The Reality Of Anxiety Disorder: You're Not Alone

As I sit here writing this, I’m in the middle of a panic attack. Not only do I have a three-page paper due tomorrow that I conveniently haven’t gotten around to, but today I was supposed to fly out to Cincinnati to represent UD at a convention for English majors, alongside two of my peers. Unfortunately, a huge winter storm hit the Philadelphia area this week, canceling our flight. Although it was stressful booking and re-booking flights three times over, that isn’t what’s bothering me: it’s the prospect of getting there.

Over the past few days, I’ve been very anxious about getting to this conference. The most frustrating thing is that I have no logical reason to be and I know that. If you were to ask me why I’m anxious, my answer would range from, “What if the plane crashes? What if I have a traumatic head injury? What if I get in a car crash on the way to the airport?” What’s scaring me the most is that I normally don’t stress about these things. I love traveling and flying, so this truly must be a bad omen. I feel trapped because of the uncertainty of life. Whenever I get a panic attack, I hole up and want to deal with it alone because I don’t want to burden others with the stress of it. I don’t want to be asked, though I know it’s out of pure kindness, if there’s anything I want. Here’s what I really want: I don’t want to feel so (bleeping) anxious all the time. If there’s anything I could have in these moments of stress, it’s not water, it’s not reassurance, it would be this impossible burden being lifted off of my shoulders.

A lot of my anxiety is guilt-based. Why? Because there are millions of other things to worry about and I feel awful for having such adverse reactions to “first-world” problems. There are so many people in the world suffering for various reasons and I have the tendency to want to take the pain for them, since I know from experience that I can handle it. Then, maybe I wouldn’t feel so guilty about worrying if I had other things to deal with.

If I had to describe what it’s like to have an anxiety disorder in a few sentences, I would say: imagine two people living inside of you, controlling your every thought and action. Here’s the catch: you have to sustain both of them alone. What I need to remember, however, is that it’s not my fault. I was born this way and anxiety has shaped me into the woman I am today. Is it going to get easier? Yes. But will it go away? No.

Accepting that truth continues to be the most difficult thing for me. When my anxiety takes over, panic not only invades my brain, but my entire body. I end up resenting myself, because I know there’s no reason to worry, yet I do it anyway. Suddenly, I feel like I’m trapped underwater and I’m drowning and getting further and further away from land. I have no one to help me and pull me back onto the ship; all I have is myself. My deep breaths are few and far between, my neck begins to cramp up, and my heart feels like the bass that just dropped in an EDM track.

This is what my generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) often does to me and to many others. It takes things in life that we normally find enjoyable and blows them way out of proportion. It’s something that I have lived with and been professionally treated for for fifteen years, yet I’m learning more and more about the new lengths it can push me to every day.

Most of the time, my levels of stress are relatively low to moderate and I feel fine. Sure, I’ll have an intrusive thought pop into my head every once and awhile, but I’ve dealt with this long enough to calm myself down. However, it’s moments like these when I wonder: what would my life look like without anxiety? Would I be asleep now, ready to board my plane tomorrow? Would I have my paper finished, or at least started? Would I be able to trust others more? Would I be better at math and taking tests? Would people take me more seriously? Would I be considered more “normal?”

While I may never know the answer to these questions, nor a life without GAD, I’ve learned in my 20 years of life that all I can do is have faith. Faith in God, faith in the ones I love and most importantly: faith in myself.

Oh and getting on the plane tomorrow might be a probable solution too.