All right. Okay. Fine. I know I’ve been skirting around directly addressing this for a while, but I feel like the time has come.
Let’s talk about anxiety.
Both Dawn and I suffer from anxiety, although it manifests itself in different ways. I won’t talk about how it manifests for Dawn, because it’s not my place to describe something so personal. For me, though, my strong introversion means that social anxiety is definitely a part of my issues. However, there’s a level of self-loathing that I haven’t even begun to understand the depths of that affects almost every aspect of my daily life: how I choose to dress, what I say, where I go, how I think others perceive me, what I’m willing to do for fun (whether I think it is fun or not, doesn’t matter). You see where I’m going with this.
It is interesting to note that Dawn and I each deal with our anxiety in different ways.
Dawn is more likely to talk to someone about her anxiety. She’s more likely to try to find the core issue right away and tackle it head-on.
I’m more likely to completely hide my anxiety to the point where it’s destroying me from the inside and no one knows until it’s too late.
It has taken me years to realize that it was anxiety that plagued me, though. Especially since I had never (and still haven’t) heard of anyone’s appearing in the same way as mine. I get the breathing difficulties, the clenched stomach muscles, the sickness, the sweating, the lost voice, the inability to sit still or inability to move at all. Those are par for the course. I even have that voice in my head that tells me that whatever I’m doing or thinking isn’t good enough, because how could it be? Look around at what’s going on and all the amazing people that surround you and smell the f**king coffee for once, Wilber! What I do get that others don’t seem to are flashbacks.
Now, I call them flashbacks for lack of a better word. It was a word provided to me by a helpful psychologist-in-training at a college-provided therapy series that I attended when I was finally ready. “Flashback” isn’t exactly appropriate for what I experience, but our language is limited. What else do you call a memory that bombards your mind with all the mediocre, embarrassing, shameful, sickening feelings of your past out of nowhere in the middle of the day?
My flashbacks usually only last a couple seconds, usually appear at a most inopportune time (example: when I’m driving or in conversation with another person), and only in the last two years have I been able to force myself to try to remember them after they happen. That’s right: I don’t really remember when I have flashbacks because they are over so quickly and the images are gone in a snap. However, I estimate that I am averaging between 1-5 per day, depending on stressful situations in my life and the location and people that I am physically surrounded by.
Every once in a while is there a long flashback, which plays like a movie that I cannot escape in my head. Those are easier to remember. The longer they are, the longer I have that taste in my mouth. You know the one. The taste of defeat and vomit and shame and the question of why your brain is doing this to you and the follow-up question of will this ever stop? Can it ever stop?
Now before I go any further, I have to tell everyone that my memories, while excruciatingly painful to me, are nothing compared to what others go through. They are not traumatic in the regular sense. I have not had great violence done to me or those I love. But, as my counselor repeatedly tells me, “everyone’s trauma is different,” so who am I to tell my brain that its spasming is absolutely nothing?
The first panic attack/flashback attack that I can remember was when I was about 14. I remember trying to tell one of my friends about it, but I had no idea what it was that I experienced or what I was feeling. So, I stopped trying to talk about it. I didn’t try to talk about it.
One of the biggest regrets of my life is that I didn’t open up to my parents about this while I was in middle or high school. How much suffering could I have avoided if I had known to reach out to the adults in my life for help? But the past has passed. Now I’m taking new measures. Now I’m talking to people.
My parents, to their chagrin, know about my struggles now, although it is still pretty difficult for them to reconcile the words that I say with the daughter they knew. My sister knows and supports me wholeheartedly. Dawn and our common friend Mer where the first people that I told in detail, back when we were lounging around a dorm room together. More and more friends have been brought into my circle of people who now know, to some extent, what I’m struggling with, and can support me should the need arise. And, as you all know, I’m also getting counseling.
It is amazing how just talking about it, opening yourself up to the world about the darkness inside, can alleviate some of the pressure of the cloud that presses down on your spirit. How much easier it is to climb each hill.
I have one form of anxiety. My experience is one story in many. Yet, it never fails to amaze me what we are able to accomplish when we come together with our different experiences and perspectives into a conversation. So, let’s talk about it. Let’s bare our souls to each other and find some solace in our different methods, counsels, and, most importantly, our fellowship.
Let’s talk about it.