Most people, at some time in their lives have experienced some form of anxiety. Getting a bit nervous before the big job interview? Having the jitters about meeting the guy you’ve been talking to online? Wedding nerves? All perfectly normal. Having panic attacks every morning before you have to go into work? Declining social engagements because there will be too many people there? Scared to drive on the highway because you’re afraid you’ll lose control of your car? Not so normal.
In addition to my major diagnoses, I’m also diagnosed with general anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder. The problem is, so many people don’t know what it’s really like to have a panic attack. Or that anxiety doesn’t necessarily even have to BE a panic attack. I could be having an anxiety breakdown right in front of you and you’d never know it. And the examples I gave of non-normal anxiety? All me. And one of the reasons that people don’t hate on me not going to social functions is because so many of them have anxiety issues too.
My anxiety started out with the driving on highways and having minor panic attacks (feeling as though your heart will explode out of your chest, or you can’t breathe, or it makes you so sick you throw up). There is literally a “highway” here that is 55 mph and I could barely drive that without thinking the worst. Of course, if someone was in the car with me, that helped. What didn’t help much was the fact that my dad lives 2 hours away from me. 1 hour of which is the PA turnpike. yikes. Luckily, with the help of therapy, I got over the driving thing completely. The panic attacks? Not so much.
Every day when I had to go to work I would get these terrifying panic attacks… to the point of making me sick. I had to call out a couple of times just because of it. And as soon as I did, the anxiety would subside. Of course, this all linked up to my worsening symptoms of psychosis while at my job, but it continues to happen to this day even when I had the part time job I had for a few months. I had to quit.
The worst, however, was my social anxiety. I used to be the life of the party (especially when hypomanic)… getting there first and leaving last was my motto. Then it slowly crept up on me. I went to parties, but went late because that way I could stay until the end but not be there the whole time. Then I started going late and timing myself on how long it took before I got an anxiety attack. 2 hours seemed to be my limit. Finally, I stopped going altogether. Those with anxiety problems took it as it was and were supportive, but I lost friends who just “didn’t understand” what I was going through. I’m slowly coming out of that deep hole, but it’ll take time.
And of course what I experienced is just that… MY experience. I can’t even encapsulate what anxiety is or isn’t because it’s different for everyone that experiences it. I just wanted to share my story so that people knew that they weren’t alone. That the fear and nervousness they get to the extreme is ok. That you can deal with it. That there are other people out there who can help. And that therapy is a godsend.
It’s true that some people with anxiety won’t seek help for it because they see themselves as weak. I know someone right now who is in that situation. It’s hard to talk to them about it too. And the weird thing is, none of those I’ve talked to about my anxiety think I’m WEAK. They think I’m STRONG for dealing with it. So, in essence, to wrap this up, I just want to give a nod to my fellow anxiety sufferers and to those who have it and haven’t sought treatment yet and say “keep being strong.”