Anxiety; it’s fair to say this word has grown in use over the past 10 years quite dramatically. Previously people would talk about their “worries” and describe how “stressed” they were. I’d hazard a guess that in the past many people downplayed their worries and stresses for fear of judgement, however with this new age of information and oversharing SO MANY people now talk about their anxiety. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe in anxiety (and it sure believes in me… or doesn’t believe in me… that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?), but I sometimes feel that the word is potentially overused. I thought I’d share some of my beliefs on anxiety, and how it differs so vastly from stress and worry.
Today I am confined to my apartment for the third day after leaving work early three days ago due to a mystery illness…a mystery illness that may turn out to be one of the most highly communicable diseases of our time that was all but wiped out thanks to vaccinations, hence my confinement. I worry about the results of the medical tests my doctor ran for me, I wonder about when the results will come back, and I worry about what they will be. I’m not particularly stressed about the results as I feel I am slowly getting better, so even if it is what we think it might be, I know my body is doing well to fight it off, even if I did take a bit of a dive yesterday. My anxiety in the situation has nothing to do with having the illness (whatever it turns out to be), but in how i got it, and what people think, particularly those I work with.
When I was in high school I missed a vaccination thanks to me being a teenager and forgetting to give my parents the permission slip. I remember it clearly, and every now and then that scenario pops up in my mind. Anxiety is taking that memory and obsessing over the fact that I missed that vaccination, and now as an adult with a compromised immune system (thanks CFS/ME) I have potentially caught the disease that should have been prevented by that vaccination. Do I know for certain that what I have is linked directly to that vaccination? No, of course not. That’s not how anxiety works. Anxiety takes one small detail of your life and magnifies it out of control and convinces you that whatever ill-fate has befallen you is completely and utterly your fault, all because of that one little thing you did, or did not, do. I mean, it couldn’t possibly be that because I have a compromised immune system my body is more susceptible to horrible illnesses, and that it is actually the fault of someone else who did not get vaccinated to prevent it causing a mass outbreak fairly recently… No no, it is definitely my fault for being a teenager who didn’t feel like getting a vaccination that day.
So now I am sitting here feeling anxious about my stupidity as a teenager, and reflecting on how terrible it is of me for contracting this disease and possibly passing it on to everyone around me, including my colleagues at work. I’m obsessing about how terrible it is that I am off work for an illness, and how I am letting the team down horribly, especially so soon after having a holiday. It is completely my fault for the timing, you see. At least, that is what anxiety has me believe.
Have you ever misread the tone in an email, thinking your boss or colleague hates you and is so disappointed in you, and that you’re going to lose your job over this one tiny little thing that you’ve totally blown out of proportion? That’s anxiety. Especially when you then speak to that person and they’re completely normal and happy and don’t even mention that thing in the email that they’ve probably forgotten they even said.
Stress is an entirely natural force that propels us towards safe and prompt decision making. It’s the thing that pumps adrenaline through our body when we wake late and makes us dash to work on time. It’s the thing that helps us block out the world around us and meet that deadline, and it’s the element that makes us outrun that big nasty dog approaching us down the street. Stress overdone can turn into anxiety, but anxiety can also exist quite happily without stress as a precursor. Stress gets us out of a situation, whereas anxiety keeps us in that situation and plays out all the possible outcomes to us A-Clockwork-Orange style. We become paralysed and brainwashed into believing all of those outcomes, and fear takes over.
I lived with anxiety for a long time, chronic anxiety that crippled me. I ran out of classrooms crying when pushed to perform public speaking, and once even told the teacher to fail me because there was no way I was getting up in front of the class to speak. I believed that everything that went wrong was my fault, even at the hands of abusers. My anxiety crumbled friendships and isolated me. I drank, a lot. Panic attacks and anxiety attacks flourished, and eventually I could barely function.
Anyone can function easily with a little stress and a couple of worries in their pocket, but anxiety becomes the weight of the world and stops you from experiencing anything good, for fear of anything bad.
There is hope, though, if you are willing to take the steps to move forward and out of this life. It is not easy, and it is not fast, but nothing good ever is. In May it’ll be three years since I started tackling this monster, who I named Ashi-Magari after Japanese folklore, along with its friends depression and PTSD. I’ve had ups and downs in this time, I’ve packed up some baggage and diluted the power it has over me, and I’ve grown immensely. I’m stronger now, and I can do a spot of public speaking here and there as needed at work without even a tremor.
If you have any questions about Anxiety, Depression, or PTSD, and how I overcame them please feel free to reach out. Everyone’s experience is deeply personal, but I am more than happy to share what worked for me. If you feel totally alone, please know you are not. You are worthy of every single breath of air you inhale, and nothing you have done in your life could ever be enough to make you unworthy of life.