I have chewed my fingernails for as long as I can remember, and I don’t mean in a sweet little, “Aw, I’m nervous, let me give my nail a little nibble” way. I mean I gnaw and chew until they are non-existent. I do this when I get nervous – which is every second of the day.
Many people don’t know I have anxiety, except those closest to me. In fact, I take medicine to keep my anxiety at bay. I don’t advertise this part of me because it is actually a very dark place for me to be. Many people close to me have a hard time understanding why I react to things the way I do. It is difficult to make someone understand something they have never felt. If you were to have a ball thrown at your face, your knee-jerk reaction to this situation would most likely be to throw your hands up or duck. My knee-jerk reaction to almost every situation is to stress, worry, and imagine the worst-case scenario possible. It’s automatic and out of my control.
After reading this, you may judge me. I’m prepared for that. You will most likely think I am overreacting and unreasonable — that’s OK too. The truth is, however, that your potential reaction to my way of thinking is the main reason a lot of people keep quiet and struggle silently. I am hoping to shed some light on this subject so anyone else who may be dealing with this can know they are not alone, I’m right there with you, and there is help available.
This is what my life is like with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
My sister asks if she can take my son, her nephew, to the park – I say no, because if she were to get into a car accident with him and he died, I could never forgive her.
My bonus daughter asks if she can go in our backyard, two feet from the back door, to play on our playground by herself – I say no because if someone were to come kidnap her when I looked away, I would never be able to live with myself.
My husband wants to give our baby a banana to try – I say no because I don’t want her to choke and die. We will just stick to baby food until she’s 15.
I leave my house 45 minutes early to pick my bonus daughter up for school because being late to places makes me feel like a soda bottle that has been shaken to the point of exploding the cap off. To avoid that feeling, I make sure I am 30 minutes early – everywhere I go.
My mother-in-law wants to take my son for a sleep over – I say no because he is not used to her bed and may fall off in his sleep and break his neck.
If I have a stomach pain – I convince myself my appendix just burst and I currently have poison filling my insides and am going to die within the hour.
If more than two people are talking at once, it feels like they are holding a megaphone to my ears and screaming at the top of their lungs.
If you invite me somewhere, I will smile and excitedly say yes. When the day comes, I wake up dreading it because it requires me to get myself ready and have conversations with people. I will spend the entire night absorbing other people’s energy and entertaining small talk, and by the time I get home, I am completely drained.
If I leave the house feeling self-conscious about my hair, I will spend the entire day watching every single person I walk past to see if they look at my hair. Then when they do, I will convince myself they are thinking about how hideous it looks today and that I never should have left the house looking like that.
If I tell my sister to call me later and she doesn’t, I will call her. If she doesn’t answer, I automatically assume she has been kidnapped and murdered. I even envision my reaction when the police will call to confirm my suspicions.
If someone asks to hold my baby, I will stare at them the entire time so when they drop her, I will be prepared to catch her.
If someone I don’t recognize knocks on my door, I grab a weapon with one hand and have 911 on speed dial with the other.
If I am lying in bed and hear a noise, I envision a robber coming to kill us all. I visually locate a weapon and mentally plan my sneak attack for when he comes in the room.
This probably sounds ridiculous to you, right? I know. Trust me, it feels ridiculous. Who the hell would want to live like that? I don’t think anyone would. Yet, many people do. Some people may have it easier than me, some, probably worse. There are so many variations of anxiety disorders, each of them equally as difficult to live with.
I live with the excessive, relentless, unrealistic fear that at any moment terrible things are going to happen. Most people can enjoy a day at the beach with their children. I will spend the entire day rolling them around in sunscreen and searching the water with binoculars for sharks.
I have been this way for as long as I can remember, and I’m certain a lot of it has to do with the fact that I have lost both my parents and all but one grandparent. Part of me recognizes that a loved one can be taken away in an instant, therefore I go to extreme and illogical measures to keep my loved ones safe.
This is the first time I have ever shared this with anyone other than those closest to me. Reading back to myself what I have written and seeing my thought processes in black and white is painful, and I see how ridiculous it must seem to outsiders. I have laid my deepest fears and imperfections at the feet of anyone who chooses to read this in hopes it will make someone realize they are not alone and help others realize we aren’t just being “worry warts” who need to “relax” and “calm down.” Because trust me, if we could, we would.
I have started meditating and praying, and it has helped tremendously. The problem stems from my need to control, and in reality, nothing is in control. I cannot control the wind, the time, the flow of traffic, gravity, the weather or anyone other than myself. I need to recognize this and release the tension associated with making sure everything goes perfectly according to my plan.
In the meantime, I need people to understand we are not faking it; it is very, very real. We need less criticism and judgment and more love and support. If you know someone with anxiety, don’t downplay it, don’t make them feel foolish, or “crazy.” Ask how you can help, and let them know you are there for them. It is very difficult to live this way, but having a strong support system makes all the difference in the world.
Originally published on The Mighty.