Heaviness on my chest while electrified bees whirl about. Sudden and painful hard swallowing, as my salivary glands, dry up. My mind spools up like a turbocharger. I am restless and apathetic with ceaseless worry.
You would never know by looking at me that I’m suffering from shame and guilt. I am pretty great concealing the gnawing fears burrowed just shallow of my exterior. Well, aside from an involuntary nervous laugh that follows anything remotely opinionated that happens to fall out of my mouth.
Some of my most beloved humans aren’t so lucky. They are at the mercy of full-blown, five-alarm panic attacks.
Horror on their face and terror in their eyes.
An uncontrollable urge to move, physically run away from the thought.
Rapid, shallow breathing.
Sweaty palms, sweaty lips, sweat everywhere.
This is an outward expression of the pure hell we feel on the inside. Thank goodness Mother Nature hardwired our acute fight or flight response to last no more than twenty minutes.
Everyone worries: death, sickness, loss. Not everyone struggles with pathological anxiety. I worry when everything is seemingly fine. I feel guilty for no apparent reason.
“Guilt. Guilt everywhere.” ~Anais Nin
Things that could go wrong taunt me. Watching the news or spending time on social media are triggers. Stories of kidnappings, drownings, and car crashes, suddenly become things that could very well happen to my family, to me.
And they could.
But the chances are not likely.
However, there is a chance.
So I worry.
All. The. Time.
Worry has become part of me. I am not even aware I am stressing. Like having a background app that automatically refreshes, my battery is draining, but it’s not noticeable until all my coping skills have been depleted and my logic shuts down.
There I am feeling like…well, I’m not exactly sure how I feel except, terrible. I want to cry. No, I want to scream and pound my fists against something. Never mind neither helps and expressing the crazy inside my head would only cause me further embarrassment.
How can I make these horrible feelings go away?
I’ve read endless articles on meditation, exercise, eating/sleeping well, and other important self-care strategies. While these do help to extend the life of my coping skills under stress they cannot get me out of the spiraling once it has commenced. There’s only one thing I can do.
This too shall pass.
And it does…eventually. The fight or flight reaction will subside and the raging hormones will begin to settle back into normal baselines. My jaw unclenches to my teeth’s great relief, my shoulders recede from my neck, and my pinched lips relax.
For people without pathological anxiety, this takes no more than an hour. However, for people like me, it can take half a day.
I replay the events over and over again cringing as I take a shower, wash the dishes, or drive to work. Every moment I could have done better or avoided embarrassment dissected, haunting me for weeks, maybe months to come. Now well into my thirties, mortifying events from my teenage years still haphazardly plague me.
The constant state of fear, the cortisol and adrenaline jolts are exhausting.
My most successful strategy for dealing with stress is to avoid it whenever possible. I avoid people and places that I know will trigger anxiety.
“Even intellectually, I do not like wrestling matches. I do not like talk marathons. I do not like arguments or struggles to convert others. I seek harmony. If it is not there, I move away.” ~Anais Nin
Once I skipped a free self-publishing class I had been looking forward to because I was running fifteen minutes late and couldn’t handle the thought of everyone staring at me, silently judging me, as I walked through the door. The embarrassment was more than I could reasonably bear.
Obviously, I can’t hide from the world. I have a job that requires a significant amount of confrontation and I am able to perform satisfactorily. Although there are days when I leave spent requiring a quiet evening at home.
When planning my time away from work I veer away from any possible cruelty. Unkind words stay with me long after they have been spoken and bruise my soul. Any scenario that can cause conflict or rejection is out.
Do I fear these words can be true? Absolutely. My faith in myself is shakable.
Could this be the result of deep-seated feelings of unworth and self-doubt? Yes.
An incredibly cruel monologue runs nonstop in my head. You could have done better. Slow down and you won’t make so many mistakes. You need to do more, be faster, work harder, lose weight, dress nicer, on and on and on.
I question the sincerity of any compliment I receive, downplay every one of my achievements, and am sure to credit all those who may have helped me. It’s as though I am unwilling to accept recognition of the acceptance and approval I work so hard to receive.
“I suffer from supersensitivity. I am almost like a seismograph. One slight tremor a thousand miles away tears me up like an egg beater.” ~Anais Nin
Downside of intense empathy
Sharing what I love or enjoy with others is also an insurmountable challenge. If the reaction to my passion is negative then I am suddenly no longer as passionate.
Eventually, I avoid the very thing that has brought me joy simply because of someone else’s reaction. I begin to doubt myself, my enjoyment, because surely this other person must be right and I must be wrong. This is why I don’t share my feelings or hobbies freely with others. Even my best friend who I am lucky enough to have married must work to get me to open up. It’s self-defense, self-preservation.
“My prison is my sensitivity.” ~Anais Nin
This extreme sensitivity of mine goes well beyond the external reactions of others. I can sense the feelings of those around me. Like a sponge, I soak up them up. Because I understand the depths of my own terrors I make every attempt to console others, to listen without judgment, accept them as they are, and encourage them to keep moving forward. There’s only one way to the end. Through.
Feelings are inconvenient. Anxiety can ruin the productivity of a whole day or kill my logic for an afternoon. There’s a balance. Acknowledging my terrors, accepting the situation, and trying to ride the agonizing waves until they slow to a background ripple can be the equivalent of using brakes on a boat. So when I’m in a situation where I have to keep working, I shove those feelings down to my toes and work on something simple. I pretend everything is fine and hope that no one will notice the nervous stew simmering within me.
This is my personal portrait of anxiety. What does yours look like? How do you cope? Where do you struggle most?
Join the #GoodVibeTribe @ Surviving Life’s Curveballs for more truth, compassion, and encouragement.