Stories, skills, and positivity- to anxiety sufferers from anxiety sufferers.
It really snuck up on me.
I was always a pretty happy girl. I had many friends, lots of interests and spent about 50% of my time in peaceful solitude. I enjoyed my time alone and my time with friends and family. I was a high achiever throughout school, played many instruments, was on the lacrosse team, and had a solid friend circle.It wasn’t until I reached the end of my second year of my undergraduate degree that I realized I was withdrawing.
I would spend many hours in my room on social media, researching on the internet, and doing some light schoolwork. It started as a little bit of hesitance to go outside, leave my house. I didn't really get to know many people in my enormous classes, and my friends were past roommates and people I knew from high school, but I did not have the social motivation to go to class. Class time would approach, and I would feel the laziness of not wanting to walk to class. Sometimes, I’d make the excuse of doing work at home instead.
Eventually, I noticed a sense of fear creeping into these deliberations. I worried about walking by people on my way to class. My hair did not look perfect today and was a bit frizzier than normal, what would they think of me? I had a pimple that was noticeable through the makeup, would someone think I was ugly or dirty? Would they think I walked oddly? Maybe my shirt would lift up a bit and they would see muffin top. Could they tell I was struggling in this course? When I was in public, all I could think about was what others saw. I wanted to run home as fast as I could when class ended so I didn’t have to pass anyone. Walking into a lecture late was a panic-inducing ordeal, as I realized people would look at me. I spent at least an hour getting ready to leave in the morning, and all of this while trying to get into vet school.
I started noticing my mood deteriorating. I had a huge fight with a close friend, which instilled a bitterness in me. My extended family shattered at this time too, which made it hard to get up and go. Coinciding with this, I became fearful of social situations. I would dread meeting new people, and relied on alcohol to make parties tolerable. I found it hard to connect with my peers, and my friendships suffered. I spent almost all of my time and energy thinking about my social interactions. Things as simple as my replies to a casual conversation left my heart racing, as I over-analyzed the interaction and realized I must had gratuitously offended someone and that’s why they didn’t return my text message (I hadn’t, of course). I had a hard time following through on social commitments, and found myself simultaneous drained and very concerned about how not going to these social commitments would make other people feel. I started worrying about being “awkward”. Of course, awkwardness is inevitable when you’re dissecting everything that everyone else is saying and carefully structuring your replies.
Every time I became too anxious and depressed, I would bottom out and realize that I could be happy if I just tried harder. I would do my own “new me” reinvention. I’m going to take up mindfulness and meditate daily. I’m going to study every day, I’m going to go to all of my classes, be fitter. I would take on projects, make new things. Grow a vegetable from my bell pepper at dinner, make mine own clothing, clean the entire house to prove to myself that I could still do things and was a productive, worthy human being. All of these productive thoughts and good intentions would flood in and create a sort of “high” for a bit. But it was always short-lived, and I’d have to hit the ground with a new self-improvement regime to try and fix myself. I feel badly for the hamster on the wheel – this is probably exactly how he feels.
I have always had a supportive boyfriend. My mom and siblings are very involved, loving, and take good care of me. I’ve always had a lot of friends, with an intimate close circle and many connections. I have been so very fortunate in my life. It doesn’t stop it, though. It is like somewhere along the way, someone started to wrap a scarf around me. It was pretty subtle at first, but they kept wrapping layers and layers of fabric around me. It’s suffocating, it makes you feel totally helpless, and it really isolates you. You have many people who love you, but they can’t penetrate the layers of material that have wrapped in a sort of helpless cocoon. Yes, I heard you, but your words can’t touch me like they used to.
I thought accomplishing big life goals was a cure-all, like if I had just this one thing it would make me feel happy and secure again. But it isn’t true. Accomplishing a goal is not going to change your entire outlook on life, especially when you spend so much time reinforcing failure. I spent a lot of time trying to make my vision of the fulfilling life of an animal doctor with the reality – though rewarding, it’s not going to miraculously cure your bad feelings. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t hope. There are times when I am happy and at peace, and others where I feel a growing buzzing in the back of my skull as I convince myself how little worth and meaning exist in my life. When I am anxious, I have to struggle to be mentally present for my friends and it hurts my relationships (and my grades). My anxiety has taken its toll, leaving me feeling awkward, disengaged, and so alone.
I wish I could say that I have a Cinderella story ending, but anxiety just isn’t like that – it’s a thought pattern that takes years to form. Unfortunately it can also take years to undo, but again, there are always things to be grateful for. I really am so lucky that I have supportive friends, family members, and a good community. I hit my lows sometimes, but I manage it with the help of my doctor and my support network. I wish I had done this sooner, as there are so many resources available for people like me. I really encourage anyone going through this to seek out help. You are not unloved, you are not a failure, and you are definitely not alone.
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Katie McLean holds a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, and bases her anxiety aid in personal experience, as well as techniques that have been passed on to her by counsellors, friends, and fellow anxiety sufferers.