When I have anxiety, it’s this strange heat in my midsection. It starts just under my chest and pulses in all directions. I feel it tingle my fingertips and radiate down my legs. It travels up my chest, into my face, and up to my head, where I reel from the sheer weight of having to deal with this unwelcome reality every single day of my life.
It’s true that everyone gets anxious. I think it’s one of the great things that makes us all human – all the same. Being anxious is entirely normal. But having anxiety is not and that’s where the difference lies. While you may get anxious before a presentation, my mind is traveling warp speed through every possible scenario, telling my body I should probably go to the bathroom one more time, that my lips are too dry, I should get a drink, all while reconciling my fight or flight instincts.
For me, and this may be true for a lot of people who deal with chronic anxiety, the first place your mind goes when you’re in the middle of an “episode” is where do I feel safe? For me, it’s Ottawa – where my family, my closest friends all live. It’s where I grew up.
So when I’m stuck at work, or alone in my apartment, fighting the anxiety that’s once again rippling through me like an unrelenting wave, my brain’s first instinct – its most basic response – is to run away. And sometimes I can recognize it for what it is, and other times I give into it and tell myself that I need to go home as soon as possible. I need to uproot my life, say goodbye to this city, to my career, and flee. That’s where I’ll be safe, where I’ll be protected from my fears and from everything my anxiety tells me is coming after me.
I wish I could deal with people the way others do – the way people tell me to. I wish that one little thing they said to me didn’t feel like a personal attack. I wish one little mistake didn’t feel like a nuclear explosion. Above all, I wish I was strong enough to push the anxiety back, to subside its temperament and live a life that doesn’t revolve around the things my anxiety tells me to be afraid of.
In the last few years – and maybe its ever since I’ve moved to Toronto – my anxiety has become increasingly stronger and increasingly harder to handle. It happens at the absolute worst moments – when I’m buying coffee, when I’m taking a shower, when I’m sending an email. The most normal of daily tasks can’t shield me from the thoughts that bring about a rush of adrenaline and the crippling hand of anxiety.
Even writing this post is giving me rushes of fear. I have no idea why.
I’ve heard people say that you can’t control what other people do, but you can control how you respond to it. Well, that’s all nice and dandy, of course, and in a perfect world, I’d be able to confront most situations with a level head. Unfortunately for me, and a lot of people like me, it isn’t that simple. We’re slaves to this sensation, this panic that we have no control over, that tells us the sky is falling, that this one small thing is what’s going to bring about the end of everything.
I wish I knew how to take things in stride, to let my own pure thoughts control my life, rather than letting my actions be dictated by this uncontrollable and unseen terror that seems to feed on my energy, and anything that makes me happy, every second of every day.