this guy is just more special. I have never been a jealous person nor have I been a control freak. It was now evident that Jess, as I knew myself before, had gone. I was scared of pretty girls that could want him. I was scared he would want them. I was scared of good looking guys that he might even want. The thoughts in my head were haunting and I could barely recognize myself anymore.
Acceptance was the first step to moving forward and recovering. I am not “crazy.” I just have anxiety. I’m not mad. I just have anxiety. Sometimes, it’s difficult and I have to keep reminding myself. These scary thoughts are beyond my control. I am still struggling. It is a daily battle, but it’s slowly getting better.
Yes, I still have panic attacks. I still can’t focus on things well. I do overthink and jump to conclusions. However, I am trying different methods and supplements. Maybe someday I’ll be able to live freely without the torment of these terrifying and exhausting thoughts. I say, “Anxiety nearly stole my identity,” because I won’t let it win. It’s not over yet.
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