Quite often when I try to explain to people why certain situations and activities are excruciating for me, it’s not taken very seriously. In fact, even when I’m forced to go into deeper detail and explain that this is a problem for which I have had to seek professional help since I was a teenager (being forced to reveal that in itself is mortifying), they still don’t get just how deeply I’m affected. I’m aware that I am partially to blame for this. I work hard at appearing normal on the surface and silently fighting my body’s physiological responses to what my brain knows are minor things for most people. If I actually allowed people to see my actual responses, they’d label me as crazy. At least that’s my fear.
Why This Article?
Here’s the thing, I realize that I’m far from the only person who deals with this issue and likewise believe that many people who suffer from anxiety and panic disorders probably have friends and family who just don’t fully understand it. This is because having to go into the details which I am about to give, in itself, is a trigger. Thank God for this medium. It allows me to be a voice for myself, as well as others who may find it hard to explain to those around them just how visceral dealing with this is. I’m going to give very explicit examples of my own personal experience.
The Fear Of Revealing
I’m aware that even with the examples I am about to give, some people still just won’t get how deeply and uncontrollably this affects people with anxiety and panic disorders. Some people will read this and probably think you’re crazy and should be avoided. If you’re single, and explain to someone you’re dating that this is what you go through which is why you’d rather avoid certain situations, it could run them off.
By the end of this writing, I would like to achieve three outcomes
- To give those with a panic or anxiety disorder who can’t find the words themselves a voice and a resource. Maybe they’ll be able to share this article with family and friends to give them a better understanding.
- To give friends and family of those with panic or anxiety disorders a deeper understanding of what their loved one truly goes through in the hopes that family and friends will stop minimizing this issue.
- To show the world that although the very real mental and emotional struggles of those with panic or anxiety disorders shouldn’t be minimized, these people are still the same person they’ve always been to you.
Overly Crowded Places
It becomes physically difficult to breathe in crowds so large that you can’t move through without people touching you. Even pictures of such large crowds can make it hard to breathe. Strangers acting too familiar is extremely uncomfortable for me. For instance, going out on a first date and the guy keeps touching me on my leg or something, or trying to kiss me. Meeting someone new and they want to know too much too fast about my personal life can cause me to fall back from them.
Sometimes when I’m talking to people explaining things, even if it’s something so simple as how to use a particular item or do a particular thing, I get a lump in my throat that makes it hard to swallow and often times my voice will tremble, I’ll stutter, or have to fight back tears. It’s made me hate talking on the phone, or talking too much period. Often in my presence people think I’m being anti-social or think something’s wrong because I’m quiet when the truth is I just don’t always have the energy to deal with my bodies reaction to taking too much.
Being Put On The Spot
I don’t really like to be in the spotlight for the most part and I scream on the inside when people put me on the spot in front of other people for anything; even if it’s for something positive like recognition for doing a good job on something. I like and appreciate the recognition, but would rather receive it in private. It triggers a flight response in me that makes me want to either get away from the situation, downplay my efforts as much as possible, or try to put the spotlight on someone else.
If I’m driving somewhere unfamiliar or with too much fast moving traffic I sometimes begin to hyperventilate, have chest pains, feel light headed or nauseous and tears come to my eyes. In the past, there’s been times where I completely turn back from wherever I was headed to get back to a place where there was at least less traffic, and at best someplace I know. There’s even been times where I simply went back home.
My Home Is My Peace
I don’t really invite friends to my house or allow my kids to have company until I’ve gotten to know the people VERY well. The house is my safe haven from many of the things that trigger my anxiety so I feel most relaxed and at ease there. In the past when the kids have brought total strangers to the house, it’s made me so angry that it made me not want my own children to live with me anymore just to avoid them bringing anymore strangers into my home. As irrational as it sounds, it’s been times where just one of the kids bringing a stranger to my house has made me, in the moment, literally want to pack up and move out or put everyone out. Once the anxiety leaves, I feel like a horrible mother for having had those thoughts. Sometimes my brain cycles through all of the above in a span of a few minutes which can make me light headed or just shut down completely. However, there has been times where it’s lasted for days.
Getting To Sleep
I don’t sleep well at night sometimes because my brain won’t shut up or stop replaying various events throughout my day. I’m often angry at myself because of how I wish I could have better handled a situation, avoided a situation, or opportunities I missed because I couldn’t get that damned lump out of my throat, stop feeling nauseous, or like I was on the brink of tears. Even when I do fall asleep, every once in a while I have the most unpleasant dreams about these things and have found myself waking up with emotions so strong (fear, hurt, sadness, anger) that I spend half the day telling myself “Let it go. It was just a dream”.
Is That All?
This is by no means an extensive list. It’s just some of what I feel and deal with on a DAILY basis and I hate that I can’t control my body’s responses to things most people do without a thought. I hate it with every ounce of my soul because my brain knows these are such normal things yet my body overreacts to them and I cant just turn it off. It keeps me in my own head far too often throughout the day. People who are around me regularly often describe me as being in my own world quite often. I have learned some coping mechanisms to deal with it, and have listed them HERE. There are also some memes that very accurately portray life with a panic or anxiety disorder HERE.
How Does This Affect Those Around Me?
I try to keep whatever I’m going through on the inside completely invisible to those on the outside. More often than not, I’m successful in doing so. When I’m not, I guess it shows on my face or by how extremely quiet I am in those moments because people will ask me if I’m OK and I always say yes. I prefer texting over talking over the phone most times. There are times where I’ll opt out of certain activities (Sometimes at the last minute) either because I’m worried about being triggered, or because its just hard to pull myself away from the comfort of my home. If I’m out, and a situation becomes too much for me, I’ll take off or find somewhere I can be mostly alone. For the most part, most people would never know unless I told them.
What I want people to know is if someone tells you they have an anxiety disorder for which they have had to seek professional help and fight to cope with every day…. Believe them. Sure, YOU can brush it off but just know that no matter how much they want to, THEY can’t just brush it off, get over it, or any of the other insensitive things people tend to say because they simply don’t know any better. You can’t usually see their struggle, and even when you do see it manifested, your lack of understanding doesn’t make it any less valid.
These Are Your Family, Friends, Or Significant Others
Just remember, if a friend or loved one with a panic or anxiety disorder tries to explain to you why certain situations and activities are simply aren’t for them, take them seriously. We are aware that some of these things are minor, yet we can’t control our bodies reaction to them as much as we would like to. Most of us work hard at carrying on very normal lives by avoiding known triggers. Even if we face a trigger, most of us have developed coping mechanisms to deal with it. Whether you choose to understand or not, or use a newfound understanding to harshly judge us or not, we’ll keep pushing on.