I’ve always been an anxious person. Even as a little kid I had severe separation anxiety and I think probably general anxiety (sometimes vomit-inducing). My parents once needed to go away for a wedding and I panicked so much about them leaving that I made myself ill and hysterical, such that they decided not to go. As I got older the anxiety manifested in many different ways. I was afraid of change. Anything new and different reduced me to tears and melodrama. I don’t know if it was always apparent to my family precisely how anxious I was, maybe it was, it’s hard to remember. School stressed me out. I would get migraines that lasted for days. Sometimes they were out of nowhere but most of the time I’m positive they were activated by the stress I felt because of anxiety. I didn’t want to go to school, I just wanted to stay home. I know that in and of itself that’s not surprising for a kid, but my motivation was usually mild mental breakdown. The social world of middle school, the academic pandemonium, was too much for me. Finally in high school, after some suicidal problems and a hospitalization, I asked to be home schooled. I went to school one day, decided I absolutely couldn’t be there any more, and asked my parents if I could study at home. So I did and it was the best decision for me. I got to indulge in activities that actually interested me. I took classes and lessons in everything. No matter what I did I still felt anxious about things, but at least this way the pressure was internal.
Today, at 31, I am still plagued by anxiety. I realized a few years ago that I’d been having panic attacks for years and not know what they were. That was when I discovered Xanax. It has radically changed my life. A panic attack is one of the scarier sensations that I’ve ever had. My heart begins to race, to pound, to ache. It often hurts, as if I’m having a heart attack. I begin to have trouble breathing, I just can’t catch my breath. Usually I begin to cry and I can’t speak. Sometimes I’ll shake, with tremors so bad that I can’t keep myself still at all. In those episodes Husband often wraps me up tightly until the worst passes. Somehow being in tight contact with another body is very soothing and helps to calm me down until the meds kick in. What’s great about Xanax is that it’s so fast. Sometimes I can prevent a panic attack by taking one early enough when I recognize that my anxiety is reaching a boiling point, but if I can’t do that, taking one as soon as I realize what’s happening will lessen the duration of the attack significantly, and keep me calm for hours afterwards, sometimes even into the next day. I always have a euphoric hangover from Xanax because something lingers in my system keeping me calm, which is such a foreign sensation that I think I feel it more intensely than people without chronic anxiety.
I worry about literally everything. I won’t even bother listing things because I’d never be able to stop writing. Every aspect of my life involves worry. For instance, right now I’m awake in the middle of the night, in part because I fell asleep too early, but partially because I am so freaked out about going to Pilates today that I’m working myself up into a teary-eyed frenzy. That’s the wonderful thing about anxiety: it often makes no real sense. It’s just Pilates, with an instructor I know, at the gym I’m familiar with, but I desperately don’t want to go. Not because the exercise will be difficult, I enjoy that part, but because I’m just worried about it (because reasons). One of the possibilities for me is that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder, on top of the Borderline Personality and Bipolar 2, both of which have anxiety components. GAD is a very appropriate name because I often don’t know exactly why I feel anxious, I just do. It’s not always a specific feeling, sometimes it’s just, “Ohmygod, ohmygod, everything is bad, life is going to fall apart, I can’t do this, helphelphelp.” I’m Chicken Little and the sky is always falling. The worst anxiety is always in the evening and at night. I used to have serious trouble falling asleep, I think largely because my mind would race and I wouldn’t be able to quiet it enough to get to sleep.
Luckily I have meds now that keep this largely under control. My daily meds keep my baseline much more stable than it’s ever been, and I have Xanax or Klonopin for the worst episodes. I take Xanax much more infrequently than I did before my meds got stabilized. Now it’s more out of the ordinary for me to need one than not. Even now, I can I’m anxious, but the breakout anxiety isn’t there. This is under control. I’m not going to do or feel anything drastic. I’ll probably just talk myself through this later as I get closer to my session and decide whether or not going is going to make more more or less anxious. I’ll pick whichever I decide that is, and I won’t hate myself for it, whatever I decide. And this is different. Even two months ago I couldn’t do that.
Anxiety is pervasive but treatable, and it’s different for everyone. Some people find therapy helps, or therapy with meds, or just meds, or both and supplemental activities. Regardless of who you are, exercise, meditation, gratitude, yoga, good diet, pets, etc. can help manage anxiety. I find that journaling is very helpful, but not everyone does.
We live in some very uncertain times. I think more people will be experiencing anxiety than before, so it’s important to recognize what it is and what you can do to help yourself feel better.