Rebecca from Modite wrote a remarkable post today on her blog called “Understanding the Anxious Mind.” I began to write a response, but felt I had so much to say that I turned it into a blog post. Thanks, first, to Rebecca for continuing to open up this dialogue.
Truly, anxiety affects more people than we ever realize — from those who feel anxiety in social situations (socialized anxiety) to panic attacks, anxiety is often overlooked and rarely completely understood. To those who have never quite experienced the depths of a panic attack, it seems as if these concerns and simple worries are easy to “get over” and “snap out of.” How can you be so concerned about going to something as simple as a concert? They say, “just go, don’t worry.” The fact of the matter, however, is that it isn’t so easy.
Anxiety isn’t rational and logic-based — it’s completely emotional, driven by adrenaline and the fight or flight response, manifesting itself in very real physical symptoms. It’s more than feeling nervous for a test or presentation — it’s about survival and not knowing what’s going to happen, a gripping fear that cements you in place with a reel of questions looping over and over in your mind. Will you be safe? Will they be safe if you leave them? What if you’re late, what if something goes wrong, what if, what if, what if.
A thousand questions can shoot through your mind with every single worst-case scenario, and while others can shrug it off, you’re left with a certainty that lies deep in the pit of your stomach that one of these cases you’ve imagined will come true.
Anxiety isn’t rational.
I can’t express that enough. Every single ounce of logic is immediately dispelled and all you have is what you’re feeling.
Factor in everyday life situations (paying bills, a job, a family, a significant other) and maybe the not-so-everyday situations (losing a job, losing a home, health concerns, moving) and you’ve got the perfect recipe for added anxiety that can make even simple tasks seem overwhelming.
Because, really, I don’t care how much you love it or hate it, change can be overwhelming and there’s always some measure to go along with that uncertainty. An anxiety disorder levels that up by a hundred so that even the little things are hard to do.
I remember so clearly leaving the house for school my senior year of high school. All I had to do was get in the car and drive less than five miles up the road. I remember I made it as far as the steps of my garage, my hand on the door handle, not willing to let go of it. “What are you doing, Susan?” I remember asking myself. “You’re eighteen, not a child. Just get in the car and go to school.”
The rational, adult side of me screamed, trying to get myself to listen, but I was caught in a web of fear and anxiety and I froze. I couldn’t do it. Instead, I remember running upstairs to my mom and dad’s room, begging them not to make me leave the house, begging them not to leave for work. They did. And I spent the rest of the day completely spent, crashing from the adrenaline rush. When it came to fight or flight, I flew…Straight into the arms of the only comfort I knew.
Little by little that anxiety lessened. I went to a therapist for a few months to find out what my triggers were, to understand what was happening to me, to figure out how to cope. Soon, I learned to take baby steps on my own. When I was at school and felt familiar feelings creeping up on me, invading my thoughts and blocking out lessons, I would step out of class and spend a few minutes outside, breathing in fresh air, trying to quell the emotions and tears that threatened to rise.
With anxiety, you really do feel like you’re being threatened, but anxiety is a threat in and of itself. So many times I would tell my dad I was going for a walk and would make it to the end of my driveway before I turned back around. So many times I passed on going somewhere with friends, afraid that those same emotions would blindside me and I wouldn’t be able to get home, get back to my comfort zone. I was afraid that I couldn’t control life, couldn’t stop change from happening.
Anxiety is a change itself, though. It changes your life, turns it upside down, turns you inside out, threatens to keep you a prisoner in your own house, your own skin.
Until one day you push through it.
Until that day where you refuse to let it hold you back.
Until that day where, when faced with a fight or flight decision, you choose to fight.