My Anxiety Disorder Doesn’t Mean I’m Crazy

When I was three I used to make my mom help me pack my tiny child-sized suitcase, crying because I thought that I needed to prepare to exit the nest. That general sense of anxiety over pretty much everything is something that has followed me throughout my life.

I didn’t actually realize that I had a problem until I was a sophomore in college. I was spending at least two nights a week having a panic attack while curled up into a ball on my then-boyfriend’s bed. I started off by going to see a university counselor, hoping that I would be able to avoid telling my family that I was having some major problems keeping my shit together. The Chinese grad student spent our 50 minute sessions asking me about my childhood and the benefits of group therapy and it was at that point that I realized that I should probably find a real therapist.

My therapist was perfect for me. He had a push-broom mustache and a monotone voice and during my first appointment he told me I was strong.

Nothing about having social anxiety makes me feel strong. I spent one full year dodging panic attacks and irrational thoughts, all while realizing that the way I’ve felt for my entire life is actually not quite normal. Even after spending a year and half in therapy and another year taking medication to make my brain feel less like a tornado of fucked-up thoughts, I still have to try smothering my anxiety when I feel it coming around the corner.

After having been on medication for about a year, I was beginning to think that I would be able to let go of the anxiety once and for all. But in the end, that’s just not how it works. When I hit a bump in any relationship— friendships, dating, etc—social anxiety steps back in and rears its ugly head on me. I end up cowering in a corner, over-analyzing situations, and begging people for forgiveness when they weren’t even mad.

But those feelings are bullshit. And I’m tired of those feelings and inner worries being so closely tied to my feelings of self-worth.

In the past week, I was reminded about how terrible it feels to have someone misunderstand what anxiety is and how mine affects them. So let me give all of you readers a little crash course on my anxiety.

I do not need your help.
When I share my feelings, my worries, and my thoughts, that doesn’t mean I want my problem solved. All too often my thoughts are irrational and I am completely aware of that. All I want is someone to look me square in the face and say, “It’s okay. I care about you. This feeling will pass.” And then I probably want a hug. But really, that’s all.

Please, please, don’t tell me to calm down. Don’t take it personally. Don’t tell me I’m freaking out over nothing. I want to calm down. I know I’m freaking out. But when I’m really anxious, I just can’t. That’s why it’s a disorder and not just a normal stress reaction.

But most of the time, my friends have no clue that I’m anxious. I only tell people about it when it is really causing a problem. When I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to deal with it is to get it off of my chest.

This part always scares me. Usually, when I share my anxious feelings with a friend, I am met with support and grace that reminds me that people are good and do give a shit about other people. But sometimes, I am met with resistance. People assume that I’m going to come to them every time something bothers me, and expect them to listen to me continuously cry over the same bat-shit insane stuff. They take it personally and assume I’m just being an asshole. I’m not like that all the time. But I still get anxious sometimes, and the last thing I want to do is burden anyone else with it.

I know I sound crazy.
When I’m anxious, everything speeds up. I watch my steady stream of thoughts go from a quiet stream to a raging river. Suddenly thoughts are passing so fast that if I dip my hand into the water, I get yanked in. And all too often, I get yanked in. I hate this part of anxiety, the loss of control. It’s paralyzing, and to make it worse, I just want to get things done. There have been so many hours I have wasted staring at my screen, unmoving, with each passing moment counting as another reason why I should hate myself.

It’s frustrating. When that happens, I am acutely aware of the fact that all I have to do is reach my hand out and start working on something. And yet…

All I really need in those moments is a normal conversation. Just a friendly response. Something that shows that you’re hearing me and that I’m not crazy despite the obviously crazy things that are circling through my mind. And if that doesn’t work, then it’s probably just time for me to go to bed.

Yeah, somehow I’m still an extrovert.
A lot of my friends and family members have scratched their head at my personality type+anxiety disorder combo. I have dealt with depression, general anxiety, panic attacks, and social anxiety. Anymore, the social anxiety is really my main problem. People and their opinions scare the shit out of me, but I also feed off their energy. I love going out with my friends and talking to strangers. But if something seems off with any of my relationships, you can bet that I will be caught in cycle of worry. To give you an idea of how mean these thoughts are, let me just list off a couple I’ve head over the course of the last few years.

  • He/She doesn’t like me anymore. He/She never liked me.
  • He/She only talks to me because they A, pity me, or B, feel obligated to because they can’t get rid of me.
  • Everyone here thinks I’m annoying.
  • I am the roommate that everyone wishes they didn’t have.
  • I am not welcome in this group.
  • He would have dumped me sooner if I hadn’t been going through all this anxiety stuff.
  • No one will ever stay in a relationship with me when my anxiety is present at the start.

There are more, there are always more. Some of them aren’t even thoughts that I can fully put into words. Sometimes my gut just screams at me that I’m doing something wrong, when I know deep down that I’m fine. It’s absolutely and horrifically stupid.

Please don’t tell me what I should or shouldn’t do medication-wise.
Right now I take Citalopram, which is an anti-depressant. Do I wish that I didn’t have to take medicine to feel normal on a consistent basis? Of course. But does that mean I’m going to stop taking it right now? No. And I don’t need to explain my reasons to you. Nor should anyone else have to.

I am not my anxiety disorder.
This bullet point is more for me than for anyone else. Despite having occasionally being rejected with my anxiety being a major contributor to that, I am still not just my anxiety disorder. I know a lot of people who struggle with their mental health quietly. Most of the time that’s how I do it. But I’m tired of never feeling like I can talk about it with people that are important to me.

In the end, that’s all there is to it, for me anyway. Hopefully some of this makes sense to those of you non-anxiety people. If not, maybe give this article a look. If you have anxiety or depression or any combination of mental health troubles, consider taking a look at some of the links below. These are things that help me a lot.

Thanks for reading, friends.

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