Anxiety Exists on a Spectrum

I wake up some days with this feeling. It’s a feeling I know so well, yet I struggle to articulate exactly what it is.

I don’t know at what point in my life I finally decided to label it as anxiety but I know it wasn’t until I was well into my adulthood. The feeling was there as a child but I let it go unnamed, I viewed it as nothing more than a character flaw. A piece of my being that was there because I didn’t try hard enough to not be so shy, so antisocial, so afraid, so unlike the other girls my age.

Regardless of the label that was presented to me by my medical professionals for this feeling, anxiety, it is still as much of a mystery to me now as it was when I was a child.

At times it lingers beside me as I go about my day, like a shadow existing only in my peripheries. It rests its hand on my shoulder ensuring that I never forget that it is there. I know these days as the green zone.

Other days it climbs on my back, placing its whole weight against my ribcage, impairing my breathing and occupying a bit too much space in my consciousness. These days leaving the house can become difficult, my unwelcomed piggyback partner loves to whisper in my ear. The uneasy voice fills my head with negative thoughts, irrational fears and knows how to validate all of my deepest insecurities. I know these days as the orange zone.

Then there are the red zone days. These days I become my anxiety, it is no longer hitching a ride, it climbs inside of me and takes over. I lose myself and become something I cannot recognize. All logical though ceases, I become nonfunctional, unapproachable and make those I love fearful of my stability.

I have come to learn that my anxiety exists on a spectrum. I have become an expert on sensing when this feeling begins to move into undesirable zones. I take pills every morning and night, no longer questioning their mysterious mechanisms of action as they generally keep me in the green zone. But at times these pills are unsuccessful at their complicated job. I become hyper-aware of warning signs and seek out my tried and trusted coping techniques.

I find salvation on orange zone days in quiet spaces, sublingual benzodiazepines, conversations with trusted individuals and the comforting embrace of my countless stuffed animals. Other times I take more extreme routes relying on my old bulimic tendencies as a self-preservation method. I have learned the art of the give and take that accompanies successfully living with an anxiety disorder.

I have come to terms that some days will not be okay, I have decided to live in harmony with not only the positive but negative aspects of my being. I have come to realize that I don’t need to frantically search for a way to fix my anxiety as I did in the past. I no longer feel that my answer is found in a cure or obtaining a certain level of understanding. My life has started to fall together because I have decided to give myself room for my bad days as I know I can have the good too.

I have noticed that people seem to have difficulty understanding my red zones days as I learned to work with rather than against my anxiety and began to achieve a certain level of success. But I remind myself that this stems from misinformation surrounding mental illness. The stigma that perpetuates that the mentally ill can never be high achievers, leaders, and excel. I filter this out, and on my good days, I revel in the freedom. I take this space I am so grateful for and use it to pursue my dreams, challenge the misconceptions others have about mental illness and live a life I am proud of despite who I am on my bad days.

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