When did you first start noticing symptoms?
I’m not sure exactly when I first noticed that I had an anxiety problem. In retrospect, I think it’s been an issue most of my life, but it wasn’t until about four or five years ago that I actually started to realize that it wasn’t “normal” to feel what I have been feeling.
As a child, I remember feeling a sense of dread every time my life was going well because I assumed that meant something horrible was on the horizon. I also used to have nervous breakdowns over the impossibility of passing a test the following day (even though I always did pretty well in school). At the time, I never realized these were symptoms of anxiety. My mother (who is currently prescribed anti-anxiety meds by her doctor) has always been a pretty anxious person as well, so for the longest time, I just thought those feelings of impending doom were normal.
Over the past few years, I have really been coming to terms with what it means to have anxiety and I have been pin-pointing all the ways in which it has affected and continues to affect my life, and it has, unfortunately progressively gotten worse over the past three years.
What are your triggers?
Sometimes I feel anxious about nothing in particular. It’s an uneasy and overwhelming feeling that something very bad is going to happen soon, or that you have forgotten to do something very important. I used to have really bad social anxiety, and while I still do struggle in many social settings, I have gotten much better with that over the years. My biggest trigger is driving. I embarrassingly, at 29, don’t have a driver’s license because of my anxiety toward driving. I hate needing to rely on others to get places, but every time I drive I have this horrible fear that I will get into an accident. On an empty road I’m a pretty good driver, and not too anxious, but the second there is another car on the road, I start panicking that they will crash into me. If they are behind me, I fear they will rear-end me, if they are in front of me, I fear that they will stop short, causing me to rear-end them, etc. I get so nervous, that I can’t focus on anything else. I fixate on my fears and thus, am not able to pay as much attention to the road as I should. About a year ago I crashed my husband’s car into a fence because of a panic-attack I was having while being tailgated. Looking back, I know I how I should have reacted, but in the moment, all I could think about was the possibility of getting rear-ended b
How did your family and friends handle it?
Being that I have been an anxious person most of my life, my family has accepted it as part of who I am, and do their best to understand how it affects the way I feel and act. Mental illness runs in my family (familial diagnoses include bipolar disorder, Tourette’s syndrome, depression, ADHD, and of course anxiety), so most of my family tries to be patient and understanding, however some of them are (very much unintentionally) the source of some of my anxiety.
How has it affected your relationships?
My husband also has an anxiety disorder (for which he has been prescribed medication that really helps), so he is incredibly understanding of my own anxiety most of the time. It does unfortunately cause some tension, when we both happen to be anxious at the same time, or when one of our anxiety triggers the other’s, but for the most part, we try to both be as patient and understanding towards each other as we can.
What advice would you give to others struggling?
The advice I would give to others struggling with anxiety is advice I myself need to take (and do intend to), which is to talk to a doctor/therapist. I also recommend not being afraid to talk to your friends about it. While is can be hard to allow yourself to be vulnerable, and to talk openly with your friends about your mental health, it’s important to remember that most people, especially your friends, are not going to judge you as harshly as you may think, and chances are they may be able to relate. It’s very important to have good support system.
What advice would you give to family and friends of people struggling?
The advice I have for friends and family of people struggling with anxiety is to be patient and understand that it can be very difficult to rationalize feelings of anxiety. Sometimes an anxiety trigger may seem completely silly and/ or irrational to someone without anxiety, and often times the person struggling with anxiety knows that it is silly/ irrational, but they can’t help how they feel about it. Sometimes, during a panic attack, it can be nearly impossible to rationalize with your thoughts, so it’s important to be understanding of that.
What do people say that you wish they didn’t?
I hate when people assume that I use anxiety as an excuse to get out of doing things that I don’t want to do. For example; with driving, I really want to get my license, but I think some people assume that I haven’t because I don’t want to, and that I say I have anxiety as an excuse. Or they think that it’s as easy as waking up one day and just deciding not to be anxious anymore. This is something I really hate because it feels as though my mental health is being trivialized.
Do you think the health care system is doing enough?
I think the biggest flaw in the healthcare system (at least in the US) is that it is not universal. So many people don’t seek out the help they need because they either don’t have health insurance, or they don’t have good health insurance. This is can be especially tragic for people who are homeless and struggling with their mental health. They might not be able to hold down a job because of the state of their mental health, but they can’t get the help they need because they can’t afford it. While there are some federally funded programs to help people in these situations, it’s not enough.
How do you stay positive and motivated?
The best way for me to stay motivated and positive is to stay busy and always have something to distract myself with. If I am focused on something I care about, it can keep me from feeling anxious. This is why I love making art. It is not only a distraction from my anxiety, but the result is often something I can be proud of, thus also giving myself a confidence boost. This of course does not always do the trick, but in general keeping myself busy and focused on a task does help me feel less anxious. As mentioned before, a good support network is really helpful as well.