“Anxiety” wasn’t a buzzword when I was growing up the way it is today. Maybe we just didn’t have a word for what was going on or maybe it wasn’t as common of an affliction. Everything’s so much faster-paced now and there’s so much instant gratification that it’s possible anxiety just wasn’t as wide-reaching back then.
I didn’t really hear the word until a friend of mine started going to therapy when we were in our 20’s and it was determined that anxiety was a good descriptor for what she was struggling with. I immediately considered it to be the umbrella term for all of her problems. Therefore, I decided that paranoia, psychosomatic symptoms, and constantly making excuses were what anxiety looked like. (I wasn’t totally off because those are certainly some ways it can manifest, but as you’ll see, it can also look very different from that.) Soon after first hearing the term, I met others who also said they had anxiety, and their symptoms were the same my friend’s. I’d mistake their public complaints for cries of help, and quickly discover they didn’t actually want help. It was annoying, infuriating, exhausting…and the label anxiety became a sort of repellent to me.
Depression, on the other hand, was something I knew well. It’s genetic and environmental, so if you’ve been following me long enough, you know it was unavoidable in my case. (I’m laughing. You can laugh too. Comedy and tragedy.) You know what else is both genetic and environmental? Anxiety. Cue the beginning of the spiral.
A few deaths in the family and a few health problems later, I started having legit panic attacks. And they were embarrassing, even though I hid them. I would think, “There’s nothing to panic about! Why can’t I get a grip?” After all, I have experienced some adrenaline-pumping reasons to panic in my life and at this time, all was calm. But these new symptoms were chemical, and possibly a result of accumulated and unresolved traumatic experiences. Take note: Trauma causes disruption to the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex, not to mention serotonin deficiency and dysfunction of its receptors. This is physical. Sure, behavioral treatments can help, in the same way that exercise can reverse type 2 diabetes. Does that make diabetes an imaginary illness?
Never tell a person with anxiety to calm down. It’s not always possible. There are, however, lots of lifestyle changes that can help alleviate symptoms. I might not have realized this if I hadn’t also struggled with health issues that caused me to be hyper-aware of what my body needed from me. When someone with chronic anxiety resists change for years, it’ll be time for you to sever that toxic relationship, but more on that another time.
The super-fun combo of depression and anxiety is where things really get interesting (and it’s very common, so you’re not alone if you’re dealing with it). Because life is not linear, I went through a billion changes and then my mom died. That’s when I experienced The Combo in full swing. And it was totally a which came first, the chicken or the egg situation because I was grieving. Grief is its own animal altogether. I wasn’t experiencing panic attacks anymore. Bouts of something close to mania? Maybe. While I felt physically tired and numb, my mind was like watching one of those cinematic, aerial shots of Shibuya or Times Square in fast forward. Nothing mattered and everything mattered at the same time. I had never wanted to live so much, and I had never wanted to die so much.
You know the horizon line? It’s definitely there but it’s also definitely not? Yeah, I existed in that space. If that’s where you’re living, I see you and I know that you see me too, in a way that others just can’t.
I felt like I was awakened to everything good and possible and magical, and also to everything evil and impossible and poisonous. I looked around at everyone living in bliss, complaining about the most benign things, causing drama out of boredom and I felt contempt. I felt confused. I stared at the sky a lot. I still do.
I sought out nature, as I have since I was little, because it brings me closer to God. Look at animals. Not a care in the world. They eat, they shit, they procreate, they die, and they don’t question it at all. See, then a human does that it pisses me off, mostly because I know they’re mindlessly destroying the world and have the mental capacity for so much more. But when an animal does it, I can see how they have to struggle so much just to do these basic things, often because of what we’ve done to their habitats, and yet they just keep going. I’m inspired by them to slow down and try to do less harm.
The point of all of this is to say that anxiety takes many forms and is probably most dangerous (Or mind-expanding? Or both? Who needs psychedelics with afflictions like these?!) when combined with depression. And I’m not trying to be the artist who needs conflict in order to create. I’m suggesting that bringing awareness to what you’re struggling with and learning how to live with it instead of resisting it can be the antidote. (Disclaimer: I didn’t say you should embrace a label, I didn’t say I was for or against meds, and I didn’t advocate for suicide. National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255)
In fact, the more I talk about this stuff, the more people come forward. Our conversations often go from crying to laughing, and I am a true believer that laughter is the best medicine- the more immature the better- which gave me an idea. I started a lighthearted podcast called Nervous By Nature because if I really think back, the writing was on the wall. I was born neurotic. You can listen to Nervous by Nature anywhere you get your podcasts, and yes, it’s explicit. It’s not as heavy as what I talk about here, but I have a feeling you’ll still find it helpful. Usually, I have guests on sharing their neuroses so we can all feel a little more normal.