What I mean when I say 'I have anxiety'
Trigger warning For most people I talk to, when I tell them I have an anxiety disorder, they nod their head and tell me it'll be okay. When I tell them, "I'm sorry, I'm having a bad anxiety day, 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 bar hopping because I know that alcohol only increases my anxious tendencies I hear, "You're fine. It'll be fun. Let off some steam!" 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? Wrong. That's the thing about anxiety disorders. 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 a complex disorder 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. 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: Anxiety is a strange beast. 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, the beast 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. 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. 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 know it sounds awful to blame trust issues on anxiety but in all honestly, it's not placing blame, it's placing responsibility. Anxiety almost never fails to make you think the worst of every situation. If someone doesn't answer my text, well then that's it, they no longer like me. If someone doesn't text me first, they don't think about me. Someone is busy? Forget it. They just have better things to do with their time than spend it with me. I sound ridiculous, right? Welcome to the anxiety life. We do not have cookies, sorry, but can I interest you in crippling loneliness at a table for one? No? Didn't think so.
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. 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. Many people who are diagnosed with anxiety are prescribed medication to control it. Most of the time, it works to take the edge off and can make me a bit more functional in every day life. However, simply using medications usually isn't enough. I have tried going to the gym. The endorphins usually help immensely. A lot of people take up yoga and breathing exercises. Those are supposed to help, I haven't tried them yet but they are next on the list. I do a lot of things that make me happy. For me, writing, singing and coloring in my adult coloring books are very comforting. In addition to all of these things, I have found talk therapy to be the greatest tool and worth every penny. Having a therapist who is constantly on your side and there to just let you talk without ever once judging you or blaming you for the condition you're in is the such a freeing experience. I highly suggest it to anyone struggling with anxiety. 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. Anxiety however, takes the cake. Learning how to overcome anxiety is the most difficult task anyone has ever asked me to complete. But these thoughts, the ones that are not truly mine, feel like poison to my soul. But on those days when I can mark a check in the win category, I feel like I can take on the world. I want every day to feel that way, and I won't stop until every day does. 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.