The Forbidden Word

All right. Okay. Here it goes… Anxiety.

As you may have gathered, you smart peeps, I would like to talk about the seemingly forbidden word: ANXIETY. While I realize that the word anxiety is not actually forbidden, for an interminable length of time there has been such a stigma surrounding the word that the mere mention of it had the ability to make people blanch. I was one of those people.

If it was not for certain events that happened in my life, I would not be sitting here typing this today. As it is, it has taken me a year to actually sit down and begin writing this. Before this, I would never have had the courage to admit to the world that I HAVE ANXIETY. It may not seem like a very large step to those who have never experienced anxiety, but I assure you that it is a very significant step for me.

I will admit that it has taken me years to become accepting of the fact that I have anxiety and that it is not something to be ashamed of. When I was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I wanted to hide it from everyone. I didn’t want anyone to know. It was already too much that some of my family members knew, I couldn’t have anyone else knowing. I truly did feel ashamed and that my anxiety was something to be hidden at all costs. If someone even mentioned the word anxiety, I would visibly cringe and begin thinking that they knew, everyone knew and was talking about how I have anxiety. While this was far from the truth, it was how I felt in those specific moments. That being said, throughout my experiences with anxiety, there have been both good and bad moments. More like the good, the bad and the ugly. I digress. When the moments are good, it feels like I finally have a handle on my anxiety and things are looking up. When the moments are bad, I wonder what I did wrong and what I did to deserve feeling the way that I do when my anxiety hits me like a freight train. Somewhat irrational thoughts, right? Well.. 

Irrational thoughts. That is part of anxiety. They come out of nowhere. There is no reasoning, no explanation, no warning. The irrational thought and feeling that I cannot breathe. That I am going to die because I cannot breathe. That I will be alone when this is happening. That I won’t be able to explain to someone what is going on if they choose to help. That I will be rushed to the hospital. That I will pass out and something horrible will happen to me because I will be surrounded by indecent people. People that don’t care. People that will just walk by while you feel like you are dying a slow and torturous, breathless death.

Experiencing anxiety, and at times panic attacks, those irrational thoughts don’t seem irrational. Those thoughts are reality in that moment. There is nothing else to be thought of other than those thoughts. They are at the forefront of my mind and it seems that nothing is capable of shaking them out.

It is because of these irrational thoughts that I have not told all of the people in my life that I have anxiety. This is for a few different reasons. While I have come a long way in coming to terms with anxiety and what it means for me, I do not always feel comfortable telling people that I have anxiety. When I do tell people, it usually means one of two scenarios occur. The first scenario is when people give me a strange look that appears to mean you just said you have anxiety, you have a mental illness, I’m going to have to treat you differently now. The second scenario is when people look at me and essentially say yeah and ? and then proceed to ask questions about anxiety; what it is, what it does, what it means.

It is because of these two scenarios that I have become more selective in who I tell that I have anxiety. Am I hiding the fact that I have anxiety? Absolutely not. However, telling someone that I have anxiety warrants a special kind of connection. Would I tell my coworkers that I have anxiety? No. Not unless a situation warrants it. Would I tell my family and friends? It depends on how close I am with them. If the relationship is more along the lines of I see you a handful of times of year, then no I would not. If I see you frequently and you are involved regularly in my life, then absolutely.

However, even when scenario number two occurs and people try to be as supportive as possible, a disconnect remains present. It can be very difficult for an individual to understand anxiety if they have not experienced it. Irrationality surrounds anxiety, and when something occurs that appears to be irrational, those without anxiety simply cannot understand how I can’t just get over it. Anxiety is not something that I can just get over. It doesn’t work that way.

I can’t just stop anxiety. I can’t just stop a panic attack. I can’t just stop thinking the thoughts that are running through my head. I can’t just breathe. I can’t just ANYTHING. Anxiety is not that simple. It is complex and more often than not, it doesn’t make sense to those who are not experiencing it. Hence the irrational part. Please, do not constantly bring it up. If you have questions about anxiety, I will be more than happy to answer them. If I am feeling anxious or begin panicking, asking me every two minutes for half an hour straight if I am okay does not help. I thank you for being there for me and asking me if I am okay, but reminding me every two seconds of what I am currently experiencing feeds the panic. It’s a constant reminder of what I am currently going through. I am already well aware of what I am experiencing, so please do not reiterate it a seemingly endless amount of times.

What would be helpful? For me… Acknowledge what I am going through. Ask what you can do to help me. Please do not assume anything. I will be grateful that you care enough to make sure that I am all right and that you respect my boundaries. Respect is essential. If you know someone who has anxiety, please make sure to respect who you are with and what they are dealing with. Please do not pressure them in any way. Speaking from personal experience, pressure is the last thing that is needed.

If you take nothing else away from reading this, please remember that anxiety is different for everyone. What I go through does not mean that other people who experience anxiety go through the same thing. However, there is one thought that should remain the same across the board, no matter what. There is no reason to be ashamed. There is nothing to be ashamed of. Every person should be respected. I know this may be easier said than lived, but I hope if you are reading this and you have anxiety, that you have gained a sense of camaraderie and know that you are not alone in your experiences. If you are reading this and have not experienced anxiety, I hope that you have gained insight into one person’s experience with anxiety and that you will respect those you may know who also experience anxiety.

REMEMBER: Just because something is not spoken of does not mean that it isn’t present or that it has not happened.

HELPFUL THOUGHT: When I am having a particularly bad day, I try to remember what Plato said: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle”.

Cheers, ET

ANXIETY DEFINED: “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate) by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it”. –Merriam-Webster Dictionary

NOTE: My thoughts are my thoughts. I think them. My experiences are my experiences. I experience them. END.


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