8 Things I Want My Family and Friends to Know About My Anxiety
I have anxiety. Not the kind where you hear people say, “Oh, I have a test today. I’m super anxious!” Then, it goes away. No, my anxiety is severe, debilitating and at its worst, crippling. I try my best to mask it on social media and in life so no one knows I’m secretly losing a battle with my own mind. I think I even try to fool myself too, to make myself think it’s not so bad but it is.
Anxiety ruins my life, every single day. There’s not one day that passes where I’m not thinking about how I would do anything to make this go away, to end this war going on inside my head. It’s so hard to go to sleep at night, knowing the demons and beasts I dealt with all day today will be waiting to greet me in the morning. I have anxiety, and this is what I want my friends and family to know.
1. I cannot control the irrational thoughts.
I know when I ask you for reassurance constantly, it gets annoying. I know I really don’t have a life-threatening disease when I feel a headache coming on. I know my irrational fear of not being able to drive anywhere by myself isn’t normal. Here’s the thing: all of those irrational fears and thoughts I have aren’t my own. They are the thoughts of my anxiety. Even though I know all of the irrational things I think aren’t true, I can never convince myself it’s false, that it’s all in my head. So please, bear with me as I fight this battle with my own mind.
2. I don’t cancel plans to avoid you.
When we make plans, I really do have the best intentions of showing up, visiting with you and having a fun day full of laughter and smiles. However, you need to understand the amount of fear I get as the time gets closer for us to meet up. You’re at your house, and all you’re doing in getting ready and probably thinking about what you’ll make for dinner after you get home.
Me? I’m on the floor in my bathroom sobbing and rocking back and forth because I can’t physically bring myself to do my hair, to do my makeup or to make it to the front door to drive to see you. When I do cancel our plans, please believe me when I say how hard it is for me. I don’t spend the time we would have spent together binge-watching Netflix or eating my favorite junk food. No, I’m in my safe place, curled up in a ball on the floor of my shower, crying because that’s the only place that drowns out the sounds of my anxious and fearful thoughts. Believe me, I feel bad about canceling for several days after.
3. I’m afraid of my own mind.
I know, people say this a lot, “I’m going crazy! Oh my mind is going to turn against me one day.” To me, mine already has. To me, my mind isn’t my friend. I’m my own worst enemy and my own worst friend all at the same time. I never tell myself I look good. I never tell myself I’m a good artist. I never tell myself anything good. It’s all negative.
You could be skinnier. You really could be smarter. You are so silly for being an artist. Don’t you know you aren’t good enough to make a name for yourself?
Every day, I fight a constant battle with my mind which is always, always trying to tear me down. Not only does it tear me down, but I always convince myself I’ve done something wrong or someone is mad at me because they took too long to call me back. I know that sounds illogical, believe me I do. Yet, to my anxious mind, that fear is completely rational.
4. Some days are better than others.
I know it may seem weird, that one day I can go out to the store with you and walk off by myself to go pick out my favorite snack. Then, the next day, I have to wait in the car because I had a panic attack on the way to the store or to the restaurant, and I can’t stop myself from hyperventilating or uncontrollably crying. I wish there were more of the better days than the bad ones. Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case, but I promise, I still love you just the same on both days.
5. I really do feel like I’m dying when I have a panic attack.
I know from an outsider’s view, a panic attack must not make any sense and seem pretty scary. I appreciate that you take the time to tell me to calm down or to just breathe. I need you to understand just how scary and real a panic attack is to me. My panic attacks come out of nowhere. They are usually noise triggered or when my nervous system is just overloaded.
When I have a panic attack, it feels as if I’m locked inside a small glass cube, and all of my friends and family are sitting there staring at me, as water is rapidly rising. So I start to hyperventilate, and it feels like I’m actually suffocating. So I start gasping for air, although my oxygen levels are perfectly fine.
My throat starts to tighten as well as my chest. My hands, feet and face start to tingle, and then, my hands go into temporary paralysis and are locked into two claw forms, begging to be released. All the while, you’re still sitting there, outside of my little glass box, telling me to calm down, while you don’t see the water slowing getting up to the top.
I start rocking back and forth and sobbing because I know this is the end. My heart is going 100 miles a second and sweat starts rolling down my face, and I can feel the end coming. I let out a scream because everything just hurts so bad. Then, I can breathe again. Suddenly, the water starts to drop, and the box is slowly opening. I start to get feeling back into my extremities, and I’m able to say, “I’m OK.” In that moment, yes, I am OK. Yet, I’m also terrified of when my next panic attack will show it’s ugly face because with every attack I have, I grow more and more fearful of them happening again.
6. I’m not rude or being anti-social, I promise.
When I’m having a really bad anxiety day, I get stuck in my head. I hardly notice the world that is going on around me, and I have tunnel vision. All that seems to exist are the constant worries and fears dancing around in my head.
Do I feel OK today? I just got a random pain in my foot. Do I have foot cancer? I shouldn’t have said that thing last month. That was not smart. What if no one likes my artwork I posted on Instagram?
I promise you, when you talk to me and I come off as distant, I don’t even notice I’m doing it. I’m too focused on my mind and making sure to cover all of the worries and fears to make sure I didn’t miss one.
7. I miss me.
I know. I’m still here physically, but mentally, it doesn’t feel like I am. I don’t feel like the same old girl who was carefree, spontaneous or adventurous, who you used to know. Now, I just feel scared, worried and anxious, every single day of my life. There hasn’t been one day that hasn’t gone by where I haven’t cried because of how miserable I am and how desperate I am for this all to go away. I hate this part of me, and I hate that you have to deal with it too.
8. I’m still here.
Yes, anxiety has taken over my life. I can’t go fill up on gas when my gas light comes on by myself. I can’t drive myself to get a haircut. I need you to drive me because I’m worried about driving on the highway. I have to run out of the movie theater when I have a panic attack triggered by loud noise, and we can’t finish the movie we paid $12 to see. I seem disinterested in our conversations, or I just seem like I’m not in the mood to talk. I can’t work up the nerve to go to a networking event that could greatly benefit me as a thriving artist. I can’t go out to eat with you without needing to get out my medication to calm me down before I break out into a panic attack.
I can’t do a lot of things the way I used to anymore, but I’m still here inside. The girl you knew that was so full of life and loved to make everyday adventures. She’s still here. I know it doesn’t seem like it, but I am. I try so desperately to break free out of this web of anxiety that is robbing me of my happy life.
So this is me, and I have anxiety. But you know what? Anxiety does not have me. I know I will overcome this, and I know I will come out strong. This may be the toughest battle I have ever had to fight, and it may be a long and excruciatingly painful one, but I will win this. My anxiety doesn’t define me. It’s just a part of me, but I refuse to let it take me down. I refuse to let it make me sink.
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Image via Emily Cromwell.