If you could see anxiety as a physical ailment on someone’s body, would you view it differently?
That’s not to say it’s what we need but people would be more sympathetic and understanding of the impact it has on our lives if it appeared in the form of an amputated hand or a massive birthmark. Neither of these things necessarily stop us from living or define us as people, but they can make an already challenging life that much harder.
In our society, anxiety is seen as a form of weakness, or some incurable plague. “Be strong”, “good people don’t act this way”, “just be happy”, “stop worrying”, “why would you be anxious?”, “there’s no reason for this”, “do some yoga”, “chill out” are common comments made by people who clearly do not understand that anxiety is often caused by being strong for too long.
People who have not felt anxiety will never fully understand its persuasive nature. In normal cases, anxiety and stress have a good purpose; it might be noticeable before an important presentation or first date. But in extreme cases, anxiety can force people to do whatever it takes to get validation, to feel worthy, loved and not alone.
People take anxiety personally. The people close to us will always feel somewhat responsible for our happiness. I’ve been on both sides of this. Anxiety forces us to seek validation and reassurance from those around us at any cost. We want them to tell us our worth; it is not an inner belief. Maybe because, in the past, someone or many people made us feel worthless or abandoned us when we least expected it. Anxiety feeds off fear and pushes us to get confirmation that our fear will never come true. But often enough, fixating on that fear creates it in your reality.
What we really need in these moments of anxiety is for our loved ones to say, “I’m here for you; it’s going to be okay.” I couldn’t name one time in my life where that sentence wouldn’t have either been enough to completely pull me out of a panic or, at the very least, calm me down. Our loved ones have an obligation to us, just as we do to them, to help us through difficult times, to keep us safe and to help us get help because taking that step alone is daunting. When it comes to anxiety, the irrational worry that demands to be felt endlessly, support is key. And over time, once good patterns have been formed, that feeling slowly dies down and the need for reassurance and validation rescinds.
This beast caused me years of worry. It was a constant knot in my stomach that would sometimes completely overpower me. It pushed me to seek validation from those close to me, lie to get attention, love and support. I was willing to do anything to know for sure my partner would be there no matter what. It stopped me from getting involved in some social activities. I became unhealthily obsessive about my weight. I couldn’t focus at work. I couldn’t focus on my friends. It made me lose most of my hair and sometimes saw me drop massive amounts of weight in one week. The havoc it wreaked on my body was huge yet it still wasn’t clear to me what was happening.
The issue with anxiety is that we can get so used to it being there that we don’t think it’s an issue until it really is. We make excuses for it; I know I did. I attributed my hair loss to not eating enough, low iron, general stress – never did I think it was my anxiety. At the beginning, those angry butterflies in the gut come and go. We have a bad day so we plan to get help then the anxiety fades and we lose sight of our goal which is to feel good all the time, not just some of the time. Not getting help in the early stages meant I created my worry and fear in my reality, causing who I thought was the love of my life to leave. My worst fear came true because that is what I projected into my relationship.
My advice for others is this: if you cannot feel at ease when your life is in balance, get help. The anxiety feeds off our thoughts and grows into a gigantic monster that cripples you, impacting your ability to function as a healthy human being.
I am in the early stages of recovering from what I feel like has been one of the most traumatic experiences of my life: feeling like I was losing my mind. But I am well and truly on the path to recovery thanks to a combination of healthy eating, vitamins, iron supplements, fish oil, anxiety medication, exercise, journaling and counselling, now allowing me to live each day without constant worry plaguing my thoughts, for the first time since I can remember. I now have hope that those who gave up on me will come back and enjoy this new and improved version of myself. But I also now hold the knowledge that I can handle whatever comes my way.
Author: Danni McGowen
Editor: Caroline Beaton
Photo: Author’s Own