Continuing from my last post, let us look at the main question: what is it like to have crippling anxiety? I consider mine to be “crippling” because it affects my ability to do simple tasks, like drive a car, for example, or sometimes just leave my home. Most people do not understand this and think I’m just lazy or that I need to change my way of thinking. That is not how it works — you don’t just wake up one day and think “gee, I’m really tired of this anxiety, so I’m just going to get rid of it.” My anxiety can vary from day to day, sometimes letting me be almost normal, and then, like a tsunami, it crushes me and I feel different.
There are many levels to my anxiety, and I’ve realized they are all related. Perhaps I have had it all my life, but it manifested in a different form until my brain suddenly couldn’t take it anymore. It was like a switch flipped in my brain, changing my “fight or flight” response from mostly fight to just flight. That was the change in 2016, shifting my frustrations from creating anger, which often makes me feel empowered, to feeling the need to hide.
There are three main emotions that come with my anxiety: anger, anxiousness, and depression.
My anger is much more than simply being mad at something. Some days it’s subtle, a general frustration at the world and everyone in it. The eye roll at the stupidity of mankind and the sigh of irritation at the annoying questions from others. It isn’t that something — or someone — makes me angry, it’s just how my anxiety manifested that particular day. I often wonder if this is the default mode of my brain — it certainly seemed to be up until 2014 when my ex-boss and then-best friend entered my world, along with many friends from Faire. I felt valued there, and that certainly does a lot to affect one’s mood.
However, I have discovered that, like the Sith in Star Wars, I find strength in anger. When I was extremely ill in 2016, it was after my then-boss had enraged me so much that I started to get better. That, and getting engaged to my then-boyfriend. Looking back at my life, anger has helped me to overcome many obstacles, but at a cost: I was often known as the angry one, which affected my relationships with others. People would avoid telling me things because they feared I would get angry, which puts distance in any relationship, especially close friends.
Some might think that being angry is not so bad. Again, these people fail to comprehend this part of my mental illness. I can handle basic anger — I’ve dealt with it most of my life and am much more aware now than when I was a violent teenager. It’s when that anger escalates into what I would describe as pure rage — that is, anger to the point that you have tunnel vision or feel the urge to smash things. Thankfully, I am not like my uncle or the monster in my family tree and do not have the mindset to hurt others. When I feel my rage, I retreat into solitude and avoid everyone to prevent arguments. As a child, I saw far too many arguments lead to violence, and I prefer to avoid becoming that type of monster. Instead, I remove myself before confrontation occurs and, if necessary, warn others not to follow, insisting that I need time to cool off.
I was able to shed much of my rage years ago when I started learning about Buddhism, and them eventually discovering Taoism, which fit my personal beliefs: nature is an unstoppable force and one cannot go against nature. I often wonder if I violate my own beliefs by suppressing the anger within, hindering my true nature. Realistically, I do not want to be that person — the one that everyone fears. A little fear is good and can create respect from those who tend to walk on others, but I see myself as the hero, or at least I like to think I am.
When my anxiety is in the anger stage, I feel frustrated with everything. The simplest annoyance can set me off and I struggle to find my inner balance. Usually these feelings are accompanied by headaches and the desire to be away from people, including those I care about. I feel the urge to punch things, wishing every time that I had a heavy bag to just let the rage out onto something designed to handle it. In the past, I have broken things, destroyed items that I once valued, and even stuck a screwdriver in the wall. Thankfully, I have learned to mostly control my rage and I often just sleep until it passes.
When I worked for the craft company, I would punch the upholstery foam in the back corner of the store, or I would stomp cardboard boxes flat or rip them to pieces with my bare hands to fit them in the recycling dumpster. Unloading a truck was usually a good way to get it out of my system, focusing my anger into strength to move heavy boxes off of the conveyor. Some of my employees found this fascinating, especially when I took it out on empty boxes outside next to the dumpsters. Perhaps they were a little surprised at how much anger I had within, or maybe they found it interesting to see that their boss experienced the tantrums often associated with toddlers. Some felt I was unprofessional, but I didn’t care — I needed an outlet at that job, and it wasn’t like I could sit and write, lay down and take a nap until it passed, or play a violent video game there at the store, which often helps me to cope.
Over the past two years, my anxiety has mostly been just a feeling of anxiousness or being on edge, as if something were about to happen. This is what makes it hard for me to leave the house some days, not wanting to be around others that I feel are judging me all the time. Sometimes it makes me irritable simply because I feel on edge and in a panicked state. My brain overthinks everything, running through the worst possible scenario for the simplest events. Something like my mom sticking her toe in the water the first time I saw the ocean: I knew it was fine, but my anxiety tried to tell me that by just touching the water, she would get sucked out into the ocean and die.
Again, people tell me “Well, you can’t think like that.” It isn’t that I purposefully think like that, it’s that The Anxiety does. I do not see my anxiety as my own mind, but as another entity that lives within me and controls my movements, my reactions, and the pictures in my head. I understand logic and reasoning, but The Anxiety does not. In every situation, The Anxiety picks the worst possible outcome and projects that in my head as if that were the only possibility. No matter how many times I tell myself “No, that isn’t what’s going to happen” or “this really isn’t that bad,” The Anxiety argues with me, telling me that I’m wrong, and then it forces me to see that tragedy is the most likely outcome.
