I’ve been sick for a few days, and although I’m finally back at work, the fact that I’m not feeling 100 percent better has me on the verge of an anxiety attack.
I’m sitting at my computer in the office, headphones in, likely looking pretty normal to my co-workers, but I’m desperately trying to calm the swirling worries in my head that I know are irrational:
This sick feels different. I’m shaky and weak. That’s surely a sign of something abnormal.
I’ll never be able to sleep tonight. Then, I’ll just feel worse.
My heart is beating too fast. TOO FAST.
Stop obsessing. You’re at work. There’s nothing wrong. Deep breaths.
But this sick just feels different. And why hasn’t it gone away yet? Something has to be really wrong.
Rationally, I know that I’m likely just still recovering from one of the many illnesses that are going around.
But that’s the thing about anxiety. It is irrational.
And if you don’t have anxiety, you probably don’t fully understand that.
There have been a couple of pieces in national publications on this topic that prompted me to tell my anxiety story.
I’m always pretty open about it, even though it makes some people uncomfortable.
Being honest about it helps me cope, and-I hope-it helps other people understand and accept it.
I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember,but when I was a kid, my family called it “my worrying.”
I started worrying long before I knew how to express what I was really feeling, which was prolonged, intense, irrational fear/worry/agony about anything from health to getting in trouble at school.
As I grew up, I realized my feelings and thoughts weren’t typical. Everyone didn’t worry like this.
Once in elementary school, when I was in P.E., lying on the floor doing my daily stretches with my class, I accidentally touched something wet on the floor. I looked over and it was red liquid.
My face immediately felt flushed, and I was overcome with panic.
BLOOD. Oh, my God. That’s blood. I have touched someone else’s BLOOD. That’s it. I’m done for. I have AIDS now. How will I tell my mom about this? How can I tell her I have AIDS?
I didn’t even really know what AIDS was. I vaguely knew that it was a disease transferred via bodily fluids and that there was no cure.
Although my anxiety does often center around disease (and I guess, ultimately, death), that’s not the only type of anxiety I have.
Even though I’m a reporter whose job it is to speak to strangers on a daily basis, and despite the fact that I probably seem relatively outgoing, I also have social anxiety.
The thought of certain social situations can paralyze me. It can make me physically ill. (Oddly, I can speak in front of a group most any time without anxiety. It’s other, seemingly more normal situations that give me anxiety. Go figure.)
Sometimes, the anxiety manifests in a full-on, can’t-catch-my-breath, room-spinning panic attack.
Other times, I get flushed, sweaty, clammy, jumpy and withdrawn; and my mind races to find a solution to a problem that I’ve made up in my mind.
And I don’t know if this is typical of anxiety attacks because I don’t allow myself to Google such things (coping mechanism: do NOT Google medical symptoms); but often, my anxiety attacks come with giant, uncontrollable tears.
Then, of course, having an involuntary physical reaction causes panic on top of panic.
The panic attacks are difficult to explain, in part because when it happens I feel so out of control and disconnected from my body that it’s hard to remember the details of it later.
Thankfully, my anxiety doesn’t always come with such extreme physical distress.
More often, my anxiety is a continual, very uncomfortable, somber feeling of worry when there is absolutely nothing logical to worry about.
But I’ve learned to manage it, and with the help of medicine, major anxiety attacks aren’t that frequent.
And the relief I felt after being diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder was monumental.
I can take medicine for this!?! I don’t have to live in constant worry!!?? My life doesn’t have to be like this!!??
I know that there are likely arguments against constantly taking medicine, but for me, anti-anxiety medicine allows me to have a much better quality of life.
People with asthma use inhalers. People with eye problems wear glasses or contacts. To me, taking medicine for anxiety is similar to those issues.
Maybe it’s just less understood or has more of a stigma. But I hope that anyone who is hanging onto a stigma rethinks that. I’ll be happy to talk to you about it, and I hope that people who know me would agree that having anxiety doesn’t make me some sort of monster, so it’s really nothing to be scared of or look down on.
Between the medicine and my own coping mechanisms, my anxiety doesn’t constantly hinder my life. If I weren’t so open about it, it might not even be outwardly noticeable to most people.
It’s just part of who I am. It’s something I laugh at whenever possible. The irrationality of it can be really hilarious.
But I can tell when people dismiss it as something I should be able to control.
I can tell when they are confused by it or uncomfortable about it.
And some people just seem indifferent toward it.
Sometimes, those reactions even come from people who I know care about me, and it can hurt my feelings.
But mostly, I’ve just learned to own it.
I’m not ashamed of it. I do my best to explain it and control it, but it certainly doesn’t define my personality or life.
And I’ve been very fortunate to have many people in my life who accept me and my anxious ways, even if they don’t fully understand them.
Writing this column helped reduce my anxiety about being sick-at least temporarily.
But before I started writing, as my mind was slipping into panic, I remembered that this level of worrying was abnormal because the medicine usually helps prevent that.
And then I realized that I called to get my prescription refilled a few days ago, but the pharmacist needed to call the doctor to get it refilled. And then it was the holiday. And then I was sick in bed for a couple of days. And before I knew it, I hadn’t taken my medicine in a week-and I was freaking out, man.
I called my pharmacist and doctor before starting to write because the thought of being out of my anxiety medicine made me break into a cold sweat.
But that’s the type of situation that makes me laugh.
What do you MEAN you can’t refill my anxiety medicine right away? Don’t you know how much anxiety that gives me!!???
Editor’s note: Chloé wrote this column Friday but has since recovered from her stomach bug.The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.
Updated @ 7 a.m.on 1/7/14 to correct a typographical error.