My Lifelong Battle with Anxiety and How I Am Beating It
For the longest time, I thought it was just me. It’s definitely not fun if you’ve been on a battle with anxiety. People who do not understand what feels like whenever it happens may suggest that I am just being overdramatic or exaggerating. But they have no idea that it’s more than just that.
First, what is Anxiety? Most of the time it is a normal emotion that most people feel at some point. It is the feeling of tension, nervousness or worry. But when a person is having anxiety on disproportionate levels to the point that it negatively affects their life and chances are that you might be suffering from a disorder, like me.
What Anxiety is Like For Me
People always wonder why I am so quiet. It’s not because I am unsociable or shy. I am not shy, in fact, I happen to love socializing. It is just there are times where I totally have no clue on what to say or how this person would react and respond. There are occasions where I would try to keep it cool and act normal like everyone else but most of the time I am doing my best to keep myself together.
Everyday living and encounters with people are extremely difficult with me. Even to those whom I have always been with including family, friends, workmates and of course random strangers!
I always feel awkward whenever I am surrounded by a lot of people. I can’t even seem to start a conversation even though I badly want to. I always thought to myself:
What if this person is not really interested in talking?
What if I don’t know what to say next?
What if the conversation stops?
What am I going to do next?
What if they ask a really hard question?
What if this person thinks I am stupid?
So I would run to a corner and hide, hoping that nobody will see me. Whenever I am in such situations, I always find the best excuse to leave the scene. Even if it means I have to stay in the bathroom for an hour.
There are people who don’t understand this. Even I do not understand because it is irrational to have these thoughts. A simple “Just stop feeling that way!” is not gonna help. Honestly, do you think that those who suffer from it wants to feel this way?
I wish it were so easy but it is not. So if you are one of those who doesn’t feel this way then consider yourself lucky that you don’t have to deal with this.
Fight or Flight Situations
I remember a time wherein school, I was chosen to participate in a Mathematics Quiz Bee. I wasn’t that bad in math, I was a struggling student in that subject yet somehow I was chosen. For the first few days of training, I accepted it but I was the one who is getting the lowest scores. I felt so sorry for myself and I cannot handle the embarrassment.
So one day, I pretended to be sick for days and keep on making excuses on why I cannot join the training anymore. I did that for days until they finally found a replacement and I can breathe again. Instead of trying, I flee the situation. That’s how I use to deal with it.
On rare occasions, I would snap. Just like Thanos. When my emotions are flooding and my stress levels are extremely high, I am unable to control it. Normally, I would just go to a quiet corner and yell.
The last I remember snapping at someone was during my college days when we are finalizing our thesis. I lashed out at some of the members saying how useless they really are. Yes, I know it was mean. I was sorry afterward and we all made peace. We were all stressed out. I just couldn’t bear it if I will not be able to pass thesis and graduate in time. Thankfully, we made it.
How it Affects My Everyday Life
I always felt like I am being judged, that all eyes are on me. And whenever I make simple mistakes, I punish myself so badly that I cannot move on from it. I’ve missed out on plenty of good opportunities out of fear of being rejected or humiliated.
Even on simple things, my anxiety greatly affects my life. Every single time when I would order a simple meal in fast foods, I have to rehearse what I am going to say in my head many times before I say them. And when it is my turn, sometimes I would falter and become speechless. In restaurants, I always feel shy raising my hand to call the waiter.
The first wave of my anxiety occurred years ago. I don’t frequently get panic attacks but I remember when I was a freshman in high school, I participated in an Extemporaneous Speech. They would ask you a question sort of like Q&A style, you will be given a few minutes to deliver a speech. I was able to come up with a short answer but I failed to deliver.
I just felt like my whole body froze It doesn’t make any sense why. I know what to say but I can’t seem to say it, my mouth started twitching as I try to speak. I thought back then, I probably looked stupid. So I ran out of the room and the good thing is it is not conducted on a stage or else that will be even more humiliating! I don’t think I would be able to handle it back then.
