You'd think suffering from anxiety, I'd be able to write about it easily. But that couldn't be further from the truth. I've been playing around with this post for a while now. Hashing and rehashing and rehashing and even more rehashing the words I want to say - what's important and more specifically what's important to me. How do I write about something that affects my every day life, sometimes to the extreme? Anxiety and understanding it has been a crucial part of my personal mental health journey. I know it is crucial for others as well.
The first draft I started went into a lot of definitions and facts about anxiety, the types, and those that suffer from it. I thought these would be helpful and maybe someone somewhere would resonate and say "Hey, I feel that way! This makes more sense!". But then I read the post back and it felt more like a cold, fact-only term paper rather than an a personal, emotional editorial. The second draft corresponded to my specific dealings with every day anxiety. It had the feel of a "get ready with me" YouTube vlog, but ya know, with my anxiety driven thoughts and physical reactions rather than the makeup products I use or the recipe of my breakfast smoothie. I felt better about that post, but in a way, it still didn't feel quite right. I read it and worried people would interpret it the wrong way. That people would think I'm dramatic. That the post itself would give people more reason to dismiss anxiety and chalk it up to not being strong or just another reason to complain - that I need to "just get over" these things that keep me up at night. And typing this, I'm realizing how stupid this is, because the actual, general definition of anxiety is the feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about an event or uncertain outcome. I literally have anxiety about having anxiety and openly talking about anxiety.
Want me to say anxiety again? Anxiety
So instead of writing an essay or walking you through a normal day in my life, let's just go with this:
Anxiety. Sucks. Major.
Whether you have it in an OCD or PTSD way or in a social/ generalized/panic kind of way, it's the worst. Even if it's sparing. If you catch glimmers of it when you have a huge presentation at work or a big test like the SAT or GRE. Maybe you can never sleep the night before a doctors appointment. Or your palms sweat and you feel you can't breathe when you're in a crowded public place. Or your vision goes blank when you see a threatening male presence when you're walking alone. Maybe it's so extreme you feel like you may pass out. Maybe you actually have passed out. Maybe your hands shake so much sometimes you can't even type or write. Maybe you feel the pit in your stomach drop so far you think it will never come back up. Maybe that feeling lasts three whole days and you go 72 hours without a proper meal. Maybe you don't feel any physical symptoms at all. Maybe you just have rushing thoughts of the worst possible outcome. Maybe you undermine your feelings and tell yourself to just get over it. Maybe you can't just "get over it."
Every single one of these scenarios can be anxiety related. And every single one of them just blows.
What sucks the most is how often these feelings and warning signs get dismissed and chalked up to being too sensitive. What sucks even more is that I know I've had a part in it. I used to get upset when people would claim to have anxiety without really being able to back it up. In high school and college I had friends who would generalize and say things like "I've had so much anxiety about this project" or "I can't even think about this term paper because of what it does to my anxiety". This was before I understood my own anxiety, and before I realized mental health isn't black or white or easily defined. To me, my friends were just stressed - which they had every right to be. High school and college and life in general is hard and there are plenty of things that a person should and will stress over. But to me, grouping this stress with anxiety (or perhaps confusing the terms?) used to make me so angry. I'd look at my classmates and see how effortless they made their "anxiety" look. I would then look at myself and see how awful I was dealing with my own. I wouldn't sleep (or would barely sleep) two weeks leading up to an exam. You would always find me in the bathroom throwing up the hour before a big presentation. That vomiting would be followed by blurred vision, shaking, and stuttering during said presentation, or interview, or whatever. There are days my anxiety simply won't let me eat - feeling so overwhelmed my body confused it for nausea or already being full. I'd feel these things even when there wasn't a big event - this lingering feeling of impending doom that seemed to follow me and cause a huge strain on my friendships and relationships. It made me angry because others using the term in a lackadaisical way, in turn, made my anxiety feel less real and less understood. I related it to the special snowflake scenario - if everyone is special, then perhaps no one is special; if everyone and their mom has anxiety, does anyone actually suffer from it? And if no one actually suffers from it...then what the hell is wrong with me?
I want to openly apologize to the people I didn't believe were suffering. I am sorry I didn't believe you. I'm sorry I didn't validate you. I'm sorry I cared more about my own mental state and thought mine was "better" or I guess "worse" than yours. Like I said, mental illness and their symptoms aren't written in stone. So many people suffer in all different kinds of ways and we shouldn't try to diminish any feeling of it. So here I stand, again, to validate you. I validate your feeling of stress, panic, or anxiety. I understand that you don't always understand where it stems from. I understand it can affect you differently in every episode. I know that while you try to keep it as together as you can on the surface, you are still suffering inside. I am sorry for that suffering. It sucks. And I am here for you.
Whether you have OCD, PTSD, Generalized, Social, or Panic disorders, or an undiagnosed feeling of utter dread and worry, I am here for you. I don't care the intensity, I don't care the reasoning behind it. I just care you feel something. And I pray you give yourself just as much slack. If you have an extreme case, you understand how terrible day to day living can be. You know how the thought of just getting out of bed can trigger a spiral of potential scenarios that seem life threatening. You know how sometimes these attacks come out of nowhere and all you want is for your heartbeat to calm back into your chest. You know the toxic thoughts that swirl and crash around your brain like a hurricane. And if you don't know these things, that's okay too. I'd say to you that you are lucky. But I'd also say I know you are dealing with just as much in your own way, and that means just as much.
Mental health diseases are invisible but that doesn't mean they aren't real.
Don't dismiss your own or others anxieties, worries, shame, sadness, or whatever else that makes life seem so bleak. By dismissing them, you are dismissing the worth of human life and human experience. Remember, we are all just doing our best and in the end, that's all that really matters.