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If You Could Imagine What Anxiety Is Like

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Editor’s note: The following description of anxiety may be triggering for those who live with anxiety disorders.

Living with anxiety is not for the faint of heart.

It means continually living your existence “on-edge.” In limbo. From worry to worry. Fear to fear. Panic to panic. Guard constantly up. Terrified to let anyone in. Petrified to open yourself to new and uncomfortable experiences and situations. Always in waiting for the next “what-if” to come to fruition.

Everyone experiences anxiety to a certain extent. But the difference? Most people can make it through their day, brushing off those little triggers. Asking themselves, “What’s the use in worrying about this anyway?” Moving freely throughout their schedule, with an overall sense of calm and peace. Although hiccups and speed bumps may arise, generally, they don’t turn into the mountains that form in the mind of those struggling at the mercy of this seven-letter ogre.

Those of us with anxiety? Our entire existence is about preparing ourselves for, pushing ourselves through and then, subsequently analyzing, those same “what-if,” hiccups, speed bumps and mountains. For those who can embrace a more carefree lifestyle, it may be hard, or even impossible, to understand what it’s like for someone with anxiety. Even when living under the same roof, seeing it day by day.

First, I would like to reiterate, the degree and intensity to which we respond to our anxiety is vastly different. For me? I don’t have outright, full-blown, “can’t catch my breath” panic attacks.

You will know I am in the midst of an anxiety attack because I will completely shut down. My heart will race. My mind will spin out of control. I might feel like I need to find some fresh air or a glass of water. Tears may come to my eyes. My mood will most definitely shift. This could last from seconds to hours. Sometimes, you would look at me and never know I am in the middle of utter turmoil both in my mind and throughout my body.

So, how do I explain this to someone from the outside-looking-in? What it’s like to live with the disruption and unrest of daily anxiety?

Imagine. Standing in the middle of a glass box. There’s no opening except for one hole at the very top. It’s exactly big enough for you to squeeze through in an emergency situation.

To get to that hole? A rope, dangling just inches above your highest vertical leap. If you really tried, with all your summoned might, then it could possibly find its way into your slipping grasp.

Now, imagine. An insanely hideous beast (absolutely indescribable) crawls into your box. Sheer panic ensues. You are stuck. You want to run for your life, but you are literally frozen in fear.

Heart pounding through your chest. Sweat dripping from your upper lip. Gasping for breath. Feeling as though you can’t pull in enough oxygen to remain conscious. Like sucking in air through a coffee stirrer straw.

Your throat is closing. Your face feels completely numb. Your mind literally spinning out of control. His overpowering nature begins pushing you here and there, taking over any extra room you had inside your box like a completely relentless bully.

Rope dangling. Just out of reach. It’s hot and sticky breath fills the glass enclosure from floor to ceiling leaving you in a state of utter terror. Alone. Gasping for air through a tiny tube. Walls closing in around you. Vision becoming blurred and spotty. Literally living a nightmare.

Now, you gain enough awareness that you look through your glass sides. You see everyone else out and about. They were able to grab their ropes. No straws in sight. Walking freely. Wondering what in the world you are so upset about. Because they can’t see the cause of your anxiety.

Suddenly the shame pours in. You don’t want anyone to know about this secret beast. You have tried so hard to keep him hidden. You wish with all your heart to flee.

From this monster. From this humiliation. From every single feeling rushing through your body. Yet, you. are. completely. frozen. You can’t move. You can’t catch your breath. Your heart is thumping. You feel faint. You feel lightheaded. You feel like this is it.

Your tears can’t fall fast enough. Your mind can’t catch a break on its closed circuit track of sheer panic. Then, somehow, some way, you realize, you pulled through. Seconds, minutes, hours later. Sometimes, you really aren’t sure how. Maybe it was alone. Maybe it was with a helping hand. Maybe with a familiar voice.

The feelings of “relief”? This break you are experiencing? You realize it’s all only temporary. You try to inhale as much fresh air as possible. You look up at your rope and realize it never moved. You look out of your glass walls, and realize you are still inside. You are too afraid to be happy, to be calm, to let go of those worries and to celebrate anything. Because you know it’s never over.

The monster? He’s no longer in sight. But you? You know he is still very much there. Around every corner. In every crack. In every crevice. Waiting for every potentially joyful moment to make his unexpected appearance, yet again.

And so you begin preparing, once more, for his next visit.

Image via Thinkstock.

Originally published: September 13, 2016
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