For as long as I can remember I’ve struggled with anxiety, of which I have very little control. If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety or panic, I’m sure you could agree with me in saying that everyday life is more challenging than most people could ever probably imagine, right? When it first started for me, I couldn’t help but ask myself “Why am I like this? What’s making me feel this way? How do I make it stop?” My instinct told me to ignore these feelings at first, but ignoring them definitely made things worse. I pretended it was nothing, which only made the impending dread grow stronger. Not to mention the ability to use rational thought in these situations ceased to exist-so my only choice at the time was to convince myself that these thoughts and feelings were both absurd and completely irrational. When I didn’t know what It meant to have anxiety, all I could think was “Crap, this is totally my fault, I’m being overly emotional and I’m definitely doing something wrong. I’m the worst. Maybe I’m just an irrational train wreck of a person.”
I’m restless and constantly distracted. At times, I feel like my thoughts are running wild in a million different directions and they can’t stop bumping into each other along the way. Other times I feel detached-as if my mind goes blank for a second and I’m no longer mentally present, which makes it increasingly difficult to accomplish everyday tasks and make simple decisions. There was a point in time when this voice in my head kept saying “there’s something wrong with you, just accept that you’re different from everyone else.” But over time I’ve realized that listening to it won’t make it go away. I’m not different from everyone else, because just like your thoughts and opinions, mine are equally as important. My inability to explain the feelings and thoughts that cause my anxiety doesn’t make them any less valid. What makes it even more difficult is feeling like no one else understands what’s going on in my head and why I feel the way I do. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone say “You really have nothing to worry about, just calm down,” I’d own 3 homes-one in Bali. Believe it or not, hearing someone say there’s nothing to worry about doesn’t help. In a sense, it almost feels more isolating.
Imagine this: You’re about to cross a busy street with some friends, and immediately you hear, “hurry up, we don’t have all day. You’ll be fine.” Yet, all you can see are trucks, cars, buses and bikes barreling in all directions. It’s clear that because nobody else can see them, the road is totally fine to cross. But there’s no way, you just can’t do it. At this point, you’ve lost all control of your leg muscles which makes it impossible for you to step down off the sidewalk. I mean, look at the traffic-there’s no way you’d make it out in one piece. This immediate and overwhelming sense of panic leaves you feeling completely alone in this. You know your friends could never understand how you’re feeling, and they probably don’t-otherwise they wouldn’t be telling you “there’s nothing to worry about.” The truth is, when it comes to anxiety, it can be difficult for people who have never experienced it to understand-but that’s OK. You don’t need to fully understand something in order to provide comfort to someone through these types of experiences.
On a different note, I’ve also had countless people tell me it will help my anxiety to “be grateful.” Something like, if I were just more grateful, then I wouldn’t be so anxious-that if spent more time thinking about things outside myself, beyond my own personal problems, that I would feel ‘better.’ Justified? I think not. That if I kept myself busy doing things that weren’t related to my job, my family or my friends-that I wouldn’t have time to be anxious. Justified? Still don’t buy it. There is something about helping others-something about volunteering and working on things bigger myself that have helped me forget about my problems for a while-absolutely, I wont argue that. But I don’t think being an anxious person translates to being an ‘ungrateful person.’
I’m extremely thankful for everything in my life. I am lucky to be fairly healthy, to afford my own groceries every week and to get paid to do a job which I absolutely adore. I am lucky to have the ability to make my own decisions for what I want to do with my life. I am thankful that my parents are the coolest cats in town, that I have a good work ethic and have met some of the most incredible people throughout my journey in life. But in the end, I still feel anxiety and I worry about petty things in my life. I didn’t choose this, and I certainly can’t use magic to fix the chemistry in my brain. Unfortunately, I’ve recently started to worry about people thinking that just because I have uncontrolled anxiety-that I’m not grateful for my life. And this couldn’t be farther from the truth. After struggling with anxiety, I know without question that being assigned difficult tasks at work, having to deal with my friends not getting along, seeing my loved ones struggle with addiction and everything else that’s caused hardship or stress in my life-is NOTHING and will never compare to the devastating hardship encountered by those who experience AIDS, world hunger, sex trafficking or poverty.
I am beyond grateful for the life I have been given so hearing people say, “Comes on, stop worrying so much-just calm down, it could be worse,” has become increasingly difficult.
YES I GET IT. Yet, here I am.