Imagine laying in your bed it’s dark, the only light coming in is that of what the open door allows in. You count the shadows on your wall as you wait for your Mother and Father to arrive home after a night out. You know your Grandma is right down the hall but you feel dread. Pure unfiltered dread. What if they were in an accident? What if they don’t come back? Will I be alone? Who in my family will raise me if they die? Your heartbeat quickens, your palms feel sweaty, you want to cry out for help but you can’t….your teeth are chattering like they would if you went out into a winter night without a jacket. You’re nauseated, terrified and shaking-not sure if you want to throw up or shut down. So you do the only logical thing, you wait it out hoping it ends-the marathon you ran without leaving your bed. The door clicks, you hear your Father and Mother’s voices. They are laughing and you can breathe. This is what anxiety looks like at 4 years old. This was the first attack to launch them all.
The older I got, the more frequent these panic attacks came…if I had a project due that I was anxious about I barely slept, had awful upset stomach aches, and the unshakable feeling of impending doom. If I got sick, I was certain my symptoms matched that of a terminal illness. If two of my friends became interested in one another I was instantly fearful that I would lose them both if things didn’t work out. Life experiences taught me sometimes these fearful feelings had merit and other times it was unfounded. There are many levels of anxiety. For years I went through life keeping my anxiety hidden, waiting for the day it fixed itself and I could be normal.
Normal is a funny word for a girl who grew up in a small Jersey Shore town. We all have this idea in our heads for what’s normal and what’s strange. That’s what you think when you’re young, the older you get the more you realize what’s normal for me and what’s normal for you is different. Normal is a relative word that ostracizes people into tiny little compartments where they feel like freaks. Very rarely do we realize there are people like us having similar struggles in their own little compartments. Anxiety has affected me in many way: Personally, Professionally and Socially. When I met my husband, I was constantly afraid that he would leave me or grow tired of me; I spent many years of our early relationship afraid at night when I laid alone in bed fearful that because I found love and was happy, it would be ripped from me. The attacks were debilitating and became more frequent as the pressures of home, work and school were piled on me. On the surface, I was put together and tackling everything in stride. On the inside though, I was crumbling like a controlled demolition. It wasn’t until my early twenties, I was able to put a name to the feelings that I’ve concealed from the world for years. Anxiety. I was a sufferer of anxiety.
At 28, I’ve found non-medicated ways to manage my anxiety but it’s still an everyday battle for me, wrought with questions from concerned friends and family members I’ve opened up to about what I have. Hearing thing like: get over it, you’re blowing things out of proportion, you’re irrational, I just don’t understand what you’ve got to worry about, you’re so young to have so much worry, and so get on medication are extremely insensitive to say to someone who battles through everyday with a smile on their face to mask the terror.
Everyone worries about paying bills, finding that perfect job, romantic partner and other important life events but an anxiety sufferer has nearly constant unsubstantial worry which interferes with their daily life. Everyone has dealt with feelings of embarrassment, self-consciousness, and awkward social situations but anxiety suffers will avoid these situations all together out of fear of being judged, embarrassed or humiliated. Everyone as a case of nerves, even sweating, before a big test, professional presentation, or significant event, but anxiety sufferers have out of the blue panic attacks and preoccupied fear of having another one. Everyone has realistic fears of dangerous situations but anxiety sufferers have irrational fears of situations which pose very little or no danger/threat. Everybody has anxiety, sadness, or difficulty sleeping after a traumatic event but anxiety sufferers have reoccurring nightmares, flashbacks and emotionally numbing feelings related to events that happened months or even years ago. This is just the tip of the iceberg regarding feelings an anxiety sufferer wishes that you knew. Every anxiety is different, there are many articles which discuss what people with anxiety wish you knew but here’s my list of what I wish people in my life knew…
- I Need My Feelings Validated – Sometimes I just need to feel heard. If I’m called selfish, rude or irrational I will shut down even more. It takes a lot of courage for me and other anxiety sufferers to open up to you about our feelings and when you respond this way it makes us feel like a burden. When two of my friends expressed their feelings of wanting to explore things romantically, I became very afraid for how it would affect my relationship with either of them. I needed to be heard out and reassured before I could come to grips with a dynamic shift. When I’m not heard, I feel more likely to lash out or withdraw (depending on how debilitating my anxiety is that week). I don’t want to hear that my feelings and fears are silly or unfounded, that doesn’t make me come to grips it sinks me further into isolation. You don’t have to agree with how I feel. You just have to hear me out.
- No. It doesn’t have to do with you.
