For the longest time, I thought I didn’t have problems with anxiety.
I don’t get panic attacks. I don’t wake up in the middle of the night, heart pounding and full of nameless dread. I do have trouble sleeping but not because I lie awake in bed worrying about the future or recounting every stupid thing I’ve ever done. (I save that for randomly in the middle of the day.)
My anxiety doesn’t look like that.
Instead, it’s background noise. It’s a feeling of unease that is so constant, so ever-present, that I don’t even notice it. It’s a nebulous sort of dread that pervades everything I do. It’s always feeling not quite right.
“I don’t have problems with anxiety,” I would say. “What’s the point of worrying? My brain isn’t wired that way.”
Except it is. My anxiety is simply very good at lying.
I never thought I had problems with anxiety, so much so that I didn’t even bring it up with my therapist. Anxiety didn’t begin to enter into the reasons why I started seeing a psychologist again. But it didn’t take her long to start using that word and ascribing it to me. She told me to be really mindful of how I was feeling, to test my reactions to things, to name my emotions. That last bit was harder than it probably should have been—it still is.
I’m still not sure what my anxiety looks like unfettered because the way I deal with it is to avoid the crap out of it.
I have gotten so good at dodging the things that trigger that awful anxiousness that I don’t even know what they are. It’s like I’m walking through a minefield, and every time I get close to a mine, I veer away instinctively without knowing why. It doesn’t even register.
But it has to come out somehow. And it does. I’ll wake, heart pounding, from dreams of falling from a great height or of being chased by some Lovecraftian horror. I get nauseated and sweaty and my arms and legs get heavy when I have to confront anyone about anything. I feel ill at ease whenever my surroundings are in disarray (which is pretty much constantly). I’ll take the long way through the back halls of my building to avoid seeing people on the other side of my office. I’ll abruptly leave parties instead of going through something as fraught as saying goodbye to people.
Anxiety doesn’t look one way. It can manifest in a lot of different ways. It can be so isolating if you feel like you’re the only one feeling a certain way. But you’re not alone—and neither am I.