When I tell most people I talk to that I have an anxiety disorder, they nod their head and tell me it'll be OK. When I tell them, "I'm sorry, I'm having a bad anxiety day, can we reschedule?", they smile and tell me there's nothing to worry about and if I just get out of bed, I'll see that everything is fine. When I don't want to go bar-hopping because I know that alcohol only increases my anxious tendencies I hear, "You're fine. It'll be fun. Let off some steam!"
Meanwhile, my heart is pounding so fast that I'm afraid it may be visibly beating out of my chest.
But it isn't. My head isn't actually spinning in circles. My eyes are not crossed like my blurred vision indicates. My knees aren't wobbling along with the trembling muscles fighting the urge to collapse. My face isn't pale and my eyes aren't bloodshot. No, on the outside, I look like I do every day. My hair is clean. My clothes match. I am awake, alive, and breathing fine. So nothing is wrong, right? Wrong.
That's the thing about anxiety disorders. We look fine. Of course we look fine. Our legs aren't broken. Our tongues haven't been cut out. We aren't bruised. Because anxiety is not a physical disability. That however, does not make it any less debilitating. Anxiety is a complex disorder and it is nothing to simply smile and nod away. You telling us everything is OK not only doesn't help us, but it hurts us more because nobody seems to take it seriously.
So here are some things I would like you to know about the struggle with anxiety.
1. It is not constant.
There are days when we can make it through without having to stop and breathe or pop a Xanax if we are lucky enough to have a prescription. We can smile and laugh. We can be productive and go to work, go out to dinner, go see a movie with our friends. And trust me, I know how difficult it is to understand how we can be fine one day and the next unable to get out of bed. That's just how it is.
2. It comes in waves.
Anxiety is a strange beast. It will let us have some fun for a couple of days and we think, hmm maybe it's finally left me alone. Then a few days go by and we wake up one morning unable to even think straight because for whatever reason, the beast has once again emerged and there is nothing we can do to stop it from coming.
3. It is completely paralyzing.
I don't know if this one applies to everyone but I know it is a very big piece of my anxiety disorder. When anxiety hits, I am frozen. I can get up and go through the motions of my day but my brain is elsewhere, held captive by whatever demon is inhabiting me this time. I cannot think about anything except my inability to think or breathe or feel. Let that one sink in. My brain is literally paralyzed as if it is stuck in some kind of limbo with no doors or windows or exits of any kind.
The worst part? I'm completely alone in there.
4. It ruins relationships.
Not just romantic relationships, but a relationship of any kind. Friendships and relationships alike can be destroyed by this silent killer. I have experienced both and it is the most devastating kind of loss. Why? Because it is not our fault. It is a disease that, without the knowledge of how to care for it properly will explode in a matter of months. Eventually, it becomes too much for someone else to carry around with them. If they become close enough to you to experience firsthand the effects of your anxiety and the neediness that comes with having someone who is not a low maintenance friend or significant other often it becomes too much for them and they sever the ties for their own mental health. And it hurts like hell but you can't blame them because if you could choose to stay as far away from anxiety as they can, you would in a heartbeat.
5. It makes trust nearly impossible.
I know it sounds awful to blame trust issues on anxiety but in all honestly, it's not placing blame, it's placing responsibility. Anxiety will never fail to make you think the worst of every situation. If someone doesn't answer your text, well, then that's it, they no longer like you. If someone doesn't text you first, they don't think about you. Someone is busy? Forget it. They just have better things to do with their time than spend it with you. I sound ridiculous right? Welcome to life with anxiety.
6. We DO NOT want this.
Do you really think that if we had a choice we would choose to let down the people who love us because we can't handle a simple outing? Do you think that we want to be so afraid to get out of bed that instead we call in to work and cry to Grey's Anatomy for 13 hours in a row and don't eat because the kitchen means leaving the safety of our covers? Probably not. Would you choose that? Doubtful. So when you tell us that we're being dramatic and just looking for attention, take a second and think about what you're saying to us. Nobody, I repeat NOBODY, wants this.
7. We wish every day that we weren’t like this.
Not a day goes by that I don't have that little voice in the back of my head telling me just how great my life could be if I wasn't this way. If I could just not have anxiety, everything would be okay. I could actually be happy and trust that the happiness was not a joke or a trick, that the other shoe was not in fact, ever going to drop. There is no other shoe. But that's not how we are. To us, no matter how many times we tell ourselves that everything is OK and we are being ridiculous, nothing is ever just "alright". In fact, even the smallest things are a disaster. And we hate ourselves for being that way. Again, let that sink in. Imagine hating yourself because of something that is a permanent resident of your brain. Not a pretty thought, huh? Most of ours aren't.
8. There are treatments and we are willing to try them all.
Almost everyone who is diagnosed with anxiety is immediately put on medication to control it. Most of the time, it works to take the edge off and make us a bit more functional in every day life. However, simply using medications usually isn't enough. I have tried going to the gym. The endorphins usually help immensely. A lot of people take up yoga and breathing exercises. Those are supposed to help, I haven't tried them yet but they are next on the list. I do a lot of things that make me happy. For me, writing, singing, and coloring in my adult coloring books are very comforting. In addition to all of these things, I have found talk therapy to be the greatest tool and worth every penny. Having a therapist who is constantly on your side and there to just let you talk without ever once judging you or blaming you for the condition you're in is the most freeing experience. I highly suggest it to anyone struggling with an anxiety disorder.
9. We WILL overcome it.
But it will take time. Fighting anxiety is a never-ending battle with frequent slip ups and breakdowns along the way. I am still in the process personally, and it is not easy. At all. This is by far the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my entire life. And I have been through a lot.
Learning how to fight my own brain and reroute my own thoughts is by far the most difficult task anyone has ever asked me to complete. But these thoughts, the ones that are not truly yours are poison in your soul and they will destroy you if you don't overcome them. And on those days when you can mark a check in the win category, you feel like you can take on the world. That's what the fight is all about. We want every day to feel that way and we won't stop until every day does.
So here's the thing. Anxiety is pretty heavy and scary stuff. It is not a visible injury but that doesn't make it any less legitimate. We need people in our lives who are willing to help us and support us and understand that we need a lot of that help and support. We won't think any less of you if you don't think you can handle the commitment of being a part of our lives, but we do ask that you do not get our hopes up and let them down. So when we say "I have anxiety" here's what we really mean. Treat us nicely. Be patient with us. Support us. Know that everything we do, we are thinking about how it effects you. We are fighting for our lives every day, understand that. We are a handful and we know it. We are not always easy to have in your life but if you let us, if you choose us, we will always be there for you. We will never forget the way you held on when most people would let go.