Anxiety can wear many different hats. Some, most people are anxious when it comes to tense or stressful situations. Some people have anxiety. Some people have both. Some people suffer panic attacks. Some people throw up when they’re super anxious. Some people take medicine. Some people talk to a therapist. Some people do both.
Although there’s a definition to describe this term “anxiety” and those who suffer from it, I don’t believe any two people with anxiety are the same. I don’t think they’re triggered the same way, or maybe they don’t need a trigger at all. Some people benefit from breathing techniques, medication, or therapy, and some don’t. Some have had it their entire lives, and others develop it after a traumatic event. The point is, anxiety comes in all different shapes, forms, and sizes, and until I really sat down and looked at what was happening, I didn’t realize I had been suffering from it all my life.
I can pinpoint my first panic attack. I didn’t know it was a panic attack at the time; I thought I was just really upset to the point where I couldn’t control my breathing or entire body for that matter. It was over winter break my junior year of college. I won’t get into the details but to sum it up, I was set up with a nannying gig with people I had never met before, and I was in Naples, Florida alone with them. I remember sneaking away and calling my mom, hysterically crying and unable to talk I was so upset. I couldn’t breathe and felt like someone had knocked the wind out of me repeatedly. I felt trapped in the situation and trapped in my body. It was truly terrifying and looking back on it, I feel as though it was an out of body experience.
(EDIT: I now know this wasn’t a panic attack. I had my first one the other day and it was terrifying. More to come…)
I have only ever had two other huge panic attacks that I can pinpoint, but it was after they began reoccurring and I saw a doctor that I realized I had suffered from anxiety all my life. I just didn’t know it was anxiety and that the feelings and emotions I’ve always felt weren’t normal.
Didn’t everyone tap their feet and move their legs and hands while sitting or laying down?
Didn’t everyone have trouble sleeping or falling asleep?
Didn’t everyone have a hard time making decisions?
Didn’t everyone suffer from constant worry or paranoia?
I didn’t know these behaviors weren’t “normal”. Anxiety before tests or stress at work, that’s normal. But a constant feeling of uneasiness, stress, and like you’re going down the hill of a roller coaster? That’s not normal. Questioning everything you do, and then thinking about it for days, weeks, and months later… not normal. So how did this happen? How was I going to fix it?
I’ve never really talked about this with anyone, because I was afraid to admit that I wasn’t “normal”. That I had a “disease” or a “mental disorder”. But it wasn’t and isn’t something I can control, and I’ve finally accepted that. I hit rock bottom a few years ago and sought help. I spoke with doctors, psychologists, and other people who suffer from anxiety. And I’ve realized it’s not something I did or something I can prevent. There are things I can do to help with the symptoms, but the actual anxiety disorder is just something I have. It’s not like when “normal” people suffer from anxiety and feel relief when whatever is causing them anxiety is over. Because for me, it’s never over. Maybe a certain event causing a jump in my anxiety ends, but the feeling never really does. Medication and therapy can help, but it’s always there and ready to pounce.
A lot of people may not understand anxiety and that’s okay. When I first started dating my husband, I had to explain it to him and even then, he didn’t exactly understand. He didn’t understand why I couldn’t just calm down and breathe when I started to get upset. Or why I second guessed or changed my mind 100 times over the smallest decision. He’s learned to help talk me through these little attacks when they happen and has learned ways to help me keep calm. He’s sensitive to the fact that sometimes I just feel really anxious for no reason at all, and always asks “is there anything I can do?” It’s not about finding a solution for the anxiety but trying to understand it and be sensitive to the fact that there’s not always something you can do to “fix” it.
I never used to talk about it because I didn’t want to seem “weird” or like there was something wrong with me. But after talking about it with more and more people, I realize that so many people suffer from it. That it’s not a big deal to have it and that it actually helps to talk about it and help each other through it. That there’s nothing wrong with seeing a therapist or taking medication. That we’re not crazy, and the only thing crazy about it is that sometimes society makes us feel like we are. That anxiety is seen as “having something wrong” instead of being treated like any other medical condition.
When I tell people I have anxiety, they’re like “no way! I would have never known!” Why? Because I’m not an introvert crying in a corner? Because that’s how you’ve learned about it or seen it in movies? Does it get in the way of daily life? Not always. Do I feel depressed some days? Maybe. But that doesn’t mean I’m not happy or I don’t love my life. Because I am and I do. But it is something I’ve had to learn to deal with and keep under control. And not let it control me.
So this is me; a normal person. I have anxiety and no, there’s nothing wrong with me. Yes, I’ve tried medication and seen therapists. And no, I’m no longer ashamed to talk about it with others. And if you have it, you shouldn’t be either.