Your heartbeat rises until your skull is pulsing, sending explosions of pain down your ear canals and reverberating between your teeth. The world rises around you, voices and footsteps and bumping and shuffling growing louder and louder as your chest constricts. Existence itself closes in, pressing and crushing until the whole world is roaring in your ears and on your back, until there’s no room to move or think or even to breathe.
This is what anxiety feels like.
I cannot speak for anyone but myself. Generalized Anxiety Disorder closes its sharp, spidery fingers around every individual’s throat from within the shadows of a different tragedy or situation. Everyone arms him or herself with different tools to beat this phantom back and to cleanse it from her veins. We are all beautiful in our profound uniqueness, and those divots and delicate spots we must reclaim and protect are all distinctly exclusive.
For me, anxiety is lying awake for hours, not realizing that the reason why I can’t sleep is my fists and legs and jaw being tensed up.
Anxiety is sitting in class, waiting for my turn to read off an answer. I know it’s correct, but as the voices get closer to my seat, my heartbeat rises to slam in my throat and my fingers begin to shake. I lose track of which question will be mine and I begin to doubt the correctness of my answer. What if I say something irrelevant and horribly embarrassing because of how nervous I am? What if I’m on the wrong page entirely?
Anxiety is waiting for the Driver’s Ed instructor to pick me up and sobbing uncontrollably because I know with every fiber of my being that I can’t do it. Anxiety is running to the bathroom to have debilitating stress-cramps and diarrhea five times before she arrives, leaving me so weak that when I climb into the driver’s seat to sign the time log, I slump against it, back and stomach too weak to hold me upright.
Anxiety is crying myself to sleep after a paper is passed out in English requiring us each to give a five-minute speech.
Anxiety is feeling cornered and suffocated when my mom comes to stand in the doorway of my room, the bathroom, any room; anxiety is knowing that even though it’s going to start a huge argument wherein I am accused of being controlling and disrespectful that I have to ask her to step inside or out into the hall because I feel trapped.
Anxiety is making up reasons not to see a friend I’ve known for almost a decade because I’m terrified of the humiliating pauses in conversation caused by my own self-consciousness.
Anxiety is waking up two hours before school to get the stress-cramps and diarrhea out of the way so I’m not late.
Anxiety is getting to the college and walking halfway to my class before realizing that the book we might need is at home, wherein humiliation and disgust crash down onto my shoulders, leaving me panicking, horrified, and defeated. I turn around and drive home.
Anxiety is putting off an urgently-needed doctor’s appointment for weeks because I’m too scared to talk to a stranger on the phone.
Anxiety is being called lazy, whiny, manipulative, and attention-seeking by people who can’t comprehend something small triggering a physiological reaction so intense that it feels like the world is going to close in and crush you. Anxiety is going to a writing competition and purposely turning in a bad story because accepting your two previous awards was so terrifying that it isn’t worth winning. Anxiety is sitting at a stoplight and starting to shake because all those people are waiting behind you, watching your car, and there’s a tiny possibility that you won’t notice that the light turned green for a second or two and somebody will get angry and honk. Anxiety is pulling off the highway while commuting to school and crying until you’re too exhausted to cry anymore because merging and passing and maintaining those speeds is simply too intense for you to manage. Anxiety is being mocked for asking to sit at a booth in a corner instead of in the middle of the room; anxiety is shutting off the lights and pulling the blinds down because you feel exposed and unsafe in your own house.
Anxiety is many things.
I cannot speak for everyone. What I do know is that anxiety is a legitimate diagnosis and a drastically different chemical response to stimuli from the norm. It is all-consuming, and without emotional support and often counseling, the monster overtakes one’s talents and passions, wrapping them up in its web of control and deception.
If any of this resembles your own experiences, I have one thing to say to you.
You are not alone.
There is a wealth of resources available to those suffering from anxiety – my personal experience includes regularly seeing a psychologist, joining a women’s group for traumatic stress, taking antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication, and pushing myself outside of my ever-expanding comfort zone to force myself to not only heal but to grow.
If you know someone with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, I would ask you to remember that anxiety attacks are not simply instances of an individual overreacting. The brain of one with anxiety issues is wired to mistakenly perceive small embarrassments or inconveniences as fight-or-flight situations, and in these situations, the person legitimately feels as if the issue can’t ever be recovered from. An open-minded and sympathetic approach is the best way to get an individual to open up about his or her disorder.
If you have Generalized Anxiety, don’t hesitate to seek out psychological and medical support. There are many different medications with varying approaches to quelling anxiety responses you can try, and talking to others working through the same issues can uncover some ingenious ways to work on reclaiming control of your body and emotions. There are various forms of meditation and self-hypnosis you can try and habits you can teach yourself that allow you to exist in the moment, shedding the constant fear of the past and the future. Acknowledge that this is a challenge with which you have been presented, and approach your recovery with grace and an open-mind.
If I overcame it, and I did, I assure you that you can too.