Friends with Benefits: My Anxiety and I
My journey with anxiety and how I shifted the narrative for myself.
I can't tell you when exactly I had my first anxiety attack. I can't tell you when I first felt its clutches on my life. However, I can tell you the first time that I knew I needed to get help.
Last year was a rough one, for sure. My grandmother died, and I didn't go to the funeral. I got diagnosed with so many conditions, illnesses and disorders that I forget them all, to be honest. But it was one of those long days, that stretched into even longer nights, that I got the first glance into the haze that was my anxiety.
It woke me up. The time read: 2:33 AM. My heart was racing, I was sweating and I thought I was surely dying. I took time and remembered to breathe. "Count backwards... 10... 9... 8..." My heartbeat slowed down but my mind was going just the same. "What the fuck was that?"
I had never really deemed myself a sufferer of anxiety. I frame it that way because I'm a Psychology major. I studied the human psyche and human behavior, and, to my foolish mind, I didn't have these problems.
I've always believed in the power of anxiety and its' physical and emotional effects on the body. I just simply believed they didn't happen to me. For months on end, I would take hours to fall asleep after I crawled into bed, and when I finally fell asleep, I would be awakened in the middle of the night, heart racing, palms sweating (no Eminem). Electrical pulses that went up and down my body, pains and aches all over. I felt as if I was testing the beta version of my life on a video game console.
I'm an optimist, and generally enthusiastic of the future, but this anxiety was taking over my life. Days stretched into weeks, that stretched into months. I had been in and out of emergency rooms, in and out of buildings that screamed out "URGENT CARE." Nothing had stuck.
Nothing had stuck until one doctor told me to stop. Of course, that didn't stop me, but it was the way that this doctor listened to me, really listened to my ailments, and calmly told me that there was nothing wrong. He gave me an anxiety survey (I'm assuming the results confirmed everything he needed to know). He prescribed me an anxiety medication, and we all know that these medications are far from the end from the end-all, be-all for people and their struggles. But for me, this was the first sign that someone believed I truly wasn't out of my mind.
I took the anxiety medication, which helped me physically come back to this Earth. I no longer felt so dizzy, the heart palpitations calmed and I was finally able to remotely focus on my interest in popular culture and in politics. This is what my general anxiety looked like.
My death anxiety... she came later. I'm not sure when that started either. All I know is that one day, I was fully capable of grasping death and the ways that it took people from my life, family and friends both. Nothing.
And one day... it was everywhere. Death was surrounding me. I was, all of a sudden it seemed, unable to deal with the idea that I would die someday. It was all over the news in the form of obituaries and in the "In Memoriam" specials that kept playing before the beginning of the new year.
I felt physically and emotionally distant from my friends and my death anxiety kept getting worse. I kept telling myself that there's no way I could be THIS anxious about death.
But that was the problem.
With both my health anxiety and my death anxiety, I felt as if I couldn't be this stressed out. The problem is that I was listening to societal expectations, "experts," and the people around me were saying.
The problem was not to say I couldn't be this anxious but to lean into it. Lean into the fact that my anxiety made me uncomfortable and tell myself that that's okay.
My anxiety that woke me up in the middle of the night, told my body (right or not), that I needed to wake up and in that moment when I feel paralyzing fear I need to stop telling myself that there's nothing to be afraid of, because that isn't true. There's plenty of things to fear out there, and things that will always cause my mind to overthink and overreact and signal a fight-or-flight response and that's okay.
While my body is definitely causing me harm, it's trying. The more I've learned to listen to myself the better my overall wellbeing has been. I write down my fears and learned to goal set for myself to optimize my time and figure out the person that I want to be.
My anxiety and I are never going to be best friends, for sure, but I think it's enough that my body is trying to keep me out of harm's way. I long to be at perfect homeostasis and achieve a perfect balance one day, but no one has it together 100 percent of the time. I no longer see my anxiety as a deterrent, but rather view it as a reminder that I'm alive; I am wonderfully, painfully and hopelessly alive and that's enough for me.