The Bear Metaphor I Use to Explain What Anxiety Feels Like
Imagine you’re walking through the forest at night. You’re lost and cold. Imagine the fear that would be running through your brain. What thoughts do you think you’d have? Probably something similar to this. “What if nobody finds me? What if I’m lost forever? What is lurking in the darkness? What made that twig snap? Oh, that was me. OK, onward. Wait, what was that?” At that moment, you see a brown snout stick out from the bushes, sniffing the air. “Oh gosh, it’s a bear. I just know it’s a bear. I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m dead. I’m dead.” It’s then that your brain kicks into flight-or-fight mode. Your first thought is probably to run away. It doesn’t matter that there’s no way you could outrun a bear or hide from it. People would probably say you’re ridiculous for trying. But, what else do you do? I know I’d run, the anxiety so intense I wouldn’t be able to think of anything I had learned in Girl Scouts about bears. I’d just run.
Life, for me and many others with chronic anxiety, is like walking through that dark forest. I’m always in a state of mild panic. And then, when I am called upon to do something, almost anything at this point, I feel as though I am faced with a giant, hungry, mother bear. I can’t think about anything except how to get away. Most people wouldn’t find what I am faced with nerve wracking. They have a hard time understanding why it’s so hard for me. A lot of people think I’m lazy and irresponsible. But I’m not like most people. For most my life I have dealt with anxiety and depression. And now as I am entering the world of adulthood, and all the responsibilities that come with it, it has increased into an unmanageable problem. Everything seems to be a bear, set on killing me. Going grocery shopping. Hanging out with friends. Making dinner. Going to work. Talking to people in general. And there are so many others who have this great of anxiety. The best thing anyone can do is being understanding. Knowing my friends understand when I cancel makes me feel like I can trust them and that next time, I can handle hanging out.
It takes a long time to get out of that dark forest, especially with a bear behind you. It’s an intensely frightening situation to be in. So when I cancel or call in sick or don’t respond to texts or phone calls, I’m in the middle of out running a bear and I’ll get back to you as soon as I feel safe.
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Thinkstock photo by Urmas83