My Experiences with Anxiety
By: Jesse Beringer
Looking at other people’s submissions on this site, I couldn’t help but feel that my story wasn’t worthy enough in comparison to theirs. I read two different submissions about diagnosed bipolar disorder, as well as depersonalization disorder, and thought, “Man I had it easy compared to them. My story sucks; I don’t even have a legitimate diagnosis.” Ironically, due to my anxiety, feeling worthy is something I have struggled with my entire life.
I refused to acknowledge that anxiety was a problem for me throughout most of my life until after I graduated college, when I was in such a dark place that I made the decision to go to a psychologist. I was eager to learn what problem I was facing so that I would know how to manage it. After talking to the psychologist about my experiences, he said I clearly had some OCD tendencies. However, he gave me the diagnosis of anxiety disorder NOS, which at the time felt like a participation trophy, or a pitiful pat on the back. My whole life up to that point, I had always felt like an outcast, and upon hearing this news, I felt like more of an outcast than ever before. From my point of view, what I heard was, “You don’t fit in anywhere. You are messed up, but not messed up enough that it’s ‘official.’ Go home, you’ll be fine.” It would take me several years to realize that I was looking at my life through rose colored glasses. But not the kind of roses that you give to your girlfriend on Valentine’s Day, the kind with thorns that make you bleed and hate the world.
My earliest experiences with anxiety were in eighth grade, but the memories I can recall more readily were in high school. At this time in my life, I was anxious about everything, though I didn’t realize it at the time. In high school band I played the saxophone. I considered myself a gifted musician, but solos were a nightmare for me. In the midst of the band, I could blend in and not be the focus of attention. When it came time to solos, and I was the focus of attention, I would be drenched in sweat, my hands would be shaking, and my lips would tremor in fear. In high school, I also had high anxiety in social situations. Because of situations in the past where I didn’t display myself in a way that was acceptable to social norms, people said many negative comments over the years that had a tendency to stick in my head. When faced with negative comments and criticisms from others, I had a tendency to obsess over them. For example, when I was playing basketball in the fifth grade at our town’s public rec center, another kid there asked me if I was gay. When I said no, and asked why, he said that only gay people wore short shorts. I was beyond embarrassed; I was devastated. I never forgot his comment, as it stuck with me for years afterwards. I made sure to buy nice name brand shorts that extended beyond my knees from that day forward. Whenever my shorts extended above my knees, I would often pull at them compulsively throughout my day, attempting to make them appear longer, and fearful that someone would call me gay again.
Another negative comment I frequently heard was “Why are your hands so sweaty?” This became the largest source of my anxiety over the years. When it came time for me to shake someone’s hand, I would fret over and over prior to the interaction about whether my hand was too sweaty. I was scared of being criticized, ashamed of the disappointment it brought for the other person to shake my profusely sweaty hand. After seeing the next person’s negative reaction, my thoughts were only being reaffirmed. I was a sweaty, gross loser that no one wanted to be friends with. It didn’t matter if I had a few people that told me it didn’t bother them, and it was not that big of a deal. All it took was someone looking at me the wrong way, or a subtle inquiry to set me off. When my anxiety was at its worst, I would fixate and obsess, as I worried about shaking people’s hands several days in advance. Job interviews, Sunday masses, prayer gatherings, and football practices all made my life miserable. In one of my college classes, the professor even made it a rule that we had to greet each classmate by shaking hands before class began. It was so anxiety provoking for me that I dreaded going to class every single day. I had a friend in the class who would always ask me, “Jesse, why are you so nervous?” I was too ashamed, unwilling to admit, and honestly lacked the communication skills to explain to him the discomfort I was experiencing. I would often give him a noncommittal response, or other times, say nothing at all.
Initially, when I began to further increase my understanding of anxiety, it only increased the shame that I felt. Over time though, my increased understanding eventually led to healing and personal growth. Through working in the mental health field and reading self-help material, I was able to learn more about anxiety and ways to cope. I began practicing meditation and mindfulness strategies on a regular basis in order to increase my ability to manage discomfort, and live in the present moment. I began talking about my mental health struggles, and increased my ability to communicate honestly and openly with my family and friends. I started taking medication to manage my anxiety, and attended therapy for a brief amount of time. Anxiety can be terrifying, and the bumps in the road made me who I am today. Would I do it all over again if I had a choice? My honest answer is no, absolutely not. If I had a choice, I would choose to never have had anxiety at all. But I have decided that it’s not within my control. All I can do is accept what has happened to me in the past, learn from it, and move forward. I can use my past experiences to improve myself and help others who are suffering from anxiety through my writing, as well as at my job every day. If you are suffering from anxiety, depression, or any other mental health-related issue, I want you to know that you are not alone. Never give up hope. As Albus Dumbledore said, “Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”