If you asked a person who doesn’t suffer from generalized anxiety what makes them anxious, their response would probably be something like: stress at work, a big presentation, getting a speeding ticket, a tiff with a friend, deadline for a project, etc. Those are all real, tangible situations that would cause any person some anxiety.
However, sufferers of generalized anxiety disorder may not have an answer. At least not one that makes sense. I found this article (link above) that really hit home with me. It was about a woman who found herself in some difficult scenarios and she felt her anxiety dissipate. She found herself calm and at ease under extraordinary circumstances and when life was calm, the anxiety returned. I began to think about my life experiences that were horrific, but I was able to remain extremely calm. At my best friend’s funeral, I was able to stand up and give the eulogy without faltering. People were amazed.
What’s interesting is my calmness when the going gets tough, and the anxiety nearing a panic attack in every “normal” day. You know that feeling where you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t catch your breath because you remember you forgot to do something important? General anxiety disorder hits in the middle of the night the same way, but there is no important deadline you missed. You didn’t forget to buy a birthday present for your friend or forget to pay rent. You simply woke up and couldn’t catch your breath for a reason you’ll never know. Maybe you’re thinking about a situation you regret from years ago, a “what if” situation that could potentially happen, or imagining all the potential outcomes for anything you could potentially do or say in the future. None of it is real or is even affecting your present moment, but if you have experienced it, you know the physical repercussions are incredibly real.
It’s frustrating to hear from non-sufferers that “it’s all in your head” or “don’t be such a worry wart.”
Lately, though, there have been real reasons for my stress and I’m not coping in the way she does in the above article. My life is in complete shambles- relationships are suffering, I’ve given up my job, am experiencing health problems, my dog just got out of surgery, experiencing my first legal battle and financial problems. It seems every close friend is suffering too with their own battles. I’ve called my mom to cry and just feel validated, but I don’t know that there is any real answer to these troubles- and there is the guilt that I am causing others (like my mom) added stress. The anxiety I feel from these things aren’t actually the problems themselves, but the perception of them and the perception of my shaky future. I’ve always believed things will work out the way they should, but I must say, the last three months have caused me to question everything and everyone I encounter.
When I reflect on these problems, I can’t help but blame myself for all of them. However, a lot of the problems stem from depression and anxiety, but trying to untangle mental illness from a person is like untangling a rat’s nest of invisible wires. It’s impossible to know which wire belongs to the person and which belongs to the mental illness. The stigma works like an invisibility cloak. The stigma makes me want to hide it all and stuff it away (and Lord knows when you put your earphones in your pocket, they only become more entangled than before). I really want to separate my identity from my illness, but it’s nearly impossible.
I truly believe it will all work out. I will untangle these wires when I can stop hiding them so fiercely.