I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression a year ago. While I’ve somewhat come around to identifying with depression, something that in truth started when I was eighteen, the anxiety part of it is still somewhat new. I wasn’t an anxious person, I was impatient, always the first to say, “what’s next”, but anxiety just wasn’t in my nature the way it is now.
May being mental health awareness month, a phrase I hate saying and even more so, identifying with, I wanted to write something specifically about the anxiety part, how it feels, what it does to me and a lot of people I know of, as well as personally.
Imagine if someone blew up a ballon in your chest. Your heart starts racing, and you feel physically like crawling out of your skin just to escape the sense that something isn’t right, something may not be right. Your breath is shallow and for the life of you, you can’t figure out how to get enough air in to satisfy your lungs. You pace, you swallow, you tell your self nothing is wrong by ignoring the feeling that a storm of bad news is about to hit you smack dab in the face.
You move heartbeat to heartbeat, moment to moment, saying over and over again that this will pass, everything is ok. You say it so many times that you can feel your voice shaky and uneven when you force yourself to say it out loud. You try not to be mad at yourself for needing so much external reassurance when it seems like everyone else in the world can self soothe and don’t feel anywhere near as fragile and circumstantial as you do.
Even though it’s an “awareness” month people don’t realize how easy it is to make an anxious person anxious. Their body language, their tone, inflections, gestures, anything that could be misconstrued as bad or unwelcoming. That trying to calm the voice that keeps whispering, “you messed up, you ruined this, this is your fault” becomes a task in and of itself and even on your best day feels almost impossible to convince yourself of the contrary.
For me, caffeine makes it worse. The jittery sensation heightens my predisposition to run. Except you can’t run from conflict, you can’t run from a gut feeling, whether realistic or not that bad news is coming. There are coping mechanisms, sure – I take meds as necessary for the moments when it’s bad and I feel like I’m about to have a heart attack. I’ve experienced it several times of the past year and unlike most personality quirks, it never goes away, never gets easier, never gets less traumatizing. Explaining to new people in my life that this is a thing, that this really happens to me, ironically (or maybe not) fills me with anxiety. Will they understand? Will they get that uncertainty with open ended ambiguity will drive me completely nuts, literally?
Usually towards the end of a bought of acute anxiety I get the hiccups. Hiccups being caused by too much oxygen in your blood stream, you can see why this is. Not enough deep breathes, too many shallow ones, and slight hyperventilating while trying not to have a full on panic attack. Walking can sometimes help too. Water and music often do the trick when it’s not too fraught a situation. Professional and relationship anxiety plague me the most, because they’re usually tied to emotion distress, a common trigger for anxiety. Driving sometimes causes this too, since I was in a car crash 3 years ago and since learning to drive a stick shift, something that would make even the most confident driver hesitant.
So anxiety, yeah, it’s tough. Depression to me feels treatable, something therapy and the right medication can help, and in the best cases, keep at bay for months or even years. If we’re going with a full on metaphor here, I would say that depression is the cancer and anxiety is the fatigue one feels before, during and after. The fatigue lingers, and even if you’re in remission, fatigue will follow you, reminding you that at any moment you could not be in remission anymore.
What helps the most is writing and talking and trying to be honest when anxiety creeps up. Getting it out there, seeing and feeling it leave your body can be as relieving as blowing your nose. But it is still hard, still there, lying beneath the surface reminding me I’m different from everyone else.