When I tell most people that I have an anxiety disorder, they nod their heads and tell me itll be OK.
But when I tell them, “Im sorry, Im having a bad anxiety day, can we reschedule?” they smile and tell me theres nothing to worry about. They tell me that if I just get out of bed, Ill see that everything is fine.
And when I dont want to go bar hopping because I know that alcohol only increases my anxious tendencies, I hear, “Youre fine. Itll be fun. Let off some steam!”
Meanwhile, my heart is pounding so fast that Im afraid it may be visibly beating out of my chest. But it isnt. My head isnt actually spinning in circles. My eyes are not crossed like my blurred vision indicates. My knees arent wobbling along with the trembling muscles fighting the urge to collapse. My face isnt pale, and my eyes arent bloodshot.
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?
Thats the thing about anxiety disorders: We look fine.
Our legs arent broken. Our tongues havent been cut out. We arent cut or bruised. Anxiety is not a physical disability, but that doesnt make it any less debilitating.
Anxiety is complex, and when people tell me that everything is OK, it isnt just unhelpful. In fact, it can even hurt me more because it seems like nobody takes my anxiety seriously.
So here are some things I would like you to know about struggling with anxiety:
1. It isn’t 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. Thats just how it is.
2. It comes in waves.
Anxiety is a strange beast. It will let me have some fun for a couple of days until I think, “Hmm, maybe its finally left me alone.” Then Ill wake up the next morning unable to even think straight because for whatever reason, the beast has once again emerged. 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 Im welcoming it home.
3. It can be completely paralyzing.
I dont know if this one applies to everyone, but I know this paralyzing fear 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. 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? Im completely alone in there.
4. 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.
Anxiety 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 someone becomes close enough to you to experience firsthand the effects of your own anxiety, theres a chance that it can become too much for them. They might sever the ties for their own mental health. And it hurts like hell.
5. It can make trust nearly impossible.
And I know it sounds awful to blame trust issues on anxiety, but in all honestly, its not placing blame, its placing responsibility. Anxiety almost never fails to make you think the worst of every situation.
If someone doesnt answer my text, well then thats it, they no longer like me. If someone doesnt text me first, they dont 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? Didnt think so.
5. 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 cant handle a simple outing? Do you think that I want to be so afraid to get out of bed that instead I call off work and cry to “Greys Anatomy” for 13 hours in a row? Probably not. Would you choose that?
So when you tell us that were being dramatic and just looking for attention, take a second and think about what youre saying. Nobody, I repeat nobody, wants this.
6. I wish every day that I wasnt like this.
Theres always a little voice in the back of my head telling me just how great my life could be if I wasnt this way. If I could just not have anxiety, everything would be OK. 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 thats not how I am.
To me, no matter how many times I tell myself that everything is OK and Im being ridiculous, nothing is ever just “all right.” In fact, even the smallest things are a disaster.
7. There are treatments, and I am willing to try them all.
Many people who are diagnosed with anxiety are prescribed medication to control it. Most of the time, those medications work to take the edge off and can make me a bit more functional in everyday life. However, simply using medications usually isnt enough.
I have tried going to the gym. The endorphins usually help immensely. A lot of people take up yoga and breathing exercises. For me, writing, singing, and coloring in my adult coloring books are very comforting.
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 youre in is the such a freeing experience. I highly suggest it to anyone struggling with anxiety.
8. 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.
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 that I can mark a check in the win category, I feel like I can take on the world.
9. Anxiety is heavy, scary stuff.
It is not a visible injury, but that doesnt 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 wont think any less of you if you dont 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,” heres what I really mean: Treat me kindly.
Be patient with me. Support me. Know that in everything I do, I am thinking about how it affects you. I am fighting for control over my life every day. 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 about what you are in for and thanking you for choosing me anyway.