Yes, I have anxiety and I've had it for a long time. It was my own little secret. But I’ve learned that the best way to understand and live with anxiety is to talk to others about it.
Anxiety disorders are not fun for anyone, especially those who suffer from anxiety disorders. Most people don't understand what it's like to be someone who suffers from one. They come without warning and without reason. As I am writing this, I am recovering from an awful anxiety attack prompted by thoughts that should never have come to my mind.
Anxiety is common enough now that it affects 18 percent of adults in the U.S. and one million Americans a month suffer an anxiety attack. It is so common that it has started to shed its taboo, which means that it's also perceived more casually, like something that's perhaps not a big deal to live with. As anyone who has anxiety knows, that's not the case at all.
For the majority of my life I remember dealing with some form of anxiety. However, it wasn't until I began college that I had no choice but to deal with it. It began with me being scared of the unknown, terrified of not having control and obsessive about things not going exactly as planned. Anxiety has been my biggest weakness (and strength) for as long as I can remember.
And anxiety does not always show itself in the most stereotypical ways, often it was thoughts like:
If I can stick to the same routine this week, I’ll be able to pass that math exam next Thursday.
If I keep this shirt inside out all day, I won’t have anything bad happen.
If they move that cup, I have to remember to move it back before we leave - or else something might change.
What all of these thoughts amounted to was me trying to predict the outcome of my day by trying to control events that I essentially had no control over. But when I tried to explain this habit I had formed no one seemed to understand. I eventually just thought that I was overreacting and everyone felt this way. It was normal - it had to be.
This semester, as I began my college journey, my anxiety hit a peak. I spent all four years of high school overloading my schedule with exams and often thought about college. I also occupied myself by doing community service and after-school clubs. Not to mention, I had a boyfriend and work. You name it, I did it and it never felt like it was enough. I was yearning to get into a top tier college and in order to get there, I fell to countless anxiety attacks and sleepless nights. Though upon graduation, all of my hard work didn’t pay off in the way that I was wishing for it to. But I was still excited to be starting a new part of my life. In my head that meant no more worries, no more stressing. In college I would be an adult and that meant that I would be in control.
I started off my freshman year excited and ready to sign up for everything. As soon as my foot was in the door, I was running from table-to-table signing up for new clubs and activities. No one thought differently, and why should they have? This is what I did, it was so Brittany. I signed up for everything that would fit in my schedule and started making friends as fast as I could possibly talk. I was expecting to be stressed, but what I wasn’t expecting was to feel the tumbling, heaviness of my anxiety every day.
Slowly my days were being dictated by a tightly-bound schedule and needing to plan weeks in advance to spend time with my friends, just as it had felt in high school or at least that is how I rationalized it. But I began to notice that it wasn’t the same anymore. I wasn’t just stressed. It was much more than I could handle.
I was soon passing out after hours of staring at the same formulas or functions in my dorm room. Instead of worrying about the college I am currently in, I would find myself glued to my calculator before and after every exam. What score can I get to safeguard my GPA for graduate school? How will an A- in this class make my GPA lower? Will I ever be able to recover? It’ll make me a worse student and that isn’t me.
From an outsider, someone who hasn’t lived with anxiety, it may seem like I have it all figured out -- resume overloaded, my schedule perfectly penciled in, each moment accounted for. However, my anxiety demands perfection and perfection demands time - more time than I realistically have to spare.
Imagine constantly having a running list in your head every minute of every day of everything that ever has to be done. Life suddenly becomes a checklist and it's never finished. It took me time to realize that I needed to talk to someone and that I needed to face how I was feeling. The worst part about anxiety is how common it is, which can make it easy for us to rationalize it as just stress or just this or just that.
Anyone hurting out there, I feel for you. When you feel your stomach knot while sitting down for an exam, excessive worry that your loved one will leave you or an unexplainable need to straighten out that picture on your desk, know that there are people who understand and who want to talk to you about it.
If someone you love is having an anxiety attack, ask them what they need. They usually know what they need from you to help make it better, but they're too scared to tell you or they might be having a hard time talking in general. Let them know that you genuinely want to help in any way that you can and be okay with if they just want you to listen.
Everyone's anxiety disorder is different. Try to understand what it's like to have absolutely no control over your mind and be there for that person. They need you to help them remember that they are grounded and they have people around them who truly want to help.