What Anxiety Looks Like to Me
I think everyone is quick to judge and share their opinions surrounding anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues. Even though I’ve struggled with some of these issues myself, sometimes I’m still quick to judge.
“They aren’t even trying to get better.”
“Everyone and their mom has an anxiety disorder these days.”
-Random judgmental thoughts I’ve had while trolling social media
Talking about mental health isn’t fun. Like most serious topics, I worry I’m going to offend someone. I worry that I haven’t had it bad enough to really even discuss these topics at all. Therefore, the best way for me to approach this topic is to discuss what anxiety looks like for me. I’ve recently found the best way for me to deal with problems in my life is to find like-minded people who face similar struggles and to just talk. No solutions necessary, just an open discussion to talk about what’s going on in my head-that-never-stops. It feels good when someone else articulates exactly what’s in my head that I couldn’t quite find the words to express. So I hope that this sparks more of those conversations, if nothing else.
Where it all began
I don’t know where it all began. I don’t know when my head decided to turn into a never-ending cycle of lists, worries, deep revelations, and motivational slogans combated by negative thoughts. I don’t remember being an anxious kid. I remember feeling extremely anxious in high school whenever I planned something and it didn’t go exactly the way I had intended…but from what I recall it never went beyond that. I would guess it was early on in college when I started to feel like I could never turn my mind off. I started to feel this looming creature that loved to tell me I “have nothing to look forward to.” I think I then started to devote all of my weekday time to proving him otherwise. This was exhausting. The weekends were then for partying with friends and letting these (fake) worries and expectations go, which I think is where my tricky relationships with Sundays began. My boyfriend and I joke about me always having the “Sunday Blues.” I tend to hit a wall of sadness around 6pm on Sundays when I start to realize how close Monday is.
I reached a low point my sophomore year when one day, I was so overcome with anxiety that I literally could not fathom going to class. It’s like my anxiety level increased with every minute that brought me closer to that class. I don’t know why I was upset or stressed or whatever it was. I just could not go to that class.
A normal person would just skip the class. Take the night off. But that thought horrified me even more. This class was only once a week, why in the world would I skip? I had no reason to skip, so how could I? What if something happened someday where I was actually incapable of going to class and I had already used up all of my absences? THEN WHAT STACIA?
It sounds silly now but this was the breaking point that led me to meeting with a handful of mental health experts. I had a really hard time finding a psychologist that I liked. I got so sick of them trying to “fix my deeply rooted childhood issues.” This led to more anxiety. I wanted to say “I had the best childhood ever, the greatest parents, I was teased like once, and I live in America as a white middle-class person. I KNOW I’ve got it pretty good. Nothing happened, my brain just decided to say fuck you one day and now I don’t know what to do.” But the fact that I SHOULDN’T be feeling overwhelmed stressed me out. Behold, my never-ending cycle of anxious thoughts.
I got on a small dosage of an anxiety medication. I didn’t feel much different besides just having a clearer head, which is all I wanted. It even lowered my appetite so I had less anxiety around food and exercise (more to come on this below and in another post). I was really reluctant to get on anti-anxiety medication so it was important to me that it didn’t change my entire life. Besides, some level of stress is healthy. I wasn’t trying to be a happy robot.
I found a therapist I liked, and once I felt comfortable, slowly weaned off of the anti-anxiety meds. Now I’m perfect! The end.
Being good enough
Just kidding, obviously. I was in a much better place. But as these things go, I found a new thing to obsess over. I always do. And there seemed to be a theme underlying each of these obsessions – they all included unattainable goals. I like to convince myself that they are attainable though. One of my favorites is “I’d be satisfied with my body if I just lost 10 pounds.” I once said this to my therapist to which she responded with “then what? Will you really be satisfied?” I am still, 3 years later, telling myself that I will be satisfied with my body if I just lose 10 pounds (and I’m pretty sure I’ve lost 10 pounds since then). Although weight, health, and physical appearance are some of my most prominent obsessions…they come in many forms. I told myself I would be comfortable with my finances once I paid off my student loans. I paid off my loans within a year of graduating college and barely celebrated, immediately setting a new goal to build my savings to a new, arbitrary level that would allow me to feel “comfortable.”
It’s kind of like I’m holding a carrot in front of my face, never allowing myself a bite (this is a metaphor… if you know me at all you know it’s rare to find me NOT eating baby carrots). I chase it around nonstop, so obsessively that I never turn around to reflect and see how far I’ve actually come. I’m never “good enough” because I keep redefining what “good enough” actually is.
Too much to do. The never-ending cycle.
I’m a list-maker. I think the only thing that stresses me out more than a huge to-do list is an empty one. I feel like I’m in my best state-of-mind when I’m running around, knocking quick household duties off of my list. It feels so good! But the minute that list is done, I am immediately confronted with the terrifying idea of RELAXATION. Relaxation is definitely one of those things I’m always seeking but never fully achieve. Me saying “I can’t wait to do nothing this weekend!” is actually code for “I’m so glad I don’t have any plans because that means I can catch up on all of the stuff I will decide to pile onto my to-do list once the weekend comes.” If I’ve turned down plans with you for a dumb reason it’s probably because I actually was feeling overwhelmed by my internal list of fake shit to do. So sorry.
The pursuit of health and happiness
As I mentioned before, my anxiety (and I think a lot of people’s) likes to cling to particular obsessions. Basically ever since I left college, that obsession has been health and fitness. In most cases, this isn’t a bad obsession to have. Sometimes though, something as small as skipping a workout, even when I’ve made it to the gym the previous 5 days, can ruin an entire day. I generally eat pretty healthy, but sometimes I’ll have a dessert and my brain flips a switch that causes me to say “fuck it, I messed up!” and binge eat the rest of the day.
Over the past year I’ve recognized a lot of these behaviors and slowly started to ease up on myself. Learning to eat cleaner has allowed me to live life at more of an 80%-on, 20%-off pace and to chill out with dieting instead of obsessively counting calories. Some weeks, it’s easy, and I want to share my progress, recipes, and inspiration with the people around me. Other weeks, I get fed up. I get mad that even though I’m full sometimes my brain still tempts me with unhealthy food. I get jealous that people around me can eat whatever they want, whenever they want, without gaining weight or feeling any regret. I get annoyed that other people don’t thoughtfully consider every single thing that goes into their body because I don’t have an option. My brain won’t let me NOT.
PrOgReSs, NoT PeRfeCtiOn
It’s hard to wrap this up without being cliché. It’s hard to talk about anxiety without sounding weak or spoiled and frankly, if I don’t end this with “I’m taking it day by day and growing so much along the way,” I feel like this post was all for naught. So yeah, I’m taking it day by day. I don’t know if growing is the right word but I’m ever-evolving and I think it’s mostly for the better. I don’t feel like I’m always growing but I am always learning and adjusting my life accordingly. I went on a walk tonight and essentially thought about ice cream the entire time while I listened to a podcast about starving refugees so I don’t think I’m quite perfect yet. But hey, PROGRESS not PERFECTION, amirite?
If any of this resonated with you, shoot me a message. I’d love to chat.
Peace, love, and one-step-cookies.