As I was scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed the other day in between classes, I came across an online article that made me stop and do a double take. My heart skipped a beat as I read the words and something inside my brain clicked. I’d never read about my anxiety in a context like this, the concept of “high-functioning anxiety.”
Let me break it down a little bit: people with high-functioning anxiety are disguised as the overachievers. They’re the busy folks, the ones with the planners chock-full of highlighted to-do lists, always running around having to be somewhere in 10. But behind this façade of busyness is the crippling fear of failure. They fight constant (and I mean constant) thoughts telling them that they just should give up, that none of this is worth it.
Even trying to describe it using words on a page doesn’t begin to fully explain it. It means wanting everything to be perfect, but having trouble finding the motivation to give it your all. It means knowing you can, and probably should, accomplish a task relatively quickly, but something stops you dead in your tracks. The dreadful feeling is underneath your skin, weaving its way throughout every corner of you. You can feel it down to your bones.
“You’re not worth it. You should stop trying. Just give up now, what’s going to come of this? People won’t appreciate your hard work. Nobody loves you.”
Believe me, I get it. I have ideas and inspiration swirling around in my head all the time, but I lack the proper confidence to actually do something about them. That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. I have a journal full of unfinished song lyrics, poems, mini personal narratives… but almost none of them have seen the light of day. I’m scared of not succeeding, scared of admitting that something’s gone wrong in my head. I was raised with a can-do mindset where failure is not an option.
It’s a vicious cycle that I can’t make myself break out of. I try to see the humor in these situations (I think I’m like Chandler from Friends in that way, trying to make everything into a joke, especially my pain), but the truth is, it’s getting harder and harder to look at myself in the mirror when all I see is a nobody. For me, I think that’s the worst part of it all: My brain tries to convince me that no one cares about me.
Lately I’ve been spending less and less time with those just outside my door, and more time in the comfort of my own room. But is it really comforting? Is this really what I should be doing? I tell myself that I am truly the only best friend I need, but that mindset is toxic.
Alone time is always a good thing, but when that stretches from a Friday all the way to a Sunday and I’ve only left my dorm for meals, it becomes a problem. My mind tries to trick me into thinking that I’ve lost my footing completely… Maybe it’s right. The self-deprecation and self-hatred changes the way you perceive others, but mostly, the way you perceive yourself. I flounder in seemingly normal situations.
I was at Target trying to decide between two different shirt sizes and it took twenty minutes of pacing around the store, going back and forth in my head, worrying about what will happen if I pick the wrong size. I finally just grabbed one and went to check out.
Last week, I took off all my makeup and reapplied it three times in one day. I’m constantly paranoid that people are looking at my face and thinking about how terrible my makeup looks, so I try to fix it. All. The. Time.
A few days ago, I heard a group of girls walking a little bit behind me as I was heading to the elevator in my dorm. Though they were quite a distance back, I still picked up my pace and eventually broke into a run to get to the elevator so I wouldn’t have to ride it with people I didn’t know.
I’ll do whatever I can to avoid situations where I may be uncomfortable. Those situations may seem like no big deal to others, but to me, they’re everything. They dictate what I do and where I go.
The thought of being in the teeny, shaky elevator with those four random girls laughing and talking to each other made me start to panic. My gut reaction immediately told me DANGER, DANGER, GET AWAY, NOW, YOU HAVE TO RUN.
A few weeks ago, in my English class of 7 people, I accidentally blurted something out loud during a discussion and my mind will not let me forget it. I’m afraid to say another “dumb” comment, so I don’t participate as much as I used to.
I rack my brain trying to come up with ways to stop the constant fidgeting, but it keeps coming back with a cruel vengeance. Twirling my hair. Obsessively tapping my feet and fingers. Pacing. Balling my hands into fists. Quickened breathing. Avoiding eye contact.
All of these things act as a direct result of my brain firing messages at me: sound the alarms, something’s not right, something’s off, you’re off, you’re losing it, you’re going crazy.
Perhaps the most debilitating aspect of the anxiety is its unpredictable nature. Everyday activities like watching a movie, hanging with friends, or doing homework are often randomly interrupted by feelings of dread and nervousness, feelings that make my mind go haywire and my fingers start to tap.
You don’t need anyone – no, correction, they don’t need you, my brain tells me, push away any and all human contact. And of course, that’s exactly what happens. Hey, it’s much easier to avoid interaction than have to explain why I act the way I do. I can barely find the words to explain these things and that’s overwhelmingly frustrating:
Why I don’t respond to text messages right away sometimes because I just don’t want to have conversations, for no apparent reason. Why I like to keep out of fluorescent lighting because I’m overly self-conscious about how my skin looks. Why I’ll avoid pulling up directly next to cars in traffic so they won’t look over at me.
Things like this make me nervous, and any potential for situations like these makes my walls go up and stay up. By now, I’ve gotten used to the drum of my fingers and the quivering of my body. But others haven’t.
“Are you okay?” and “What’s wrong?” are questions I’m sometimes asked… But how do you find the answers to questions that you’ve convinced yourself people never truly mean?
I never think anyone actually cares enough to truly ask how I’m doing and mean it. It’s not that I don’t love the people in my life or appreciate them. My brain has just conditioned itself to push away anyone who seems to want to know all that truly goes on inside my chaotic brain.
I find myself apologizing. I’ll say things like, “I’m sorry I’m being so weird” or “You shouldn’t have to deal with this.” No. That’s not fair, and it’s taken me far too long to realize that.
I refuse to apologize, because no matter what happens, anxiety doesn’t define me, and it doesn’t define you, either. This isn’t your fault. It isn’t anyone’s fault. These things happen, but we can prepare ourselves for when they do. Whatever is going on in your head, whatever mental illness is plaguing you, you are not a burden.
Your foundation may be a bit shaky, and I know sometimes it feels like the walls could come crashing down at any moment. You’re stronger than that. Hey, you’ve made it this far and you’re still here. That counts for something. And if no one’s said it today, then I’ll say it: I’m proud of you.
You matter. Keep moving forward.
Above all, please remember that bad days do not make a bad life. We like to wallow. We’re comfortable with it because, let’s face it, it’s much easier to think about just how miserable we are than to try to seek help.
But these dark clouds are only temporary – they won’t last forever. You’re loved to the moon and back, a million times over. Though you’re in a world of 7 billion other people, you’re not alone. Seek out the people who truly want to know if you’re okay, not the ones who ask only because they feel like they have to. You’ll know ’em when you see ’em. Life has a funny way of showing us who our true friends are.