The Many Faces of My Anxiety (and Why I'm Glad I Got Help)
It’s been about nine months since I first started seeing taking medication for generalized anxiety disorder.
Nine months seems like such a long time ago, but to think I had been living — or rather, surviving — with a gray, suffocating blanket of tension for so many years, those nine months seem like nothing.
I want to share my story because anxiety has many faces.
I lived for years in denial and at times, in despair because I couldn’t put a name on my feelings. I didn’t have debilitating panic attacks. I wasn’t afraid of social situations (even though crowds aren’t my favorite). I lived (what I thought was) a “normal” life!
But whenever I filled out that survey at my doctor’s office — the questionnaire that described my anxiety symptoms — I knew the truth.
The many faces of my anxiety are:
Fighting ugly and using my keen ability to cut wounds with words as a defense mechanism.
Neglecting self-care because I don’t deserve to be pampered.
Sleepless nights because the “what ifs” and “I should haves” and “I can’t believe I said thats” never stop rolling through my head.
Changing my outfit 10 times and still seeing a fraud in the mirror.
Backing out of plans—or never making them—even though I’m desperate to get out.
Letting myself get behind on work because the thought of making a phone call terrifies me.
Acting like a know-it-all to impress my peers because I’m afraid they won’t find me interesting at all.
Snapping at coworkers when they offer gentle criticism or ask a question — and throwing files against the wall — because they must think I’m inadequate (it’s a wonder I was never fired).
Dreaming about a future I’ll never see because I’m too worried about the money I’ll never have or the chronic illness I’ve yet to develop.
Aches and muscle tension in my shoulders and neck.
Knots in my stomach or struggling to breathe when I am overwhelmed.
Feeling trapped in my own home, but sinking in quicksand when I’m out for too long.
Memorizing every single flaw on my body and denying that I have talents.
Knowing with all certainty that my child won’t gain weight or won’t fall asleep because I’m inferior. Because my body won’t produce the right kind of milk and why did I ever think I could be a good mother anyway when I can’t get my own child to nap for an hour?
Convincing myself that people I love will see the real me and leave when they realize they deserve better.
I thought this was normal. That I was simply too intense and nobody understood me.
I knew I wasn’t living my best life, but I thought I could fix it on my own. I was deathly afraid of that label — anxiety disorder — because it would mean I was flawed. That I couldn’t “do life” all by myself, like the fiercely independent woman I wanted to be.
Once I realized that my fear of judgment, my quick argumentativeness and my unwavering perfectionism were not merely character flaws but symptoms of anxiety, I realizedI was more than the sum of my “imperfections.” Medication and therapy didn’t make me less of a person.
And you know what?
Life is so much richer, fuller and brighter.
I am lighter. I have more confidence. And I can better control my emotions.
I still have my down days, but my only regret is waiting so long to seek help.
Anxiety comes in many shapes and sizes and it is only one piece of my character puzzle. Asking for help takes more strength than fighting it alone and once you take that first step, the rest becomes much easier. The picture of who you’re meant to be takes form.
Don’t be afraid of labels. Don’t think that you must fit a “one size fits all” textbook description to need help. What have you got to lose?
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Thinkstock photo via lupashchenkoiryna