Earlier this week, I was driving around, and my boyfriend and I were talking about what we were like in high school. I was flip-flipping around, trying to describe how I used to behave, and I was surprised at how foggy my memory of myself at that time was. The one thing I said confidently was how the thing about myself that’s definitely stayed the same is my anxiety. Anxiety? I couldn’t think of anything more positive than that? I was disappointed in myself.
I remember the friends I had in high school, the fights we had, the movies we watched together, which boys I liked (and there were a lot), the jazz band, school plays and when I was kind of on the swim team…but the memories that stuck out to me in that moment were my anxiety attacks.
Especially toward the end of high school, I remember just crying and crying and crying. My mom would ask what was wrong and all I could do was yell at her, “I don’t know!” There wasn’t much my parents could do to help me. Prior to that, I’d always had trouble sleeping, struggling to turn my racing brain off. In CEGEP I don’t really remember my anxiety, but I remember having really bad acne and a series of questionable haircuts – that’s enough. In University I was probably at my most anxious, and I started seeing a therapist at the health centre. I didn’t like the first one, and I stopped going. At some point I started having trouble getting out of bed – I felt emotionally paralyzed. My boyfriend was supportive, but I worried that I was depressed. I went back to the counselling service and I was told I had “symptoms of depression,” but the counsellor I saw never made a diagnosis in the year that I saw her regularly. When I went to grad school, I tried to transfer to their mental health service, but encountered a dismissive counsellor who said my panic attacks were “just” anxiety attacks, and basically sent me on my way.
Throughout all the talk therapy, I’ve tried yoga, jogging, journaling and a few other things that haven’t quite stuck. They’ve all helped somewhat. Some days I feel great, some days I feel like total and utter crap, and others are a mixed bag. I try to take them as they come. I never really know what to expect, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern, but I’ve noticed I feel worse during transitional times, or times of change.
Usually my anxiety manifests as a feeling that I am unable to do anything at all; it’s knowing that there are things I can do to feel “productive” or “better”, but being unable to conjure what those things are. It’s feeling guilty about “wasting time.” It’s a total incomprehension of the emotions I’m feeling. It’s a sense of being overwhelmed with the fact that I’m alive. It’s the feeling that I’m a burden and an inconvenience on the people who claim to love me. And finally, it’s a deep anger toward myself that I can’t shake these stupid feelings off.
Sometimes, when I’m lucky, those feelings are accompanied by a deep self-awareness and the knowledge that I’m not the only person who feels the way I do.
I don’t know at what point I started defining myself by my anxiety (or whatever the heck is going on in my brain) and whether or not that’s even what I’m doing. I really hope that later in life I don’t see anxiety as one of my only consistencies – I hope that at some point I’ve conquered it and that it doesn’t even make the list. I hope I can replace it with words like: empathetic, compassionate, goofy and clever. I hesitate to post this piece, which is more revealing than I’m usually willing to be, but I don’t really care who knows about my anxiety. At some level, I know it doesn’t define me, and that you all see something more than my anxiety.
For all of you out there who also struggle with anxiety, what has helped you with it? I love to hear new ideas.