Anxiety: My brain is an asshole
Anxiety affects 3.3 million people
This is the number of American adults who are living with anxiety. So if one of your anxieties is being alone, it looks like you're going to be fine. Anxiety is brought on by triggers. Some of them normal…others, not so much. I'd like to share some of my personal anxiety triggers, in hopes that you can find some comfort in knowing you're not the only weirdo out there.
I've had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Most young people have the textbook triggers: family problems, homework, friends that make other friends, growing hair in places you didn't know had hair, etc.
I had these anxiety triggers of course, but there was more…
For example, some kids get home sick when they are away at a friends house or at camp. I became home traumatized. I skipped right on past "missing my home" and straight to "these are the things that are going to happen while I am not there". Evidently I thought that if the house burnt down, my 60 lb self would be able to safely carry everyone out. The first time I tried to stay the night at my friend's house, it was a disaster. She lived across the street and seven doors down. You could literally throw a rock and hit our porch (not me, but like, someone good at throwing).
The proximity didn't matter. I could have been in the house next door and I would have still had the same panic I suffered that night. I was certain that someone was going to break into my house and kill my mother. What would I do then? My mother was raising us alone and I was the youngest by a good 7 years. None of my siblings were capable of caring for another person. Surely I would be put into an orphanage that I imagined looked like the one from Annie only worse. I cried and called my mom and begged to go home. I honestly have no recollection of the rest of that evening, but I'm guessing I ended up staying at my friend's house since I seem to have blocked it out.
Growing older didn't help
…it actually made it so much worse. Turns out those kid-worries go away and are replaced by much more substantial and actual life-altering worries. Biggie Smalls said "Mo Money, Mo Problems" but it turns out problems don't discriminate based on income. Of course, I worry about the same things most adults worry about: career, money, love, retirement, crows feet. Add two children and a divorce and I've tripled the number of things I worry about on a daily basis. I'm now responsible for the lives of two human beings…it is any wonder how I have managed to keep us all alive (cough, Xanax, cough). But this particular post isn't about the day-to-day, average concerns that feed the anxiety of nearly everyone on the planet.
My triggers are weird
I'm here to confess the things that give me crippling anxiety but aren't considered the "norm" in terms of triggers. This was something I had thought about writing for a while now, but took the leap after listening to a podcast called Terrifyingly Beautiful. It's basically 2 dudes who talk about all the fucked-up things that scare the shit out of them. Finding this podcast was a universal gift, as I am very happy to know there are people out there who are just as neurotic as myself. I have read several books on the human brain with the sole purpose of trying to figure out what the fuck is happening in there. They all boil down to this: "Nobody really knows…but the brain is mysterious AF".
Washing my face in the shower while I'm home alone
I wash my money-maker twice a day, once in the AM and once in the PM. I usually wash it over my sink, which is never an issue. But for some reason when I wash my face in the shower, it sends a wave of panic through my body. I have this absurd fear that when I close my eyes to avoid blinding myself with whatever-the-hell is in my face wash, a rapist/serial killer/ghost of Hitler will suddenly appear when I open my eyes and that will be the end.
Similar to the above (this trend is worrisome, TBH). Someone breaking into my house when I'm home alone. Or worse, someone already hiding in my house when I go to bed
This fear only hits my brain once I am comfortably lying in bed and ready to sleep off the wine (kidding). This is the time when most people suffering with anxiety start to get their daily reminders about all the things they need to freak out about. I have children but I am an unmarried scarlet-letter-wearing Jezebel, so when my kids are with their dad I am sometimes home alone. Some perspective here: I am a small woman who, despite living in the most gun-friendly state in the USA, doesn't own a gun. I keep a knife next to my bed though, because if this is going down I want to be sure I have a blood stained face when the news interviews me about the incident, as I am confident doing so would prevent further attacks since I will look like a total psycho.
This does not need explaining. The ocean is huge and fierce and filled with creatures that want to eat you. The ocean is an unforgiving goddess who is to be admired, but never penetrated by humans.
