The Struggle is REAL!!!
“You’re such a cute girl, you need to go out and meet new people. Just smile and the rest is easy. You will have fun once you are there. You will always be alone if you don’t put yourself out there. All that insecurity is just in your head. ” -Pretty Much Everyone.
Once I have put my foot in my mouth and agreed to engage in a social event, a few things instantly happen:
- First, I begin to analyze the situation imagining all of the things that could happen that would prevent me from actually participating. I am not just a master of anxiety, and I am also profoundly educated in all things that could go catastrophically wrong.
- Second, I start thinking about getting dressed. What I am going to wear is a critical, life affective decision. The wrong shoes could cause me to fall. The wrong shirt might make me self conscious all night, or itchy, or make people look at me too much.
So, you can pretty much bet that on the day of the occasion I will be the best smelling, most carefully preened over dressed person alive, who will drive around, look at the venue, not get out of the car, return home disgusted and sit on the couch being upset about not being able to get passed the fear. I generally end up sitting alone congratulating myself that I made it to the car.
The struggle is real.
Anxiety seems to be commonly understood as being nervous. Awkward. The kind of butterflies most people get before they speak publically. A little inconvenient moment of shyness that you can stiffen your resolve and overcome with a little courage and a smile. If you have this notion, please keep reading.
Here are some things you should know about what it really means to be anxious:
- My anxiety is real. It is not something I can knuckle past. It isn’t just “butterflies.” While most people have experienced anxiety – a sense of uneasiness brought on by stress in their physical environment, like giving a talk or approaching someone new- my anxiety is an endogenous, hardwired part of my brain, and one that affects almost every thing that I do: talking on the phone, buying groceries, going to a restaurant or cafe, walking to my car, pretty much anything that requires leaving my house.
- My anxiety has real symptoms. Headache, sweating, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, tremor and twitching – all very real responses by my body to anxiety. And a panic attack – a sudden, overwhelming sense of terror – can come on anytime without warning.
- I am constantly agitated: My brain is always working, worrying, considering possible outcomes. I do not sleep well. I can be anxious about ANYTHING. Not just big social stuff. Anything. Small, trivial, things other people never consider. I can even be anxious about being anxious. The emotional toll is huge. Anxiety and depression often arrive hand in hand, and are a very difficult duo to live with.
- I don’t like being the center of attention: I dislike working in groups, I don’t enjoy “get to know me” games or group introductions. Surprise birthday parties, big social hoopla – I can even worry myself sick that people are watching me eat when I sit in a restaurant.
- I KNOW my worries are irrational – I also know that they are real and that I can’t change them. I don’t need you to say or do anything – just be there for me and try to understand. I am also analyzing everything on an atomic scale. I am terrified of losing people I love because of these things that go on in me. I will try to be open when I can and when I am ready.
- I don’t take bailing on you lightly: Quite the opposite really. My biggest fear is of disappointing someone I care about. Every win for my anxiety results in a loss of self worth and feels like a personal failure.
- I am probably fine – but I might also be dying: Anxiety symptoms can be very similar to heart attack symptoms. I don’t know for sure. Let the games begin.
- I am not alone: Anxiety disorders affect about 18% of the population. For us, the state is pervasive, long lasting, and affects our lives in very real ways.
Anxiety and the Brain:
Let’s return to the Limbic Brain and the amygdala. The amygdala is the link between what happens outside of your body and how you respond to it on the inside. Some theorize that the amygdala in persons with anxiety disorders is connected differently causing the person to have difficulty differentiating a true threat from a mild annoyance- and the body’s default position is always survival. The amygdala, determined to keep you living, starts the chain of emotional response, telling the hypothalamus that there is a danger to self and to initiate protective maneuvers. Thehypothalamus links your nervous system and your endocrine system, and on command it “get’s the juices flowing” by sending the sympathetic nervous system into Def Con 1 – the fight or flight response. Epinephrine, the hormone responsible for the emotion of fear, floods the body increasing heart rate and breathing, and the physical symptoms of anxiety or even panic take hold.
How to love me when I am anxious:
I may need to escape. Please don’t ask me to stay a little longer or shame me for needing to find safety. Telling me to calm down or giving well meaning advice will make my anxiety worse.
If I want to be alone, please don’t take it personally. I may not want to be touched or consoled. If you are really on top of it, you will give me space but also let me know that you will be close by if I need you.
If I ask you to stay with me understand that it is an act of trust. If you can be comfortable in silence for a bit with me that would be wonderful. If I don’t want to be alone, I probably won’t mind a hand to hold, a shoulder to lean on, or other physical reassurance. Sometimes, I like knowing that you are there and that you get it that I am struggling without judging me.