I am constantly anxious and I don’t know why. If there was a specific point in my life where it started, I don’t remember it anymore. Sometimes, I wish something terribly traumatic had happened to me just so I could have a reasonable explanation for my anxiety.
For me, anxiety works like this: I experience a trigger and my body responds. The problem lies in how my body responds. A good way to explain it is to imagine a stressful situation, a person who responds constructively to stress will deal with the stressor in a constructive way. I, on the other hand, respond differently. When I experience a stress, my body responds by putting me immediately into fight or flight mode. It doesn’t matter what the stress is, either. For example, it could be meeting a new person, an assignment is due, I might have lost my keys, maybe I’m running late or I dropped a glass on the floor, it could be anything. Anyways, in this state, my heart hammers in my chest, I’m inexplicably angry and fearful and I want get away at any cost. I don’t feel safe when I feel like this, I feel afraid. I call it my ‘bear in the room response’ because I am responding to everyday things as if there was somehow a hungry bear in the room with me.
This state of stress is a problem because the aforementioned anxiety has become the foundation for which all of my other emotions are built upon. Before I can become happy, I have to first determine if my anxiety will let me happy. If I am going to become angry, how angry I get will depend on how anxious I am first. How I relate to other people’s emotions is also impacted by my anxiety. I can’t be happy for the success of a friend because I might be anxious over something completely unrelated to them.
It sounds horrible when I explain it like that. It reeks of selfishness and a general lack of social skills. I have to be careful because the thing with anxiety is that because I am anxious and uncomfortable with just about everything, I can become exceedingly depressed as a result.
The topic of depression is something that I think we still skirt around carefully in everyday conversation. I had a recent talk with an acquaintance that also suffers from anxiety and we touched upon how others view the subject. Often, what happens is that the people struggling with anxiety and/or depression are told that they are simply, ‘in a bad mood’ or that they’ll, ‘get over it soon.’ I’ve found that this label can have a massive effect on my concept of self worth. It trivializes the destructive emotions that I am engaged in. The ‘bad mood’ concept falsely portrays the authentic feelings I have as something that can be altered through nothing more than a different perspective or perhaps, a good nights sleep.
Of course, it never is that easy. I have to take medication every day; if I don’t then I can become utterly unable to engage with people in any sort of meaningful manner. I turn into a person who is overtly withdrawn, depressed, fearful and finally, suicidal, a type of self destructive Mr. Hyde, if you will. Part of me feels like I should be embarrassed to admit my so-called dysfunction; however, I’ve learned that I should not condemn myself for being who I am. One of my doctors has gone to great lengths to show me how my brain quite literally does not produce enough of the hormones needed to stave of those dark thoughts. I equate it to being born without an arm. I simply have to become proficient at operating under a different set of circumstances than other people might be experiencing.
Obviously, because social situations are a major trigger for me, I struggle with creating and maintaining friendships. My anxiety can influence how I identify with people. For example, if I am anxious around someone who I have never met before I may retreat from this person. This can send a message to others that I am unapproachable or unhappy which is certainly not a conducive message to send at a social gathering.
What is really amazing, at least to me, is that I was unaware of any of these little tidbits about myself until only recently. Previously, I had ascribed to an identity where I accepted I was always going to be afraid and doubting of myself. It wasn’t until I sought help that I obtained enlightenment (or at least the start of it) on just how good life can be and, more importantly, what I am capable of.
I feel like I am just beginning to get to know myself. I can’t deny that it is strange and a little bit exciting.