This is what anxiety feels like

I definitely wouldn’t say that I suffer from severe anxiety.  I don’t have panic attacks, my fears rarely rise to the level of phobias, and I’m generally capable of functioning as an adult when necessary.  In fact, I tend to think of my anxiety as a secondary issue, a little demon friend that tags along with my depression.  But it’s still there.  A lot.

It strikes most often out of the blue, usually in the morning.  I’ll get shot through with a burst of it while brushing my teeth or washing my face.  I’ll want to hide, curl up, claw out the feeling.  Sometimes my brain will seize on some past imperfection, like that time I said something dumb while teaching three years ago, or one of my blog posts that I don’t love, and I’ll be wracked with embarrassment all over again.

Most days, the feeling passes.  Life is a good distractor.  But on some days, it sticks around.

Today was one of those days.  I couldn’t really tell you why—I think the thought of navigating Twitter as an introvert might be freaking me out a bit, but there aren’t any specific worries running through my head, and while progress on my thesis feels achingly slow, that’s not anything new.  Nevertheless, the anxiety was strong all day.

Anxiety is a tightness in your chest, your arms, your jaw.  It’s an electric current in your limbs, a perpetual coursing of adrenaline.  It’s like being in constant flight-or-fight mode, except you don’t quite know what it is that you should be fighting or fleeing from, because if you did, you’d do one of those things and maybe it would go away.

Anxiety is feeling like you want to poke out segments of your memory so that they won’t bother you any more.  It’s wanting to delete the things you’ve written, erase yourself and hide from the world so there’s no chance of ever being judged.  It’s a persistent urge to punish yourself for the ways that you have failed, accompanied by the sure knowledge that you will fail again in the future.

It’s also the fear that the tenseness is all that’s keeping the real terrors at bay.  That if you try to relax or mediate and let down your guard, all the things you hate about yourself will come tumbling into your head and you’ll collapse under their weight.  And so you try to find things to keep your mind busy instead.  Keep it full of the words of others so it doesn’t have time to come up with its own.

And it’s not knowing how to end this blog post, and then wondering if you should apologize for being so serious, and then thinking, who cares, it’s my blog, and then finally deciding that it’s OK to stop right here.

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6 thoughts on “This is what anxiety feels like

  1. Thank you so much for posting this insightful description. You have clearly laid out the physiological, mental and emotional symptoms, from your experienced perspective. So valuable to anyone who reads it. 🙂

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  2. You capture it so eloquently, the pervasive almostness of it. If it helps, don’t label yourself as an introvert on Twitter. Just be a person who likes to go deep or go home or something. Introversion is,after all,more a reflection of where you get your energy from rather than a description of your ability to communicate. It’s a label, not an identity.

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    • I was actually really happy when I discovered the concept of introversion as a young adult. (I’d heard the word before, but only as a general term for being quiet/shy/antisocial.) I embrace it (although not explicitly on Twitter). It was very reassuring to understand why I felt the way I did—to know that there wasn’t anything wrong with me, and to be able to develop coping methods.

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  3. Pingback: Brain chemistry in the age of anxiety | crazy grad mama

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