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Why I'm Not 'Myself' When I'm Anxious


 I have always been an anxious person — for over 35 years I’ve fought and won and fought and lost battles with my anxiety. People that knew me BCI (before chronic illness) might think “Yeah, right!” People may remember me as smiling, chatty, friendly and helpful — and they are right, that is me.
But there is also “anxious me” underneath that smiley exterior. The one that can be bossy and controlling as I try to influence the world around me to feel safer because I feel like I’m falling apart inside. The one that will excitedly waffle on a mile a minute, trying to say everything at once because what if I forget to say it? The one that used alcohol to mask my insecurities and drown the anxious voices telling me nobody liked me, I wasn’t cool or fun or intelligent enough to fit in in school, in life, blaming my behavior on the drink and not my inability to cope with my anxiety. The quiet one, the withdrawn one that comes across as cold and aloof, though really I’m struggling to follow a conversation and overthinking about when it’s my time to talk.
These are all me.
And I can be all these people at once. It gets very tiring, very disorientating. But more often than not, you would see me smiling, making eye contact, making sense. Hiding behind a well placed mask.
What you wouldn’t have seen is me crying and shaking when I’ve been around too many people and too much noise, you won’t see how my insides are knotted and I want to be sick when I’ve had to talk to more than a couple of people. You can’t see my mind whirling a hundred miles an hour going over things I’ve said or done, analyzing and fretting. But it’s all there, gnawing away at me day and night.
Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Just because I’m not outwardly showing it doesn’t mean I’m not feeling it. Just because I take medication or have therapy doesn’t mean it stops.
My anxiety will never go away. It’s a natural human emotion that most of us feel in varying degrees, it’s just that some of us struggle to keep it under control. It’s not about getting rid of it, it’s about managing it, understanding when we can cope and when we can’t. It’s a continual process battling these demons that you can’t see.
I would like to think that for the most part I’ve coped, but I’ve have some bad periods in life where I’ve lost my smiling self completely. Like right now.
The difference is this time I’m not putting on a mask, I am allowing the world to see me cry and shake, I’m telling those I love that I’m not coping and I need help. I am letting myself be vulnerable and open.  I want people to know that mental health issues can affect anyone.
So next time you see me you might understand why I won’t meet your eye, why I won’t stop and talk, why I’m not being “myself.”

Unsplash image via Rhett Wesley