When it comes to having an anxiety disorder, many people assume that everything is all mental. That every paranoid thought or sudden feeling of panic occurs only mentally, in my head. Not many understand that anxiety disorders can manifest themselves through physical symptoms that can totally and utterly impact your daily life and the things you do quite regularly.
I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder when I was in my early teens, around 14. My therapists have considered me as someone who has high-functioning anxiety. However, my anxiety happens to come in waves, where sometimes it’s really manageable and other times it totally drowns me. Over the years, my symptoms have grown and changed completely.
In recent years, in my mid-20s, one of my most debilitating symptoms was a fear of allergic reactions.
I’m a big foodie. From going to new restaurants to trying new recipes, I’ve always been someone who is invested in eating. Growing up, I felt blessed that I never had any serious food allergies. I had friends who were allergic to peanut butter, never having the joy of having a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, or grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Then, I had friends who were allergic to dairy, who could never stomach mac and cheese or the bliss of having cheesecake.
Then, I reached my early 20s and disaster hit. Working in an Italian restaurant to put myself through college, I was lucky to get fed by some of the best chefs. My friend and I decided to split some baked clams before our shift started. After eating a few of them, I started to feel off. My throat felt scratchy and I felt sweaty. My friend looked at me and said, “Your face is so red, you look like a fire engine.” I looked in the mirror and realized there were hives all over my face. Then, I started to hyperventilate. It was terrifying.
Hours later, in the emergency room with an IV of antihistamines and steroids, doctors told me that I had developed a shellfish allergy. My sushi-loving, baked-clams infatuated, foodie self was totally heartbroken. I was someone who frequented sushi places regularly, so it was a total letdown to find out that I wouldn’t be able to indulge anymore the way I used to.
Avoiding shellfish is pretty easy and I’m always careful when I go out to eat anywhere where they are preparing fish and seafood. But, for some reason, my anxiety disorder has impacted my ability to enjoy eating tenfold.
Sometimes I’ll eat something or even drink something that I’ve had thousands of times. If I feel even slightly off — like my throat feels itchy or I feel like my lips are tingling, my body goes into full on shock and panic. I start having a hundred thoughts a minute about whether or not I’ve developed a new allergy and if I’m allergic to something in the food. This begins to become almost psychosomatic and I start to feel like my throat is closing on me.
To be honest, I thought I was losing my mind, until I came across a blogger on Instagram who specializes in anxiety. Alexia, who runs the Instagram page @notsosecretdiaryofanxiety, posted an Instagram Reel where she describes going through the same exact process that I do when I’m eating sometimes. I’m eating something, then I start to feel something like my lips tingling or my chest feeling tight and I spiral thinking my throat can close.
Like Alexia points out in her blog, the majority of these things are correlated to just generalized anxiety and the physical symptoms happen to go hand-in-hand with the mental ones.
So, how do I cope? Repetition and more repetition. I have to talk myself down, telling myself that I am okay and that all of these feelings are just my anxiety disorder, much like it is when I have a panic attack or feel myself disassociating. Most of the time, these symptoms pass with deep breathing and grounding exercises to remind myself that I’m totally okay, and will be.