Anxiety disorder is far more extensive than an ailment of someone who just worries too much. It is reflective of complete panic and it affects every aspect of life for those who suffer from it.
Anxiety has always been a part of my life. It isn’t something I talk about often, I suppose due to the negative connotation that comes with it. When people with anxiety get sick, they think the worst-case scenario of things.
Anxiety is more than just worrying, and to people who suffer from it — like I do —, the hardest part is self-acceptance. You accept yourself, you learn what triggers you and you learn how to deal with it.
Everyone else thinks people with anxiety is so irrational, but I understand you. You’re just afraid. Afraid of embarrassment. Afraid of disappointment. Afraid that the people you care about will walk away so you sit on my shoulder and constantly remind me of my flaws and insecurities because according to you, inducing fear in me will “protect” me, right?
I’ve always been anxious, always rushing around, and worrying, and being negative. My thoughts race between “I’m so alone” and “I’m having a heart attack” and sometimes go extreme with “I think I’m going to die.” Oh, and tears. There are always tears. It’s been clinically proven to be the same as the biological fight-or-flight response. Anxious bodies react to their triggers the same way non-anxious bodies would if someone pulled a gun on them and they felt the cold metal meet their forehead.
When it comes to being an anxious person, the best anyone can do is learn what triggers their anxiety and the coping mechanisms to help the moment they feel it escalating. It’s also important to find long-term strategies to prevent those feelings from building up. For people who may know and love an anxious person, the best you can do is a little research on how to be there for them. Ask about their triggers. Learn why saying things like “it’s not a big deal” or “that doesn’t make any sense” or “just try harder” are so, so problematic, and find productive alternatives. Ask what you can do to help. Listen. Most of the time you can’t look at someone and tell they’re feeling anxious, so if they choose to tell you rather than trying to bear the burden alone, really listen.
People will not always understand. What then are we to do? All I can do is be my own caregiver and get cozy with my anxiety since it’s not going anywhere. It’s not a battle I can win, but it’s not unmanageable either. In fact, I’m finding ways it works for me.
Katherine Sharpe’s Coming of Age on Zoloft describes her life and how she learned to live it with depression. She writes that the best counselor she ever had earned that title because of one question: how does your depression serve you? So I asked it too. How does my anxiety contribute to the parts of me that I like? If it disappeared tomorrow, what would it take with it and which of those things would I hate to see go? It makes me compassionate because I know despair. It makes me a better friend because I know loneliness. It makes me a better citizen because I have been met with reactions ranging from compassion to condemnation. It makes me stronger because it gives me something to spar with. And I’m working on letting go of fear of my anxiety in favor of being brave despite it.
If you’re still with me, thank you. It’s pretty cool that you wanted to know more. However, I doubt I’m the only one who by all accounts should be perfectly happy and yet isn’t, at least not all the time. Like I said, reasons are irrelevant.
I suppose the point of my little sermon is this: anxious people, and anyone else who struggles with mental health, are not weird, crazy, oversensitive or trying to be difficult. Mental health is nebulous, and we want better answers too. Believe me when I say we’re every bit as confused or frustrated or disappointed with ourselves as you’ll ever be. It’s not that we can’t handle the same things, but that we have to do them in our own ways, and it may take a little thinking outside the box (as in I meditated daily in full view of the public for over a year trying to “bring my thoughts back to center,” outside the box) to make it work. All we ask is for a little understanding, and if you don’t understand, for a little grace.
As for me, I’ll always be anxious. But I’m learning it doesn’t have to suck so much.