Each and every person who gets the unwanted pleasure of facing the monster will have their own way of describing how it feels to them.
Me? When it hits boiling point it feels like I’m in a pool of water and it is slowly but threateningly rising above me. Ironic for someone who literally is not a great swimmer. Do I like the feeling of suffocation? Um no can’t say I do. Do I like having a big, horrible stigma on top of me? No, no, farrkkk no. It’s not a ride anyone would sign up for. There is no one that chooses to have anxiety. There is no one who asks for it, and there is no one who wants it. It is unpredictable, frequently in-explainable, mostly unreasonable and always uncomfortable.
An anxiety diagnosis finally gave me some sort of clarity. I’d never found it ‘normal’ getting the shakes whenever I would go to a bar with my friends, and when invites to travel long distances to unfamiliar places came up there was not a chance in hell I’d take them (unless Aladdin’s magic carpet showed up, then I’d possibly re-consider). It was a relief to finally have an answer to such odd, intrusive behaviour. The next step was trying to get my over-thinking, over-daydreaming head around how to cope with it.
Anxiety is a cloud of worry that constantly hovers. It scares you into running back to your comfort zone, and it makes it incredibly easy to do so. There is no other time when you yearn for that comfort zone more than when you have an anxiety attack. The attacks are like a fun little lucky-dip, so many possible symptoms and you don’t know what you’re going to get. Shaky hands and legs, nausea, pounding heart, and trouble breathing to name a few. Some people are extremely good at hiding them, you would have no idea they are even having an attack. Some people, like myself, have been forced to take that moment like a duck. Trying to uphold a cool, calm and composed look on the surface but really underneath it all there are little legs that are going absolutely berserk to stay afloat. Why? I would love everyone’s attention on me during one – said no one ever, because my friend how do you get others to understand when you don’t even understand it yourself?
It’s the big battle between mind and body, and it’s certainly not fun to ride out especially when there are people around. Let’s take the simplest ingestible pleasure- a chai latte for example. You could absolutely froth over these (see what I did there) and have twenty of them a week. Pan the camera over to the lady having one in a social setting or one a first date with the boy she likes and anxiety can make its entrance. That creamy indulgent chai latte somehow becomes difficult to drink. This can be enough for the beautiful, confused brain to holler at the body that things are about to get a whole lot worse, and then other symptoms follow suit. Next thing you know the setting gets louder, the world you’re looking at is shrinking smaller, and your body is rejecting that taste of the drink that you generally love so much. You feel the fever, your body is tingling and numb, and you now feel like you are going to throw up. A whole lot of symptoms thrown at you to get you to run. Like I said- unpredictable, in-explainable, uncomfortable and unreasonable. Anxiety has the ability to stop you from enjoying things in life.
It can hold you back and at times you can’t be the person you want to be. Like the time I first met a guy (I was seeing at the time) best mates. I walked away from that experience so mad at myself because I came off so reserved and snob-like having had my walls up. Unbeknownst to him, I was in a panic at how fast things seemed to be moving. I mentioned I was a bit nervous about meeting his friend’s beforehand and his reply made me feel like I was overreacting. Silly even. I dealt with my anxiety horribly and came across not very likeable at all. That’s how I understand it would have appeared to them. But really it was me being uncomfortable and pushing myself into a situation I wasn’t ready for. Unsuccessfully I tried to convince him that I did like his friends and that I had friends who were just like them, honestly I did like them damnit! But his good looking head did not seem convinced. I had kept the anxiety ride to myself at this stage and it’s a pity my actions spoke incredibly loud about a disorder that I had kept incredibly quiet. Anxiety is dangerously easy to keep quiet. I wanted so bad to explain myself afterwards, I wanted so bad to say “It’s not you, it’s me- my anxiety.” Literally! Because it was the truth. I took this as a lesson that I could miss out on good things because of anxiety.
Some days it can get too much and it seems that a walking, talking, body of anxiety is what you’ve become. The small things become big and the light hearted is just that bit more sombre. All you want to do is curl up in your safe haven of a home, lay all day in the comfy bed that provides you warmth or sit on the couch just you and your favourite book. Lock the door to the outside world and not have to speak to anyone. Not have to struggle through a regular work day. Not have to put on a front and be a certain way to put off people from making comments about any out-of-character behaviour, that in itself uses up so much energy you’re already trying to cling to. After all, some days you just don’t want to hear “What’s wrong?” No matter how good the intentions behind it may be. Why? Maybe there is nothing that is clearly a major problem, the fight you have with your own thoughts has just exhausted you too much. After all, constant overthinking is tiring and extended worry is tiring. You understand you can ride it out and you will get back to being you. Having had to welcome these feelings many times in the past they do their time and then leave. You get through it. It becomes the norm. But being constantly asked over and over what is wrong? Anyone and everyone has the ability to be selective with who they open up to and to the right people they will choose the right time to. Being heavily mentally and emotionally exhausted doesn’t mean you will continue to go downhill. It just simply means it’s time to take the time out to look after yourself and recharge. You can make it better, and who better to make it better than your brave, splendid self?
Making a conscious effort to stay on top of my anxiety has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Although it will still rear its ugly head unannounced, like a lovers attention seeking ex-girlfriend who’s come back to stir the pot (go awayyy already). It’s a partner in life that I am continuing to learn how to best work with. Regularly I reflect on what I’ve learnt about it and how far I’ve come. If only I had the ability to not bow down in fear to it when I met that guy’s friends, if I had explained what had happened it would mean greater awareness on his part. Think about how many other situations in life that appear the same? Someone behaves a certain way and you immediately form a natural judgment. There is always a reason behind someone’s behaviour. Sometimes that reason is the complete opposite to what you may think. Everyone’s ride is different, only you know what is best for you and in your own time you will work through it. People who stick by you and look out for you (even if they don’t understand why you’re hyperventilating in the middle of the cinema) have no idea just how much they are appreciated! Remember to design and live your favourite life. “Oh the places you will go!” The good man Dr Suess did ponder. At the end of the day only you can help yourself and why wouldn’t you? Be nice to yourself, you are built to do marvellous things!