Coming to grips with my anxiety
(Hello, Variable reader. Starting this month, we’ll be featuring an issue every Sunday. For September, we’re looking at just some mental health issues that should be talked about, especially during COVID-19. Read the first part here.)
I have a confession to make; I am one of many people who are silently suffering from anxiety.
This isn’t a confession I’m taking lightly. I’ve spent most of my life dealing with it quietly, after all. Denying it, pushing it aside and making excuses for whenever it affected some life-changing decision.
But, I’ve decided that it was high time for me to put on a brave face and start talking about it … or at least, that’s what I would like to say. In truth, this article has actually been delayed because I had an anxiety attack the first time I tried to write it.
A good part of it comes down to how anxiety is a difficult subject to talk about in the first place. There are a number of common misconceptions about anxiety, and those of us who suffer from that can make it challenging to talk about it.
Anxiety, for some, is seen as a form of weakness and that anyone who suffers from it is a “weaker” person than others. Others will say that you can just “snap out” of anxiety as if it were something that could simply be turned off.
The worse misconception, however, is that it “isn’t a real medical condition.” This last one can make even those who suffer from it dismiss it, thinking that they’re just feeling nervous, especially when combined with the two other misconceptions.
As you can imagine, these misconceptions can make it tough for anyone who has anxiety to actually open up about it.
Heck, these misconceptions actually feed our anxieties even further; now, we’re worried that they will end up coloring people’s perception of us.
At the same time, these misconceptions can also make it hard for someone who may be suffering from anxiety to accept it in the first place—I know I did.
For the longest time, I had always chalked up these anxious feelings to something else. Having trouble with oral exams in college? I was just “underprepared” (ignoring the weeks worth of study groups). Didn’t inquire about a position? I was happy with what I had anyway.
The worst of it came with my romantic prospects. There was one particular girl who I hung out with for the longest time that I was attracted to. Yet, I never really asked her out; I’d always make the excuse of the timing being wrong (that she came from a bad breakup became a convenient excuse). In the end, I’d fallen into the “nice guy’ trap and ended up never being anything more than friends.
That said, it wasn’t this or other experiences like this that made me realize I had anxiety. No, it was the fact that, even in moments where I shouldn’t have been worried or anxious about anything, that feeling of worry was still there.
Anxiety isn’t simply feeling anxious during certain times. Worries, doubts and fears are a part of life, after all. What’s different with having anxiety is that the worry, the sense of dread, it never really goes away.
A good allegory about anxiety would be hearing a fire alarm but not being able to find a fire or turn off the alarm. Eventually, you learn to live with the alarm. Sure, you can try to turn the alarm off, but that simply makes you worry about the possibility of a real fire.
This is why, as studies have shown, those of us with anxiety often have trouble relaxing or even avoid doing so.
Of course, this constant state of dread, this “fire alarm” that’s constantly blaring, changes the way people with anxiety behave, no matter how hard they try to ignore it.
It certainly changed the way I behaved, enough that other people noticed that I had anxiety before I ever publicly acknowledged it. In fact, it was a friend asking about how I was handling my anxiety that forced me to start paying more attention to it.
To this day, I’m still not sure what it was I was doing that had clued my friends in. All I know is that, during an unplanned reunion of sorts over the holidays, one of them had asked me about how I was managing my anxiety.
The thing is, I hadn’t actually thought about “managing” my anxiety until then. Up to that point, all I had done was to try to forget about it or at least ignore it.
More important to me, however, was why that particular friend was asking; they had anxiety too and was not only managing it but wanted to see if they could help me with my own anxiety.
While I had known in theory that other people had anxiety, this was the first time I had encountered someone with it. Or more precisely, the first time I had talked to someone who not only had it but was willing to open up about it to help me.
It was at that point that I realized that I didn’t have to be alone, that opening up about anxiety to others who may have it could help me deal with it.
Which brings me back to this article and why I’m writing it. Yes, just opening up about anxiety doesn’t make it go away—I mean, I’m still dealing with anxiety to this day. But it can help.
Just knowing that you’re not alone, that there are other people who’re suffering from anxiety just like you who, despite what your anxiety is telling you, isn’t judging you and are actually willing to help.