What People Don't Tell You About Growing Up With Anxiety

What People Don't Tell You About Growing Up With Anxiety

Calm was a foreign concept to me.


Anxiety is difficult to deal with no matter what age you are, but there are certain things that are different based on when you first experience it. People who first experience anxiety as adults have had time to form their personality and to experience many aspects of life. While this does not lessen the impact of that anxiety on them, they know who they are already and that is something that they can use to ground themselves. Developing anxiety as a child or teen runs much deeper into the personality of a person than developing it as an adult does.

There are habits that you develop as a side effect of the anxiety. Like holding an apple core for the entirety of an hour class because you don't want to draw attention to yourself by getting up to throw it out; or constantly needing reassurance from other people because you don't trust yourself anymore--not after your anxiety tricked you into thinking something was wrong all those times. I will ask someone five or more times if I look okay before leaving the house sometimes because my anxiety used to tell me that nothing looked good on me and I've gotten into the habit of asking. Confrontation is terrifying because it might end in a fight or with someone no longer liking me; this isn't because I am a self-centered person who needs everyone to love them, it's because I won't be able to sleep knowing that I was the catalyst in a fight. Nothing is simple; every action, conversation, and idea is thought through a million times over before it occurs; growing up with anxiety forced me to evaluate my every move.

You miss a lot of things if you grow up with anxiety and/or panic attacks. This is by no means anyone's fault, but is still something that I think about almost everyday. My anxiety was at it's peak sophomore and junior year of high school; a prime time in the life of a teenage girl. And it controlled a lot of my life even if it didn't seem like it to the outside world; I said no to plans a lot because I was afraid I would have a panic attack while I was out. I claimed I was busy, which I was, but not in the way I'm sure my friends imagined. I didn't really come into myself as a person until my senior year of high school and well, now, my freshman year of college. My mind had been so focused on the anxiety and just getting through it, that I did not have the chance to develop into a true person. I was there physically, but mentally it felt like I was completely out of control; when I thought of who I was, the first thing that came to mind was anxiety.

While things such as having difficulty telling the waiter that my order is wrong or not raising my hand in class are sometimes annoying to deal with, the hardest part of growing up with anxiety was when I finally started to feel better and less anxious. Calm was a foreign concept to me. Feeling "normal" or not anxious was alien to me; I had not experienced life without anxiety in a long time and it was a hard adjustment to make. Anxiety and panic attacks had left me on edge, so when I started taking medication that left me mostly free of them, I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. My body did not know what to do now that it was not in panic mode; I slept a lot for the first few days of taking meds because I was adjusting and finally able to relax. It was the most calming and simultaneously unnerving time of my life.

Growing up with anxiety, you are almost always in survival mode. The goal is to survive each panic attack and anxious moment and then hold your breath until the next one. Your brain is constantly on high alert and looking for the next threat whether it be real or imagined. Learning to come out of survival mode and to just live instead has been one of the most difficult parts of dealing with my anxiety. You have to reteach yourself how to relax and that it's okay to have a moment where your brain is not occupied--it no longer needs to be distracted in order to remain un-anxious.

The thing about growing up anxious is that you never had time to figure out who you were before you were anxious. When people say they have "recovered" from a mental illness, it is often interpreted as meaning that they have returned back to the person they were before they had developed said mental illness. For people who had a mental illness as a child, recovery involves inventing yourself completely because there is nothing to go back to. Growing up with anxiety has left me with side effects that I am still working to get rid of, but it also has made me who I am.

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9 Metaphors That Describe Anxiety To Non-Anxious People

Anxiety is difficult to explain, and even more difficult to understand.

Everyone experiences anxiety in one form or another. However, there is a large difference between having an anxiety disorder and feeling anxious every now and then. For instance, it is pretty common and typical for someone to be anxious before they take an exam, but becoming so anxious that they don't eat and decide to not show up to the exam at all could be a sign that that person has a disorder. Anxiety disorders themselves range from being mild to severe, and it can also depend on what triggers a person experiences and how often. In short, anxiety is a broad term that ultimately depends on the individual.

It can be difficult to describe anxiety to someone who has never truly experienced it like the people who have disorders do. Social media is full of attempted explanations, but there are still those people who tell us to "get over it," "don't think about it so much," and "there's no reason to be anxious." One of the biggest misunderstandings about having anxiety is that most of the time we know that there isn't any real reason to be anxious, and that our minds are overreacting. The thing is, though, it just feels impossible for us to turn it off and think logically in that moment. There's not a whole lot we can do.

