The “Problem” of Anxiety
Being a teacher has shown me that more people than I ever could have imagined suffer from anxiety, depression, or a lucky mixture of both. Yes, most of these people are teenagers, and they may (and hopefully will)grow out of it. But my anxiety started when I was around 11, and my depression kicked in when I was around 12.
I am not one of the lucky ones who grew out of it.
On a regular day, this makes me feel ashamed. I have thoughts that are not rational, but feel completely reasonable. I often end up in tears over something that is completely made up in my head. On bad days, I feel worthless. How can someone who graduated from college with honors, who teaches children, and who tries as hard as I do feel this way?
At the same time, I deeply sympathize with others who suffer with anxiety and/or depression like me. I think they are wonderful people, who don’t deserve to feel the pain they do.
It’s a very contradictory mindset. How can you hold so much resentment towards yourself and yet so much compassion towards others?
I want to try to explain anxiety (or at least how my anxiety works) as best I can. I understand that people who do not have anxiety do not fully comprehend what it is like. That’s acceptable, and part of me is happy that you never have to know what it’s like.
But let me paint a picture:
You’ve decided to go see a scary movie by yourself (who would do this? I know, I know, but just stick with me). During many of the scary scenes, you feel the build of adrenaline as you watch the characters try to survive, and when nothing is happening but that ominous music is there, you tense up, just knowing that something is around the corner. Sometimes during the movie, the ominous music is a psych out. Nothing bad happened to that character! Not yet anyway! You were wrong! And then, the music hits a crescendo and character number three is eliminated from the script.
The movie ends. The lights come back on. Wow. That movie really scared the shit out of you.
As you walk to your car, you can’t help but feel as though the murderer from the film is watching you. Perhaps you check the back of your car to make sure he isn’t hiding behind the front seats. Your throat thickens with saliva. Your hands are a little shaky. There are knots in your stomach, and you feel queasy. Unsafe. Scared.
Does watching that movie make it any more likely that you are going to die that night? Absolutely not. But this is what scary movies can do to us. We fear what we have just seen even though it’s completely irrational. Even though our fears have no foundation to be felt, we accept as a culture that sometimes scary movies DO scare us. We feel the physical effects of that fear long after the movie is over. Some of us remember movies that scared us from when we were children. It’s silly. It’s from a long time ago. We have no reason to be scared.
And yet when it comes to discussing the fear of the scary movies we’ve seen and how they make us feel, the normal response is not typically “well you actually have nothing to be frightened of, so get over it.” Instead we embrace the fact that at one point we felt fear, even when that perceived fear was not rational.
I live my life to ominous music.
When my anxiety kicks in, I feel the same way I feel when I am scared. My throat tightens, my limbs faintly shake, my chin trembles, I hold back tears, and I feel like throwing up. I am not proud of the reaction my body has to thoughts it can’t shake, but they are there. I have tried therapy, medication, meditation, deep breathing, not talking about it, talking about it…you name it.
It is amazingly frustrating to know that the thoughts you are havingare not real. You know this. You know it to be true.
But your body says differently. Your body says to be scared. Your body tells you to feel frightened. Your body screams at you that something is horribly wrong. Eventually, your body’s response snakes its way into your head. And suddenly, perhaps the fears you are struggling to push away, maybe they are true. Maybe you are just too stupid to see the truth. Maybe you can’t trust your head, because everything in your body is telling you a different story.
And then, your mind and body go to war.
Many times, I let my body win. My body screams in victory that it is allowed to feel how it feels because it knows that something terrible has happened. It knows that your brain is an idiot that doesn’t know how to judge situations. It throws your past in your face. Your body scolds you for not seeing the eminent danger in the world around you.
I am trying to let my head win more often, but it is a struggle.
It becomes even more of a struggle when people tell me I have no reason to be worried. Don’t you think I know that? Don’t you realize that for hours I have battled inside of myself telling my body the same thing? On top of feeling as though the world may be imploding, or that someone has stopped loving me, or that I’m screwing up the kids I’m teaching, I now feel embarrassed and stupid because I know you are right.
But my body whispers you don’t know anything.
The real “problem” with anxiety is not anxiety itself. The real problem is that people throw their hands in the air, tsking while wondering why the hell you can’t just snap out of it. The real problem is the implication that there is something wrong with me. The real problem with anxiety is that people who love you are hurt by your inability to trust things without reassurance.
Friends and family, it is not you. The guilt that comes from this feeling is insurmountable. That the way my brain and body work make you feel as though I do not trust you. The real truth is that my body has convinced my brain that I cannot trust myself.
I have decided to try to start tackling this problem head on, because I cannot tolerate living my life this way anymore. I do not want to have this. Please believe me when I tell you that I want to be better.
Please be gentle with me while I try. Please know that everything you think about my anxiety, I already think too.