Note that this is not the actual experience of everyone with an anxiety disorder. There are many different disorders, and even within disorders there is a lot of variety. This is mostly based on my own experience with primarily social anxiety. Also, note that this mainly refers to untreated anxiety. I recognize that people with anxiety have a great amount of agency and many have taken amazing steps to improve their anxiety! This is a creative piece, so I hope you guys enjoy!
You wake up.
Already, your heart is beating a little faster. You wish you didn’t have to get out of bed. You know that everything is safer when you’re at home. You shut your eyes, try to block out the memories of nightmares that cloud your vision. You push yourself out of bed.
Looking through your closet, you worry about what people will think if you wear each outfit. You worry about if the weather will get too hot to wear a sweater, or too cold to wear a t-shirt. You worry about if you look fashionable or if you’re even fit to leave the house. You must be.
You go to work or to school. It is hard to concentrate on what you are supposed to be doing. You worry about if you are doing too much work or not enough work. You worry about if you left the lights on in your house, or if you left the door unlocked, or if you left out water for your cat. Your mind feels like it’s constantly overheating with thoughts and worries and what-ifs.
You go to dinner with some friends. During dinner, your face gets hot and your heart starts pounding really fast. You find it hard to breathe, harder still to speak or even participate in the ongoing conversation, no matter how much you’d love to. You excuse yourself to the bathroom and hope that a few minutes of alone time will calm you down. You pull out your phone to scroll through social media, but just a few seconds in and you realize how much fun everyone else is having – people who seem so popular and so flawless and so accomplished, and it seems like they have their lives so together, while you cannot even hold a simple conversation with your friends. You press a wet paper towel to your forehead, toss it out, and leave the bathroom.
As soon as you get back, everyone turns to greet you, and suddenly you are sure that they have been talking bad about you the entire time you’ve been gone. You feel sick to your stomach. You suddenly cannot breathe again. Everyone starts clamoring around to ask if you are okay, but you cannot answer them well. You manage to stammer out something along the lines of, “Sorry, I just don’t feel good,” and you take off. You are too scared to explain any further, scared that they will judge you, scared that just like everyone else, they will not understand.
You go home. Once you get inside, you make sure the doors are locked and all your little tasks are done before you try to relax. You are angry at yourself for leaving your social gathering earlier, and now you feel scared that your friends will dislike you for having to leave. You start recounting all of your social interactions from the day and trying to analyze what the other person involved was feeling during that interaction. You are sure that the other person probably was dying to get away from you. You feel ashamed.
You hide under the covers and hope for sleep. You are exhausted, but your thoughts keep circling you like vultures, trying to dig in to the vulnerable flesh of your mind. You lay awake, worried about tomorrow, and the next day, and the next week, and the rest of your life, and no amount of certainty will put it to rest.
You hope tomorrow will be better – but what if you get in a car crash on the way to work? What if your best friend does not like you tomorrow? What if you mess up that big meeting?