Friday, July 17, 2015

The Elephant in the Room

So it's after 1am in my part of the world, I can't sleep, and I'm very much grappling with something I've been trying to avoid dealing with a better part of my life. Though I've already taken steps to recognize and work through it, tonight I'm really beginning to sense how much this - well, sort of thing - has a grip over my life.
I'm not the only person in the world to have anxiety, but anxiety sure as hell doesn't let you easily recognize that. Throughout high school, when many people (including some of my friends at the time) began to realize they had it, I saw my own struggles and continually compared mine to theirs (which, of course, you really cannot do - pain and struggles are relative, not equatable - but of course I didn't know that) and decided that, no, I was just shy and awkward, I wasn't suffering from anything more than slight social anxiety that I would grow out of.

Fast forward to college, where answering questions in class in a lecture of over one hundred people terrified me, but I did it because I cared so much about what I was learning and I was finally beginning to believe that I had something interesting to say because people actually listened to me, which I found amazing for someone that had mostly been talked over previously. I chose to believe I was leaving my anxiety behind me, ignoring the days I dreaded presentations so much my stomach hurt, as well as the days I beat myself over mistakes I made with friends and people I cared about so much that I would cry for hours and spiral myself into a deluge of depression and apathy. My roommate at the time discovered she had anxiety as well and I figured I couldn't have it because I wasn't having panic attacks like hers. I skipped more lectures in my abnormal psychology class than any other class I took in college because I "already knew the material" - somewhat true but my excuse to avoid feeling what I thought was psychology student syndrome, but was likely the first stages of self-diagnosis.

Fast-forward to now. I have a job that has challenged and changed me. I am surrounded by people I love. And because of many things that have happened in the last few weeks and months, I have finally acknowledged I have anxiety. Sometimes I have panic attacks that cause me to lose my sense of rationality and cry and be unable to breath. Sometimes I make mistakes and beat myself up about it - the larger the mistake, the more I beat myself up about it. I jump to conclusions about what people think about me and the way they treat me - usually negative. I read into things people and often assume that they are thinking poorly of me/did something because of something I did/am generally a terrible friend and person. I worry about being self-pitying and yet refuse to acknowledge the real struggles I am having. I lose or gain appetite erratically, I have sleeping issues (like right now), I let my sensitive nature take over until I am nothing but a giant, sensitive ball of emotion that can be pushed too far by the slightest prod. I worry perpetually - about everything, everyone I care about. I fall into blue periods of depression where I can't actually believe that I have much value as a person. These moments are the most troubling, and they've become more common in the last few months. But this is where the good news comes in.

Luckily for myself and for everyone I know, I've started seeing a therapist. I realized what was going on and ultimately knew I couldn't continue like this. Life is too short to let fear and worry take over. But of course that's bringing in new concerns - will I be able to afford this in the long run, what if this doesn't work, my therapist is pregnant - what happens when she leaves and I have to switch to a new person, what if she doesn't actually listen to the details of what I'm saying and this isn't going to help? But it is helping - already she's given me great advice and I can feel a change, though it's small and slow in coming. It doesn't help that a great deal of my life in in continual upheaval and I am a class-A pro at making stupid mistakes. And also the struggle is that once I recognized I had anxiety, it gained a certain kind of power once I began to see just how clearly it's consumed my life.

I'm certain that every person who struggles with anxiety struggles with it in a different way, to a different degree. I know that mine is relatively minor. I can usually do social things without much trouble. I love being around people and they make me feel better about things (most of the time). I don't have long bouts of depression and there are some things I don't worry about. But my anxiety shifts and changes. Sometimes it's like a gnat, buzzing around your head, always there, but not always noticed. And sometimes - like tonight - it's the elephant in the room, a giant hulking beast waiting for you to make a wrong move so it can come in and trample you. And sometimes it's something much worse, something I don't know how to describe - something utterly monstrous that only wants to devour and destroy you. I don't like not being in control and the scariest parts of anxiety for me are those moments when I so clearly feel the lack of control I have over my own mind.

