i think it's important because it's real. and some people don't think that it's real.
i'm here to tell you that it is.
on saturday morning, my mother, my brother and i got up early and we went to the YMCA to work out at eight in the morning. (it was brutal.) my mom and i didn't have pockets in our work out shorts, so we gave my brother, aaron, our Y membership cards to hold while we worked out. we were discussing this while we walked across the parking lot toward the entrance of the building. and this conversation ensues.
aaron laughs and says, "remember over spring break when you lost your Y card and had a complete freak out?"
i look down at the ground and say, "yes, i do remember that. could you not bring it up?"
aaron laughs again and says, "i'm allowed to make fun of you, you're my sister."
to which i reply, "yes, you're allowed to make fun of me. but you're not allowed to make fun of panic attacks because panic attacks aren't funny."
when aaron asked me if i remembered if i had a panic attack looking for my Y card, of course i remembered. i could remember every little detail of that situation; how my parents weren't home to calm me down, how aaron had never dealt with anything like this before and how he had no idea what to do and what he was doing was making it worse, how the room was shrinking, how i couldn't think about anything except my Y card being missing, and how it was hard to breathe.
all because i couldn't find a piece of plastic that gave me entrance into a fitness building.
after our work out, my mom picked up a schedule of YMCA fitness classes. i pointed out that i'd like to do aqua zumba, it should be fun and not bad for my recovering knee. the times worked with my work schedule, and it sounded like fun.
my mom suggested that while i take that fitness class, she would do piloxing, which is like, awkward yoga/boxing/pilates. (it's hard. trust me.)
the idea of going to a fitness class by myself made me incredibly anxious. like, palms sweaty let's change the subject anxious. when my mom asked me why i couldn't go by myself, i snapped, "i can't even go to my own sorority house by myself, what makes you think i can go to a fitness class alone?"
when i blog about mental illness, i usually stick to trichotillomania. but i've never blogged about the other mental illness that i struggle with, and that's generalised anxiety disorder, or GAD.
my blogger idol, jenny lawson, shares the same condition, and this is her take on it.
"it's been my experience that people always assume that generalized anxiety disorder is preferable to social anxiety disorder, because it sounds more vague and unthreatening, but those people are totally wrong. for me, having generalized anxiety disorder is basically like having all of the other anxiety disorders smooshed into one. even the ones that aren't recognized by modern science. things like birds-will-probably-smother-me-in-my-sleep anxiety disorder and i-keep-extra-crackers-in-my-pockets-in-case-i-get-trapped-in-an-elevator anxiety disorder. basically i'm just generally anxious about fucking everything."
no anxiety disorder is the same, just like no person is the same. jenny lawson has GAD worse than i do. but that doesn't mean that hers is more significant than mine. or that we don't have a lot in common.
when i was in second grade, my teacher sent me to the office to deliver a really important envelope to our office secretary, a really nice lady named miss dixie. i walked down the hall clutching this little white envelope in my hands and the closer i got the office, the more anxious i got. incredibly anxious. my face started to turn red and i started to sweat and i started to panic. (i think this might've been my first mini panic attack.) when i got to the office, the idea of going inside made me almost want to vomit. i paced around outside of it nervously, unsure of how i should proceed inside.
i ended up leaving the envelope in front of the door, running to the bathroom, and crying.
i was set up for this at an early age, i think.
the second biggest moment of defining anxiety came in fifth grade when i went to speech therapy for the first time. speech therapy was half an hour long, and i was already embarrassed because i had to leave in the middle of class and everyone stared at me, wondering where i was going. the person that was already in the speech therapy room, which was more like a speech therapy closet, was cutting into my appointment time. i stood outside of the hall, wringing my hands and almost crying. all these what-ifs started to go through my mind.
what if i have the wrong time?
what if someone catches me in the hallway without a pass?
what if someone finds out i'm going to speech therapy?
what if she's actually in there and i just need to knock on the door?
what if i knock on the door and i'm interrupting someone else's appointment?
what if she's mean and terrible?
what if it doesn't work?
what if i need to take speech therapy forever?
what and if are the two most evil words in the english language when put together for someone like me.
rather like trichotillomania, i didn't realise that GAD was an actual thing until i was sixteen. when i started seeing a therapist for my trichotillomania, we talked for a good two weeks before she took off her glasses, rubbed her eyes and said, "i think you have generalised anxiety disorder."
sometimes it's really hard for me to function, especially at school. even though i'm in a wonderful sorority and i love all of my sisters, i cannot show up to the house uninvited, and even when i am invited, i'm still nervous. the housies are wonderfully open and accomodating. they encourage me to stop by.
i can't do it. not without a buddy. i go out of my way to plan things with other people in which we go places together.
i have the same problem going to PMA, the fraternity i associate with. my PMA fraternity brother, colin, understands this. when i need to go to the house to get something, i text him and say, "hey, can we go to the PMA house?" and he understands what's up.
