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What I Want People to Know About the Anxiety Hiding Behind My Smile

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Have you ever been going about your day and suddenly felt the physical urge to run?

As fear washes over you, you know you’re in danger and have to escape.

Adrenaline surges through your body, your heart starts racing, your breath becomes shallow, the panic sets in.

You’re on high alert, ready to beat the danger, prepared to do whatever it takes to survive.

But there’s nothing to run from.

There’s no one chasing you, burning flames aren’t about to engulf you, you’re not under threat.

Your environment says you’re safe, but your mind will tell you otherwise.

That is my anxiety.

From the outside looking in, I’m overreacting. “Move along please, nothing to see here,” says the crowd. From the inside looking out, the battle rages on.

Aside from the sense of impending danger that arises as a result of various triggers (which can be as simple as a smell or sound), my anxiety presents itself in many physical and emotional responses.

Anxiety, to me, is lying in bed at night replaying conversations from the day over and over again. Did I say the wrong thing? Was my tone misconstrued? Do I need to apologize? Again and again. The panic is palpable as it rises up through my stomach and sticks in my throat, as I believe I’ve mistakenly offended someone, anyone, I care for.

Anxiety is fretting about the future. Will my business fail? What would happen if I crashed my car tomorrow? How will I cope if my family gets sick?

Anxiety is waking up in the middle of the night mid-panic, banging the walls, desperately trying to escape from the suffocation that took over while I slept. And then, a moment of relief where I realize I’m safe, before the dread sets in. As soon as I drift off again, the suffocation will return. Too exhausted to stay awake, too scared to sleep.

Anxiety is the feeling of utter loneliness in the dark of night. Convinced that my next breath will be my last. Anxiety is that same feeling in the light of day, surrounded by people, but just as alone.

Anxiety is avoiding the shopping centre because the noise, the lights, the smells, the people — they all overstimulate my already heightened senses and send me into a spin.

Anxiety is feeling devastated that I’m not invited somewhere. Yet, when I am, not being able to go because I can’t get past my own front door. What if I don’t know anyone? What if I have a panic attack? What if I say the wrong thing? I’m safer at home. And then beating myself up because I let the anxiety that races around in my head win the battle.

Anxiety is the room spinning in the middle of an important work meeting when I’ve got to pay attention and contribute. And trying to ground myself without showing anyone what’s happening behind my smile.

Anxiety is depersonalization — the feeling that I’m detached from my body and my voice belongs to someone else. Every damn day.

Anxiety convinces me I’m having a heart attack. Or cancer. Or a stroke. Or a brain tumor. Or some other terminal illness. Even though the medical report is clear. “There has to be something wrong,” says anxiety.

Anxiety is not being able to go out and drink with my friends, even though I really want to, because I know the next two days will be spent in a big ball of unbearable hangover anxiety.

Anxiety is desperately searching Google and frantically trying to find the answers. But only ending up with more scarier-than-before questions.

Anxiety is nausea, stomach pains, bloating, digestive issues, sweaty palms, headaches, exhaustion, a racing heart, pins and needles in my face, my arms, my head.

Anxiety is angry, sad, jealous, bitter. Anxiety is shame.

Anxiety is the feeling that no one understands me. Anxiety tells me that I’m all alone.

Anxiety is here to stay. Anxiety is me.

The anxiety behind your smile might be different.

You see, that’s the thing with anxiety. Once you’ve learned about and understand your symptoms, new ones often emerge. You can’t compare your anxiety to someone else’s anxiety — how it affects people can be as unique as a fingerprint.

And that’s why I think it’s so important that we all talk about anxiety comfortably without feeling ashamed. Without being judged. Without someone telling you how you “should” be.

Medication, therapy and introducing self-care techniques can all help to reduce the impact anxiety has on your life but, once a bout of anxiety turns into a disorder, it’s often here to stay.

Sure, there will be good times and bad, but I’ve become comfortable with the discomfort because anxiety is part of me now.

I’m an educated, confident, 30-something business owner who has a great social circle. I attend business meetings, I go to the gym regularly and I have hopes and dreams like everyone else. I’ve worked on my anxiety for years and I understand my condition and manage it well. I can talk openly and freely to anyone and everyone about anxiety. Yet, when anxiety strikes, my mind ignores all of that and I feel like I’m in this on my own.

When you experience anxiety, it sometimes feels like no one understands you and all the therapy in the world won’t take you out of that moment where you feel like you need to run and all your other symptoms start creeping in. Or, sometimes, the symptoms overpower your body and mind in a split second, before you have time to put your coping strategies in place.

That’s why we need to support each other with positive connection.

Why we need to feel like we’re never alone.

Follow this journey here.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Lead image via contributor

Originally published: January 9, 2018
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