Dear Anxiety Free Friend,
I know it’s hard to understand me sometimes. My moods, my insecurities, my hesitations, my million and one questions. You see, it’s difficult to explain to someone who doesn’t have anxiety just what having anxiety is all about. It’s not just that I feel anxious. It’s not just that I’m stressed, in fact, most of the time it has absolutely nothing to do with what’s going on around me at all! It’s often completely and utterly internal, irrational and down right scary.
Perhaps if I explain to you what it feels like for me. Hopefully then you will have a better understanding. For me, anxiety is overwhelmingly physical and mental and it can come out of nowhere. Imagine the feeling you would get if you were a passenger in a car that’s about to crash. You can see the accident about to happen but there’s nothing you can do, there’s no time to even brace yourself. Well, that’s the feeling I experience when an anxiety attack overcomes me. It’s all of those feelings but also the feelings you would have once the accident happens. It’s panic, aftermath, exhaustion.
And this can occur day after day. The car crash about to happen… my heart racing a million miles an hour like it’s about to explode out of my chest, I hold my breath, my entire body flinches in fear. It’s that fight or flight reflex. I stiffen, I panic. And then with all the drama of the fright instinct, my body starts shaking and I feel sick.
And when it comes to someone with an anxiety disorder (and I’m not just talking about someone who feels anxious when they are stressed about something, I mean someone who has been diagnosed or should be diagnosed with anxiety) that same awful scary feeling can happen when there’s absolutely no danger at all. Nothing. Nada.
It’s as though my mind and body are reacting to what I perceive as ‘real danger’ when the thing that is actually happening might only feel slightly out of the ordinary for you. This in turn make me seem like I’m being irrational and acting like a hypochondriac but trust me, these feelings are real, they are real to me, to me they are life threatening.
Let me give you an example of how my brain works. An ‘ordinary’ event for you perhaps but for me, this is how it played out…I was just at home, just sitting on the couch, just watching TV. Everything is calm, everything is OK, I am relaxed, nothing is out of place but then WHAM!!!! The slightest thing suddenly happens and it sends my body into overdrive.
Penny coughs in bed. Earlier she had told me she had been feeling a little unwell. A cough is a normal thing to happen in a household right?? And yet I jumped up like I was about to be in that car crash. I jumped off the couch and bolted into her room, panicked, freaked out thinking “f**k, f**k is she about to vomit??! Where’s a bucket, where’s it going to land, is it gastro, OMG f**k!”
I got to her room, my eyes wide, my heart pounding and I realised of course, there was no vomit, it was just a cough. Heart still pounding, hands shaking, I felt like I was going to faint, I felt sick. But it was just a cough. I knew this was ridiculous. What idiot is petrified of vomit?? It was just a cough. So why, hours later even, did I feel like I was walking on a tightrope? About to bungy jump off it? Why is my body reacting like this when my mind is saying, there’s nothing to be worried about, there’s no danger?? Why do I panic like this? Why does the littlest of things make me feel so panicked for no reason at all, except the fear that something “might” happen?
Because this is anxiety and today it’s bad. It’s not always bad, in fact I can go a good week and I don’t feel panicked at all, but then these are the weeks when you probably don’t even think I’ve got an anxiety disorder after all. But if you saw me on this day, the day my daughter just innocently coughed, then you would. On an anxious day the chemicals in my brain aren’t working properly. My nervous system is working in overdrive and it makes me feel like I’m back in the passenger seat of a car that’s about to crash.
Now imagine feeling like you’re about to crash at least once or twice a week? Imagine the toll that would take on your body and mind and how exhausted you would be. Yes, it’s invisible to most, it’s unfamiliar to many, it’s even laughable to some BUT I ask you this, if I told you that I had just had a near miss car accident, would you then understand what I was feeling?
So dear anxiety free friend, (and may I just add, lucky you!). Next time I call you with an irrational thought, or an over the top question, or I go quiet or I tell you I’m feeling unwell, please know that I am still here. I am still present. I might just be taking a moment to tighten my seatbelt, to brace for impact or to clean up the aftermath for what may have been a very traumatic minute/hour/day/week.
I am still here, I am still me.