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6 ‘Weird’ Manifestations of Anxiety We Don’t Talk About

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Anxiety is like the Greek serpent, Hydra. It has many heads and trying to narrow it down to just one is a gross oversimplification that will only deter someone from truly understanding/defeating it. Anxiety is often portrayed as shyness, over-preparedness or perfectionism, and those are perfectly valid experiences with anxiety. Heaven knows I experience some of them plenty (I can’t say I’ve ever been charged with being over-prepared, though… like, ever). But that doesn’t mean those are the only ways anxiety manifests itself in a person’s life.

It took me so long to realize I had anxiety because I didn’t fit the stereotype very well. Instead, I gave my anxiety symptoms different names, usually self-shaming names like “laziness” or “dramatics.” Now, I’m learning to identify my anxiety, which is giving me a little more power over controlling it, which is very nice.

All of this, of course, is done with the help of my amazing therapist. If you’re looking into starting therapy (which I highly encourage for everyone!) check out my series of posts on how to get started in therapy.

In this post, I just want to describe some of the ways I experience anxiety. I call them “weird,” but they may not be. They just aren’t the classic example of anxiety I’ve gotten so used to seeing, which is why I want to call more attention to them.

1. Debilitating indecision.

This is probably the form of anxiety I struggle with the most, and it is so unbelievably frustrating. So, here’s what this feels like: I’m writing this post at 4 a.m. because I tried and failed to fall asleep and decided I should just do something. But then I had to decide what to do. And as soon as I realized I had to decide what to do with my time, I felt my stomach start to roll and my butt start to sweat. I cannot make decisions, especially small ones. The smaller they are, the harder they are for me. Every option I could think of (read, write a blog post, get some work done, etc.) all felt vaguely “wrong.” Like I’m looking for the “right” thing, and none of them are it, so I can’t do anything. From what I’ve read, this is also a classic symptom of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but we’ll talk more about that when I get to the section about my health anxiety.

OK, so how do I deal with debilitating indecision? Well, sometimes I just stay frozen until I get so bored and frustrated, I start pacing around the house and eventually start doing something. That’s not my favorite method, though, obviously. Other times, I’ll text my husband or a friend, typically in all caps, begging for them to just tell me what to do with my time. Honestly, just having them respond saying, “Megan, seriously, get out of bed, you can do this,” is usually enough to give me a jump-start.

But at 4 a.m., this is not an ideal method for resolving this anxiety either. So, I got an app: Decision Roulette. You just type in the different options you’re stuck between, and it creates a fun little wheel! You spin the wheel, and voila, the app decides for you. Full disclosure, the wheel landed on “read” both times I spun it, and both times I was like, “but I don’t actually want to read.” But it still helped, because when faced with the task of reading, I realized, no, I don’t want to take in material right now, I’m ready to put material out right now. That helped me decide to write a blog post instead.

2. Something is not right.

I truly hate this kind of anxiety because it is so nebulous and, in my experience, impossible to resolve. This is just a feeling that something is not right. Maybe you’re just thirsty? Or maybe you’re avoiding some negative feelings? Are you forgetting something important? Are you picking up bad vibes from someone around you? Is it possible you’re clairvoyant and something truly awful is coming and you can sense it?? No, right? But… maybe?

I hate feeling this way. I was flooded with this feeling just a few days ago and I still couldn’t tell you what exactly caused it or why it eventually went away. This makes it kind of hard for me to give advice on how to deal with it. Truthfully, I don’t understand this anxiety very well, and I mostly cope with it by zoning out to TV shows I’ve rewatched a thousand times while I play silly word games on my phone. It doesn’t feel very good, but it’s better than just stewing in the uneasiness. I am getting better at recognizing it, though. I used to feel this way and have no idea what was going on, and that would make me even more anxious. Now, when I start to feel that vague wave of malcontent wash over me, I can point at it and say, “I know what you are, sort of. You are fear, and that’s OK.”

3. Health anxiety (AKA hypochondria).

OK, I know I’ve said this about all of them so far, but I really, truly hate health anxiety (formerly known as hypochondria). I don’t know that I have official, diagnosable health anxiety, but the fact I think I do is fairly damning.

Basically, I think I have every mental health condition that has ever existed. On good days, like today, it’s relatively easy to remind myself the diagnosis is not what matters, but rather the symptoms and how effectively I can manage them, especially because most diagnoses overlap and change from one Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) update to the next. But on bad days… oof. On bad days, I am utterly consumed by a destructive, feral need to know what the hell is wrong with me. Because something has to be catastrophically wrong with me, why else would I be such an absolute disaster of a person? Yeah, I use diagnoses to cope with my shame, I know it’s not great and I’m working on it, but on the bad health anxiety days, that self-awareness only fuels the fire. I get caught in loops about how horrible I am and how I’m clearly faking, and other loops about how I clearly have ADHD, borderline personality disorder (BPD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and my therapist is just diagnosing me with depression and anxiety because it’s what she’s more comfortable with. On these days, my brain literally feels like it’s on fire and absolutely nothing can put it out.

