“You’ve got to relax.” Oh, ok. Well then. Shut it down! Nothing to be anxious about here, folks! It’s all in my head!
Look, I know it’s in my head. I have a disorder. That means out of order. I’m out of order. Like an angry witness in a courtroom or a vending machine that ate your quarter.
I won’t sugar-coat that feeling like I’m having a heart episode and a dozen voices screaming in my head at once, you know, sucks. You’d have to be a member of the Addams Family to enjoy it (look it up, kids – Wednesday is my heroine).
There’s lots of ways it impacts me, but not exactly in ways you’d expect.
It affects me socially. People don’t get how this affects my behavior and choices. Like seriously, that “locked in a room” team building exercise? NOPE.
Other things I avoid?
– Those Pillsbury pop cylinders (can’t do it)
– That bomb disarmament game (seriously, why do people enjoy making themselves anxious)
– Too many roller coasters (I can do like…three in one day max, which I think is pretty good!)
– Surprise parties (jk I love these and the anxiety I feel planning them is worth it)
The truth is, my anxiety latches on to different things and I have to work to get it out of there like an opossum burrowed under my house. It’s like it’s constantly looking for the next thing to feed on.
“How about flying? Let’s give her a fear of flying.”
I need to be able to travel, anxiety. Here. Here’s some meds. Get out. Shoo.
So I worked out my flight anxiety and am now fairly calm when I fly (except for that one time with bad turbulence when I almost grabbed a stranger by the hand. Sorry about that). I took my “as needed” meds thirty minutes before take-off, hoping the effects would kick in as the plane jerked itself into the air. Thankfully I don’t travel too often because the kind of meds I take are at a risk for dependency. GOOD TIMES. Just what I want. Anxiety with a side of drug addiction.
Slowly but surely, my flight anxiety started to go away. Thank the Lord. Or the Lord of medications. Whatever, just, woo!
But anxiety is not done with me. Oh no.
“What about….ooh her job! Let’s make her afraid to go to work in the morning.”
MOTHER OF MERCY, NO. I NEED TO WORK.
Recently, it’s been going to work in the morning that I dread like the plague. “Maybe we call out sick. We are kind of sick…let’s call out sick! Remember all those things that you did wrong the past few weeks? You’re the worst. Stop breathing normally, everything is terrible.”
Which…I mean, I have PTO, but everyone else gets to use it for awesome vacations. One girl in my office saved up her PTO and went all over Europe. I want to do that so badly. Instead, I get to use my PTO for hyperventilating in a dusty corner of my apartment while my life passes me by. You know, just as good as a trip to the Mediterranean.
So what’s a girl to do? Therapy, for one. Meds, for sure. And having awkward conversations with coworkers. “I know you were out sick, but you kind of dropped everything. What happened?”
It’s time for “The Talk.” Ah, yes. The age-old “It’s time to come out of the shadows and explain that I shake and cry like a giant toddler on occasion” to someone who I don’t know beyond conference calls. This is a favorite (the sarcasm I am using should be obvious at this point, but if it’s not, let me be clear that it is not in fact a favorite).
It goes something like this:
“Hi, I’m sorry. You’re right, I know that mine isn’t an illness like food poisoning that would have me missing in action from my work email on a day off. But I want you to know that it does take me out of commission in a kind of similar way. When I get panic attacks, I feel chest pain, have trouble breathing, all my muscles tense up, I can’t focus, and often have other symptoms that make the day generally miserable.
“I’m working on it. I go to therapy, take medication for the symptoms, and do other exercises to make sure these sorts of attacks don’t happen. They’re not vacation days for me like a restful sick day for a cold would be, they’re actually pretty draining and I’m still pretty exhausted. I don’t like this either and I want to be a normal contributing member of the team.”
This is The Talk I need to have with people I barely know because this damned disorder decided that heart attack-like symptoms are on the agenda for the day.
Seriously, I once went to an emergency clinic because of a panic attack and they told me I had to go to the ER because my symptoms sounded like a heart episode. Good times. Oh, and then of course I get to the ER and what do they put in me? NEEDLES. Have I mentioned my anxiety and phobia around needles? How I cry like a child when I need to get blood drawn? How one nurse told me, in fact, that I was being a child for crying? Yes, truly, having a mental illness brings out the best of those around you. (There’s that sarcasm again.)
So all this rambling is to say this: Be kind to everyone. Assume best intentions. And I’d rather have “The Talk” than have people assume I’m useless at work, so if there’s something that doesn’t work for you, ask, just be kind about it. We’re all fighting our own battles.
Isn’t that a famous quote? Whoever said it, they were right.
And if you’re going through it yourself, remember that it’s an illogical thing. Don’t expect thoughtful insights to come from that stupid voice in your head that says everything and you are horrible. It’s called a disorder for a reason. You’re OK. Your brain is really creative when it comes to inventing terrible situations, but you have more resources to combat things than it’s letting you see.
Long story short: Anxiety sucks but your life doesn’t have to.
Sabrina Caprioli is a human being with strong opinions and wonderful friends and family. She’s lucky to live in Minnesota, though she’s originally from Argentina and raised in New Jersey.
She can be found on Twitter