Hey everyone! Today we have a guest post written by Heidi Scheuermann of Wandering Thespian. As someone who lives with anxiety, I find this to be very insightful and well thought out. Please enjoy!
I’ve lived a pretty great life so far. I had the good fortune of growing up with parents who are still together – a rarity these days. I have a brother and sister who I actually get along with. I’ve traveled quite a bit more than most people I know. I have an amazingly wonderful and supportive group of friends. Since I’ve been able to drive, I’ve always had a car to get myself around in. I attended private school, and then went on to get both an undergraduate and graduate degree. I never really struggled to learn, and I’ve always been able to keep a job. I have it good. Heck, I have it GREAT. But the thing is, I have anxiety.
“Anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure” (American Psychological Association).
But, how can someone who has a so-called perfect life have anxiety?
There’s this thing called cortisol. Cortisol is a chemical hormone that helps to boost your energy, keep your blood glucose levels even, regulates your metabolism, maintains your immune system, and keeps your mind in focus. When your cortisol levels are out of whack, lots of health problems can occur… including anxiety.
You see, the thing about anxiety is that it’s real. We can’t see it. But it’s real.
Ok, so anxiety is real and whatever, but doesn’t everyone get anxious sometimes?
Absolutely. But, the kind of anxiety I’m talking about goes beyond what’s normal. I’ll give you an example… you’re at a party and that cute guy you’ve been checking out all evening comes over to talk to you. You’re blood starts pumping, your palms get a little sweaty, and you kind of feel like you may puke. You talk to him for a few minutes, and eventually that feeling goes away. That’s normal anxiety.
Abnormal anxiety… typically when diagnosed by a doctor it’s called Generalized Anxiety Disorder… won’t even let you go to the party in the first place.
I’ve been in this situation before. A friend invited me to a Halloween party a few years ago. I was so excited! I picked out a costume, put it on, did my hair and makeup, felt fierce as hell, and minutes before I walked out of the door I had a complete meltdown. My heart was beating so fast and I had so much acid reflux that I felt like I was having a heart attack. I was crying… ugly crying to the point of hyperventilation. I was grinding my teeth, and all of these thoughts about why I shouldn’t go to the party started flooding through my mind in a matter of seconds.
“No one will like you. Your costume is stupid. You’re short and everyone’s going to think you’re a kid. You’ll just wind up sitting in a corner by yourself with no one to talk to. But, ugh, what if someone does want to talk to me? Then I have to think of something to say, and it has to be funny. I have to make people laugh. I have to entertain them. But, I don’t want to entertain them. That’s too much pressure. What if I eat too much? What if I spill my drink? I’m just going to embarrass myself. I can’t go. I can’t do this. I’m not going.”
I never did make it out of my front door that night. What’s worse is I then started having anxiety about the fact that I was having anxiety over a super fun party. It was a never- ending vicious cycle. And, no, I couldn’t tell myself to just stop thinking those things. It doesn’t work like that.
That was two years before I was ever diagnosed. I suffered in silence for so long because I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I knew something was off. Something wasn’t right. But, I didn’t know what. And, I was embarrassed.
When I was finally diagnosed I was both relieved and scared at the same time. Relieved because the beast finally had a name and I could call it out and face it. Scared because I didn’t know how to tell people, I was worried about what other people would think, and I was nervous about daily medication.
The thing about anxiety is that medication is not a cure-all. There is a stigma that people who are medicated because of anxiety are just sticking a band-aid on the wound, and not getting to the root of the problem. This is false. What medication has done for me is to reduce the physical symptoms of my anxiety so that I can think clearly enough to work my way through whatever is giving me anxiety in that moment. There is no shame in this.
The thing about anxiety is that you cannot wish, pray, or meditate it away. If you are a person of faith, prayer and meditation are wonderful tools to help you focus on what is good, rational, and healthy. But, prayer and meditation are not cure-alls either.
The thing about anxiety is it helps to talk about it. Not only can a counselor help you to figure out what’s going on, but he or she can give you the weapons you need fight this dragon – journaling, breathing exercises, guided meditations, fidget objects, worksheets, and some solid conversation. But, counseling also isn’t a cure-all.
The thing about anxiety is that it’s not a virus or bacteria. It’s not something that you spread to other people, and it’s not something you can just get over. There is no cure because it is not a disease or a sickness. While anxiety is technically considered a mental illness, I do not believe that those with anxiety are ill. I believe that we think differently. I believe that we feel deeper. I believe that we are more sensitive to, more in-tune with, emotions that every human experiences. And, because of that, our bodies overreact causing symptoms that we cannot control.
The thing about anxiety is that it has become one of the best things to ever happen to me. I have become more self-aware. I have become more empathetic. I have learned to overcome certain fears that are irrational. I have replaced nervous habits with good ones. And, I have allowed my friends and family to get to know the real me.
If any of you out there have anxiety, know this: You are perfect just as you are. Do not be ashamed. Do not be afraid. Get out there, and go conquer the world because the thing about anxiety is that is holds no power over you.
I’d like to thank Heidi again for her guest post! You can find Heidi and her blog at the links below:
Blog: Wandering Thespian