The funny, or perhaps terribly frustrating thing about anxiety is one is never sure how to start explaining it. Do I begin with how it electrifies my skin in a way that makes me want to rip it off, or do I discuss that it sets my teeth so on edge my head feels like its wobbling of my body? Will these descriptions be so off-putting I will be disowned by the person across from me? Will I make sense? Should I bother? Now I am more anxious.
This is just a small taste of an anxiety attack, made profoundly more frustrating by the fact that I have no idea where it came from, why I am having it, or when it will end.
“Why are you anxious?”
The eternal question asked by those around me.
“I’ve been anxious before but this doesn’t seem like anxiety.”
Yes, I and everybody else who suffer from regular anxiety attacks understand that. What you are feeling may very well be anxiety. Likely, however, it is nerves. The paralyzing anxiety felt by an individual with GAD, causing them to flee social situations, seize up when speaking to another person, or wake from a dead sleep, heart hammering for no apparent reason is not classified as nerves.
We do not know why we are anxious, sorry. Please stop asking.
I can’t remember the first time I had an anxiety attack, because I have always been anxious. I spent the first ten years of my memory white-knuckling life, unable to understand why it seemed so hard for me to function in situations where everybody else seemed to move so effortlessly.
With age it lessened, but only just so. I could breathe, but it felt as though my chest and lungs had strengthened, not as though the anxiety had weakened. I began to push back, ignoring it. If everybody else was fine, I would also be fine. There was enough wrong with my life and I refused to add to it.
Still, there were times when the burden became too much to bear, and I would break down. Without warning it would come crashing down like an undeclared force of nature. No warning sirens before, no relief efforts after. Just me, alone, in the doldrums of a storm. It took many years to realize sometimes anxiety was the storm, and sometimes I was the storm.
It seems anxiety makes you your worst enemy. It begins with anxiety at first, of course. You don’t know what it is, where it’s coming from, or how it’s going to hit you. Everybody’s reaction is different, and it can take years to learn your anxiety. After a time, however, once you get used to your anxiety, you learn to start claiming it, or it starts claiming you. It wasn’t until I was in my teens that I realized I needed to react before my anxiety began, rather than during or after.
Unfortunately this only does so much, and the questions of why it was happening, and why I didn’t just stop it continued. Why these questions? Do people honestly think we want to feel as though our entire lives are falling apart for no reason? I’m going to be perfectly honest here. If I could snap my fingers and end it, I would. Everybody would. It’s a living nightmare waking up in the morning, not knowing if you are going to live those hours, that day, or even that entire week with the gut-wrenching, dreadful fear that everything will come crashing down on you for no reason at all. To look for reassurance wherever you can find it, knowing somewhere in the back of your mind you must sound insane to those around you, but needing that support is a feeling so dismal just the thought of it makes me want to curl into a ball so small I’m never seen or heard from again. So yes, if I could end if forever, I would, and to be frank, you sound like a dickhead when you ask a question like that.
The trouble with anxiety, with people who have anxiety, is we need time.
Time so few are willing to give. We may need a lifetime. A lifetime of, “Yes it’s okay,” or “We are okay,” or, “You are doing fine.” Saying this over and over seems tedious to many, and I can understand why, but to the anxious mind it feels necessary. We quell it; so many of us bite our tongues when we so desperately want to ask these questions. We wonder if things are okay. Our brains claw at our skulls, demanding answers, but somewhere a quiet voice says, “If you ask too much, they will leave.” This only serves to heighten anxiety, but we often listen to that voice. How could we not, when we are so afraid of losing yet another who we have grown to love?
We work, incessantly, to get it under control. We work so hard. It doesn’t look like it and that’s the problem. All the work happens inside our minds. I read somewhere once an anxiety attack takes the same physical toll on the body as running a marathon. I believe it. I have felt it. I have lived it many times without giving myself a chance to recover in an effort to show those around me I am tough. I am strong. I am “normal” and they can stay; they don’t need to worry about reassuring me or being annoyed because I don’t need it.
This is ridiculous. Don’t be like I was.
Ask for reassurance. Take time for yourself. Cry, or laugh, and ask for hugs. Lean on those close to you if they allow or if they’ll have you. If they do not, find new people to be close to. You will need this to have more control over your anxiety than it has over you.
Do not believe you need to appear strong by hiding anything or pretending something is not affecting you.
Let it affect you so you may learn to live with it, so you may wake up fewer days with a nauseating feeling in your stomach clawing its way out through every pore of your skin. Though you may build a support system, learn also to be alone with your anxiety. Make friends with it.
Understand it only has the power you give it by stepping outside of it. Be patient with yourself; give yourself the time so many would not. Learn to breathe through an attack as your eyesight blurs and you are unable to even focus on these words on the screen. Understand every attack shall pass, that you can be your own reassurance, but that the love and support from others can help if you let it.
You have anxiety, but that doesn’t mean it has you.
And to hell with anybody who asks you why you don’t just get rid of it. You’re trying hard enough to understand yourself without trying to show the ignorant how to understand you.