The Anxiety is the worst part of my mental disorder. It’s what controls much of my actions, thoughts, and feelings. It’s what makes me think that I can never do simple tasks, or that I am not good enough for jobs, or any number of thoughts and actions, or lack of actions, that hold me back from achieving greatness. So many people commented over the years that I am “very smart,” but The Anxiety prevents my intelligence from taking control. It beats on the inside of my head until I can only see what it wants me to see, and then I end up in a downward spiral toward depression.
My head is so full of noise, as my doctor called it, that if a stranger were to enter, they would be so overwhelmed they would likely go crazy. Thoughts pop up at random — sometimes they hang around for a bit, sometimes they disappear, and sometimes they come back later for no reason. We can have a conversation right now and in three hours I’m going to randomly say another thought related to that conversation, even if we are doing something completely different. I dwell on thoughts or actions, sometimes for years, and overthink everything. Remember the Nike slogan “Just Do It”? Yeah, I cannot. I have to think about it for hours, days, months, and then maybe I will do it.
I always assumed this was normal and that everyone had this in their head, but then I learned that I not only have anxiety, but ADHD, or at least a mild form of it. I struggle to pay attention — always have, unless it was something really interesting to me. I will set out to do one task, see something else that needs done and start that, then another, and another, and so on until I either regain focus on my original task or give up. Even tasks I enjoy, like when I have the urge to sew: I see a thousand things that need attention just on the way to my sewing machine case. It becomes overwhelming to the point that I often spend hours debating what to do, or even debating if I have the energy to do any of it. When I do settle on one activity, I often get so involved in it that I forget to eat or drink, or sometimes even sleep.
I have thoughts constantly rushing through my mind, like a person continuously rambling about everything in sight, unless I am focused on something in particular, like writing or playing a video game. My mind can best be described as a railroad system that has at least a dozen tracks in different directions that all intersect with each other. There are switch tracks in the middle that take all those tracks down to just two tracks for a few feet. Each track has a freight train speeding along toward the middle, narrowly missing each other at high speeds, horns blowing the entire time. Sometimes they collide and I sink into a depression, unable to do anything.
But the noise in my head isn’t the worst part. I’ve learned to handle all of that chaos by now, and I think that’s what creates great story ideas that I someday hope to actually put into writing. The Anxiety creates a feeling of being on edge at all times, like I’m waiting for an imminent attack. It creates a pounding in my chest as if my heart were about to leap out and run away. It creates shaky hands, even when I’m doing something exciting, like buying a new game system or going to a place I really want to visit. It also makes traveling to those fun places nearly impossible. It makes me cry a lot, making me feel that I am always on the verge of tears and forcing me to hold them back, even during normal conversations. It’s an overall sense of impending doom, like the world is about to end and no one else cares. It’s feeling that everything is up to me, creating the weight of the world on my shoulders.
It’s as if I were a star about to explode inside the body of Atlas. Or like a comet heading toward the sun, knowing that you are about to die, but there is nothing you can do to prevent it. It’s a feeling of helplessness combined with feeling that you have a million things to do, and yet you cannot muster the strength to do just one because everything is too overwhelming and you know that you are going to screw it up.
Anxiety is the thing that saps your will and your strength to do anything.
Most people understand depression, so I’m not going to describe it in as much detail, but many do not realize that it often comes along with anxiety. When The Anxiety takes over my mind and those freight trains collide, depression begins. For me, depression is a feeling of hopelessness and sometimes, though rarely, the feeling that I am useless and that I am a burden on others. This isn’t helped when people in my past have hinted that I was not worth anything, keeping me in a level of anger and depression that prevented me from breaking the cycle. Eventually I realized that those who make comments like that are trying to make themselves feel better and trying to deflect from their own flaws, but telling someone they are useless or a burden on others can be seriously detrimental to someone who is already struggling with their mental health.
After I had my total hysterectomy in 2019, much of my depression went away. I was glad to be rid of it and assumed it was a side effect of the estrogen that was apparently trying to kill me. Unfortunately, when my anxiety gets caught in a loop, it usually spirals downward into depression. At its best, it keeps me in bed with no desire to do anything other than sleep. At its worst, I think of ending my life and wonder what would happen to my pets.
In the past, I have always looked to my pets as a way to hang on to the will to live. I know they rely on me and I know that they would miss me, so they are what keeps me tethered to the living world. Sometimes going outside helps — part of my natural self is to be outside among trees and nature. In the past six months, I’ve felt the suicidal thoughts assault my mind at least three times, but somehow it was always a day when I could hear nature. Birds, crickets, the wind blowing through the trees — those were enough to bring me back. Outside, the scents and feel of everything in nature seems to give me life.
I often wonder if I would do best living in a cabin in the woods, away from mankind, but the fear of getting Lyme disease again keeps me away, or at least until the vaccine they are developing is ready for the public. All I know is that when I was a kid, I was always happiest when I was outside. Even on rainy days — my friend and I would sit on the front porch, listening to the rain and watching the puddles form in the yard. I still love the rain — the sounds, the smell, and the growth that it brings to my garden. It’s as soothing to me as the sounds of cicadas in late summer or, the most soothing sound to my ears, the song of the katydid in Central Pennsylvania.
About the Creator
I am a gamer, a geek, a writer, an entrepreneur, and a gardener, among many things. I have a lot of knowledge and opinions to share with the world, along with creations from my chaotic mind.