For most people I talk to, when I tell them I experience horrible anxiety, they nod their head and tell me it’ll be okay. When I tell them, “I’m sorry, I have bad anxiety today, can we reschedule?” They smile and tell me there’s nothing to worry about and if I just get out of bed, I’ll see that everything is fine. When I don’t want to go out because I know that alcohol only increases my anxious tendencies I hear, “You’re fine. It’ll be fun!”
Meanwhile, my heart is pounding so fast that I’m afraid it may be visibly beating out of my chest. But it isn’t. My head isn’t actually spinning in circles. My eyes are not crossed like my blurred vision indicates. My knees aren’t wobbling along with the trembling muscles fighting the urge to collapse. My face isn’t pale and my eyes aren’t bloodshot. No, on the outside, I look like I do every day. My hair is clean. My clothes match. I am awake, alive and breathing fine. So nothing is wrong, right?
That’s the thing about anxiety. We look fine. Of course, we look fine. Our legs aren’t broken. Our tongues haven’t been cut out. We aren’t cut or bruised. Because anxiety is not a physical disability. That however, does not make it any less debilitating.
Anxiety is complex and it is nothing to simply smile and nod away. You telling us everything is okay not only doesn’t help us, but it hurts us more because nobody seems to take it seriously.
So here are some things I would like you to know about struggling with anxiety.
It is not constant.
There are days when I can make it through without having to stop and breathe or pop a Xanax. I can smile and laugh. I can be productive and go to work, go out to dinner, go see a movie with my friends. And trust me, I know how difficult it is to understand how I can be fine one day and the next, not be able to get out of bed. That’s just how it is.
Which leads me to my next point:
It comes in waves.
Anxiety is strange. It will let me have some fun for a couple of days and I think, hmm maybe it’s finally left me alone. Then a few days go by, and I wake up one morning unable to even think straight because for whatever reason, it has once again emerged and there is nothing I can do to stop it from coming because I have woken up to it sitting on my chest smiling as if I’m welcoming it home.
It can be completely paralyzing.
I don’t know if this one applies to everyone, but I know it is a very big piece of my anxiety disorder. When anxiety hits, I am frozen. I can get up and go through the motions of my day but my brain is elsewhere, held captive by whatever “demon” is inhabiting me this time. I cannot think about anything except my inability to think or breathe or feel. Let that one sink in. My brain feels like it is literally paralyzed, as if it is stuck in some kind of limbo with no doors or windows or exits of any kind.
The worst part? I’m completely alone in there.
It can ruin relationships.
Not just romantic relationships, but a relationship of any kind. Friendships and relationships alike can be destroyed by this condition. I have experienced both, and it is the most devastating kind of loss. Why? Because it is not our fault.
It is a disorder that, without the knowledge of how to care for it properly, can explode over time. Eventually, it can become too much for someone else to carry around with them. If they become close enough to you to experience firsthand the effects of your anxiety, it can become too much for them and they might sever the ties for their own mental health. And it hurts like hell.
But I can’t blame them because if I could choose to stay as far away from anxiety as they can, I would in a heartbeat.
I do not want this.
Do you really think that if I had a choice I would choose to let down the people who love me because I can’t handle a simple outing? Do you think that I want to be so afraid to get out of bed that, instead I call out of work and cry to Grey’s Anatomy for 13 hours in a row? Probably not. Would you choose that? Doubtful.
So when you tell us that we’re being dramatic and just looking for attention, take a second and think about what you’re saying to us. Nobody, I repeat nobody, wants this.
I wish every day that I wasn’t like this.
Not a day goes by that I don’t have that little voice in the back of my head telling me just how great my life could be if I wasn’t this way. If I could just not have anxiety, everything would be okay. I could actually be happy and trust that the happiness was not a joke or a trick; that the other shoe was not, in fact, ever going to drop. There is no other shoe. But that’s not how I am.
To me, no matter how many times I tell myself that everything is okay and I’m being ridiculous, nothing is ever just “alright.” In fact, even the smallest things are a disaster.
I will overcome it.
But it will take time. Fighting anxiety can be a never-ending battle with frequent slip ups and breakdowns along the way. I am still in the process personally, and it is not easy. At all. This is by far the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my entire life. And I have been through a lot. Learning how to overcome anxiety is the most difficult task anyone has ever asked me to complete.
So here’s the thing: Anxiety can be pretty heavy and scary stuff. It is not a visible injury, but that doesn’t make it any less legitimate. We need people in our lives who are willing to help us and support us and understand that we need a lot of that help and support. I won’t think any less of you if you don’t think you can handle the commitment of being a part of my life, but I do ask that you do not get my hopes up and let me down.
So when I say “I have anxiety” here’s what I really mean. Treat me nicely. Be patient with me. Support me. Know that everything I do, I am thinking about how it effects you. I am fighting for control over my life every day, understand that. I am a handful, and I know it. I am not always easy to have in your life, but if you let me, I will always be there for you. I will never forget the way you held on when most people would let go.
When I say “I have anxiety,” I am both warning you what you are in for and thanking you for choosing me anyway.