Anxiety looks different on every person.
I’m not talking about the anxiety you get before you give you a speech, rather the kind of anxiety that haunts you on a daily basis. I struggle with anxiety, have my entire life. I don’t think I really put a name to it until sometime in the last 7 years or so but it’s always been there.
Thanks to an amazing counselor, strategies, coping skills, medication, and a whole lot of hard mental work… I probably present as a totally normal human. What goes on in my brain though is a different story.
Just as anxiety looks different in every person, it can look different in the same person from day to day. Some days it’s barely noticeable and other days it’s overwhelming.
Here’s a glimpse into the “inside anxiety” that was going on yesterday.
My daughter was invited to a birthday party of her best little school friend. It was yesterday (Saturday)… after a long week of work, which is mentally exhausting, and then a fun day at our friends house, we walked up the door and knocked.
The kids went straight to playing and I got the chance to talk to the mom for awhile and several times throughout the night. I adore her – she is amazing. A good mom, fun to talk to… I’m pretty sure I’ve made a new friend. Anxiety level is low – there it’s just me and this mom and the kids playing since we were invited early. I’m good one on one.
More people eventually arrive and my anxiety is creeping up just a bit. A lot of people at one time is just overwhelming… for no reason that I can explain. I make small talk and smile and keep an eye on my kid. I start to shift into the background, unconsciously creating some space between me and all of the other humans I don’t know. Still friendly, still smiling, just a little bit more cautious.
The party is now in full swing and it’s loud. So loud. The kids are yelling in laughter and games, the adults are all have different conversations, so many conversations going on at once. I’m trying hard to listen to the person talking to me, my forehead is furrowed, it’s hard to concentrate over everything else. My brain starts sending out signals.. “Danger! Danger! This is not safe! Not Safe! Get out!”
Nothing has happened. Nothing has gone wrong… and yet, my anxiety has rocketed sky high. It’s too much. Intellectually I know I am safe and there is absolutely nothing wrong but my body is saying differently. My heart is racing and I’m starting to sweat. My good friend, Ellie the Elephant, has come out to sit heavily on my chest and it hurts to breathe. My head begins to ache.
I escape to the farthest part of the room and curl up in the couch. I pull out my phone and start scrolling Facebook. Not because there is anything I want to see, but I need a moment. I need to regroup and breathe. I know I probably appear rude and antisocial but I can’t help it. It’s too much.
I allow myself some time to alone. The mom of the birthday boy… the one I like so much already… comes to sit by me. We start talking again, and I relax a bit. Again, one on one is my forte. I know it won’t last though and since it’s almost the end of the party time, I let her know we’ll be going soon.
She invites me to come back another day so the kids can play and we can hang out. I already know I will accept… I’m smart enough to know that what I’m feeling at the moment has nothing to do with her and everything to do with the fact that it’s a party and I just struggle being around that many people.
We say our goodbyes and head out. I check my phone and have a message from my best friend reminding me of beach plans on Sunday. My stomach turns and I get nauseous. I want to cry. I just can’t do it.
I want to go to the beach. I want to be with my best friend. But I’m at my limit. I’m maxed out and I know I need a day to recuperate. I could force myself to go to the beach and probably would enjoy it but I would be a hot mess for the rest of the week. So I decline. I let her know that I need to rest and, of course, she understands.
I’m asleep by 9:15pm and don’t wake up until 8am the next morning. Two hours after getting up and out of bed, I’m back taking a nap. My body freaked out the night before and recovery is essential.
It’s almost 4pm now, as I sit here writing. I feel so much better, although somehow still tired. With no plans to go anywhere today, I know I still have time to rest and relax and I’m so thankful for it.
Anxiety sucks but it’s a part of who I am. I can want to go out and have fun and yet not be able to do it fully. I can want to be the life of the party but know that I am better one on one or in small groups. It’s just who I am. Doesn’t make me any better or any worse than the next person.
Throughout yesterday and the party last night, I knew exactly what was happening. It helps… to know and recognize the signs of anxiety. To understand that what my body does, doesn’t always match up to what I know to be true. To know that even though I feel like I’m dying, I’m truly not.
It helps but it still doesn’t feel good.
That’s life though. That’s my life. I’m just so incredibly thankful that I’ve had the help and now have the tools to navigate it successfully. There’s no point in being angry about it. It is what it is. We all have our strengths and we all have our weaknesses. What we do with both is what really matters.
Right now, I’m sharing it because maybe someone needs to know that they are not crazy and that they are not alone. Anxiety is a real issue and there is help out there. There are ways to manage it and work through it. One foot in front of the other, dear friend. Find help and know that it can get better.