Since that can still be confusing, I've compiled a list of metaphors and analogies that might make a little more sense to those who have never truly experienced anxiety before.

1. Anxiety is when you leave the house and feel like you have forgotten something but can't remember what it is, and worrying about it all the time.

2. Anxiety is the mini heart attack you receive when you're walking down the stairs and miss a step, but your heart never calms down and the butterflies remain in the pit of your stomach.

3. Anxiety is when you are watching a scary movie and you know something is about to pop out and scare you, but it never does, so you just keep waiting for it to happen.

4. Anxiety is taking the phrase "step on a crack, you'll break your mom's back" way too literally, and having to focus on where you step each time you go for a walk.

5. Anxiety is not knowing whether or not someone is being rude or just sarcastic, so you constantly wonder how they feel about you.

6. Anxiety is the feeling that someone is following or watching you, even though no one is ever there.

7. Anxiety is diving deep underwater, then swimming back up to the surface, but the surface is farther away that it seemed so you suddenly feel as if you are about to drown.

8. Anxiety is feeling like every day tasks, such as taking a shower, might result in your harm, even though reality tries to convince you otherwise.

9. Anxiety is the fear of fear.

Again, some of these might not apply to everyone that has anxiety, because anxiety is so different for everyone. I know that there are probably a million different ways to describe anxiety based on what each individual person is anxious about, so this list is just a start. If you are reading this and have anxiety, I hope you find comfort in the fact that someone can relate to what you feel. If you are reading this and don't consider yourself an anxious person, I hope that this gives you a better understanding of what people experience when they say they have an anxiety disorder. Either way, remember that whatever it is you're anxious about, the storm will always pass. Stay strong.

Cover Image Credit: Bustle

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What It's Like To Have Social Anxiety

It's more than just being shy.


Growing up, I always just thought I was a shy person. In elementary school, I realized I had a speech impediment or a stutter. I had my mom order for me at restaurants for a pretty good amount of time, I absolutely hated speaking in front of people, and I never really spoke in class unless I got called on. Even that, I dreaded.

As I got older, my stuttering got better. However, I began to notice it would get worse at times where I was nervous or anxious around people. For years, I didn't really think that much of it.

Until things weren't getting better.

Looking back, I can see that around the age of 16 is when my social anxiety really started to make a big impact on my life. It's natural for people to get a little bit of anxiety when doing presentations. But I would have full-blown anxiety attacks in my seat before I had to get up in front of my class.

I vividly remember in my English class junior year, being in the middle of speaking during an in-class debate and suddenly being so out of breath.

I started pausing every few words to try and take deep breaths, but I would look at my classmates and my heart began to race. I just kept thinking to myself, "I'm making a fool out of myself" and "I wonder if they can tell I'm shaking". That's what it was like for me every time I had to get up in front of people. I hated the feeling of being vulnerable.

Another incident happened in class where I was texting my mom that I was having an anxiety attack and couldn't breathe, all because I had to get up in front of my class a recite a short poem.

Soon, my social anxiety started affecting other aspects of my life, not just school. When I got my first job at 16, I was a hostess at a restaurant. On the way to my first day, I called my mom in my car crying because I didn't want to have to talk to strangers or answer the phone. I was afraid of messing up or sounding dumb and what other people would think. I didn't want to embarrass myself. 3 years later, I'm still at the same restaurant where I'm now a server and have never left this place because I've built up security there. I'm too afraid to get a new job because I would have to start all over.

Even to this day, I struggle immensely with social anxiety. Being a freshman in college is a major adjustment for me because I'm not used to doing things by myself. I mean, it was only this past summer that I went to a public place by myself for the first time. It's challenging because a lot of the time, doing everyday things make me incredibly anxious.

A lot of people don't understand the mental strength it takes for someone with social anxiety to go out by themselves. I can't speak for others, but I know that for me it's embarrassing to get so anxious about it. There have been multiple times this past semester that I haven't eaten because I've been too afraid to get food by myself, even at a vendor.

To help others understand, I always compare it to the feeling you get when you're walking up the stairs at your house in the dark. You feel like there's someone watching you even though you know there isn't. that's what it's like to go out in public. I know people aren't looking at me, but I feel like every single pair of eyes is on me. Watching my every move, saying things to themselves.

Even though every day is a struggle, I am making small steps towards being able to control it. But a big part of that is having people around me who know that I'm not just shy or antisocial. I want to go out and have fun. It just takes a little time.

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