This is a stream of consciousness written at a point in time when I was gripped by anxiety so tightly I could barely think because of it. It’s angry and it’s messy, because that’s the reality of anxiety for so many people. I’m sharing this in order to give one perspective of what it’s like to live with anxiety – of course, many other versions exist out there, some of which will resonate with this more than others.
(Potential trigger warning for those who experience intense anxiety – this is descriptive of my thoughts and experiences and I don’t want that to hurt anyone further.)
Anxiety is not pretty. It isn’t glamorous, or endearing. It may seem that way in books and films and on social media, but that is definitely not how it feels to live with. It is rough, brutal. Mean-spirited and ugly. Anxiety is a constant argument in my head between the unconvincing, faint yelp of the rational, and the fearful, controlling scream of manipulative desperation.
Anxiety makes me obsessive. If I have a doubt it eats me up, devouring every piece of me with a bitter desire to know a certainty. But once one question is answered, anxiety creates an infinite list of uncertainties even worse than the first. The burning sense of not knowing things makes me feel like I’m losing grip on whatever control I once had. But anxiety doesn’t just take that.
Anxiety steals so much from me. Time, energy, motivation, inspiration, creation. It drags me away from things I love and people I care about. Anxiety is jealous. It doesn’t want to see me doing things with anyone else, feeling anything else, thinking about anything else. It’s never satisfied until it gets all of me, every single bit of me to itself. It doesn’t want the trees to see me, nor the sea or the shops or even the inside of the car. It likes me in bed. Alone. Where it can shove its greasy hands inside my stomach and squeeze and twist: a chinese burn along my gut.
Anxiety tells me, “you’re nothing, you’re worthless, you can’t do anything or be anyone. You need me, you are me and I am you. We are one. Don’t say too much, don’t get us noticed or something bad will happen. You better check over your shoulder at every turn, because I’ll be there.”
Anxiety hurts me. It tears at my skin, claws into my brain and rips out the precious pieces. It throws bits of me I love into the gutter and I watch them slip between the grates of a drain. I forget the things I like about me. They’re gone. Because in that moment I am full, so damn full, of a rolling nausea that swells me out like a balloon. Out and out, I take up too much space, I’m noticed by everyone and everything as a disaster on centre stage. The kid who peed their pants as they sang their long-awaited solo at the school Christmas play. People pretend they don’t see, they turn their face the other way, or worse yet, they look dead in my eyes and don’t let their smile falter. If you keep smiling it will all go away, right?
Anxiety encourages my organs to crush each other out, and they fight to hurt the most from this thing that everyone tells me is ‘all in the head’. Oh I guess I didn’t get that memo. Tell that to my lungs, which can’t find it in themselves to inflate and deflate anymore, the air they seek is intangible. Tell that to my shaking arms, which cannot feel the weight of gravity and flail like the branches of a birch, yet pull me down, down, down into the ground. Tell that to my legs which fight to keep me standing up, walking on, continuing – business as usual. But it’s not usual, this is not usual. Well it is for me, but it shouldn’t be.
Anxiety, and other mental health problems, should not be glamorised, simplified, boiled down into palatable chunks. My experiences are not potatoes, to be mashed up or thinly cut or fried and served to people in their favourite way. It is not my job for others to feel comfortable contemplating how I, and so many others, feel. It should be uncomfortable.
Our wellbeing should be examined. We should question how, in our society, so many of us reach such painful states of being. Yes, that’s an uncomfortable topic. Because mental illness isn’t comfortable to live with: it’s fear and anger and sadness and not knowing what the hell you’re feeling or why. It’s uncomfortable for others to think about because the damaged wellbeing of so many reveals much deeper and darker questions about a damaged society.
Anxiety is mental. But it’s also physical and emotional. It’s detrimental and painful, personal and social. Dysfunctional, ungrateful, distasteful, uncomfortable. It’s all of these things and so much more.
But it is not pretty.
I’d love to know what anxiety is for you. Let me know in the comments ❤
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Header photo taken by @inigomiranda on Instagram.