Google the term anxiety, and you’ll find no shortage of symptoms. But, what does it feel like to have anxiety; to live with it everyday? If you’ve never experienced an anxiety disorder, reading the symptoms alone may not give you a true insight into the way they impact people’s lives. That’s where I come in. My aim is to inform you how these symptoms can manifest and become crippling.
Picture the scene.
You are waiting for an interview. Your heart is racing. Perhaps your palms become sweaty. There are butterflies in your stomach. You’ve been rehearsing what you want to say in your head over and over. You’re nervous. Then, the interview is over and done with, and you feel fine again. Most people would think that’s a logical response to a stressful situation.
Now, imagine feeling like that for no reason at all.
Imagine feeling like that all the time, without a sense of relief at any point.
You’re right. It’s not.
Before I began taking medication to help with anxiety, that was my life. I would lie in bed at night and feel terrified. I would worry about what felt like a thousand things at once. These things could be completely illogical. I would worry about needing to use public transport, even though I walked to work. That would lead to me stressing about the fact I could hit by a car on my way to work.
Sometimes, I would think about the fact that everybody I know will someday die; that I wouldn’t be here eventually, and I would cry. Who wants to think about that before they’re going to sleep? Actually, who wants to think like that at all? I didn’t, but I couldn’t stop it. No reason or logic could calm me down. Other times, I would feel scared and not know why. At best, I could distract myself by listening to music or talk to my boyfriend, but it was still lurking.
During my shifts at work, I would constantly feel on edge because I felt like an obstruction. I would feel like I was in the way of customers, even when I was nowhere near them. Some days, it was too much, and I would go and hide in the toilets, or find an excuse to go to the stockroom. I had been working in retail for seven years, so why did I suddenly feel like this? Admittedly, this was a busier shop than where I’d worked in the past, but it wasn’t busy enough for me to feel like the world was closing in on me. Regardless, that’s exactly how it felt. Every day.
While you’d only maybe need to rehearse your lines for an interview, I’d have to do it with everything. If I went out to a restaurant, I would sit and practice my order over and over in my head. If I couldn’t pronounce something I wanted, forget it. I can live without it. On particularly bad days, I wouldn’t order at all – I’d tell my boyfriend that I couldn’t do it. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, I genuinely felt like I couldn’t. The words were not going to make it out of my mouth. Before going to the shop, I would try to prepare for every possible conversation I could have. Before I did anything, I would think of every possible bad scenario that could take place. I felt scared of everything.
How did anxiety impact my life?
I didn’t go out as much because I didn’t want everybody looking at me. I couldn’t get to grips with the fact that people were probably too busy with their own lives to notice me. They were going to stare at me, and I couldn’t have that. Usually, I have no issue going to get food shopping, and I love going for walks. All of that stopped. On my days off work, I’d stay safe inside and watch TV. I would do my food shopping online, or order takeaways. Whatever it took to stay inside, I did it.
Phone calls are not something I enjoy as a rule, but they became a nightmare. When it came to contacting my GP to make an appointment to discuss how I’d been feeling, it took me around 4 hours to make the call. I paced around the room, cried a little and tried everything to calm myself down. Nothing seemed to work. Worse still, the first time I called, I was told that the only upcoming appointment was a phone one, or on a day when I wasn’t available. I turned both down, hung up and burst into tears about the prospect of having to make the same call at a later date. I managed it, but did I have to go through the whole 4-hour process of gearing myself up to do it? Absolutely.
I felt like I was in everybody’s way all the time, but I felt tiny and insignificant, too. The world seemed so big and terrifying, yet so small. Small enough that, wherever I went, I felt like I was taking too much space. I didn’t deserve my place on this Earth. I convinced myself I was an inconvenience to everyone around me.
In social situations, I would barely say anything at all. I have always been shy, but this was different. The thought of seeing other people would sometimes reduce me to tears. What if my words came out in the wrong order? What if everyone laughed at me? I didn’t want to be around other people because there were too many opportunities to make a fool out of myself. If I happened to make a mistake, I would torture myself about it for days. One little slip up could lead to hours of internal torment; a never-ending cycle of “what an idiot, I can’t even string a sentence together.”
I would obsess over what I needed to wear because I believed people were going to judge me. I was terrified of what they would think. This often resulted in me climbing back into bed, pulling the duvet over my head and trying desperately to catch my breath.
I eventually left my job because I couldn’t handle getting up, going to work and feeling that intense anxiety during every shift. Not only that, but I felt like none of my colleagues liked me, so I convinced myself it wouldn’t matter if I left. They had never done anything to give me that impression, but it meant that I would turn up and barely say anything because I believed no one was interested. I felt short-tempered and irritable. Even when they kindly offered to have a leaving party for me, I refused, because it was another social situation that I couldn’t face.
I do still experience some of these feelings sometimes, but I believe that’s a touch of anxiety paired with the fact I’m chronically shy. Struggling with social situations isn’t new to me, but they became nearly impossible. While they’re still daunting for me, I believe it’s something I can continue working on, rather than thinking my best option is to never see anyone again. Through the help of my doctor, I am slowly starting to feel more in control.
So, what’s my point?
According to Anxiety UK, more than 1 in 10 people are likely to have a ‘disabling anxiety disorder’ at some stage in their life. The thing is, not everybody knows how to express what they’re going through, or don’t feel like they should.
I had two intentions with this post. The first was to give those fortunate enough to have avoided anxiety an insight into how it feels. I hope it makes us all a little more compassionate. The smallest task can become the biggest hurdle. People with anxiety are not consciously choosing to avoid certain things; they feel incapable of doing them. What’s easy for you can become impossible for us. So, don’t try to tell us to “push ourselves harder” or “just go for it.” We are trying to fight against it with everything we have, but we feel like it’s so much stronger than we are.
The fact is that I want to be able to contribute to a conversation without analysing every word I say or is said to me. There’s nothing I’d like more than to go out and not feel like my chest is in knots. If you think we are passively accepting what we are experiencing, you are wrong. Unfortunately, we have an illness which convinces us that everything is terrifying, so we feel like our best option is to not do them. I have spent hours torturing myself over why I can’t do things that other people can manage so easily. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed that I realised there’s a reason why I am finding it so difficult. Now, I’m working on it and it’s getting better.
My second was to share my experiences because I hope that somebody will read this, relate to it and understand the importance of getting help if they haven’t already. However, I know how difficult it is to ask for help. When you already don’t want to leave the house, why would you want to make an appointment where you’ll have to go and see a doctor? I hope you’ll be able to do it when you’re ready. I understand the courage it takes to make that decision, but you’re more than capable of it. It does make a difference, even if initially the only difference is helping you to understand the reason behind your emotions.
Although you probably don’t realise it right now, I want you to know that if you start today, in a few weeks, you’ll look back and thank yourself. You can and you will overcome this, but you can’t just wait for it to go away, or expect to do it by yourself. You are not alone. There are people out there who can help you if you let them. You deserve to be able to live your life without being plagued by such uncomfortable feelings. There’s nothing to be ashamed of.
If talking to a healthcare professional seems like too big a jump, try talking to someone who you’re close to. I did this, and one of the most helpful things my boyfriend did was offer to call the doctor for me and go with me to the appointments. I didn’t want to cause him any trouble, so I tried to do it myself. It doesn’t always work like that, and that’s okay. If somebody offers to do things like that and you feel it will be beneficial, take them up on it. Whatever it takes to put you in a better place, do it.
I am, and always will be, very open about the things I experience so if you want to ask me any questions, contact me.