For as far back as I remember I’ve been afraid. Not in an oh god, there’s a spider kind of way (although, why anything needs eight legs and eyes is still beyond me), but a constant bubble of nerves beneath my skin. Sometimes it rises into full pre-interview fear, often for no discernible reason, and others it simmers away in my sub-conscious.
I have anxiety—a word that’s come to mean a lot of different things in our modern language. In terms of a mental illness, though, I don’t think a lot of the population really know what it is. Luckily for you, and all our educational purposes, I am an anxiety riddled mess and am here to detail my personal experiences. Which, I should stress (no pun intended), will be different to other people’s experiences. Mental health is unique to everyone.
My anxiety doesn’t just manifest itself as nerves and fear. For me it causes an internal chaos—overthinking, over planning, running back through every interaction I’ve ever had in hopes I didn’t say anything stupid.
…Did I say something stupid?
…Was there too much eye contact?
…Was there not enough eye contact?
…Do they even like me?
…Oh my God they hate me.
…I hate me.
…Remember that time I embarrassed myself when I was ten?
*Cue retroactive panic attack*
Anxiety is a loop of thoughts in my head I can never turn off. Some events, coping mechanisms, or people might turn down the volume, but they’ll never be silent. As an example, before every situation my brain runs through all the ways it could go wrong, the things I could say to ruin everything, mean things other people might say, delays or frustrations or embarrassments.
What if…? What if…?
If I’m going to have to speak, say to a receptionist, I’ll run through exactly what I’m going to say a hundred times on the way. If I’m travelling I’ll picture all the scenarios out of my control—flight delays, train cancellations, missing my connections…
IT’S MADDENING! I want to throw my hands in the air and scream SHUT UP.
Then, there’s the panic attacks—the shortness of breath, the tightening throat, the panic that makes all my thoughts go still as if someone’s hit pause in the worst way. In a way that makes me, for a couple of seconds, lose hope in whatever I’m doing. Makes me almost sink to my knees and cry. Before my fight instinct comes back into play and I push on again.
Oh, and there’s the physical aspect of anxiety too. Any changes in hormones and chemicals within your body (which absolutely happens when you are feeling anxious because it stimulates your ol’ pathways) can, for lack of better phrasing, fuck up everything. A few examples: upset tummy, sore lower back from being tense all the time, exhaustion, shaking, dry mouth, sore jaw from clenching, headaches, stomach cramps… And along with all the aforementioned, it makes me lose weight. My body works on overtime ALWAYS. I feel shaky and wired. Thus, I’m using way more energy than I should be. Being a small person anyway, losing weight is not a good thing—despite what people often tell me. Even doctors have laughed at my concerns and called me lucky. Whilst I have to go around looking like the re-animated corpse of a starving woman. I am now below the weight limit to give blood among other things, and clothes look hideous on me. ‘Lucky’ I might be, but I also look ill, and I’m hungry. All. The. Time.
So, how do I deal with all this chaos inside me? Spoiler alert, NOT WELL. I have the sort of personality where I try and tackle things head on, so despite being so afraid I want to vomit, I still do the extrovert things. Which leaves me exhausted. In situations I feel may bring up my anxiety more, I usually opt for comfortable clothing, or simply clothing I feel the best in, to at least have that one small comfort. Mostly it’s clothes that mean I don’t stand out—grey or black. I also make sure I’m wearing makeup. People may say it’s anti-feminist to be interested in make-up now-a-days but for those of us with anxiety it can be a mask we wear to help us face the world with more confidence. It certainly is for me.
In terms of medication, I am not on any at the moment, but I’m debating it as a possibility (if I could only silence the ‘stop being pathetic’ voice!). In an effort to cope with it all myself I did purchase some Rescue Remedy (not sponsored, just the only brand I know) but I never use it so can’t give a review. I also have two of those lavender scented ‘stress relief’ sticks you rub onto your wrists. So far, I’m pretty sure all they do is make you smell nice. And I’ve undergone Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (I won’t go into it now, I think I’ll save it for its own post), but I don’t think that did a damn thing either.
Right now, I’m just trying to pretend to be ‘normal’, and a lot of the time failing spectacularly. So this is me, anxious mess, pretend extrovert, and overthinker extraordinaire. Nice to meet you.