It's been said that people with anxiety & depression don't talk about it. At least not enough, or in a way for other people to really understand what it's all about.
Now, I first have to start out by saying that no matter how much it's talked about, whatever details are given - it will never fully give you a real idea of what someone living with anxiety goes through. It can give you a glimpse, but that's it.
I'm struggling with some pretty heavy anxiety as I'm typing this, so this post will be pretty real. I've said this before - getting me to talk about this in person with someone who doesn't struggle with the same thing is next to impossible. But it's different when typing it out; easier.
This post is strictly based on my personal experiences - and maybe some
of those that I know who also struggle with this - but I'm not basing
anything off of any wide spread studies or anything I read on the
There is no one thing that causes anxiety, it's different for everybody. Those of us who struggle with this all have our own trigger points; the things that send us in a downward spiral that seems to have no end. For someone it could be when they're bogged down at work, for others it's when they have had a lack of sleep for whatever reason. For some it's related to family dynamics, or being in large groups, and for others it's when they have to face a fear - such as flying. Sometimes it can be as simple as starting out as being nervous about a test. When situations such as these present themselves to us ["us" being those who deal with anxiety issues], the spiral begins.
The progression of anxiety differs from person to person - and even from situation to situation. For myself it varies. It can have a slow progression or it can suddenly SLAM into me without warning. Most of the time it's a rapid decline but not always.
As for what it feels like? Well, for me I get a gigantic knot in the pit of my stomach. Like we're talking H-U-G-E. My heart starts to pound like crazy and my mind goes into illogical over-drive. I sometimes have a hard time catching my breath and there can be a lot of pacing and hand-wringing. And crying. It feels like there is something extremely heavy sitting on my chest and I can't get rid of it. And it comes with a feeling of total helplessness, as well as a feeling like this is never going to end. And that feeling can cause even heavier panic to set in. It's a total loss of control and you don't know how to stop it and turn things upright again.
Thankfully there is always an end to it, even though at the time it doesn't feel like there will be. Of course prayer is a big part of helping these times come to an end, but there are other things that help too. If my anxiety/panic attacks happen when Les is home, I need to be close to him; I need to feel the physical sense of security. I need him to take control and tell me that everything is going to be okay. I need him to remind me to breathe. If I'm with other people and can't really show my anxiety, it's harder to get rid of it. I might have to leave the room to get things under control, but if that's not an option [like if I'm stuck in a vehicle with someone] then it takes a lot of mind over matter to deal with it. A lot of inner dialogue needs to take place and some quiet controlled breathing. Then there are times when I'm by myself. These times are the hardest. Yes, even harder than when I'm in a group setting sometimes. I might not have to hide it, but it's harder to get a grasp on things and get things under control. With nobody around to help force me to calm down [either because I'm trying to hide it from someone or Les is there to help me], it's easier to just let the anxiety take over and render me almost totally helpless. In these situations my only hope really is to focus on breathing. One breath at a time. I have to repeat to myself "Andrea, you're going to be okay. Just relax. Calm down, take a deep breath. One more deep breath. One more..." It can sometimes be a long process, but eventually my breathing will start to slowly return to normal and my heart will get back to a regular rhythm. The weight on my chest might last for a bit yet, and the know in the pit of my stomach is the hardest thing to get rid of.
Sometimes, however, when I'm in the process of convincing myself that there is
an end in sight, I'm reminded of the fact that yes, there may be an end
to this particular episode...but what about the next time? And the next time? The thought that this is likely something I will struggle with for the rest of my life can often make things even worse. For example, often towards the end of winter when I'm starting to feel particularly anxious, I'll remind myself that the end is in sight. There is light at the end of the tunnel. But almost as soon as those thoughts come to help relax me, the next thought comes thundering right behind: "But you'll have to go through this all again next year...and the year after that...and the year after that..." and then suddenly the hope that I had just clung to seems oh so very far away once again.
There are times when I'm not in an extreme state of anxiety, but where it's still an issue. Often this happens to me more in the evening hours leading into the night-time. That's one of the biggest reasons why I despise the dark winter months - my anxiety issues are always worse this time of year and my soul literally longs for bright skies. When I am going through a longer struggle [that is lower-key but that might last for days or weeks at a time], I need to not be alone. At least at night. This winter I went through a stage where I was so exhausted from my anxiety that I was going to bed really early, before Les. I hated that because it meant I was alone. It got to the point where I didn't even "let" Les go down to the basement to watch TV or whatever. He had to stay on the main floor so that he was only one floor away from me instead of two. The thought of him being so far way from me put me into a state of panic. He doesn't understand it, but he's sensitive to it, so he would stay on the main floor when I needed him to.
It's why I cater to Joelle so often when she goes to bed. Thankfully it's not all that often, but there are times when she can't fall asleep because I'm still on the main floor watching TV. She wants me to be upstairs reading in bed or something so she knows that I'm right there. And I get that, I totally do. There are times when this happens when I try to encourage her to relax on her own and remind her of techniques she's learned to help get her thoughts under control. I don't want to always just give in and not allow her to have the opportunity to try to learn to work through these issues on her own, but at the same time I know what it feels like and there are times when you just NEED someone to be close to you.
It breaks my heart when she has her anxiety episodes. I didn't suffer from this until well into adulthood, so to know that she's already dealing with it at her young age (and has for several years already) makes me very sad. I have often wondered why I have to know what life with anxiety is all about. But then I think of my daughter and I'm glad - for her sake - that I know what this life is like. Because when you don't understand this kind of life, it can sometimes be hard to have patience with someone who is seemingly over-reacting to something so simple. But because of my struggles, Joelle has a Mom who understands and who can better help her get through her rough episodes. And I have a Mom like that too, for which I am extremely grateful.
I feel like I can't even accurately put all of this into words to paint a really true picture of what living with this is like. It is extremely debilitating. And it is hard when people really have no clue what it's like. And it's to no fault of their own. If you don't live with it, you just don't fully understand it. But I hope this post sheds at least a little bit of light on what this is like so that if you know someone who suffers from anxiety you can have some empathy for them. That you can understand that they're not just being silly and over-reacting. That you won't tell them to just "get over it". Believe me, they want to just "get over it"...but it's not that simple.
So how can you help someone like this? Support them. Encourage them. Let them know that while you may not know what it's like, you believe them that it's terrifying and over-whelming and very very real. Let them know that their feelings are valid. Let them know that you will be there for them - and then follow through with it. Lend that listening ear. Even if it's over something they've talked to you about a million times before, and it's about something that you yourself wouldn't even bat an eye over. For someone who suffers from anxiety, something that most people find simple and "not a big deal" can be something that keeps us up for hours on end at night. It can be something that keeps us from leaving our homes for days on end. Please don't ever make us feel like our anxieties are insignificant. And of course, above all else, pray for them. And tell them that you're praying for them.
Well, I'm going to leave this here I think. Thanks for reading and I hope this has opened up some conversations that you can have with people you know who suffer from this. And if you are someone who goes through this yourself and ever need to "talk" - let me know!
I'm going to close with this verse that I'm trying my best to cling to tonight with all of my might:
Philippians 4:6-7 says: Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.