An anxiety disorder is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It creeps in, takes hold of you, and begins to control every aspect of your life. Anxiety is that voice in the back of your head, telling you that you will never get what you want. That you’re not good enough. That no one likes you. That you’re unattractive. Not smart enough. Bad at your job. An all-around terrible human being.
It is more than just feeling worried or nervous sometimes. Like before an important job interview, a first date or when it’s time to pay your bills. Who wouldn’t be anxious about that? Here’s the thing though-that’s ‘normal’ anxiety. Everyone experiences it. It’s temporary. When it’s over, you can relax and go about your day. For those of us with an anxiety disorder, it is an almost constant state of worry that dictates how we act, what we say and the decisions we make.
Even minor decisions, like whether you should go to that party you were invited to, can feel overwhelming.
“If I do go, I’ll get to hang out with my friends. But what if there are a lot of people I don’t know there? When I feel uncomfortable and anxious, can I make a graceful exit without people thinking there is something wrong with me? If I don’t go, they will think I’m blowing them off again or that I’m not fun anymore.”
You’ll argue with yourself. You’ll find every excuse not to go. You’ll try to compromise-“I’ll go for an hour or two just to make an appearance.” You might end up going, you might not. Either way, there’s no relief in finally making a decision. Soon those invites become few and far between…
Anxiety can, and will, sabotage your relationships with others. Friendships, romantic relationships, professional relationships…it can happen slowly, over time, or so fast, you’re left wondering what the hell happened. You don’t believe you are worthy of love, respect, happiness. You break up with your significant other before they have the chance to leave you. Forget about pursuing someone you’re interested in-why would they want you when there are so many others who are prettier, thinner, funnier and have more to offer than you? You can’t risk putting yourself out there because you *know* it will lead to rejection.
If you’re lucky, you will find friends along the way who support you. They’ll listen to your rambling about everything and nothing. They’ll sit in silence with you when there is nothing else to say. When you cancel plans for the millionth time because you can’t bear the thought of getting out of bed and being around people, they’ll understand. But you can’t help wondering how long will it be before they get tired of you and decide your friendship isn’t worth the hassle?
When your connections with people dissolve or crash and burn into a fiery mess, that nagging voice validates you, “See? People always leave. You’re annoying and boring. Oh, and you look fat today.”
Going to work-something millions of people do every day-is an especially difficult experience for people with anxiety. Normal work stress, the kind that makes you productive and motivates you, works well for the general population. For anxiety sufferers, the work day can quickly become overwhelming with the slightest change in workload or routine. The struggle to meet deadlines, interact with people all day (not always in positive situations), perform tasks correctly and without distraction, handle loads of paperwork, make important decisions, the list goes on and on and varies depending on the nature of your job.
You could love your job. You could receive a great performance review and positive feedback from your boss. You could get along with your co-workers. Even in that ideal situation, anxiety is right around the corner, waiting to drag you back into the abyss. All it needs is one less-than-perfect thing to happen and suddenly, you are thrown into an anxiety driven, blown out of proportion, frenzy in your mind. For example, you made a mistake at work. Or you forgot to do something important. Maybe you had a conflict with a customer or client.
Your inner monologue then goes something like this-
“Great. I messed up. My boss probably regrets hiring me. My co-workers must think I’m an idiot. Now, I’m gonna get fired and I won’t be able to pay my bills and I’ll have to live in my car. No other company will hire me. I wonder how hard it would be to fake my own death?”
In reality, none of that is true or likely to happen. However, your anxiety will convince you that the worst can and will happen. Because you don’t deserve anything good in your life. If all of this sounds exhausting….it is.
This is a glimpse into what I, and many others, struggle with every day. We didn’t choose to be this way. I often think about how much easier my life would be without mental illness. But these are the cards I’ve been dealt. I can choose to run and hide, allowing my anxiety disorder to define my existence OR I can continue to face it head-on every day, knowing I’m doing the best I can. And maybe…someday…that taunting voice in my head will be silenced and I’ll finally know peace.
I’ve suffered through mental illness for half of my life. I’ve been to several psychiatrists, therapists and even a partial hospitalization program which I can truly say saved my life. Now, at the age of 32, I’m more stable than I’ve been although I still struggle with moderate anxiety and perhaps always will. Despite this, I choose to not let it completely run my life. I have a career that I love, my own little apartment, and a small circle of friends and family-what more do I need?