I wrote this post about a year ago to try to describe what it’s like to have an anxiety disorder on the days that it’s really bad. People throw around the term “anxiety” all the time – “I’m so anxious!” “I’m really stressed out!”. But having a generalized anxiety disorder is something different. There isn’t even necessarily something in your life that’s particularly worth stressing out about at the time, but your brain will create something. Sometimes the rational part of your brain can manage those things, and sometimes it can’t. This post was from one of those times that it couldn’t. I’ve been nervous to post this, because I worry that it makes me sound like a crazy person, or like I’m going to break down any minute and just completely lose my shit. I worry that it makes me sound like an incapable loose cannon that’s waiting to crumble. I worry that someone will read this and they will decide not to date me, or not to give me a job. But I’ve been sitting on it for a while now, so here it is. Because if it makes even one person out there have a better understanding of their friend with anxiety, or feel less alone, then all of my worries can be damned.
You go for months or even years where things seem fine. You’ve grown as a person, made new friends, built your career, and you’re described by colleagues as one of the smartest, most accomplished people they know. You’re pretty and fun and busy, and a lot of people tell you that they admire how strong you are.
You feel varied levels of stress, but you go for a run, or you go to yoga, or you visit with a friend, and these things help, and everything is under control. The stress gets worse, and you run more, and you train outside of running, and you eat lots of kale, and you feel accomplished for being healthy, and everyone else tells you how impressed they are with how healthy you are too. Your shoulders tighten and your breathing comes with more effort, so you run more. You run a race, you run every day, you run a half marathon, you run a marathon. You run until your legs are jelly and your chest hurts. You train more, and the stress subsides. Then it doesn’t subside, and one morning you find yourself on the brink of tears because you couldn’t complete your metcon fast enough, and this means that you’re a failure.
You take on more activities, go to more lectures, have coffee meetings, accomplish more, but the feeling of failing doesn’t go away. No matter what you do, it is not enough, and it will never be enough. You stand in the cold and close your eyes and imagine floating in the sea, and this helps for a minute.
You ignore the tightening feeling in your shoulders and your chest for weeks and weeks, until one day you’re lying paralyzed on your bed trying your best just to breath, but meditation isn’t working, and you already took a lorazepan this morning. You have a million things to do, but instead you stay in bed all day watching Netflix, because this is the only distraction that will quiet your mind, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really help.
You stop calling friends, because you are sure that they cannot stand to hear you talk about your anxiety, and they could probably never stand you to begin with. You don’t understand how anyone could love you or has ever loved you, and you feel so alone that you’re sure strangers can see your loneliness dripping out of you though your tired, glassy eyes. Your body feels overwhelmed; you vibrate with the same intensity of someone newly fallen in love, but instead of the feeling that you will burst forth with love and joy, you are sure that your body will shatter because there is simply too much nervous energy for one human to contain. You go for walks. And when it gets really bad, you buy a pack of cigarettes, because at least when you’re smoking you are taking time to breath.
You forget all of your previous accomplishments and praise; you forget every precious moment with anyone who has ever loved you, because you are sure that they are fleeting. You are sure that no one could ever fall in love with you again, because how could anyone love someone who feels this way.
You remember a time not so long ago when the anxiety had subsided, where you knew in your heart that all of these anxious thoughts were so untrue, and life seemed carefree and full of hope. You imagine what your life would be without this poisonous haze enveloping everything you do. You imagine the person you could be if there weren’t days and weeks filled with so much anxiety and hopelessness that you want to crawl into a hole in the earth and sleep there until you die. You can see this other you, but you don’t know how to reach her through this fog. And all you can do is carry on, push through, and remember to keep breathing until it lifts one day, and you remember yourself again.