I was about seven years old when I was convinced that I had swallowed lead (yes, element Pb) and was dying. I had eaten a bowl of strawberries before bed, and while brushing my teeth to the tune of the ABCs, I noticed a black spot on my tongue. I swallowed, and it was gone.
As if being fired out of an artillery unit from Age of Empires, my heart pounded as my brain went into overdrive. My palms began to sweat and I considered all the possibilities. OBVIOUSLY what was on my tongue had to be a toxic substance and not merely a seed from the strawberries I just finished eating. I went to my mom and cried until I had drenched the top of my batman pajamas.
I was just a kid, right? Kids think and do stupid stuff, right? I’d grow out of it, RIGHT?
The spring after moving cities for college I began developing strange headaches. They weren’t particularly frequent or intense, but I began fixating on them more and more. Thanks to WebMD and an Internet connection, I had the cause narrowed down to 3-4 chronic life-threatening conditions. After seeing three doctors and having an MRI, it was concluded that I had overactive sinuses due to allergies. Yeah, I had allergies.
Throughout high school and early college I always had to touch base with my friends about our “friendship status”. I was so worried that they would all randomly leave me and I would be left alone to spend my Friday nights looking up random facts on Wikipedia or getting destroyed on MMORPGs that I was terrible at. These conversations looked kinda like this:
Me: Hey are we still friends?
Friend: Of course!
Me: “How about now??”
But that’s what full-blown anxiety is. It is irrational, impervious to logic, and all consuming. Once someone with anxiety finds something to be anxious about, it takes all the energy on god’s green earth to pull them away from it.
Not too long ago I published an article called “An Anxious And Eager Twenty-Something’s 10-Step Guide To Using Tinder.” The piece was super exaggerated — I do try to entertain people after all — but the reaction I got from a great number of people was that the premise was outlandish. There was no way anybody could ever experience anxiety from Tinder, they said. Nobody takes life that seriously, they said.
Everyone has moments when they are anxious. Before job interviews, big exams, when asking out a crush etc. etc. Everyone understands being anxious about that stuff — about the stuff that makes sense. What people don’t understand is being anxious about leaving on the hairdryer that you almost certainly turned off, or the birthmark on your arm that the doctor has told you isn’t cancer, but you know for sure just HAS to be, or whatever the almost-certainly-impossible scenario is of the day. People don’t understand that there is a huge chasm of difference between feeling anxious from time to time and having an anxiety disorder.
Having anxiety, the illness, means being worried over the stuff that doesn’t make sense. It means waking up one morning and wondering if your BFF will suddenly decide to hate you, or whether you are going to get fired because your boss said your project was “great” rather than “great!” (spot the difference between the two??).
Anxiety has been diminished to this cute little thing that we experience in bars when we want to talk to the boy in the sky blue tank top and feel nervous, or before some speaking engagement. It has been made into this temporary condition that people talk about on Twitter as some big LOL. But for those of us who are diagnosed with anxiety, we know different.
And this isn’t to delegitimize anyone who has felt awkward or anxious from one time or another. You have feelings and experiences too that are important! But for those of us with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, or some other nasty cousin of those, we freak out about stuff that isn’t…possible. Stuff that is hard to understand sometimes. We get that. But it doesn’t change the heaviness of what we feel.
So whenever you are dealing with us folks with anxiety disorders, remember to offer us a little extra TLC every now and then! While our anxiety sucks giant donkey balls, it also makes us more empathetic and understanding of other people’s needs, so don’t be afraid to lean on us too! Thanks for your patience as we work through our occasional neuroticisms. We love you for it! (Tell us you love us back plz 💚 ).