My anxiety started getting bad when I became an adult. Like a real adult and getting my first job and everything. I wasn’t a bad student back then and people knew that I would have a promising future. So I set up an impossible standard for myself and whenever I don’t meet those, I feel extremely sorry for myself. I started hating myself.
When I got a job, I would hate being in meetings. I was always afraid whenever it is my turn to talk and always scared that I might say the wrong thing.
The hardest one yet is when I traveled abroad for the first time in Vietnam. I didn’t understand anything or anyone and it was extremely difficult for me to interact with people. I was just eating outside when my head started ringing so badly and my heart started beating uncontrollably I thought I was having a heart attack. I was panting and then I started crying.
Knowing What’s Wrong with Me
One day when my anxiety is getting really bad to the point where I am crying in the bathroom of our office. I always felt like a failure even if I haven’t done anything wrong. My thoughts would just be flooded with negativity to the point where I feel paralyzed, I don’t know what to say and what to do.
The next day after that, I had myself checked and thanks to the perks of being a career girl with a health card. It was confirmed that I am indeed suffering from an anxiety disorder specifically Social Anxiety Disorder. I felt like I finally understood why I am the way I am.
Social Anxiety is the fear of all social situations, be it answering questions during class, a job interview, talking to the cashier on the supermarket or even simply eating in public places. This has been the bane of my existence all along.
The psychologist told me while I can normally handle social situations, my issue is more on a performance anxiety learning that I really cannot handle humiliation and rejection. Whenever I would so something, I would start overthinking it so badly that I ended up losing my concentration and messing up. Whether it is a job, a speech or simple socialization. I was trying to be a perfectionist that I ended up screwing everything up. I approach things that way because I was afraid of humiliation instead of approaching things simply because you want to make it happen.
Slowly Beating It
What worked for me is trying my best to pause whenever I felt my emotions are heating up. I try my best not to indulge in negative emotions anymore. It is sort of like rewiring my brain. It’s definitely not easy and it takes time but slowly it works. Although I’ll admit that there will be times where I would relapse and lose control of it.
Baby Steps in Socializing
The key is to listen and to talk. Stop thinking about yourself. Make yourself grounded in the situation by focusing on the person. Because when you are worried about yourself, you’re not really engaging and therefore, you think you don’t have any social skills at all.
I try to be genuine in each encounter now. And each time that I do, I started realizing that it is not so bad. And if there is no engagement at all, maybe it is not your fault. Sometimes, the person you are talking to might have some sort of social anxiety as well.
As for my problems in going to the cashier or calling the waiters, I just tell myself that these people meet hundreds of different people every single day. They probably won’t remember me at all.
Most people don’t even look at me. So I just keep doing what I am doing in the first place. It’s so much better when you stop trying to worry about what will people think of you, most of them don’t care. Some of them are the same as you, thinking about what others think of them to be bothered about scrutinizing you in every inch.
It’s Okay to Fail
Whenever I’ve done something wrong, big or small, the first thing I do is take responsibility for it. Then I remind myself that it is okay to make a mistake.
Just look around. Everyone does. What matters is I tried my best. Right?
Whenever I feel that I am about to have a panic attack, I focus on my breathing. I would take a long breath filling air from my nose to my lungs and then I would exhale and count to three. It helps reduce my heart rate. Doing it with eyes closed helps me better.
Joining Support Groups
I realized that I am not the only one who suffers from the same thing. Turns out there are millions out there. The feeling of not the only feeling this way somehow helps especially when you can relate with someone who understands how it feels like.
I’ve also read about stories of people, their journey and how they are facing it in their own way. I also get to learn more about mental health and how to deal with certain issues properly. Understanding my situation really helped a lot. It encouraged me to do better.
If you can relate and feel that you might be suffering from an anxiety disorder, I suggest that you consult a professional that can help you deal with it. It is also important that you are properly diagnosed with a disorder and not do not diagnose yourself because you read an article or two!
I will breathe I will think of a solution I will not let my worry control me. I will not let me stress break me. I will simply breathe and it will be okay because I don’t quit.