Honestly, the best way I’ve found to cope with health anxiety is to wait it out and do my best not to research too much. Unlike other types of anxiety, I find you can’t “resolve” health anxiety because you’re looking for an answer that doesn’t exist. I know now I can’t research my way to the correct diagnosis because my anxiety about all of it gets in the way (and because I’m not a trained professional). And I’m learning a diagnosis is not the magic answer I desperately want it to be. I have been officially diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), and yet I am still thoroughly obsessed with my mental health, so clearly a diagnosis was not the missing piece of this puzzle. On bad days, I forgive myself when I give in and do my obsessive research, and I remind myself this will pass. It always passes, and I feel like a human being again.

4. I am literally the devil.

Ah, OK, finally we have reached a form of anxiety that is weirdly comforting to me: self-loathing. I have hated myself for so long that there are days where thinking things like, “I am literally the devil, what the fuck,” actually provides me with a vague sense of comfort. Like, ah yes, this is what I deserve, at least I know who I truly am and where I belong: in hell with my demonic brethren. There is a sense of stability when it comes to my self-loathing, because it’s a part of me I know very well. In contrast, the part of me that loves myself is very fresh, new and often terrified, and thus, far less trustworthy.

I don’t mean to find comfort in my self-loathing. I still try to combat it when it pops up, but there’s a part of me deep in my core that is far more comfortable hating myself than loving myself, and the only thing that will change that is time. Right now, I combat self-loathing thoughts in a few different ways. Sometimes, I just point them out and call it a day. This might not sound like much, but just identifying a self-loathing thought as a problem rather than totally normal, healthy self-talk is a huge win for me some days. Other times, I can identify the self-loathing thought and try to think something to counter it. “I am literally the devil,” is a thought I have a lot, so I might think something like, “No, you’re a human. Humans make mistakes and that sucks sometimes, but it doesn’t make you the literal devil.”

On really good recovery days, I’m able to reach out to the wounded part of me these kinds of thoughts are coming from and not only think a thought to counter the self-loathing, but also address where all the self-loathing is coming from. Basically, in my experience, the best way to fight self-loathing is with a lot of internal work. No amount of bubble baths or walks in nature can make you love yourself if you don’t do the work to get to know yourself and accept yourself.

5. Physical anxiety while my emotions look on with vague annoyance.

I think this form of anxiety is a byproduct of recovery. As I learn to identify my anxiety as something outside of myself, there are times where I can tell my body is anxious — racing heart, sweaty palms, fuzzy head — but I don’t actually feel that anxiety in my emotions, like I do with all the other forms of anxiety on this list. It’s like watching a toddler throw a tantrum. When they were a baby (before I devoted so much of my time and energy to being well), I used to come running every time they so much as whimpered. But now I’ve been through so much with this little anxiety-baby, I know when they’re really upset and when they’re just cranky, and I can look on with boredom and bemusement as they scream themselves hoarse without feeling guilty or ashamed.

My best solution for this kind of anxiety is to drink lots of water and wait it out. Some of the more stereotypical self-care activities sometimes help, like coloring or exercising, but sometimes they don’t. Trying to resolve this type of anxiety too quickly can actually force my emotions to get involved, thus, making it worse, so I’ve learned to just let it be, keep an eye on it, but not freak out.

6. Codependent clinginess.

This anxiety is all about my shame around having needs or wants. I am utterly terrified to want or need anything at all, lest I take up too much space or ask too much of those around me. And as a result, I tend to kind of cling to people who validate me in some way. Their acceptance of my existence gives me permission to seek out my needs and wants without feeling as much shame. However, as a result, this means I often feel like I’m not “allowed” to do anything without their permission.

One example of this might look like me desperately wanting to make brownies, but not being sure if “should.” I could ask my husband if I should make brownies, get his permission so to speak, but then I think about how silly it is to need permission to make brownies, so I don’t ask and instead I get stuck. I just sit there, craving brownies and not making them, growing increasingly frustrated with myself and, unfairly, my husband, who knows nothing about this internal brownie battle. But to me, it feels like he is withholding his permission to make the brownies by not magically reading my mind and helping me with all this.

This anxiety is so hard to deal with because these patterns were formed in childhood and inner-child me is still so desperate for the validation of others, she’s too scared to voice any of this. But adult me is learning to take care of inner-child me and speak her desires and fears out loud. Whenever I realize I’m getting stuck in this loop, I do my best to just word vomit it all out. I just announce, “My brain is being weird, buckle up, I need some help.” When it gets really bad, I may wait until the next day, when the person and I aren’t physically together and then I’ll text them and try to explain the situation. This isn’t ideal because I think face-to-face conversations are often more meaningful when it comes to breaking down anxiety, but it’s better than silence.

So that’s it, those are my “weird” anxiety experiences that don’t seem to fit the classic picture of GAD, but nonetheless, seem to be a part of my experience with it. If you experience these, too, please let me know in the comments, because it would be amazing to know I’m not totally alone.

A version of this article was previously published Megan Writes Everything.

Unsplash image by Yoann Boyer

Originally published: March 27, 2020
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