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The Worst Part of Having Anxiety That Isn't the Fear

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For many people, the worst part of anxiety might be the raw fear. The panic attacks, the shaking hands, the awful and gut-wrenching stomach aches that make me feel like I am going to throw up. But no, that isn’t the worst part. I can deal with pain or fear. I can fight my battles, but I can’t win the war on my own.

The worst part of anxiety for me isn’t fear. It’s the loneliness.

The fear factor pushes away most chances at vulnerability, at sharing my struggles. Sometimes, I think, “This might be a good chance — this person might care.”

No. Stop. They don’t care. You are annoying them. They are pretending to like you. Pull away, they hate your weakness.

This person is so sweet, they will totally understand and love you anyway.

No. Stop. They won’t get it. They will think you are overreacting, they have bigger problems.

It gets exhausting — night after night, day after day, trying to pretend everything is rosy. Hiding symptoms but wishing, praying, pleading someone would notice. Trying to live up to everyone else’s expectations, but crumbling inside. Feeling like it’s my fault, that others have it worse, so hide, run, keep it locked away.

Loneliness is a strange concept, and yet so basic. It’s a lack of connection, of love, of trust, where the world looks beautiful but it all means nothing because you don’t have anyone to share it with. It’s seeing a world full of things that don’t satisfy; a world that feels empty, lost, aching. However, it’s not wanting to reach out and make connections — to talk and laugh and love — because that takes being vulnerable and being vulnerable is hard.

Just because you have a lot of friends doesn’t mean you aren’t lonely. I have lots of friends — a couple of hundred on Facebook and Instagram alone, and many more in real life. But practically none of them truly know me.

Knowing you have a secret makes it even harder to draw people in. You feel like you are always hiding things from them because there is a big part of your life they don’t see.

But the absolute worst part is when you do tell someone and they don’t follow up. When you finally say the words, “That was a panic attack, I get them often,” and they never ask again. You feel like you’ve done something wrong, scared them off, that it was too much information, that they can’t handle it. When you tell someone, you hope they will respond, or start asking how you are feeling, or stop taking “I’m fine” for an answer. But often, they never mention it again — maybe once or twice early on, maybe once every couple months. But it seems they don’t want to brave the storm or stand by you in the battle.

Not everyone is like that though. So how can you help someone who has anxiety, who reaches out? If they tell you they have been struggling, do not let that go. Ask how they are, be there ready to fight the demons. Don’t ever let someone believe they have to fight this alone.

Most often though, people don’t reach out. So if you see someone who looks nervous, who is compulsively fidgeting, who keeps disappearing into dark corners, talk to them. Ask how they are feeling, if they need water, if they want a hug. Sometimes that hug can be a physical place of safety that people with anxiety need. Don’t be afraid to break that barrier.

Do not let anyone fight alone.

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Unsplash photo via Josh Adamski

Originally published: June 10, 2017
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