So, here’s the thing.
Anxiety is mad physical. We forget that. Commonly, we talk about the emotional and mental toll that conditions like Generalized Anxiety Disorder take on us, but those of us in the know have a whole different take on things. I’ve written about physical symptoms of the different types of anxious days I have (and here), panic attacks, and the like. One of the things I’ve only sort of talked about is the tiny stuff. The stuff that I know, but that I don’t really articulate to other people.
I write a lot about how I want to see my friends more. And I do. Part of me misses being 23 and staying out until all hours of the night and saying yes to basically any time my friends wanted to get together. I say no a lot these days, and it makes me feel like I’m a shitty friend. I’m trying hard to reconcile that feeling with that fact that being social takes a lot out of me. It makes me physically and mentally tired, even if I’m not talking that much or going that far from home. I went to brunch with my family recently, and even though I didn’t say much, I was dead tired when it was over. The sound, the stimulation, let alone the making conversation and being funny – it’s a lot. Add to that the layers of anxiety that can come with some situations, like only knowing one person at a party or a first date – am I talking enough? Is what I’m saying weird? Do I have food on my face? Oooh, I like this song. Wait, isn’t that that guy from that one time? Oh shit, I wasn’t really listening, what if they think I’m an idiot from the way I just responded? – and it’s like there’s no way to win. It’s hard for people to understand that anxiety makes you more sensitive to your physical environment and so it impacts you more. And it’s hard to explain. How could you not feel stupid when you say actually I don’t want to go to that bar because the tables are too close together and they play stupid music. I mean, who wants to hang out with that person? But it matters. Those little things can spiral very quickly, and it takes a lot of practice and patience to be able to ignore them. I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping them in check, but that doesn’t mean that being in a loud, crowded place is any easier or more comfortable(see Thanksgiving 2016). It just means I’m better at hiding how I feel.
I’m so thankful that the dude has a similar MO. Some of our best days together have been days where we’re doing our own thing, punctuated by little conversations and cuddles, maybe a meal and an episode of whatever we’re watching or a walk. He so gets that I have to have that quiet time in order to not be a ball of anxious rage, and he lets me have as much as I want. He never resents me for it, and he’s never upset when I ask for it. And it works both ways. I don’t begrudge him an afternoon spent playing whatever game he’s playing or a train ride reading instead of talking to me, because I get it.
My family is very ALL FAMILY ALL THE TIME when we get together, and it’s both amazing and difficult. I love that we go do things together: we go to museums and the beach and we cook meals together. We play games. We go for walks. We go on trips. We volunteer our time or pool our resources to help people. I love that. I love that my family makes an effort to see each other often and to provide similar opportunities for others. But I definitely have a hard time with how little alone time I get when I’m on vacation with them. Sometimes it feels like there’s no way around the anxiety: either I feel anxious because I’m not getting any alone time and I’m overstimulated and tired by the end of it, or I end up sequestering myself and then not spending time with the people I got on a plane or train to see. It makes me feel trapped in my own body, and a lot of times I fall into the trap of comparing myself to others and feeling guilty for wanting to be by myself for a little bit.
Anxiety can be the starting place to all kinds of emotions, and in those of us with anxiety disorders, emotions are often heightened. Because we feel things to sharply, we live in this world that’s perhaps more beautiful and more difficult than what other people experience. Case in point: a text message from the dude, even if it’s about how we’re out of milk, makes me grin like an idiot. It’s such a small thing, but it makes me so happy because it tells me that he’s thinking of me, and that I’m his partner. He’s not asking me to do him a favor; he’s asking me to contribute to our well-being. He’s asking me to be in this – whether “this” is buying dairy products or, you know, life – thing together. And that’s awesome. On the other side, I can say something offhand without really thinking about it, and then apologize like 14 times (seriously, ask the dude. I apologize a lot) because the anxiety’s got me ruminating about it.
Ok, I just reread that paragraph, and if you really want to know what anxiety is like, that’s part of it. It’s seeing a million different things in the sentence “can you get milk on the way home?”. It’s feeling guilt/remorse/frustration over that thing you said that, tbh, probably didn’t even really register for that person you said it to. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve apologized to the dude or to my work boo and they’ve been like “what are you talking about?” Anxiety is the ability to persuade yourself of anything, because you know exactly what to say to yourself to push your buttons or to rationalize you own – or someone else’s – behavior.
While I don’t struggle so much with the daily physical anxiety stuff, clearly it affects me (and more than I realize) when I’m with a lot of people and/or in a loud place. I keep a list of things I want to work on in relation to anxiety, and this is the top of it. (I’ll share the list soon.)
Tips? Suggestions? Questions? What works for you? What doesn’t work? The more ideas and suggestions, the better.