Horses (and other large quadrupeds)
I had a bad experience at camp when I was 8 during a trail ride with a horse who went rogue. Of course my daughter happens to be obsessed with horses because the universe is a cold bitch.
I'm not worried about the pap smear itself, I freak out about the claw they use to pry open your baby box. I always imagine if I move even a centimeter, it's going to slip and impale my uterus. I don't even breathe during this exam.
My hands after eating
I hate when my hands smell like food. I understand that that's more of a pet peeve, but if I can't wash my hands right after I eat, I panic. It feels like with each passing second my hands are breeding some sort of food mega-germ. Additionally, I do not like to have my face touched by other hands, I have no idea what kind of garbage crossed those hands. I'd have to wash my face again which triggers the panic from 5 paragraphs ago.
When we lived in Hawaii I cleaned my floors twice a day to get rid of the red dirt Hawaii is notoriously known for. This habit hasn't changed much. I still vacuum my floors all the time because the thought of stepping on something sticky, or crunchy, or sharp petrifies me to my core. If there is an animal in the house, the amount of vacuuming doubles. Pet dander and fur make me psychotic, and no, I don't have any allergies to animals. I'm just that compulsive.
My hair falling out
Ok, my hair actually did fall out once. My anxiety and stress literally made me so sick that my immune system went berserk and wreaked havoc on my hair follicles. I am both self-loathing and vain so when I discovered my hair was falling out I had a full-blown panic attack. I made an appointment with a dermatologist the next day. After introducing myself I said, "I don't care what you have to do just make my hair grow back." He gave me several steroid shots in my scalp because beauty is pain. Thankfully my hair started growing back a few days later. That was 7 years ago and I still wake up every morning and inspect my scalp in the bathroom mirror.
Fuck nats. Those assholes have to come from somewhere, yet it's almost impossible to find out where. Not knowing is the worst part.
Talking to strangers
I'm inclined to blame this one on parents, who drilled my head with "stranger danger" PSAs. I'm not so much scared of strangers, just insanely nervous to speak to them. I was a painfully shy child and when people are watching me speak I have about a million things running through my head. This usually translates to me stuttering or stalling or completely blanking, thus making myself appear lobotomized.
I envy people who don't think twice about speaking to others. My boyfriend and my daughter are this way. They'll make small talk with the guy bagging the groceries. I order my groceries online to avoid having to talk to anyone. It fascinates me that they just casually discuss the weather with the cashier at the gas station like some sort of weirdos. I observe them like I'm Jane Goodall and take mental notes of how they pull this off. However, I will never implement these techniques.
it's okay to not always be okay
Honestly, I can't remember a time where I just felt content and worry-free; I can't even fathom that feeling and I'm not sure it even exists. Don't misunderstand me, it doesn't mean I've never experienced joy and bliss. It just means anxiety has always been my date to those dinner parties. The real conundrum is when you have depression in addition to anxiety. Remember the number of American adults who live with anxiety (it was 3.3 million if you weren't paying attention)? The number of American adults living with depression is nearly 5 times that. That is a shit-ton of sad and/or chronically stressed out people. And if you can't tell, I am one of them.
just put it on my tab
I've also dealt with states of severe depression since I was young, but I don't talk about it much. I think it's easier to find humor in anxiety rather than depression, knowing though that in many cases anxiety can lead to depression. Sometimes it becomes so overwhelming that you feel there is no way out alive.
I've had several full-blown panic attacks. I literally have an inhaler that my doctor gave me for shortness of breathe. She says is just anxiety, but I argued has to be asthma or lung cancer. Turns out she was right. My breathing issue is not cancer, just my brain manifesting hell through my lungs. I do have calming-candy for my rogue attacks which seem to help with the physical symptoms. I should probably aim for a more holistic method, but I really love the Xanax.
***For more information on the podcast I mentioned earlier, click here. These guys are hilarious and you're sure to find an episode you can relate to, like dolls or bridges or attic-dwellers.***
If you or someone you know is suffering from anxiety or depression, there is help out there. If you don't feel comfortable speaking with your doctor, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support. You're not alone, apparently there are millions of us.