Why My Anxiety Means I Can't Just 'Calm Down'
Editor’s note: If you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. To find help visit International OCD Foundation’s website.
Please understand an anxiety disorder is much more than feeling a little nervous. Everyone gets nervous, but those kind of jitters aren’t debilitating; anxiety can be. No matter how I try to explain this to some people, they don’t get just how bad it can feel.
Most days I am able to push through the anxiety and go about my life of raising my son, running my own business and enjoying some time with my husband. My medication helps, but sometimes anxiety takes over. I typically get bad when I am experiencing a great deal of stress in life. The past two years have been filled with stress, both good and bad. I became a mom, watched helplessly as health problems struck the lives of my loved ones and moved into a new home. Stress used to motivate me, but now I become immobilized with anxiety.
Here is a snapshot of some of the things I experience when the anxiety takes over:
1. I Worry I Am Dying.
I worry about aches and pains. I worry they are signs of a major, usually catastrophic, illness. A headache could be a stroke. My sore bones could be cancer. My racing heart is a sign of a serious heart problem and a sore calf muscle is definitely a blood clot.
2. Feeling of Impending Doom.
I feel like there will be a terrible accident or major tragedy at any point in time.
3. Vivid and Disturbing Thoughts.
I vividly see me and/or my loved ones dying in a tragic way and experience the emotions and physical effects, like a racing heart, knot in stomach, tears in my eyes and thoughts of missing out on life with my son and family. These thoughts randomly pop into my head out of nowhere, totally unprovoked.
4. I Become Detached From Reality.
I get more superstitious than I already am. I feel like the universe is trying to send me signs of good and bad. If I see 11:11 on the clock, I close my eyes and make a wish, but if I open my eyes and it’s 11:12, it won’t come true. When I see 9:11 on the clock, I worry that means something bad will happen. If I hear the song “Only the Good Die Young,” it’s talking about me. I once ran out of a grocery store after picking up a package of chicken that was $6.66. It occurred while my husband was flying for business and I was convinced that was a sign of something going wrong with the plane or trip.
5. I Fear Good Times.
I am afraid of being happy or things going smoothly because I worry it’s only a matter of time until the rug gets pulled from under me. My happiness = impending disaster of some sort.
6. Double Checking.
I become obsessed with checking everything — stoves, door locks and dryers. I have to examine every bump, cut or scrape on my son. I have to scope out all potential danger. I don’t trust what I see so I have to check again.
7. What If?
My heart races if someone doesn’t call or get home when they say they will — what if something happened?
8. Pain and Exhaustion.
I am in physical pain due to being so tense and on edge. I feel short of breath. I get heart palpitations. I get nauseous. My stomach cramps. And, I am exhausted because this intense fear is draining.
I don’t choose to be anxious. I don’t choose to feel or experience anything I described above. This is the nature of anxiety. I know when I am having irrational thoughts, so please don’t minimize my feelings by reminding me of this fact. Don’t ask me if I took my medication. Remember medication helps reduce symptoms, but it doesn’t make them disappear. I would probably be like this every single day without it. My illness will never go away completely. Don’t roll your eyes, shake your head or say, “Oh, Katie.” No matter how much my anxiety annoys you sometimes or seems “crazy,” I guarantee you that nobody is more annoyed than me.
I hate that I have these thoughts. I have been anxious my whole life, from the time I was a toddler. I hate that I missed out on things because I was afraid. And I hate that this monster follows me around and grabs me when I least expect it. I would hand over the lottery jackpot if it meant I never had to experience anxiety again. Please be patient and kind. Give me a hug. I don’t expect anyone to fully understand, but whatever you do, just don’t tell me to calm down. Don’t you think I would if I could?
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