On normalizing anxiety.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything for me, or something that I don’t get paid to write, and I’m craving to get back into my personal writing again, so here goes.

I’ve long ago written about my dealings with anxiety. But, I feel like it’s something that I could write about a lot, because my personal experiences with it are ever fluctuating, how I cope, and what I’m learning about it.

The only thing that doesn’t change, however, is the fact that I have anxiety—that so many of us do, really—and that we’re expected to just ‘get over it.’

As I’ve talked about before, I’ve been dealing with anxiety for a pretty long time, most likely stemming back to when I was  teenager. In my early or mid-20’s, I was diagnosed with a generalised anxiety disorder which, in a roundabout way, is excessive and unrealistic worry about day-to-day things. It can be something specific, it can be nothing at all, but it’s basically an over-exaggerating worry about something with the expectation that the worst is going to happen. About everything.

The first thing you might ask is, “what are you worried about?” and sometimes I’ll have an answer but a lot of the time I won’t. It’s hard to explain that to someone who doesn’t have anxiety only to be met with “I don’t know why you worry so much,” or “you should really stop worrying.”  Wow, thank you, I can’t believe I never thought of that myself. If only it were that easy.

One thing that I don’t think a lot of people understand is that anxiety can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, although it’s not the only reason, and shouldn’t be treated as such. On the flip side, though, anxiety and all of its varying forms are mental illnesses, and can be the result of changes in the brain or environmental stress.

The fact that anxiety is considered a mental illness isn’t a bad thing, but in many dealings I’ve had in telling people that it is technically an illness, one of two things happen: either people try and dismiss the fact that it is, because they’re afraid of the term ‘mental illness,’ or they say something like “you don’t look like you have a mental illness!”

Someone else’s anxiety will be different than mine, just like the way they deal with it will be different.  I don’t take any prescribed medication for my anxiety, even though I have in the past. I don’t oppose to it and I know it’s very helpful for many people, and it could be beneficial to me, but I’m trying other things and taking certain vitamins has helped.

Anyway, for example: I internalize a lot of my anxiety. My panic attacks aren’t outward bursts, common among many people. I don’t get the hyperventilating stereotypical symptoms that many people associate with panic attacks. If I’m having a panic attack, my face flushes, my skin feels warm to the touch, and tears well in my eyes. To people that don’t know anything about me or know that I have anxiety, they’d never know I was having a panic attack.

When I’m generally feeling anxious, I get really quiet and I don’t talk a lot. My thoughts consume me more than anything, and I shut down. I say I’m fine, even though the tone in my voice clearly indicates otherwise. When I’m feeling that way, I generally want to just get over whatever thoughts I’m having and not talk about it because I know they’re unreasonable and it’s my way of trying to control it. That method almost never works, mind you, but once I open up in a calm and rational way, I can talk through what I’m feeling.

That doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t have outbursts where my thoughts consume me to the point where I vocalise them in an irrational way. This part really sucks, because I know what I’m saying is unreasonable but I can’t seem to control it.  The only way I can think of comparing this to is a tea kettle that’s been boiling for too long unattended, the cap blows itself off, releasing all the steam.  In other words, uncontrollable verbal diarrhea and you’re watching the words slip away from you but you can’t take them back.

These are all things I’ve talked about extensively, but I’m starting to realise something about my anxiety: if I’m not anxious about something, I look for something to be anxious about. It feels like if I’m not anxious about something, there’s something wrong with me and I need to be anxious about something-anything-in order to feel ‘normal.’

That is not normal.

Having anxiety has been a security blanket for me in a lot of ways. Not in the way that it’s something that I find defines who I am, but in a way that it’s been a part of me for so long that as soon as I’m not anxious it feels weird.

When I’m not anxious about anything in particular, I latch on to something that may have happened in the past and compare it to a completely unrelated current situation. I start over analyzing things, read too much into something minor, and come to the conclusion that what happened in the past is going to happen again.

I’ve had situations happen in the past that have left me anxious for a number of reasons. It can be hard convincing myself that the same situation is very unlikely to happen again, especially when there’s a tiny voice in my head saying, “but, but, but.”

But, no.

I don’t like having anxiety.  I wish it didn’t feel normal for me to have anxiety, and not normal when I’m not feeling anxious. Who wants to constantly worry about things?

I think it’s been a big step forward in trying to understand why I look for things to be anxious about. Talking through the situation helps. Looking at the bigger picture helps. Through this I hope that one day, not feeling anxious will be my normal.

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Author: Jocelyn Aspa

early 30-something. journalist. sports fan. puns. cats. mental health advocate. not taking myself seriously (most of the time)

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