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What anxiety feels like

Living with anxiety has all kinds of consequences. For example, I am never good enough. Whether that’s in regards to my appearance (the wrinkles around my eyes, my crooked nose), the work I do everyday (I don’t work hard enough, I don’t produce enough results, I have very basic skills), the food I put in my body (it’s not pure enough, whole enough, or nutrient-dense enough). Basically…nothing I do is ever good enough.

I know this is crazy irrational and all the anxiety talking, but these are the feelings I’ve had in the last 48 hours. It’s very sad and heartbreaking how brutal I can be to myself. I know it’s not rational behaviour, but the thing about anxiety is it’s often very difficult to stop and distinguish what’s real from what my overly-anxious brain thinks is real.

I’ve never been properly diagnosed by a psychiatrist as having general anxiety disorder (GAD) or any other manifestation of anxiety. But I have been prescribed medication for anxiety by my GP in response to what she identified as the illness.

In truth, I don’t need an official diagnosis to legitimise what I’ve experienced for a vast portion of my adult life.

 

I experience anxiety in many different ways. Aside from the negative, limiting thoughts I mentioned above, here are the other ways I experience it:

Telephone: I loathe talking on the phone and receiving phone calls. I get butterflies in my stomach, sweaty palms and instantly need to use the bathroom. I especially get these symptoms when I have to call a utility company about a bill or my account. I even experience these symptoms when it’s something as simple and non-confrontational like calling them about a change in address. When unknown numbers call me, I never answer. I don’t like being put on the spot by a charity or cold sales calls. When charities call me and ask if “it’s a good time” I lie and say I’m going into a meeting and ask that they call me the next day. I then enter their number into my phone so I know not to answer it tomorrow. For some reason having to say no to them makes me feel anxious, so I avoid it.

Email: This used to cause me a lot more anxiety when I worked outside the home in a corporate office job, where basically everyone spends their entire day firing emails back-and-forth. Checking email and staying on top of it caused me such bad anxiety, I finally had to say enough to being a slave to it. I started designating time slots throughout the day to check it, and whenever anyone approached me and asked “Did you see my email?” I made a solid effort not to feel guilty or sheepish. I still – however – let emails that require my response pile up. I always think, “Bah I’ll do that later.” But it still doesn’t stop them from weighing on my mind. Sometimes I find myself checking my email incessantly on my phone, even though there’s no particular reason for doing it.

Commitments: Anytime I put myself forward for a project – mainly voluntary ones – I will very quickly change my tune and not want to do it. But instead of saying no or quitting, I’ll be unintentionally flakey and try to avoid it as much as possible. If I can’t avoid it, I will build up the pain around the topic in my head so it’s as unpleasant as an experience as possible.

Body Dysmorphia: This is an anxiety disorder in and of itself, but I’m including it here as I often and persistently go through phases where I believe I need a nose job and some type of cosmetic surgery to fix the evidence of age on my face. I often feel like my looks are ageing faster than I am, and that soon I will need to invest serious money in making myself look better. In addition to wanting a nose job and cosmetic alterations, I have in the past focused on my rosacea to the point of obsession. Thankfully I’ve now accepted that rosacea is a genetic pre-disposition and that it’s really not that bad. But the other issues – wrinkles and my nose – are still persistent issues in my mind.

Toilet Anxiety: I know this is quite a common form of anxiety that most people experience. Usually it involves fear that other people can hear you using the toilet, worrying about the cleanliness of the toilet, or worrying about using the toilet at all. To this very day, I blast music on my iPhone whenever I need to poo. I even turn the extractor fan on in our kitchen to full-blast. I hate having to poo in public (I know many are with me on that one), and I’ve spent many years holding it in all day until I got home from work or school just to avoid having others hear me. Sometimes even if I’m peeing, and there’s a person in the stall next to me, I’ll plug my ears. I don’t know why but I need to shut my mind off from the noise of it in order to get my body to relax so I can go. Weird.

Confrontation: Despite the fact that most would identify me as a confrontational person – on account of my strong opinions and my willingness to stand by them – any kind of confrontation triggers my fight or flight response, and the subsequent flood of anxiety that comes with it. I find it extremely difficult to not take things personally, or to not let things bother me. I give too many fucks way too often. The only time I had a somewhat negative performance review at work, it resulted in such crippling anxiety that I could no longer stand being there and had to quit. Sure there were plenty of other reasons why I wanted to quit, but if I’m honest with myself, that was the nail in the coffin. I had several lacklustre performance evaluations before, throughout high school, university and grad school – as we’ve all had. During those times I always rose to the occasion and turned things around with impressive results, channeling my anxiety into productivity. But on this occasion, I channeled that anxiety into making me more and more unhappy with the situation so I would force myself to change it.

What people think of me: I try to not let what people think impact my decisions or actions, but often fear holds me back. Take this blog for example. I write lots of posts here that I don’t openly share with my friends, family or network. I’m either embarrassed about what they may think, or I’m worried they would think of me differently. Sometimes I worry about what potential future employers think about me when I write about things like sex and mental illness. Surely they think I’m unstable and untrustworthy! I even think sometimes that I should delete my blog, and all the evidence of the “inappropriate” things I write. If anyone knows the secret to not caring what people think, please let know! I would pay handsomely for it.

I wanted to share all these examples, even if they are embarrassing and make me sound like a hot mess, because having a willingness to share anything is really important me. I don’t know if I’m really helping anyone here but myself, but the thought that someone might read this, identify with it and realise they’re not alone makes me feel like it’s worth sharing.

When I recount all the ways I experience anxiety it makes me realise how much energy it sucks out of me. I’ve learned over the years that acceptance and awareness is key to healing and feeling better. I can’t change my anxiety, but I can accept it for what it is, and do my best to keep moving forward.

When I’m feeling really healthy, happy and balanced, I recognise these feelings right away and accept them for what they are. When I’m not feeling so healthy and balanced, I tend to indulge and believe them. Last night I was indulging them. And when you indulge them, they tend to spiral out of control.

It wasn’t long until I was lying on my bed, crying at my “pathetic life” and saying I’m not proud of the person I’ve become.

In the light of day today, I realise these were just sad, anxious feelings. It’s natural to feel that way from time-to-time. And thankfully I feel better today. But I was in a lot of pain yesterday. I felt like I was selling myself short, that I was making bad decisions, that I was lazy, that I wasn’t capable of achieving all that I wanted for myself in life.

The good news is today I don’t feel that way. So trust that this too shall pass for you.

6 Comments

  1. Leigh Leigh

    You’re honesty is refreshing and appreciated. Love your posts Brooke.

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