Thursday, September 17, 2015


Like most people, I am a weird mix of introvert and extrovert. I also have anxiety, which makes life extra interesting. It's not just nerves, and it's not a normal level of stress, even for a graduate student. It's hard to tell what normal is, though. Anyway, anxiety manifests itself in various ways. One, I hate calling people on the phone and am eternally grateful to whoever invented texting. Just the other week, I had to call someone to cancel an appointment because despite the handy online appointment making tool, they provided no way to cancel that appointment without calling. I tried to call after hours and leave a message, but there was no answering machine. It's a trap for introverts, I just know it. But I managed to make the call and I didn't have to leave the house for the appointment. I'm perfectly capable of calling when I know I have to do it, but I have all these worst case scenarios come to mind, like dialing the wrong number and accidentally saying something ridiculous... yeah, anyway. Anxiety isn't rational, all right?

Moving on: Large group activities are often my worst nightmare, especially when I don't know anyone. The 3-stake activity (for non-Mormons, that's LOTS of people) I had to attend because I was on the activities committee was mainly bearable because I got to be outside cooking hot dogs for pretty much all of it. That and talking *only* to my co-chair when we did go inside and drink hot chocolate. I will talk to new people, but the noise of a large crowd, especially with music blasting, is incredibly overwhelming. I look for a quiet corner where I can talk to one or two other people, or simply plug my ears and read interesting articles on the internet.
At any rate, some of that's merely my personality, but when things get to be too much and I can't handle it, that's my anxiety. I get headaches, my hands sometimes start shaking, and in severely overwhelming situations it's all too easy to start to cry. (I checked, but there's no good synonym for overwhelming in this case. Oh well). This was all really fun when I was a teenager at dances when I was also dealing with the "do they like me? why is no one asking me to dance?" anxiety. Since I finally got my diagnosis this year, my reactions back at those dances and in other situations growing up make a lot more sense. It's not that I can't manage social situations. I can. I do it all the time. It's just tiring, sometimes, and I don't necessarily care enough to make myself be social all the time. (I'm grateful for texting and facebook messaging, which allow me to be comfortable while still staying in touch with friends. Technology rocks, most of the time.)
Social situations aren't the only things that make me anxious. It's also school, and whether I'm doing enough, and whether I studied enough, and what people will think of me if I didn't, and whether I'm taking good enough care of myself or using my time well and my qualifying exams coming up in a couple of years... Except that it's not really about these situations, or the things I have to do, or the fact that I still haven't cleaned my desk or done all the dishes (though cleaning can help me feel less anxious if I can feel motivated to do it, but part of me is anxious because I'm anxious that I'll just let it get cluttered again... downward spiral). It's not about any of that, not really. It's about the blasted anxiety itself. For some reason, my body, my brain chemistry, whatever, is just wired to be anxious. Sometimes, it all gets to me, and I have a meltdown where nothing really makes it better except to let it pass. Headache, crying, panic, and then I finally fall asleep. The next day it's really hard to remember why I was so worried, and unless I write it down or make a specific effort to remember, I'll probably forget the by my next appointment with my therapist. With my anxiety, medicine kinda helps. (I think. The anxiety says I should worry about that, too.) For a while, it seemed to make those panic attacks happen less often.  But I trust that it's helping, and that I'm just still in a stressful situation (new city, new PhD program, etc) where things would be worse if I weren't taking it. Therapy also helps, as does proper exercise (yoga class once a week. It started today.), good eating habits (haha... working on that), and proper sleep (which is why I'm typing this after midnight...). Anyway, life is good. Anxiety does NOT keep me from being happy. It just makes me extra anxious, even when I know that's not a rational response, and I can't just snap out of it. If I could, I would!
Friends, family and professors told me I could make it, that I could do anything, that things would be okay if I could just calm down. Logically, I could appreciate the sentiment and their confidence in me. However, these phrases didn't help. Anxiety is not logical. (see this awesome comic!) It changed nothing about the moment I was living, about the anxiety and stress that I felt. I didn't have the tools I needed to deal with the situation. What helped was when someone would let me vent, talk with me about what was going on. It was wonderful when someone gave me time to actually help them understand how I felt and responded in a way that demonstrated their understanding. Many other times I have felt that even well-meaning people are trying to explain my feelings to me before I finish talking. It's okay, though. I can tell when someone cares enough to take the time to try to help,
And that's really one reason I'm writing this. Because there are lots of great people who want to help and maybe reading this will help people understand the experience of having anxiety. I'm no psychologist, not even close, but I do know what I feel like. This is a summary. It's what I've been able to think of the last few weeks, close to a month, that I've been considering this post. I'm sure I've left things out, and my experiences are not everyone's experiences. Your mental illness may vary. Still, I hope this helps. It is something I've felt I needed to write for a long time. I also hope it helps take away the stigma from mental illness, because they aren't going away and a lot of people struggle with them. It makes the struggle worse to think that no one else is struggling and that it's a sign of weakness to need medication. So there it is. Anxiety. And to finish, here is a comic.

As a final bonus, one of my favorite comics on introvertedness! How to help reduce anxiety.
by RomanJones on Deviant Art