Mental health is a topic that has come to light more than ever in the last few years. While the resources potentially needed may not yet be in place, acknowledgement that mental illness exists is a big leap.
One of the most common mental illnesses is anxiety and is something that plagues me daily.
Anxiety is defined by the Mayo Clinic as intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations. This definition may sound like stress which is a normal reaction to many situations. The difference is anxiety interferes with everyday life.
Anxiety is something that has plagued me my entire life. I’ve always had poor self esteem and often interacting with other people was a terrifying situation due to fear of rejection. Most often I’d rather keep solitary than be with friends because I’m not good enough and if I try to make friends I’ll be rejected and that’s embarrassing.
I do know that isn’t true and I do have a few friends but that’s what it’s like to be in my head: you’re not good enough and they won’t like you.
Fast forward into career mode. I can’t write my own resume. I sat down with a professional resume writer who asked me what I was skilled in. I stared at him blankly. I’m not “skilled” in anything I thought. He had to pick apart questions from what are my skills? Which was overwhelming to what am I good at? To which I answered nothing. Finally we moved on to what do I know how to do. Hooray! A question I could answer. Listing my “skills” to me felt like bragging and what if someone says I’m not good at something? Then I’m a liar. Again, not at all the case, I do have talents but my brain tells me I don’t.
Over my 18 years in social work I’ve had several bosses. I have switched jobs a few times as have bosses I have worked for. In my experience there have been two types of bosses: ones that thank you and praise the work you do making you want to do more and those that no matter how hard you work it’s not enough making you work to try to please them. There were times that I was highly complimented and I could do no wrong and there were times where I could do no right. I underwent public humiliation, had my peers come to me informing me my superior complained to them about my job performance, I’ve had write ups for not doing things I’m not legally able to do and I’ve had witnesses to these acts tell me I should sue. I’m not singling out any employer as it’s happened on more than one occasion. I’m also not saying I had bad bosses as each boss was an excellent leader, their style just was not effective for me. I would skip meal breaks to work, let my insulin pump run empty because now wasn’t a convenient time to change it, stayed overnight at work to accomplish huge tasks I’d been given with minimal deadlines. I worked myself until I was physically unable to work anymore and on more than one occasion wound up in the hospital because everyone else was more important than my own health. Even then I answered messages from my hospital bed because the show must go on. My brain tells me everyone else is more important than me, they matter more than I do. Truth is, I matter too. I know that I matter yet my brain tells me I don’t.
Dating with anxiety is an adventure. Many I have chased away when they have confessed feelings yet I thought they were joking. Some actually became angry at me. My track record of relationships has been those who have struggled in life. A list of men with substance abuse problems, inability to hold a job, co-dependent on me for survival and unfortunately a couple of times abusive. Money went missing, other girls appeared, there was trouble with law enforcement all because my anxious brain says latch on to who shows me interest even though that interest is in what I can offer rather than who I am. This concept I am still working on. Stable people are friend zoned because I feel they will reject me otherwise while if I dare to proceed elsewhere I quickly sabotage it. I’m told confidence is sexy however I live in awkward.
At one time joining a convent was a serious consideration so I could avoid the whole topic all together.
Now comes the biggest cause of my anxiety. I was diagnosed a type 1 diabetic right before I turned 4. Over 30 years of self neglect from anyone with a debilitating chronic illness and bad things will happen. My lab levels are a mess, my kidneys are working at just 38% capacity making it difficult to flush my system, my arteries are narrowed so I cannot effectively pump blood through my system. These two things mean I’m carrying an extraordinary amount of fluid. My legs swell and sometimes leak. My left lower leg is quite painful always from a bad bout of cellulitis while neuropathy has taken over my right thigh. I have severe obstructive sleep apnea but good luck finding a mask for my C-Pap that doesnt cause a panic attack. I’m told I have asthmatic bronchitis along with the fluid overload so I become winded very easy. I was diagnosed with degenerative joint disease in my spine hips and knees. Something in my lower back is out of place and suspicion of some significant nerve compression means I hurt. I hurt a lot and it’s constant. I can’t walk any form of distance and I require frequent position changes through the day. I go from standing a very short while to needing to sit to relieve pressure on my joints to having to lay down and stretch because my joints lock up and my muscles seize. That’s what it’s like to live in my physical body, now my brain has to compute all that. I must fight for improvement while accepting reality this may be it and that’s terrifying.
Each of these aspects have been enough to greatly contribute to my anxiety but fact of the matter is it was there to begin with. I have irrational fears of odd things. I don’t leave my dogs outside in the fenced yard for long because bad things could happen if I’m not watching and I prepare for the apocalypse every time I leave my house. I don’t leave if it looks like rain and most often I just make excuses to not leave anyway.
I have horrible insomnia for the strangest reasons. Example: my cat catching a mouse and being afraid he would bring one to me in my sleep. Sleep offers the unknown and I don’t like the unknown.
Now, a lot of what I’m describing is a fair amount of depression for which I’m also medicated. the combination tends to go hand in hand but the anxiety is what keeps me hindered. I just always anticipate the worst and have to talk myself into better scenarios.
I’m on medication, I’ve used meditation, I put trust in the power of prayer. I have lavender essential oil rollers, several mineral stones handpicked by someone who knows what they mean, my pillow is sprayed with a calming scent. It’s not for lack of effort. Just, in my brain I have to talk myself out of worst case scenario and try to take a chance to live. It’s all exhausting.
I hope I’ve provided some clarity on your friend/ family/ coworker who suffers from anxiety. Although you’d like us to “chill out” and don’t get why we won’t now just know it’s not that we won’t, it’s that we can’t.