What is Anxiety to Me?
Anxiety: a feeling of excessive and prolonged worry and persistent restlessness of the mind—almost obsessively, at least in my case.
Fear and anxiety are very similar but have pertinent differences. While fear is the response to a perceived threat, anxiety involves distress about a threat that has not yet—or may never—happen. Anxiety also increases focus and makes us more alert to danger. One of my personal causes of distress is trying my best to be prepared for the worst—my fight or flight anxiety. If someone close to me doesn’t reply in a matter of hours, I automatically think something terrible has happened: a car crash, a shooting, or a freak accident. Tragedy and loss are my first reaction, and it's all-consuming. I have no idea why my mind jumps straight to these awful scenarios, it just does.
Growing up religious, my parents would tell me, “God made you the way you are.” I was 12 years old when I experienced my first anxiety attack. It was an avalanche of emotions my underdeveloped, pre-pubescent mind could not handle. I wondered why this “God” would make me so complicated, and more bluntly put, screwed up in the head. Living in a catholic household, getting help for your mental wellbeing was frowned upon. My mom would say, “It's all in your head, Britt.” Yea, no shit. And dad didn’t know squat and kept to his busy work. I can’t even recall what that first anxiety attack was about or what triggered it because of having so many more that followed.
As I got older, I realized feeling this way wasn’t uncommon and that I wasn’t alone. I found comfort in Xanax at 17 years old. I didn’t have a prescription for the drug and I started abusing it, but came to an abrupt end at 19 when I almost came face to face with death. Ingesting the pills like candy, I barely remember those 2 years of my life and I couldn’t regret it more. I would rather be bouncing off the walls worrying than ever put myself through that again. I was hesitant, but shortly after I turned 21, I made the decision to see a doctor to help me treat my anxiety the right way, hoping to get some relief. She prescribed me Buspirone and I hated it. The medication made me feel like a zombie and I was always nauseous; I lost weight, I had no energy, and I wasn’t happy. While I desperately tried to give the pills a chance, I stopped taking them after about 4 months and I haven’t taken any medication since.
Anxiety and anger tend to go hand and hand for me. Without realizing, I’ll occasionally look for confrontation to gain some sort of validity, without taking the time to really think about what I want to say. My anxiety and insecurities take a toll on the people close to me and it leaves me with immense guilt. I don’t know if I can fix it on my own, but who can afford a therapist?
About 3 months ago I started journaling when I'm feeling these emotions to guide myself in a healthier direction. Instead of spewing words I’ll regret, I write those words down on paper and read those words a day or two later, analyzing what was going on in my head once I’ve calmed down. I’m trying.
I’m envious of people who say they don’t experience this mental road blocker. I wish I could turn the anxious switch off, be more laid back and care free. My mind seems to be always racing. I could be sitting in bed doing nothing at all and find myself utterly drained just from overthinking. I come home after a long day and wonder if I’m doing the right thing for myself, if what I’m pursuing is the correct path for me. Occasionally, I wake up shaking, just not wanting to go into work. I want to avoid being a human and doing the necessary human things. Being a full-time student and part-time veterinary technician, I stress out over financial stability. Seeing loved ones I looked up to as a kid struggle with money made me realize I never wanted to live like that. Penny pinching and waiting till pay day to buy groceries or do something for yourself was just not in the books for me. I want to be secure, grounded, and never have to worry about money, but I’m afraid that won't ever happen in my line of work. Being somewhat of a perfectionist, I have excessive high personal standards and I over-critically self evaluate, an obsessive tendency. It usually gets me nowhere and it leads to—you guessed it—anxiety.
Social anxiety was also a huge problem for me when I was younger. Just a couple of years ago, I could barely speak to another person without profusely sweating through my clothing. Being homeschooled for 3 years in high school probably didn’t help my situation. I felt as if people were judging me every place I went. When I’d talk in any social setting, I’d trip over my words out of nervousness, leaving me red faced and embarrassed. I stopped talking as much and everyone around me assumed I was miserable, so I decided to try my own version of exposure therapy. I forced myself to go out. I'd go to the coffee shop and sit by myself, exchanging a few words with the barista. I went to a couple of restaurants companionless. After a couple of outings, I felt comfortable enough to go to the bar alone, with the help of a few sips of alcoholic encouragement beforehand. While anxiety and panic wanted to hold me back, I committed to making myself uncomfortably comfortable. I made lifelong friends in the process and have overcome that frustrating social anxiety that affected me so negatively. This was a huge accomplishment for me.
Although struggles persist in life, I’ve found myself becoming more confident and at ease with the help and support of my partner. We sit down and really get down to the root of the problem the best we can. Sometimes there is no root and that's okay. I don’t feel as limited to my fears and anxieties as I did when I was younger. If it wasn’t for this moral encouragement in my life I probably would’ve never gotten out of my comfort zone, moved out of my hometown, and started college.
I found ADAA through a classmate and the purpose of writing about my experiences is to let people know that when someone says they are suffering from anxiety, it’s not just something to brush under the rug. Be compassionate. Don’t tell them to calm down. Don’t throw random emotionless solutions at them. Don’t tell them it’s all in their head. Be kind, be understanding, learn more about anxiety so that you can be there for a friend, a relative, a lover. Understand it. Be the one to talk about it.
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