I’m not going to lie, the last week has been a struggle. There’s a perfectly logical and scientific explanation as to why I feel like this, but to me it just seems like I just feel like crap for reasons that I can’t explain.
Struggling with anxiety is simply a pain in the ass. The thing is, I’m a very put together person. I’m the definition of Type A, a huge perfectionist, acutely aware of time (how much or little I have of it), and competitive (especially with myself). Although these characteristics sound great on a resume, they are the absolute worst in real life.
I push myself harder than anyone else does. I turn everything into a competition. When I first realized I had anxiety issues, I read up on how to control them. One of the most common recommendations was to get into a workout routine. What started off as being a half an hour of cardio to clear my head and take a break from my day, quickly turned into a question of how much longer could I push myself to stay on the treadmill? Could I increase the incline? Could I go faster? Could I outrun the person next to me? Before I knew it, I was spending an hour and a half in the gym and would feel guilty if I didn’t work out as hard as I had the last time.
So that’s me in a nutshell, lol. I have an incredible ability to get into my own head and set expectations for myself much higher than what anyone else expects from me.
Although this is a good quality in some aspects of my life, it resulted in a very intense case of anxiety. To be honest, I didn’t even know what anxiety really was or what the side effects looked like until I was sitting on a bed in Urgent Care, convinced I was having a heart attack. When all my tests came back normal, the physician explained that all of the symptoms I was having were indicative of both a heart attack and an anxiety attack. Anxiety attacks literally mimicked the feeling of a heart attack. How effed up is that???
After learning about that I realized I had been showing signs of anxiety for a long time. I couldn’t make it through a night without having a nightmare. I still can’t most nights. It got to the point where as a 22-year-old, I couldn’t sleep without a light on at night. I know how dumb that sounds, but I can’t even describe to you the experience of waking up repeatedly each night, drenched in sweat, opening your eyes to nothing but pitch black, remnants if whatever was just terrifying you in your subconscious mind still lingering in your conscious mind. I showed less intense signs like biting the inside of my cheek throughout the day, grinding my teeth, not being able to accomplish any one task because I was too distracted by the thought of the other tasks I had ahead.
Another fun fact about myself, I don’t like to ask for help. On anything. Going back to my perfectionist personality trait, I like to handle everything myself. When I’m feeling times of extreme stress, I don’t like to tell anyone. Reaching out to people is hard for me in general, so reaching out to someone about something I really struggle with is basically unfathomable to me. I learned pretty quickly that by trying to handle my anxiety by myself, I actually just made it worse.
I used other methods. I took to working out (casually this time), meditation, reading and even started an anti-anxiety medication. It all helped, it still does help, but sometimes it just isn’t enough.
So, the other day, I got home from work and sat down to do my homework for the night. Half way through an impossibly hard assignment for an intro level anthropology course, I found myself with my head in my hands, leg shaking uncontrollably, staring blankly at my computer screen, thoughts running a mile a minute. I couldn’t do it. I just needed to talk about it. Talk about everything I had going on, get it off my chest and I would be able to move on and tackle the issues at hand (even the four-hour long assignment for an INTRO level ONLINE anthropology course. Yes, I’m still mad).
I texted my mom, simply saying “I’m having a really hard time right now”. When she asked why, I didn’t have a good answer. Anxiety has this really cool thing it does where it builds literally everything up inside of you so that it’s impossible to point to one thing and say “that, that right there is the reason for all of this”. Pretty sweet, right? I told her I didn’t know, that my anxiety was just so bad at the moment, that I felt like I was on the verge of a breakdown because it was making it impossible to get anything done. She pointed to one issue and named that as the cause. When I tried to explain to her that wasn’t what I was feeling, she argued with me about it and shut down the conversation.
The next day, she told me she hated when I told her I was feeling that way because she didn’t know what to say and it made her worry. I’m not going to lie, I felt resentful that in the one moment when I needed her to tell me everything was okay, I had to be the one to reassure her that everything was fine and not to worry, I would work everything out.
I knew what I had wanted my mom to say in the moment. I had wanted her to validate what I was feeling. I wanted her to tell me that the way I was feeling was completely understandable, completely normal under the circumstances. I wanted her to tell me that everything would work out and that she loved me. Instead, because she couldn’t relate exactly to how I was feeling, she got defensive and pushed the situation aside because she didn’t know how to properly handle it.
Neither of us were wrong. I wasn’t wrong for reaching out to her. She wasn’t wrong for not being able to understand my situation. I realized that it would be so simple for me to tell her what I needed to hear when I reached out to her in those situations. Everything I needed to hear were things she was more than capable of saying, of meaning even. It would make her feel better to be able to know how to respond in the situation.
Pro Tip: Go to the person you are most comfortable reaching out to. Explain your situation to them, whatever you struggle with the most. Tell them what you need to hear when you reach out to them in hard times. It can be the same as mine, something reassuring like “you know everything will be okay and I love you”. It can be something funny, like a pic of their dog being a goofball. It can be something cheesy, like the time you met that person. Anything that gets you out of the headspace you’re in, even just for the second that they’re saying it to you.
Trust me. They’ll appreciate knowing how to help you just as much as you’ll appreciate being helped.