I wake up, and immediately I know. A lump appears in my throat as my heartbeat quickens. It’s going to be bad today. Resisting the urge to hide in bed, I instead face the day, wishing with everything in me that I could make it end. Small things like going to the grocery store or waiting in line make me feel physically sick with worry. My mind races and my chest beats faster than normal. I feel a panic rising in my chest that is unwarranted. My mind tells me that I’m worrying too much..and yet, I cannot stop more than I can stop breathing.
Did you know that anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S.? It affects over 40 million adults, around 18 percent of the population. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is “characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. People with the disorder, which is also referred to as GAD, experience exaggerated worry and tension, often expecting the worst, even when there is no apparent reason for concern. They anticipate disaster and are overly concerned about money, health, family, work, or other issues.”
Anxiety is something that I struggle with daily. Why is it in a highly advanced world that we are still ashamed to admit to having a mental illness? The stigma around mental illnesses is something that needs to end. Having a mental illness does not make you less of a person….just like breaking your leg shouldn’t make you feel ostracized.
In order to erase this stigma, we need to tell our story. We need to open up ourselves and let those struggling know that they’re not alone. We need to put a face to the word “anxiety”. So here’s mine.
I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life. I can’t say I really knew that I had it until I was in high school, and it became more painfully aware in my college years. Not a day of college classes do I look back fondly upon. Every single time I went on campus, no matter how good my mood was, I instantly began to worry. My heart would race as I tried my best to blend in, to hope no one was noticing me. Just being around that many people made me feel sick. My stomach was constantly in knots. I worried endlessly that I’d make a fool of myself, that everyone would see what a freak I was. My last on campus class, I left feeling a waterfall of relief wash over me, knowing I’d never subject myself to this again. But, unfortunately, anxiety doesn’t just come at school, it’s everywhere.
To this day, I am always afraid that bad things are going to happen, often without reason. I’ve had a boss call me into his office to compliment me on a job well done, and I convinced myself he wanted to see me so that he could fire me. I worry incessantly that people hate me. It’s almost a joke to me now. I recognize that this is without cause, however that nagging anxiety doesn’t go away. Someone can give me a compliment and I’ll worry that they did it because they felt sorry for me. I worry that I’m a bother to the people I love.
Two years ago, my anxiety was so severe that I physically could not handle waiting in line at a place like Panera. The pounding in my chest, the sweat, the heart racing, it was all too much. There was nothing I could do to calm myself down. No matter how much I knew these fears weren’t grounded in anything, it didn’t make the worry disappear.
Sometimes I’m really good at hiding my anxiety. You would have no idea by looking at me that I’m struggling. That I am acutely aware of how fast my heart is beating and how I wish with every fiber in my being to run and hide. That I analyze a simple conversation in my head for hours, despising myself for saying the slightest thing that could be conceived as stupid. Other days, I can’t hide it. I seek solitude, pushing away everything to be alone. Listening to songs like this on repeat, trying to drown out the constant worry. Trying to tell myself it’ll be ok, it will pass. Trying to calm myself down. Wishing that I was different. Hating myself for not being “like everybody else.”
Anxiety is when you quite literally worry yourself sick. When you bounce back and forth between blissful happiness in the moment and crushing worry for the future. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been utterly happy and fulfilled, only to have anxiety come with a destructive force, making me feel stupid for being happy when there were so many things I didn’t have figured out. So much to worry about.
Anxiety means that I can’t keep a manicure. The first thing to go when I’m nervous are my nails, I rip at them when I’m nervous. Sometimes I don’t even realize that I’m doing it. Anxiety means that as I lay down to sleep, I often worry about the next day, month, rest of my life. It means that sometimes I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and feel sick with panic. It means sometimes complete dread when I awake in the morning, knowing I’ll have to deal with this again.
Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like without anxiety. If every time I went to my husband’s races, I didn’t feel the rising panic attack or end the day in tears. If going to the grocery store didn’t leave me wishing I could disappear. If being around family made me feel secure, instead of anxious and afraid. If I didn’t feel the need to spare people of my presence. If every day things didn’t stress me out.
Maybe someday I will know. Every day I work on myself. Some days end in tears, others with little victories. Some days I feel just a little anxious, some days it’s overbearing. Some days are better than others, and sometimes I have a blessed few weeks where I don’t feel the weight on my chest so strongly. I can really, truly see myself getting better some days. I’ve come so far from two years ago, but I still struggle, sometimes daily. I have anxiety, but I’m still me. I still laugh. I love taking care of people. I’m in love with the most amazing man. I love cooking, and blogging makes me happy. I am living life. I’m real, I’m not screwed up. I’m imperfect, but I’m me.
I didn’t want to write this. I didn’t want you to know that I struggle with anxiety. But I had to, if not for me, but for others who are struggling. I just want to hug you and tell you it’s ok, it’s ok to be hurting, no matter what it is that you’re dealing with. It’s ok to have anxiety. It’s ok to not be ok. My heart breaks for those who feel like misfits to the world, afraid to let anyone see their struggles for fear of rejection. Not one of us is perfect, and that’s what makes us awesome. Let’s end the stigma and let each other be real.
Do you struggle with anxiety or another mental illness? I’d love to hear your story!