I know that I can't always have control in every situation - such is life - but I should be able to feel like I have a grasp on my own mind. Which is why I'm writing this post tonight. I told my therapist that I didn't feel the need to share my problems with the world, on Facebook or any other capacity, because I could just tell the people who needed to know and deal with it as I went along. But I've realized I'm wrong. I do want to tell people because I don't have anything to hide and because if one person reads this post and realizes something about themselves, then that's more than I could ever hope for. Self-diagnosis is tricky - sometimes it can be worrying over small concerns. But sometimes it can be healthy and incredibly important. If I hadn't spent a night rereading about anxiety and looking up discussions about it on the internet, I never would have convinced myself to set up an appointment with a therapist and learn to work through all of this.

But I also want to share this post for another reason. I've always posted all of my blog writings to Facebook, inviting any of my friends to read it because - well, why not? I like people to read my writing and sometimes it can spur discussion. Here recently, I've been using Facebook a lot more than I have in recent years and I finally realized why. When I was in college or even shortly after college, I used Facebook to share what I was doing with friends - usually my roommate - because it was fun to show off what I was doing. Now I feel like I'm showing off more on Facebook, but really I'm sharing the experiences or things I'd want to share with my friends but don't because I'm often on my own. I live on my own now and I'm beginning to see how many things I would have shared with my roommate instead of the internet. I haven't spoken to her for a while - she has her own struggles and I'm worried to burden her with mine - and so I guess I'm writing because I can't really tell her right now. In many ways, Facebook has also become some sort of device to share with people things I'd like to tell them but whom I don't often see or I'd feel weird messaging all the time. It's a sort of surrogate, passive communication where I put out stuff and hope people will respond to it instead of just telling them. I don't know if it's good or bad - but I do know that social media has played a fairly significant role in my anxiety issues, especially with blogging.

Regardless of all of this, I am also writing this because I do want other people to know - and yet, I'm not actually telling them, I'm writing this post that I can't guarantee anyone will see. And yet, I want to share what's going on and I want to talk about it, but I don't want to totally interrupt people's lives to do so - but if any of you reading this are some of my Facebook friends, please know I will certainly talk about this with you. I want people to know because anxiety is so prevalent but so easily misunderstood. Just writing this post has been a struggle - honestly, I thought about writing about my early recognitions of this at least a year or two ago. It's hard because as someone who is always trying to put other people first, I need to learn that sometimes I need to do what is best for me. It isn't selfish and I'm not trying to gain attention. I just need to talk about it - and right now, this is the medium that suites me best.

TL;DR: I have anxiety. It sucks, but I'm working through it. I've avoided dealing with it because - well, anxiety - but I'm not going to pretend it isn't there any more. I'm stronger than I think. As a nice quote I came across says: "So far you've survived 100% of your worst days. You're doing great."
Often I need to remember this.

In closing, a note: I keep a printed out image on my nightstand that I found online sometime in the last year or two. It reads: "Sometimes I feel like giving up, then I remember I have a lot of motherfuckers to prove wrong." Anxiety is one of those motherfuckers. And I am not going to stop proving each and every day that it is wrong.


  1. Thanks for posting this, Gina. I suddenly developed a very free-floating version of anxiety just under two years ago. Have no idea where it came from or why; I deal with it mostly by keeping busy and doing some meditation. I also keep waiting for it to go away. Seems anxiety has become rampant (or at least we're hearing a lot more about it): is it the times? the culture? Hang in there.

    1. Anxiety does seem to be more common and I think there must be something in our culture or time that makes it so widespread. I can remember a time when I was younger when I wasn't anxious so somehow it had to have been learned and more than just a genetic predisposition. What exactly it is that makes it so common must be a mix factors and a mystery to me. Thanks for your support and all the best to you as well!