So, here it goes, I'll just say it. About five years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety disorder. And when I found out, I was actually relieved. Suddenly I knew that it wasn't my fault that a lot of times my heart would race and my palms would sweat even though the logical part of my brain was screaming at me, "You have nothing to be nervous about!" Suddenly it all made sense why there were times I would feel alone and like no one loved me -- even though this was the furthest from the case.
But, even though I now understood why I acted the way I did, I still found that most people didn't understand it. They didn't understand how a chemical imbalance in the brain can make you think and act in a way that you can't help.
Or they would think that I was using a disorder to explain away how I was feeling. But I know that's not the case. I work at a newspaper, and I come face-to-face with moments on a daily basis where most people would find themselves feeling anxious. I know the twinge of fear that comes when you're calling the mother of a child who just died, waiting for her to pick up the phone. I know the panic that comes when you walk up to a podium to give a speech in front of hundreds of people. Those are "normal" reactions. And I know that this feeling is completely different than when I'm in my apartment, watching TV, reading a book, doing dishes, etc. and that random feeling of anxiety hits me out of nowhere. And no matter how much I try to "think happy thoughts" or slowly breathe in and breathe out, the feeling won't go away until it's good and ready.
Through medicine and counseling, I have been able to regulate these panic attacks so they happen less often than they used to.
But it still happens. And I have met people in my life who don't accept this fact about me.
I recently read the best article I have ever read about anxiety. It was as if the author was inside of my head. And maybe sharing this will help others understand what it's like to have anxiety.
The article is titled "7 Things People with Anxiety Want Their Loved Ones to Know" by Sammy Nickalls, a contributing writer on hellogiggles.com.
- It doesn't have to do with you. People who have seen me during my anxious moments will ask, "What did I do wrong?" You didn't do anything wrong. Sometimes this just happens for no reason at all.
- Never try to talk us out of our emotions. I know this too well. Don't tell someone to "Calm down" or "Relax" when he or she is having an anxiety attack. I once had someone tell me, "If you keep worrying about it, then it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy." Don't ever, ever say this to someone with anxiety. This will just make them worry about worrying, which can really make a person feel like they're going crazy. And, speaking of that, never tell someone "Stop acting crazy" (which is another thing I have been told. As you can probably guess, it didn't help).
- Part of us knows that our fears aren't rational, but we can't shake the part that doesn't. "I'm not good enough," "I'm going to get fired," "Why did I say that, I'm so embarrassed," "He or she is going to leave me." Even if, deep down we know that this isn't true, these are thoughts that run through the brain of someone with anxiety.
- We're not pessimistic. I can completely relate to this. I may seem pessimistic during a bout of anxiety. But between these bouts, I'm probably one of the most optimistic people you've ever met. Don't tell me that I'm a downer. That's not me. Don't characterize me by my anxiety.
- We appreciate you trying to see things from our perspective. Not all people are willing to do this. But Nickalls writes, "Every time you answer our fearful texts with reassurance and kindness, or pull us into another room to ask us what we’re worrying about, or are simply there, steady, supportive, without questioning the way we operate, we can’t even express how much that means, because it’s rare to find." I am so grateful for all of the people who have done this for me and who never made me feel like being my friend was "hard work."
- We wish we could turn it off but we can't.
- And, most importantly, it doesn't define us! If someone has cancer, "cancer" isn't the kind of person they are. It's something they can't help. It's the same for someone who has anxiety. Like I said before, my anxiety isn't the kind of person I am. When all is said and done, I think I'm a pretty damn brave person. My anxiety isn't me. It's just something I have to deal with from time to time.