It can be pretty exhausting ruminating about everything I possibly have done wrong, am doing wrong, or could do wrong. There are moments I may want to be alone, sit and cry sometimes. I may be uninterested in what I’m doing at the moment. I have and may still snap at you, even though you absolutely don’t deserve it. I have even had feelings regarding some or all of my family, friends and other loved one’s that they will see how horrible I am for this and won’t love me anymore, even if you’ve given me no indication of this.
I want you to know above all else that it doesn’t have to do with you. It’s not your fault. I truly love you and I’m so, so sorry if I ever gave anyone in my life the impression that I don’t. I just don’t love my brain right now, and I don’t know how to deal with it.
- Never try to talk me out of my emotions-This goes hand in hand with number one, just like you need to validate my feelings, trying to relieve me of my fear or sadness might seem like a good idea. And sometimes, it is. In fact, I might even ask you if I have any reason to be worried, so that we can try to combat that irrational part of me that is constantly afraid. But there’s a fine line between trying to help me and trying to talk me out of it. Never tell me that my worries don’t exist, or that I can get over it if I just stop thinking about it. All that does is make me feel like I’m broken—that there’s something wrong with me that even my closest loved ones don’t understand.
- Part of me knows that my fears aren’t rational, but I can’t shake the part that doesn’t.- Yes for the millionth time, I know that the embarrassing thing I said wasn’t really all that embarrassing, and it probably didn’t influence anyone’s opinions of me whatsoever, and my co-workers today, you know the ones that are friends outside of the workplace, probably aren’t talking about how terrible and weird I am behind my back. I know how ridiculous that sounds, and it sounds even more ridiculous saying it out loud.
But that other part of me. . .that’s where anxiety lives. That’s where it’s feeding on me, popping out its head occasionally to remind me “hey I’m still here, waiting.”. That’s the part that always reminds myself, “What if this time, my worries are correct?”
5. I am grateful for what I have—and for you-Often, anxious people are labeled as pessimists. And that’s actually quite understandable. I’m actually pretty talented at coming to the worst possible conclusion almost instantaneously.
But that’s not always who I am. In fact, I’m actually pretty optimistic between my anxiety bouts. I do love my life, my husband, dog , house and I am grateful for what I have, and I am especially grateful for you. I don’t always mean to focus on the negative, but sometimes, I can’t help it. Know that I always appreciate you. You are the light at the end of my tunnel. You are the one who tries your hardest to understand, who knows me in and out and still is willing to stay.
6. I know you can’t always see things from MY perspective, but I will always appreciate you trying.
As someone who doesn’t suffer from anxiety, I know you won’t be able to fully understand. I know that I might sometimes sound crazy, and I’m sure it can be frustrating to have to drop everything and calm me down.
But every time you answer my fearful texts with reassurance and kindness, or pull me into another room to ask me what I’m worrying about, or are simply there, steady, supportive, without questioning the way I operate. . .I can’t even express how much that means, because it’s rare to find. When you do this, you become a safe haven for me. Sometimes I just need a hug without being called a baby. Sometimes I just need you to tell me I’m going to be okay and you’ll always be by my side. I need reassurance of your role in my life and that you’ll never get sick of me no matter how ridiculous I sound.
7. I wish I could turn it off, but I can’t.
Though it might seem otherwise, I actually don’t want to focus on what could go wrong. Believe me when I say I really don’t want to be negative, or bring the mood down, or nitpick about things that may seem little to an outsider. I’m really not trying to get attention or even push you around and be insensitive. Yes, I do know how I sound sometimes, and I wish I could turn it off. Sometimes I need a few days to see that having a situation go one way isn’t actually all that bad. Unfortunately though, it’s just a part of who I am.
8. It doesn’t define me.
I may have anxiety, and it may be a part of me. But so are my passions, my quirks, and personality. Anxiety is one of countless parts. I will still give you advice, I will support you, laugh with you, cry with you and give you the shirt off my back if it would make everything better. I can still have fun, paint, having meaningful relationships with people, and hold down a job for nearly a decade. I can still feel the wind in my hair, the sand on my feet and the sound the ocean makes really brings me inner peace. I still appreciate quiet moments with my husband and Draco, a night out surrounded by the people I love and getting a nice tan in the summer time.
That’s what I wish people knew about my anxiety. It’s a part of me you’ll have to deal with at times, but in those moments when I’m hard to love please try to remember all the times I was there for all of you, selflessly, unyeildingly and know that I love you all. Please know that I may be hard at times to love, but I’m worth having around for a lifetime.
Love you. Mean it.