Thursday, September 8, 2016

Living with Anxiety

Image from CS Photography
It has only been about a year since I have realized that I have a serious problem with anxiety. There were signs years ago, as a young adult, but I had no idea what it was or that I was living through it. I have only made reference a few times, because it's not something that's easily understood by people who don't suffer. But, I wanted to give everyone an idea of what it is like to live through an anxiety disorder.

Imagine yourself lying on the ground with a 200 pound boulder on your chest. As much as you try, you cannot get up, and you cannot remove the boulder from your chest. On top of that, you have a constant buzzing in your head that feels like a series of electrodes that are strapped to the front, top, and back of your skull. You try to relax it away, but it doesn't stop. You try deep breathing. Meditation. Mindfulness. No matter what you try, it doesn't go away. You're angry. Irritable. Pissed off at your significant other, the dearest person in your life, for no reason.  Everything they say, do, or offer does nothing but make you madder. You feel like you might snap at any moment.

Those are the physical symptoms. Then there are the cognitive symptoms to deal with.

Your rational brain tells you that you're stupid.  That you need to just snap out of it. Your life is perfect. There's no reason to feel the way you're feeling. You suck at your life. You suck at your job. You're a fraud and it's just a matter of time before everyone figures that out. Every time you hear someone whisper, it's about you. About how you are fat. Or ugly. Or aren't dressed the right way. Every email you receive from your boss is hidden with innuendo. About how you're not really doing your job. About how you're not good enough. At any moment, you are going to be fired (see above about being a fraud).

Not every day is like that. Some days have the physical symptoms. Some days have the emotional ones. The worst days have both to such an extreme that you cannot focus, for it's nothing but fear that makes you function. Fear of failure. Fear of having real physiological problems (hello heart attack?). At the most extreme, you shut down completely. Unable to engage. You sleep, or sleep walk. Going through the motions. So overcome by the symptoms of anxiety that you are like a walking zombie.

And the loved ones that surround you only want to make you better. They want to offer words of encouragement. Words of love and help. And as much as you understand where they are coming from, you can't help but feel that they are coming from a point of pity. Because the anxiety tells you lies. That you are unworthy. That everyone hates you. That everyone thinks the worst of you because of that one thing you might have said or done that one time. Events from the past become instant replays that play over and over and over again. Obsession about what you did (or didn't do) become the forefront of your mind.

If you're lucky, you witness this as if from an outside party. You watch yourself go through these symptoms and think "just snap out of it." "This is ridiculous and not reality." "There is no reason to feel like this." Except that you can't. The obsessive thoughts and physiological symptoms are uncontrollable. As much as you will, breathe, mentally stop yourself from being there, you're there. There's nothing you can do about it. You have to live it and deal with it.

I like to believe that I've gotten quite good at recognizing when the anxiety monster is taking over. But sometimes, the side effects of anxiety take over and you are unable to see it for what it really is. Those days are the ones where you want to be somebody, anybody else. To not be the person you are. You yell. You scream. You retreat. You shut down. You scare your family. Anxiety robs you of your fundamental self. Of your carefree, loving, understanding self. You hope that one day, maybe, your family can understand what it is that you're going through, and that it's not your fault.

I have had some family members and friends to thank for helping me realize that I have been struggling with this demon for too long, and that these thoughts, actions, and feelings are all part of the anxiety. I am in the process of understanding and dealing with my anxiety. I say 'dealing' because I have come to quickly realize that there is no real control. As much as my cognitive, rational brain would like to believe it, this is one particular area of my life under which I have absolutely no control. If I did, I would not continue to live through these symptoms the way I have for at least a third (if not half, at this point) of my life.

I want to let people know that if you suffer with anxiety, it's not your fault. It's not within your control. It's not even rational. And all of that sucks. But understanding it and dealing with its consequences will be key to living a fulfilling life, anxiety and all. I am on my journey. It will be a lifelong journey, filled with peaks and valleys. And I am dealing with it the best I can.


suzanne said...

Amen Brooke. I will say that some of our conversations earlier this summer have really struck a chord with me. We will have to all some time. Hugs and hang in there. Each day is a new start!

Mariya said...

You're wonderful, loved, and will figure out how to cope. One step at a time.