Explain Your Anxiety Like This Every Time Someone Doesn’t Understand

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Tell them that you have been attempting to fix it, to help yourself, to ‘not worry’ since the moment this thing first manifested itself in your life.

Tell them that you’re trying really hard to be appreciative of the advice they’re giving you about the thing that really worked for their cousin or the book that really helped their coworker. Tell them that you understand that their intentions are probably good and that human instinct is (usually) to comfort another suffering being in any way one can think of. But then tell them that anxiety is so complex, so powerful, so all-consuming, and so varied that it looks different and feels different in every single brain and body where it sets up camp.

Explain that this is a lot more than just worrying. Worrying is definitely a part of it, and the degree of its involvement is different in every case. But then explain to them that sometimes this is about barely being able to breathe. Sometimes it’s about being wide awake at 3 am, when the rest of the world is quiet, because you can’t shut your brain off. Sometimes it’s sitting right next to someone who loves you and still feeling millions of miles away, because this thing tricks your brain into convincing you that you are isolated and unreachable and completely alone. Sometimes it’s about feeling terrified or scared for no reason, and then watching that problem grow into a multi-headed demon, because the more anxious you get about the fact that there seems to be no source to the anxiety, the stronger and more powerful your anxiety gets – the more heads it grows.

Tell them how sometimes it softens to just a low buzz, and that when this happens, you feel a gratitude stronger than anything you’ve ever felt in your life. And then tell them that even though these days (or weeks, or months, or even just moments) free from anxiety are so incredibly wonderful, there still exists a low throbbing somewhere in your brain, telling you to enjoy this while you can. Because it won’t last permanently.

Because even though anxiety can retreat for a while, it always comes back. The ebb is a blessing, the flow is a guarantee.

Remind them that it is not their job to fix your problem. More importantly, remind them that it is not their job to fix you. You are not broken. You’re not weak or worthless or frail. Your brain is just operating on a difficulty setting that is higher than that of many others. You have to work harder to stay afloat, to keep your arms moving and your mouth sucking in oxygen even as the toxic thoughts – the ones that feel heavier than steel – try to pull you back under.

Remind them that instead of fixing you, instead of telling you not to worry, they just have to be there. It’s as simple and as complicated as that. ‘Being there’ won’t heal you and it won’t cure you. But it will give you a string – something thin but something there – that connects you to another person, that gives you a way to hold on to this world, that reminds you that good people exist and that they can sometimes soften the repeated blows of this awful, awful thing. TC mark

Kim Quindlen

I'm a staff writer for Thought Catalog. I like comedy and improv. I live in Chicago. My Uber rating is just okay.

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