Wait, I have anxiety?

I’ve always had anxiety. I didn’t always know what to call the tightening of my chest, the cold sweat forming on my back and why my hands were almost always wet to the touch. It took me years to understand that my perpetual intrusive thoughts, loops of pattern forming in my mind and “break downs” were anxiety related.

I remembered being consumed by anxiety from as early as age 8. I vividly remember the mammoth dread I felt at the prospect of a sleep over. I would became physically ill; what if it were dark and I needed to use the bathroom, I didn’t know the way. What if I were to feel sick? What if I were cold? What if I made weird noises in my sleep? What if I did something utterly stupid and was made fun of? No, I needed to stay home, I needed to stay in my room, I needed to be away from anyone who could hurt me or make my mind race more than it already was.

I’ve always felt like an imposter. I’ve always felt that I was living a life I didn’t understand. I was living a life that felt foreign to me. I was looking in on my life, suspended. I was not me, I was not part my actions, nothing I’ve ever done was achieved, it was merely luck. My actions were reactionary, I was a character feigning a real girl, I was cosmic mass that was automated.

The first time I put a name to this incredible hyperactive awareness was when I was 24. I was in the bath crying, for the umpteenth time that year. Objectively, nothing had happened to warrant crying. My mind was in serious pain. My brain painstakingly felt the compulsion to scrutinise every detail of every situation, or any thought that happened to float into my mind. My boyfriend suggested I go see someone for my anxiety. Me? I didn’t have anxiety! Everyone feels this way right? This is normal! This is what it feels like to be alive! It turns out, it isn’t.

Okay, so I put a name to how I felt. I felt anxious. Anxiety is an odd word. I don’t quite like it. It’s a word that encompasses anything from a brief flicker of flight or flight to breaking down into tears at any given point and feeling as though you might have a heart attack. I constantly hear people using this word. It’s kind of like how people use depressed even though they are just momentarily sad. I don’t however think that anxiety is an esoteric endeavour.

In fact, according to Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA); Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States.

40 million Americans over the age of 18 are affected by anxiety — roughly 18 percent of the nation’s population. Of those 40 million people, almost 7 million of them suffer from GAD, with 15 million suffering from social anxiety disorder, 14.8 million suffering from major depressive disorder, and 7.7 million affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.

So friends, most of us are suffering in one way or another. It’s hard, but it’s worse to live without knowing the name of the thing that consumes you.

I’ve since realised that I needed to change some everyday behaviours and take some medication for a while (this is not the case for everyone -my anxiety was impeding my ability to work and study). I openly talk about the fact that I have undue anxiety. I do not try to hide my anxiety anymore. I get anxious and that’s okay. I’ve actively sought out ways in which to manage my anxiety. I try to write something every day, I make time for the things I really enjoy, I try to exercise (although, I often fail) and I try to be there for myself and for other people who are in different stages of processing and dealing with their “things”.

Talking about my anxiety has made it okay for other people to open up and share. It’s helped to create a narrative where people are safe to discuss the less “rose tinted” aspects of their lives. This makes me happy and helps me realise that living can be tough, but there is always someone out there that feels like you do. It is not a thing to hide, it’s a universal issue that deserves more focus and less social stigma. Open up, talk to someone, you will feel better, things are going to be okay.