Last year I spent a couple of months in therapy for a severe bout of anxiety. On my worst day, my fight-or-flight response got so bad I started bawling at work for no reason and had to leave early. I never wanted medication, so I gave hypnotherapy a shot. While it didn’t solve my issue, it did help me get a toolkit of coping mechanisms, such as choosing physical activity, the EFT tapping method, meditation and journaling. Things are a LOT better these days but there are still times when my anxiety rears its ugly head. Now is one of them. This image is a pretty accurate description of how anxiety feels to me:
It sucks. And I hate talking about it, because I don’t want anyone thinking I’m asking for them to tell me how awesome I am. Because honestly? When I’m in a state of anxiety none of that even helps. It doesn’t MATTER if you tell me I’m awesome or I have tons of be proud of or anything, because no matter what anyone says my brain doesn’t believe it. Because my brain is temporarily stupid. My brain is lying to me. My brain is asking me a thousand questions I can’t answer or that I don’t WANT to answer. I feel out of control at times.
The worst part of this anxiety is dealing with other people. I want to be around other people, but somehow the anxiety makes me feel like an addict. I crave the attention of others but my interactions are never quite able to quiet my inner doubt. Every second of silence makes me question the relationship, as if all of my friends suddenly find me the most irritating person on the planet. As if they can smell the desperation over the internet.
My safe spot is my car. I can make it through the evening of a bad day if I can make it into my car after work. There’s something interesting about the dynamic of sitting in traffic, surrounded by people who can clearly see you, but being alone, able to let go of the tears you’ve held in all day while trying not to reach panic attack level. It’s cathartic. Occasionally I wonder if people passing see me and make up a story about why I’m so upset, and then I remember that while I glance at other drivers, I rarely think deeply about their motivations. We’re a self-centered species, humans, and we often only focus on ourselves. I think that’s why so many of us know what it’s like to feel alone in a crowd. We’re focused on ourselves. It’s part of being human.
My anxiety is relatively infrequent, but when it’s here, it feels like I’ve always been this way and WILL always be this way. And these thoughts create a sick cycle of worry. When I’m not in an anxious state, I forget what it’s like to be anxious, and I forget that other people feel anxiety also. Sometimes I forget to be understanding about these things. At those times I’m sure I fall into the reassurance mode, telling people how awesome they are even though I know it doesn’t help.
Do you know what helps me? Writing this blog entry. When I started typing, my fingers on the keys, noticing that I’m beginning to have difficulty typing because my fingernails are entirely too long and are slipping off the keys, my anxiety was high. Maybe a 6 out of 10. I was fighting back tears. I’d taken a walk in the beautiful spring sunshine but that didn’t help much. I was tense and felt sick to my stomach and like I could only take very shallow breaths. But now, as I’m wrapping up this Tolstoyesque-seeming entry, my level of panic has reduced by half, to maybe a 3 out of 10.
The simple act of writing about it, getting it out of me, is helping. And no, it doesn’t bother me that this entry isn’t my “usual” fare of food and frugality with a dash of fitness. This is me, too. This is me.
I know many people who suffer from anxiety to varying degrees. Maybe you do, too, and don’t even realize it. Here’s a handy dandy list of coping mechanisms you can use if you begin to feel the world closing in on you:
Today I used exercise, writing and breathing. Today writing helped most. I hope some of these things can help you, too.