On anxiety, and what it means to me

I am writing this to see if it helps my own issues and in hopes that this helps anyone else on this fine mental health awareness day as well (even though I’m a day late now, d’oh!). I am definitely _not_ interested in a pity party.

Now, get ready for some rambling. And inb4 “woa, really? I wouldn’t have thought…”. :)

For a good part of my life, anxiety has been a defining factor for how I feel on any given day. Now, I should really preface this by saying that I’ve never been officially diagnosed with any disorders. I only strongly suspect that they are there through descriptions of others that have been diagnosed.

Growing up, therapy was often not deemed necessary by the sober, Calvinist, Dutch. A mindset that persists, and is somewhat amplified by pop culture, today. And so I have been really very hesitant about finding help, in part too because I’m not sure where the line between normal and not lies. And so for the longest time I didn’t think anything of it and thought it was just part of life. However, I know I should look for help now that I’ve noticed that things have started to get worse over the past couple of years.

Anxiety, for me, really means a number of things. At a physical level, there’s a lot of uncomfortable shaking and heart racing and trouble sleeping. Triggers may be crowded areas, or simply having to talk to strangers or a crowd (in person, over the phone, even on text chat, it doesn’t matter). It means I probably won’t be able to go to the bathroom in public because of a shy bladder (best case scenario: I end up standing around for minutes before it finally goes, but lord help me if someone just happens to come in just before that). It means I will probably decline invitations to hang out. It means I will most likely try and find a way to email instead of phone so I can think carefully about what to say. This kind of backfires when either the site doesn’t work, or I get redirected to “just call us”. Usually that’s just the end of that for me when that happens.

On an emotional and mental level, it means I overthink and overanalyze _everything_ and becoming a bit of a perfectionist. Which leads to me rather just not trying something new. It means I am deeply terrified of making mistakes. It means I am deeply terrified to be judged badly for anything I say or do (and yes, that includes this post). It also paves the road for that freeloading dickhead “impostor syndrome”.

It means that I may get depressed over something someone says to me. And not because they mean it badly, but because my brain has decided that it could be and I was too afraid to speak up and get it clarified. Instead, I will have conversations in my head that will most likely never take place. It means I will regularly have bouts of (usually mild) depression, feelings of guilt, and mood swings. There are days where the only thing that’s getting me out of bed is my loyalty to the company I work for. If it’s the weekend, forget it.

Basically, I feel most comfortable when I can just be without too much attention directed at me. That way I won’t worry as much about being judged. Paradoxically, then, when my brain decides to turn that around on me and pulls out the “you’re being ignored, you might as well not exist” card. Fsck you brain. :)

I’ve found ways to help cope with some of this, but they’ve all been very temporary at best. Distraction through music or film works best, but is absolutely not fool proof. Running and meditation work for a moment until I get tired of stopping my mind from drifting. Even writing this post feels better, even though I probably won’t sleep for another hour wondering about it, what changes I can make to it (14 revisions and counting so far), and what the response may be.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, and you’re noticing that it is adversely affecting your ability to function, I can only suggest to look for help if you haven’t already. I know it’s easy to slip into this “it’s just normal” attitude, and definitely know it’s easy to downplay it with humour. But I also know I will seek out help (eventually, heh). Even if it’s just to confirm and make sure.