Writing about Anxiety: A Personal Perspective
You know those days when you've got the mean reds.... the blues are because you're getting fat or maybe it's been raining too long. You're sad, that's all. But the mean reds are horrible. You're afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don't know what you're afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen; only you don't know what it is. ~Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany's, 1958, spoken by the character Holly Golightly
My mother used to describe it as a case of "the nerves." She would smoke and pace through the rooms of the house. And even when sitting her legs would shake. As a little girl I didn't know the name of what I was witnessing, but now I know that in addition to her other mental health issues, my mother suffered from anxiety. There is some science to say that it is hereditary. In my case this is true because I suffer from it too.
When asked to write about anxiety for this site I felt a sense of relief. I finally get to talk about what life is like to cope with chronic stress and anxiety. I have spent much time writing and talking about my depression. I am a writer and the Community Leader for My Depression Connection. And while I have grown to accept coping with depression I have not made that same peace about my anxiety.
It seems that fear is something we tend to cover up even more than feeling depressed. Look at the sayings we have in our culture as in "Don't let them see you sweat" or "Just do it." Fear has little acceptance when we are immersed in a bungee jumping, speed car racing, thrill seeking society. Even on TV dating shows one has to prove their worthiness of being dateable by performing high wire circus tricks or parasailing over sharks. Where does that leave us folk who would not only "fail" at these thrill seeker tests but also have a difficult time navigating ordinary life without experiencing fear and anxiety? I would like to give a voice to those of us who struggle each day to just live a normal life.
I know firsthand what it is like to have fear and anxiety get in the way of daily functioning. I was the little girl in grade school who refused to climb down the open metal stairs leading to the playground. I was the teen who refused to dive off the diving board and ended up being pushed into the water as I gasped and struggled so much that the teacher had to hook me out with a pole as my classmates looked on and giggled. I was the girl who went on dates to the amusement park and wouldn't ride anything but the bumper cars. I was the young woman in college who climbed thirty flights of stairs rather than get on the university's rickety elevator. I was the woman who, needing minor surgery, pleaded with the doctor not to kill me. I am the same person who got their driver's license at a ripe old age of 39 and also the same woman who asked the person sitting next to me during a plane ride, "Are you certain there are no terrorists on this plane?"
In addition to phobias I also understand generalized anxiety. You know the kind that comes from nowhere. You can be sitting there minding your own business and the adrenaline kicks in and you want to smack yourself silly because there is no real source for the fear but you are feeling it. Panic attacks, yes I have had them. Sometimes just thoughts in my head will start one up. I remember being invited to a wave pool once as a young adult and the thought of the crowds and water caused me to fear the possibility of drowning while being trampled. And I simply could not go. Sometimes loud repetitive noises will do it. My teen-age son has gotten himself speakers for his television. He was playing some sort of video game where I could hear repeated "Booms" sounding from the bass and my fear began to escalate to the point where I sat there paralyzed and crying. It is probably one of the worst feelings in the world to feel such overwhelming fear in response to things which cause no worry at all to most people.
Who knows where anxiety comes from? Is it a neurological glitch? Is it hereditary? Is it learned? I am guessing it originates from all of these sources and more. It is like finding the end of a tangled up ball of yarn. Where to begin the search?
But whatever the source, this is real. The feelings you have, although others may pooh pooh them, tell you to just "get over it" or "buck up" are very real and very physical. And there is genuine suffering with anxiety. There can be a constant beating yourself up for not being able to handle life as others seemingly do with ease. But I want to tell you that you are definitely not alone in this.
While it is helpful to have medical information from doctors and experts about anxiety, I find that sometimes it is even more helpful to talk to someone who has personal life experience in coping with anxiety. What I hope to bring to this site is my experience with how I have coped all these years and have not only survived but how I have learned to face some of my greatest fears. I am also the parent of a child who suffers from great anxiety. My youngest son has autism and anxiety seems to go hand in hand with this disorder. For a child who has feared everything from leaf blowers to carousels, he too has learned to survive and find peace in the world.
In addition to sharing my experience with you, I would also like to be an active participant in creating community here. I have found that the best way to heal from anything is to help others as you are helping yourself. Share your story with others. Give support. Let us lean on each other for guidance and connection. We can do this. Together. Thank you for listening and for allowing me this wonderful opportunity to be a part of this community.