That Monster, Anxiety

My heart thunders in my ears.

The back of my neck tingles and reverberates down my arms, ending with the numbness of my fingers. My stomach churns and above it – where the chest should be – is a black hole sucking in light and dilating time. Each second stretches to infinity; ceaseless and silent. My muscles are coiled, my head is pounding, and within the infinity of each moment echoes the tremors of the world’s end.

The world rends in two. My loved ones are in a constant threat of dying horrible deaths. I will get fired from my job. My friends are plotting against me. Everything I love and cherish will be destroyed in one irreversible moment. Nothing can be trusted.

In this moment I need to fight or fly. That’s what these physical reactions – the numbness, the shaking, and the heart palpitations – are for: to protect oneself. But I choose neither and sink into the void instead. I let go of the tethers and let the waves swallow me in its turbulent chaos. I sink into the pain, my chest tightening and fingers shaking, and succumb to my fears.

In reality, this is all in my head. My physical self is stationary; planted at the office, on the subway, on the streets, wherever.  Everything on the surface is normal while what’s internal is churning and thundering. It doesn’t matter where I am because this internal discord follows me everywhere.

My burden is invisible. Generalized anxiety hides itself well, unless it escalates to an unmanageable point where I completely lose composure – other than that, I perform this act of “normalcy” very well.

I am a high functioning individual with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). I have a job, a long-term significant other, an apartment, and pets. I hide and manage this burden well. I am very fortunate for this ability, because for those who can’t manage it, it is devastating. GAD ruins lives. It destroys lives. It ends lives.

How did it all begin? Well, if my anxiety could be traced to its beginning, it would lead to my childhood home with dishes shattered across the floor and my parents’ shouting bouncing off the walls. My mother bouncing off the wall. Her tooth clattering on the hard-wood floor. In the din of my parents’ ire and violence, my anxiety was born.

At one point, it was meant to be a survival mechanism – the whole fight or flight response – but it spiraled out of control with repeat exposure and lack of healthy coping mechanisms. So even though I am now far (very far) removed from the threatening factors that necessitated the fight-or-flight response, the “response” remains more prominent than ever.

So with all my privileges surrounding me – my boyfriend, my job, my loving network of friends – I am unable to enjoy or appreciate them because of the rhythm of anxiety threading through my experiences. Nothing is ever good enough. Something is going to be bad. Something bad is happening. Something bad will happen. I ruminate, premeditate, and worry, worry, and worry.

I relived horrible events, real or imagined, in my head too many times. My head hurts constantly and I have chest pains. I cannot sleep. I have panic attacks out of nowhere.

I am a clenched fist that cannot let go.

Anxiety is destroying me. I need reprieve.

Often I think, when it hurts to be awake, wouldn’t it be better to sleep forever – to never be again rattled by the dreadful sensations thundering through my being?

But I pull back because I have too many factors holding me here. I cannot give up the real things I have because of the imaginary things in my head.

So I fight.

I fight to live. I fight to be able to live in the moment.

Over the years, anxiety convinced me that constant vigilance is the gatekeeper to bad fortune. I fear that by loosening my grip, I allow misfortune to flood through the gates.

But I realize now after years of therapy that, with all the premeditating and mental preparing, when the inevitable “something bad” happens, I will be even more ill-equipped to handle it.

I cannot predict the future. I cannot prevent bad events in the future.

So I need to stop the negative thinking. I need to stop reliving those painful memories and stop conjuring new horrible memories.

When a thought surfaces, I should stop and remind myself:

Is this thought true?

Is this thought important?

Is this thought helpful?

If the thought doesn’t fall into those categories, it’s not a thought that I need right now.

It may be many years, even decades, before I am completely freed from anxiety, but the light at the end of the tunnel is worth enduring the chaos now.

That monster, anxiety, can only chase me for so long.

When things get bad, I count to 100.

I remind myself that it’ll be okay.

I ask my loved ones to remind me that everything is okay.

Because everything will be okay.

Everything is okay.

 

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