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What's it like having anxiety?

The following is Anne’s story; she shares with HOPE what living with anxiety is like. Names have been changed for privacy. 

I’ve had anxiety for so long – I’m 32 – that I’m so comfortable talking about it. In moments like these, when I’m okay and not in the thick of it, I can talk about my anxiety, my triggers, my difficulty, that kind of thing, without any kind of stress. But when I’m deep, deep in it, it’s crazy. I’m physically affected, I’m mentally tight… at the very least I’m like, “Am I going crazy?” At my worst I can’t move. I’m laying there in bed or sitting in my car and I’m like, “Okay, somebody, anybody, please help me. I can’t keep doing this.”

You think you know anxiety because you see it everywhere. You hear about it all the time. I can’t believe the number of people I meet who are like, “Hey, I have anxiety! I’m on medication.” And I take a lot of comfort in that sometimes, when I think that, “Oh wow, thank goodness the stigma is lifting and I can freely talk about this because so many people understand,” but again, when I’m overpowered by my thoughts and my feelings, forget it. I get angry. I think, “There’s no way you know. Anxiety isn’t like, the newest headache. Anxiety is deep and bad and angry and debilitating. How could you possibly know?”

Anxiety isn’t like, just worrying. It’s not just stress. Or I should clarify – it’s not basic stress. It can appear when thinking about your job that you hate or the things you can’t buy or the bills you can’t pay or the relationships that aren’t working out. Can those things trigger anxiety? For me, for sure. I can’t and I’m not speaking for everyone. But those things, I feel like, would go away if you had a solution, you know? Like if you were worried about your job, but you found an awesome new one, you wouldn’t be stressed or anxious anymore.

That’s not chronic anxiety.

Chronic anxiety actually, legitimately hurts.

How do I explain this? Let me talk about my job for a minute. I’m in advertising, and I love my job so much. I dreamed about this job even when I was in high school. When I got hired, I seriously thought I won the lottery. I love the people at work, I love the clients, I love the speed and pace of it. On paper, it’s the perfect job, it’s the most exciting career.

But a lot of the time, when I think about deadlines, or I think about what people think of me… I feel like someone is taking a dull object to my gut and just twisting it. And the rest of my body responds to that trauma, so I get sweaty, I get chills, I start shaking.

Right before the pandemic, we had a major meeting lined up with a big client, one of our largest. I was in charge of social, and I had to present my analysis and my strategy for the next quarter. I remember being in my office and typing away and getting so anxious my stomach started to hurt, like a thousand tiny knives stabbing me… I thought I had indigestion or something. I tried to work through it. The next thing I remember, my coworker was standing over me. She had called 911 because I’d passed out on the floor.

I figured it was a stomach bug and they released me from the hospital with no red flags.

My colleague had ended up doing my portion of the meeting, but I was responsible for the client still, so two weeks later, when I had to provide an update, almost the exact same thing happened again! I didn’t go to hospital this time, and I didn’t pass out. But I finally connected that it was my panic causing this physical distress, and I was like, “Oh my God, are you serious? This is what my anxiety looks like now?”

I have a lot of self-judgment which isn’t healthy, and I guess if you subconsciously talked down to yourself all the time, of course your body is going to respond in kind. Treat something well and it will flourish, after all, right? Treat something like crap and you’ll get crap in return. I definitely talk myself down more than I talk myself up, so that cycle is something I really have to consciously fight. When I don’t, things like that episode in my office happen. It’s not always as extreme as passing out and going to the ER, but my body knows I’m stressed just as much as my mind does – and it tells me.

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