I’m Anxious Nobody Will Ever Understand My Anxiety
“What are you anxious about?” the nurse asks, placing the blood pressure cuff around my arm. I am at a routine physical exam, but there is nothing routine about the way I panic before medical appointments. On the morning of a doctor’s appointment, my heart races the minute I awaken from sleep, my body acutely aware of what the day will bring. I spend the time leading up to the appointment in a state of abject terror. I regularly cancel and reschedule appointments over and over again. Once, an office secretary snapped at me for my long history of cancellations. She must have thought I was just lazy. She must have thought I just didn’t care.
Sure, there are things I dislike about going to the doctor. I despise stepping on the scale with the nurse hovering over me, as I feel absolutely certain I’m being judged. I’m scared of having my blood pressure taken, riddled with the fear of having a high reading, even though I have no reason to suspect such a thing would happen under normal circumstances. Frustratingly, since these appointments are not normal circumstances to the bucket of fear that is my nervous system, my high anxiety does typically send my blood pressure and pulse soaring. Not only does this increase my distress, but it also leads me to explain to the staff that, no, I really don’t have a blood pressure problem; I have severe anxiety.
On this day, in spite of my explanation, the nurse is marveling at my 140 bpm pulse reading. She asks me why I’m anxious in a kind of accusatory tone.Does she think I have something to hide from the doctor? I don’t know, but she has skeptically noted my Xanax prescription.
“It’s not any one thing. I have an anxiety disorder,” I tell her, annoyed. This is in my chart. “Hence, the Xanax.”
She doesn’t look convinced, and this isn’t helping my body’s fight-or-flight response. “Oh,” she says absently, watching as the blood pressure reading rises to meet my pulse.
I wonder why she was skeptical about the Xanax. It seems pretty evident that I need it.
At the end of the appointment, another nurse will check my blood pressure again. It will be normal this time, my body satisfied that the appointment, and thus, the trigger, has ended. It was just anxiety. It is always anxiety.
I think that anxiety has become so synonymous with stress that some people cannot fathom the concept of anxiety existing as a series of disorders all on its own. One would never, for instance, take the temperature of a person with the flu, and then ask why they have a fever. With anxiety, I’m constantly asked why I am anxious, even, as evident by the nurse’s reaction, from within the medical community itself.
So, here’s my answer. I am anxious, because something is wrong with my brain. I am anxious because I have a disorder as real and uncontrollable as the aforementioned flu. I have tried every trick in the self-help book. I’ve tried self-talk, visualization, hot baths and SSRIs. I’ve tried herbal teas and bottle after bottle of magnesium supplements. I write. I listen to Stevie Nicks. I read poetry.
I’m still anxious. I have stood on a boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean as pods of stunning dolphins, my favorite animals, coursed through the clear, blue waves, and yet, I was still anxious. It was still there, lurking just beneath my heart beat, asking me what would happen if I were to suddenly have a brain aneurysm, and pondering the meaning of life.
And, it was there that day, in the ambulance, that horrible, embarrassing day when I was careened down the street en route to the hospital, only to be told that what I perceived to be an early-onset heart attack was really just a panic attack.
“What are you anxious about?”
I guess the real answer I should be giving is that I’m terribly anxious no one will ever understand.
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Thinkstock photo via Tanyush