There was a poetry slam video on my facebook timeline. Jae Nichelle talks about her anxiety and how they live together in what she describes as a friends with benefits relationship. It was refreshing and inspiring to me, whose anxiety usually keeps her from laughing about it, and it fueled a thought process about how I struggle with the diagnosis in my own way.
Anxiety is like a child that demands all your attention, all the time, and when you try to ignore it, it will break all your rules just to make you listen. It will massively hurt your feelings, act like there’s an emergency when there is none and, at times, just scream and scream and scream right into your brain. Anxiety strives to be the center of attention, which is why I’ve been involuntarily collecting theories and thoughts and metaphores about it all my life and I would like to share some of them.
One of the most challenging parts is the framework society creates around the diagnosis – because there is none. Like so many other issues of mental health and issues in general, anxiety disorder won’t get a ton of recognition in the media. The public is fed misinformation about it if anything, perceiving a simplified version of it that’s usually described with all the wrong terms, mixed up with depression or other entirely different mind monsters, and comically transformed into a mere inconvenience that can easily be overcome. Simply have some tea, talk about it, let a therapist swing their magic wand and – poof! – one therapy session later you’ll be cured. None of that makes any sense or cuts even close to the chase. Up to 33.7%* of us are dealing with anxiety and its symptoms, each in their own complex ways. But instead of having the chance to educate others and being taken seriously, stigma forces us into a state of mental isolation where everything just feels like our own individual problem. The common advice in every issue of „Psychology For Housewives Weekly“, in every netflix show and superhero movie is „Be yourself!“. Yet, I still haven’t figured out how to identify that person. Is „myself“ the version of me feeling at ease and unanxious? Because that is possible, if I just deprive myself of relationships that could cause disappointment. Sure, I can’t date anyone or hang out with my dad or have a „best friend“ that way. But if I follow those rules, no one will turn out to be overwhelmed, exhausted, annoyed after dealing with me. Talking to strangers doesn’t make me anxious, flirting with a guy, meeting a friend every 3 months over coffee while secretly looking at my watch, casual sex – all that remains untouched by anxiety. Sure, I’ll overanalyse some things as well, but it’s just a tool to not let any of the above become one of the following: a boy*girlfriend, a bff, a mentor, someone I have to rely on. When I abide by these rules, I feel 100% like myself, I have power and resources and I can deal with everyday life. Laundry gets done on time, I excel at jobs, I get good grades and I buy fairy lights and candles at IKEA to decorate the bedroom.
The other version of me rarely has time for this luxury. She will have to do the dishes tomorrow, because it is crucial today to sit on the edge of the bed, stare at the wall and think about what this one person said that one time. She will spend money on antibiotics because she gets ill a lot, or on 1 am online shopping that gives her something to look forward to in 3-5 business days. She won’t reply to 60% of her friends‘ messages or meet them because she’s so busy holding together the rest of her life. But she has something in her life the coward version can’t even dream about: love. She blossoms in the arms of her loved one(s), a compliment from them can inspire her to paint flowers on canvases and when she looks in the mirror she is suddenly okay with wrinkles and the occasional spot. She laughs from the bottom of her heart and smiles at the sun.
I would like to think that all of these versions are me. Unfortunately, while being unapologetically real 50% of the time, I am otherwise scared to death. When someone starts being a bit too important and too nice and too cuddly I can’t just enjoy the lovey-dovey beginning of a relationship. I have to also explain my diagnosis, warn the person about the consequences, make absolutely three-thousand percent sure that they 1) understand what mess of a life they sign up to be a part of and 2) will be okay with the constant reassurance, proof of their affection and unnecessary discussions at 3 am that are required to maintain my sanity. Because, while I blindly trust them, I won’t ever make the mistake to trust life again. It just seems more reasonable to me that they will find someone with the same qualities I have but no scrambled anxiety brain attached.
„Trust your gut“:
All of the described makes me feel like a second class human at times. We are told to trust our gut. Unfortunately, my gut is where anxiety has a nicely furnished living room. If I want to step in, look around and catch the vibe, it will probably sit in a noisy rocking chair in the corner like a witchy grandmother and mumble bitter phrases at me. „Yes yes my child, your gut may feel fine right now, but what about tomorrow, hm? Look here on this shelf there’s a whole book about what could happen tomorrow, someone might die or cheat on you or find that they have always wanted to live in a self-sustaining commune in Nicaragua!“
If I try to shut that voice up, it will only grow louder and more hateful. If I try to analyse it all from a distance as to find out that all of that is very unlikely, it will soon catch up because anxiety can run and swim and sometimes even fly.
It’s a bit like in school when the teacher tried to count us and we yelled out random numbers to confuse them, but this time I am the teacher and the random numbers are worst-case scenarios.
There are two things I have learnt from this:
1. I need a partner that understands and will go the extra mile for me, even if it’s the middle of the night and they have to finish an assignment the next day. I won’t expect that to always be possible but I need to be able to try and get reassurance without being scared of the consequences. Because if we don’t go out of our way together, anxiety will. And sadly, it is not only my but our problem and even though I’m working on myself every day, I can’t promise to ever be okay. Stand up for the people in your life with anxiety when it forces them to sit down.
2. I’m worth it. All of the above. Not because I feel that at all times or I’ve been confronted with this empty phrase in every diet coke ad ever, but because there’s overwhelming evidence in the form of wonderful human beings who have stuck with me and supported me for as long as I let them, while they could have easily given up. I’m grateful for that and whenever my mind allows me to, I try to tell myself that that means I must be an okay kind of person in general.
In the poetry slam I mentioned in the beginning, Jae Nichelle says that anxiety has been the longest and most reliable relationship of her life. And though that is equally true for me, I would like to add that it is also the loneliest, most abusive, one-sided and toxic relationship I have ever been in, and that I’ve been trying to break up with the bitch from the moment I first met her.