I rarely talk about any struggles that I have with anxiety, and only recently began to write about it. I usually keep any thoughts about psychological stress in my head (they kind of fly around, similar to the spirits at the ending of Raiders of the Lost Ark if you would like a visual). I had an essay discussing my anxiety and fears published in my college's literary magazine during my senior year, and thought "Wow, okay..people are reading this. People might think differently of me, or be scared of how I think--but that is fine." I needed an audience outside of a few close, select friends to know, for at least one person to identify and know that perhaps they aren't alone.
I feel that mental disorders are often glamorized, especially in the art fields. There is a strange allure to the whole "tortured artist" thing, so writers/artists/musicians often try to emulate that, trivializing anyone that actually struggles with anxiety, depression, etc. There is nothing "cool" about the way that we feel, or knowing that you sometimes have trouble going to the grocery store or filling your car up with gas. These people will relish in their pretend darkness, or continuously say "I'm crazy! I'm so insane!", to which we ask "Oh really? Are you?" because most people that deal with this weight do not realize that they are in fact, "crazy", or would not broadcast it for attention.
A second example comes from those that are very organized and particular about their cleanliness or the way their work is arranged. You can often hear these people claiming "Haha, oh, I am SO OCD!", while I think of anyone that actually has OCD being embarrassed, ashamed, or brought down by society thinking that OCD is something as simple as being overly particular about your room or notebook. OCD isn't cute, or funny, and I feel sorry for anyone that has to go through life hearing these things said over and over.
As I step off my pedestal (careful not to fall because I have tiny appendages), I am about to take my reflections in a completely different direction. I do this not to make fun of anyone in the same little rowboat as me, but mostly as an actual, relatable to a response to the articles that I constantly see being shared via social media:
"What It Is Like To Love Someone With Anxiety", "Things No One Ever Told You About Dating Someone With Anxiety", "An Open Letter To Everyone About What Anxiety Is Like" *throws up*
I am sure some of these articles floating around are brave confessions from those that have an anxiety disorder, but I personally have not been able to identify with even one of these pieces. It is as if they were written by someone who is merely imagining what anxiety feels like, and then exploiting these peoples to get shares and likes online. Furthermore, although sometimes I may be frustrating with my irrational fears, times when I can't get out of bed, or crying without knowing why, something that I have never felt is apologetic. Or like I couldn't be loved. We can educate others so that the stigma against mental illness in America is erased, but we should never feel like we have to be sorry or justify anything that we feel to our families or loved ones. It is not heroic to love or "deal" with us.
So finally, 10 Things That Anxiety ACTUALLY Feels Like (to me):
1. Like every embarrassing moment or small conflict you have had from the time you were in kindergarten until your present life are ingredients in a soup that is constantly cooking in your brain that you are also being forced to eat nonstop, every day.
2. Like the scared or bad thoughts are a song that you can't get out of your head no matter how hard you try, or want to think of a better song. One time when I was younger, I went to my mom crying in the middle of the night because I couldn't get the Winnie the Pooh theme song out of my head. She rolled over, sleepily, and said "Just think of something else". I eventually fell asleep, only to wake up two hours later with "Here in the hundred acre wood.." being the first thought I had. Irrational feelings can be like that.
3. Like there is a super intense game of "Would You Rather?" going on in the back of your mind all the time. The players are too loud, and won't be quiet no matter how many times you ask them to. Some of the best questions are, "Would you rather die in a car accident or get a phone call in the middle of the night that your family all died in a car accident?" and "Would you rather someone break into your house and kill you while you sleep or be in a mass shooting in public?"
4. Like the episode of Spongebob when he has the ability to walk into other people's dreams. You think of five alternative, horrible situations, and feel out of your body as you are able to vividly experience each one.
5. Like you are in a game of "Telephone", with everyone whispering and the phrase changing, but you have to sit in the middle of the circle and aren't allowed to play or hear what is being said. You see people laughing and participating together in a functional way, but you are upset and confused by what they are saying, and frustrated because you are left out. You assume that it is about you.
6. Like your ENTIRE Twitter feed is full of subtweets, that all vaguely describe or relate to you, even from people that you haven't met, or celebrities. You think "What could I have done to make everyone dislike me so much?"
7. Like you are trying to listen to your favorite childhood CD in your car but it keeps skipping and stopping when you are just trying to move forward with "Oops I Did It Again". You are frustrated and stuck and want to just break the CD in half since it is junk but know that you would regret that and are disappointed because you just wanted to hear the damn song and then overwhelmed with how fast your life is passing you by that this CD even appears as being "old" to you.
8. Like you are casually walking through the shallow end of an unfamiliar swimming pool and suddenly it slopes to the deep end. Everything was fine and relaxed while you enjoyed the water kissing your shoulders and the sun warming your head, but you are now accidentally under water, scraping your toes across the floor to find the shallow end again, while swallowing water and trying to tread so that you don't drown.
9. Like your boss, professor, or any other authority figure is speaking to you in code as if they want to trick you. "We really appreciate your efforts here" seems like it has to have a double meaning, and absolutely anything they say to you is a test so that you should work harder.
10. Like you are standing by the window of a huge skyscraper. You feel the vertigo and your pulse quickens as you look at the cars below, scared of the height but then also wondering what it is like to fall, with only the clear glass separating you from a vast world and space that goes on for longer than you can comprehend. Except you experience this while on the couch, in the shower, or in bed, realizing that you aren't in a tall building at all.
I smile subtly as I finish this, for it feels like I have taken a chunk of words out of my chest and spread them in front of me for other people to sniff and poke. It feels good, and I kind of feel good. I hope that, like my essay I was so scared to put in the open before, someone can read this and think "Yes, I get this! Do you get this? It's going to be okay." And it is.
I hope that we all avoid the deep end of the pool as much as possible today.