Disclaimer- I am not a medical professional or really a professional in anything related to the topic I’m about to speak extensively about. But that’s why this is a blog and not a scientific journal. I am a person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Many of you already know that, for those who don’t: welcome to a new side of me that you may or may not care to know.
One of the hardest parts of being an anxious person is that you feel incredibly isolated. I’ve talked about this before, but generalized anxiety feels so personal that you (I just dropped a Cheerio on the ground, I can’t find it and it’s going to ruin my night) can’t even explain it to someone. You know that other people suffer from Anxiety but you know that their symptoms manifest differently, their coping mechanisms are different, their triggers are different.
I understand that many people “try” to understand but a lot of people do a poor job of it. I’m not asking to you do research on the disorder, but I’m asking you to listen to me when I try my hardest to explain to you what it feels like. I hope that my elaboration can help you with someone in your life who may be suffering similarly. First and foremost, though, I want to put a stop to some of the misconceptions surrounding Anxiety.
1.) Generalized anxiety is not the same thing as feeling nervous
A lot of people falsely assume that having anxiety is similar to stage fright or the feeling you get when you go on a first date. It’s not. When my anxiety first started in 2nd grade it felt like constant terror. Terror that kept me awake at night, terror that had me bawling in the middle of a theater during the movie “Dinosaur,” terror that sent me home from basketball camp in an ambulance. It completely consumes you when it is at its worst.
With Generalized Anxiety Disorder, your baseline is stage fright on a good day. You wake up and it’s sitting on your pillow patiently waiting for your consciousness, leaping down your throat with a list of things to ruminate on. If you’re really unlucky you’ve already spent the entire night in anxiety ridden dreams which are so stressful you don’t even feel like you slept.
Yes, the average person experiences some anxiety. But the person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder experiences intense anxiety that is pervasive and, at times, debilitating.
The same concept applies here as it does with OCD. People will use the term Anxiety colloquially and not understand the repercussions. When you claim to “be so OCD” or claim to have “hardcore anxiety” offhand you are invalidating the experiences of those who have crippling mental health issues. Whether you intend on it or not, you are making our fight even harder.
2.) Anxiety is not something you can just “stop” feeling
It’s more of a symptom that you can manage. You can take action to help your anxiety, do things that give you brief respite… But you can’t just tell your brain to stop feeling anxious. Because guess what? My brain is a floating sack of chemicals and neural connections that are beyond comprehension. My brain is already self-aware enough to know that it’s fucked up- if it had any intention of changing I think it would have done so by now. Asshole.
That’s probably the thing that pisses me off most, when people tell me to “Stop thinking so much.”
Why. In. The. Fuck. Would. I. Choose. This? Please enlighten me.
If I could stop thinking so much I would just never feel anxious. My anxiety sets the pace; I don’t get to decide whether or not I overthink things.
Drugs help. Whether it be prescription medication, weed, alcohol. I know I turned to alcohol quite frequently. But nothing makes it “stop.” I don’t have the option of taking a long drink of water, staring at myself in the mirror, slapping myself across the face and yelling “get it together.” Isn’t that what normal people do? Or is that just in the movies?
3.) Speaking of drugs.
A lot of people use anxiety as an excuse to get Xanax or other Benzodiazepines for recreational purposes. They also use it as an excuse to get weed for recreational purposes. Unfortunately that lends itself to Anxiety being considered a “fake” medical problem in a lot of people’s mind.
I am one of the unlucky people who had symptoms of Anxiety manifest into physical symptoms. I decided to quit my medication from 2012 to 2014 because I thought I was “cured” but it turned out that my body couldn’t properly digest food without the medication. Once I cut out my medication “cold turkey” I started to show physical symptoms for Crohn’s Disease.
I spent a lot of time in doctors offices with invasive tests that led only to a bunch of expensive doctors telling me “It looks like Crohn’s, it behaves like Crohn’s, but the blood test is negative for Crohn’s… So I’m not sure, good luck!”
30 pounds lost and 2 years of discomfort and agony later- turns out my anxiety medication completely erased the symptoms. I tried to be strong enough to live without my medication because society makes me feel weak for needing it. Turns out I am weak without it.
4.) The hardest part
Making sense of it. You feel like there should be a reason for feeling anxious so you assign meaning to it. Rather than sitting here at my computer feeling like there are rocks rolling around in my stomach for no reason- I’ll assign these feelings of distress to things in my life. You get a little “chicken or the egg” situation here because you’re not sure if the stressful life situations cause the anxiety or if the anxiety would have been just as intense either way. But without a doubt- the chicken and the egg definitely enable each other.
My instinct is usually to avoid this feeling- because it fucking sucks. But right now I figured I would lean into it for the purpose of this post. I’ve thought to myself dozens of times today “Why can’t I just feel normal?” But I realize there is no normal and everyone feels differently and I’m just a particularly emotional being. Sure- I want to feel lucky for being uniquely me, but I also hate me for making me feel like an absolute trainwreck when there is objectively nothing to feel like a trainwreck about.
5.) So really- what does it feel like?
As I mentioned earlier, the first time I felt anxiety it felt like terror. It felt like my parents dying in a horrific car accident, my brother dying from an incurable infection, the world coming to an end and my house being torn up by a tornado. It felt like creatures floating around my room while I laid sweating in paralysis desperately grabbing onto my cat for a portal into reality. It felt like a loud ringing in my ear before I fell asleep was going to ruin me.
As I grew up it felt like motivation, it felt like the reason I was good at things. It felt like the constant reach towards perfection. It felt like my heart stopping moments before the gun exploded at the starting line. It felt like the reason I was never happy with myself because there was always something I could be doing better. It felt like never being content with what I had and always expecting more of myself- being disappointed whenever I fell short and still being disappointed by something I’d find wrong with my success.
Now it feels like something I can laugh about on some days and something that makes me want to die on other days. It feels like every person who has ever hurt me. It feels like that person who lives to watch you fail. It feels like someone hiding around the corner laying in wait to attack. It feels like the task I can put off for weeks and weeks until it becomes so necessary I can’t ignore it. It feels like rejection and failure- it feels like anger. It feels like frustration so intense and debilitating that you collapse inside.
It doesn’t feel like forever though.