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How Anxiety Feels to Those Experiencing It

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It’s like being stuck on a fairground ride and not being able to get off. The panic rises slowly from the bottom of my stomach, up towards my head. It’s thick and sticky – like syrup – and as it rises, so does my level of panic. My heart begins to beat faster and my thoughts become quicker, flicking across my head like ticker tape: images, words, people, memories, sounds, all roll into one massive fast-paced carousel. But this carousel isn’t fun or exciting like the ones you see at the fair. The horses aren’t beautiful and golden, moving up and down with ease. The music isn’t beautiful and there are no twinkly lights or the sound of laughter. This carousel turns quickly, everything outside it a blur, the feeling of nausea from moving up and down and round and round so fast you can’t process what’s happening.

It’s like being in the middle of a hurricane. Within the eye of the storm, everything is quiet, silent. It looks like safety, but you know it isn’t. You can see the destruction approaching, twirling so fast you can’t tell which way it’s going. You don’t know what’s familiar and what isn’t, what’s safe and what’s dangerous, but you’re pretty sure everything is dangerous; at least, that’s what your brain is telling you.

It’s like sinking in quicksand; you’re stuck and you know it’s only going to get worse from here on in, and there’s nothing you can do about it. You’re trapped. As the panic rises higher and higher, engulfing your entire body within its midst, you feel like you can’t breathe. You’re drowning, but you know if you shout for help no one will hear you, because you’re paralyzed by this invisible force only you can see.

You’re pretty sure it’s not real, but there’s another part of you that thinks: “But what if it is?”

It’s like being inside a prison cell, the bars just close enough to keep you entombed inside, and seeing everything you want on the other side — a calm blue sky, a bright warm sun and a gentle breeze. Your family and friends sat around laughing and enjoying themselves – but you’re not there. On your side of the bars, a storm is brewing; it’s just not quite here yet. Thunder booms and lightning crackles a little way off, getting closer and closer with every thunderclap. You know it’s coming closer because the gaps between the flashes are getting quicker; you repetitively count the seconds between to distract yourself, but you can scarcely count to three before the black sky is lit up again. Strong winds beat you from side to side and huge raindrops pummel your body over and over. There is no relief, you can see no shelter, and you know this is only the beginning. You berate yourself for feeling this way, but you also know deep down that it’s not your fault. There is nothing to hold onto except the bars separating you from the calm, your fingers raw and red from cold as you grip the hard metal as tight as you can.

Because despite the pain and the panic, you know you must hold on. Storms don’t last forever and these feelings will pass. You have a 100 percent success rate at making it through these times, and that means a high probability you can do it again and that you’ll be OK.

Although you know these things, there’s a part of your brain that still thinks, “But what if?” A thousand other negative things try to force their way into your head.

Instead, ask yourself: “But what if my anxiety is wrong? What if tomorrow is brighter?”

I know tomorrow will be brighter, and I hope you know it too.

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Unsplash photo via Eugene Triguba

Originally published: May 22, 2017
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