These days, it seems like everyone I talk to has anxiety.
I don’t know if that’s because some of the stigma of admitting your feelings is dissolving, or if modern society is creating more anxious messes, or if I just associate with a particularly anxious bunch of worrywarts.
Regardless of the reasoning, it is what it is.
I’m feeling particularly anxious for a number of reasons right now. First, politics. Let’s not talk about that. Second, it has been nearly 8 weeks since I sent my manuscript to Dreamspinner Press. Their estimated turnaround is 8 weeks. I’ve started checking my email multiple times a day. I’m freaking out.
So I thought this week I would share a bit about my anxiety.
I made it all the way through high school, college, and grad school without realizing I had anxiety (and depression). I didn’t realize it was a real thing, and that I probably had it, and I should probably go to a doctor about it, until I was in my mid-twenties. I had a panic attack my freshman year of college but didn’t know what it was. A friend of mine who was big into frat house parties invited me to a college-sanctioned “paint party”. I was excited/nervous to go. I had not been to any parties yet. This was actually organized by the college so I figured it would be okay, not like the drunken orgyfests at frat houses every weekend.
So I went with my friend to this paint party. We walked into a building I was not familiar with. It was crowded. People lined the halls–halls which had been covered in black paper, the better to show the neon paints under blacklights. As soon as we walked in, some guys threw paint on us–okay fine, paint party, that’s the idea, calm down, calm down.
My friend headed straight for the dance floor. The room was dark except for a strobe light. She spotted someone she knew.
Someone handed her a beer.
She disappeared into the crowd.
I turned around to leave. I fought the incoming tide of people. A guy reeking of beer put his arm up on the wall beside me and started talking to me. “Leaving already?!” He spilled his beer on me.
I ran back to my dorm, got in the shower, and broke down crying uncontrollably.
When I told my best friend about this, hoping for comfort or understanding, she just said, “Why would you cry about that?”
I wish I had known in high school that I had anxiety, or even in college. I thought it was just me. I thought I just “didn’t like” doing things other people liked doing due to some kind of flaw in my personality. I wasted most of my opportunities in college because of anxiety.
If I had realized when I was 14 that I had a legitimate medical condition that was causing me to not want to engage with my classmates, maybe I wouldn’t have been so hard on myself. Instead, I dealt with self-deprecating thoughts until I was 22 or 23.
Why can’t you just do the things other people do? Why aren’t you like them?
Sure that club looks interesting, but you shouldn’t join. No one would like you.
You can’t start playing sports in high school. Everyone will be better than you. You missed your chance.
It is incredibly difficult to battle yourself. When you sit there thinking it’s “you” that’s the issue, it feels hopeless.
But here’s what I’ve discovered in the past few years:
When you realize it’s anxiety–it’s not you! It’s a thing, it’s a monster, it’s a dark shape in your mind that looms over your brain and pisses all over your life–you suddenly have a nemesis outside of yourself (figuratively speaking). When you can put a label on it other than “me,” when you can say “It’s anxiety” instead of “It’s just who I am,” you suddenly feel free.
I am not afraid of new situations. Anxiety makes me feel afraid.
I am not inferior. Anxiety convinces me I’m not good enough.
Anxiety is a sneaky little worm in your brain, but as soon as you realize it’s there, you can start to pull it out, expose it to the sun. And you know what happens to worms that spend too much time in the sun.