one time i had to go to another sorority house. i'm friends with nearly everyone in this sorority. i knew every girl that lived in the house. i went to their formal. but i still had to make sure that someone was waiting for me on their porch or i could not go inside.
talking to employees at businesses is terrible. last week, when i couldn't find the watermelons, it took me ten minutes to pluck up the courage to ask a produce worker. when i shop with other people, they ask employees for me.
i have major difficulty making phone calls to businesses.
before i left for england, i tried to make my iphone international. best buy couldn't do it and neither could the place in the mall. my mom handed me the phone and told me to call radioshack and i started to shake so badly i almost dropped the phone. she encouraged me to dial the numbers and i had to make sure that as soon as i dialed the numbers that she was going to take the phone. if she didn't take the phone and i was left with it ringing, i was going to explode.
i dialed the numbers. my mom talked to the phone companies. when she hung up, i started to cry.
i currently have four major phone calls that i need to make this week. (my mother has made it very clear that i am making them myself.) i've written them on a sticky note on my computer and i stare at them everyday, hoping that it'll become easier to accept.
"you are going to call your therapist. you are going to call your chiropractor. you are going to call your loan services. you are going to call your eye doctor. you can do it."
the odd thing about calling my therapist is that i see her for anxiety. but i am too anxious to call her about helping with my anxiety.
funny how that works, isn't it?
when i tore my meniscus and was in constant contact with doctors and MRI places, my friend barbara did all of the calling. my mom makes a lot of phone calls for me. but i'm twenty-two. i have one year left of college. i'm not always going to have someone there to call.
i've recently been able to go to doctors' appointments by myself. this is a major achievement. my mother went to them with me until i was twenty.
anxiety sometimes comes with paranoia. i've blogged before about grocery shopping and how i feel that everyone is judging me. i really do feel like that. the other day i went to joann fabrics to ask to get my iron and wine poster framed. i worked up to that trip for three days with mental peptalks. when i went in there, there was no one at the frame counter. i wandered around the store, hoping that someone would show up, the entire time feeling like everyone in the store was judging me.
when no one showed up after half an hour, i panicked and left.
the thing that most people don't understand about anxiety is that it significantly alters your ability to think straight. when i'm incredibly anxious, on the verge of having a panic attack, or actually having a panic attack, i cannot see viable solutions to the situtation. then this conversation ensues.
"emily, you just could'vedone this. why didn't you think of that?"
when you tell me that, you're not making me feel better, you're making me feel stupid and incompetent.
another thing that people don't understand is that anxiety is not cute. awkward people in social situations seems to be a new thing that people like.
"aww look at the awkward guy at this party, he's so adorable."
there's a difference between being socially awkward and being anxious in social situations. if i'm being awkward and anxious in a social situation, it normally means that i'm terrified. it normally means that i took a lot of time and mental preparation to get here and that i'm using a lot of mental preparation to keep existing in the social situation. i'm worried that i'm going to say the wrong thing, do the wrong thing, and then remember it for the rest of my life.
anxiety has a habit of making you remember things that you did forever ago that just make you want to die. and remembering those things makes you not want to try new things and get yourself into new situations.
so when you see someone being awkward and think, "oh, how adorable!" think about what that person is thinking, what that person might be going through. really think about it.
i am adamant about this.
anxiety is not cute. it's terrifying.
it's kind of like this.
but anxiety is always there. and it's always this constant struggle of figuring out how i'm going to do all these things i want to do.
england was a wonderful and challenging month. while i was in england i had to assert myself as an independent young woman in another country, and i had to do that with my anxiety. but i feel that i was very successful.
i talked to ticket sellers by myself. i went grocery shopping by myself. i toured london alone. i went on the tube by myself. i bartered for a dress at a market.
i took a train from scotland to york by myself and spent the entire day in york. by myself. i went to a broadway show alone.
i did those things. and it made me feel like i could do anything.
my life is full of what ifs. it's full of paranoid thinking about how everyone is judging me. it's full of fear to make phone calls. it's full of fears to talk to store employees, to press the send button on important emails, to enter someone's house. it's full of panic attacks and crying on my bedroom floor when i can't find something that i need.
sometimes the idea of going to eat at the cafeteria at alma is so overwhelming that someone has to order me a pizza because the idea of ordering one myself is just as overwhelming.
this post is not speaking for everyone with generalised anxiety disorder. this post is about my generalised anxiety disorder and how i live with it.
but i'm here to tell you that anxiety is real. there are people out there that cannot make phone calls, that can't approach other people in retail stores, and that are sometimes afraid to leave their houses.
"the cure for anxiety is not 'just stop worrying!' just as the cure for asthma is not 'just breathe!'"
people have told me, on multiple occasions, to "just stop worrying" or to "just calm down". it doesn't work like that. what i have is real.
my anxiety is real.
to learn more generalised anxiety disorder, click here.
i leave you with this picture that mostly describes my life.