My mom has anxiety, so I kind of always knew it could be a problem for me. I was really afraid that I wouldn’t be able to handle it as well as she has, so I started making conscious decisions to deal with it around the time I was 13 years old. (That’s also the time in my life when I suffered my first panic attack during a writing exercise in English class.) I credit that with how I’ve been able to have relatively few panic attacks in my life, but that doesn’t mean I came out unscathed.
For some reason, people believe that the effects of your anxiety have to be big. If I’m not hyperventilating, I must just be dramatic, right? But anxiety comes in a lot of forms, so we can’t discount anyone’s experiences with it. Usually, when I voice some of my fears to friends they roll their eyes and say, “Really, Brianti?” Yes, really.
The goal of anxious people is to one day get through these things that make our lives more complicated or at least learn to control them better, but you have to give us time and support. Not judgment.
To offer some clarity on what little things anxious people may go through, I’m recounting some of moments that make my life more difficult. Hopefully, a little more openness about anxiety can dispel the misconceptions.
1. Order food over the phone.
I’m pretty sure I was one of the first people to start ordering my pizzas online and I still won’t call to do it. I think a lot of people probably just hate that they always put you on hold, but I hate all of the thoughts that start running through my mind.
What if I called the wrong number? What if I don’t pick the best deal? What if I have to ask someone to repeat themselves because I can’t hear? (They’ll think I’m stupid.) What if I called the wrong Pizza Hut location and have to go through this all over again when I call the right one?
So, if there’s a restaurant that only takes orders over the phone, I’m going to ask someone else to call. If no one else is around to take on that duty, I’ll probably eat food from somewhere that does have an online ordering system.
2. Drive over bridges without thinking of the worst-case scenario.
I live in a coastal town, so I drive across bridges a lot. On the way to work every day, I come across a small draw bridge and every day I imagine it breaking in half and me falling into the water. Then, I see myself trying to escape the car, unable to open the doors because of the water pressure, as the water starts to rise inside my vehicle.
I can’t swim, so there’s also the fear that if I do escape, I’ll still drown. If I did somehow figure out how to propel myself toward the surface, what would I do next? I probably can’t swim to a buoy and I can’t float, so I’d probably still drown. In every scenario, I end up dead in the water.
That bridge has probably been there for 50 years without any situation like that happening, but my heart is racing every time I drive over it.
3. Pass people in the hall at work that I don’t know too well.
I work at a small office with only about 30 or 40 employees, but I don’t get the opportunity to talk to about half of the staff. So, when I pass by “Susie” from sales, who I’ve only had one conversation with, I don’t exactly know what to do. I’m worried that I’ll look dumb if I wave and she doesn’t wave back. But then I don’t want to seem like I’m rude by just turning my head and avoiding eye contact as we pass by one another. Then, I wonder: should I give her a “Hey” or a “Hey, how are you?” as I pass. By the time I actually do cross paths with this person, there’s no doubt that I will do something awkward because I’ve been thinking about it too much.
When it comes to people that I do know well, that even causes anxiety. Do we hug? Do we just exchange pleasantries? We hugged yesterday, but before that we’d only waved at one another, so which do we do today? It’s just too much pressure.
4. Sleep without the covers tucked under my feet.
My friend Kat has a pretty strict rule about sleeping—your feet need to be poking out from under the covers, so they can breathe. Basically, her sleeping motto is my worst nightmare.
When my friends and family watch horror movies, they scream during the film and somehow let it go within a few days. Whereas, I saw The Ring when I was in 7th grade and at 26 years old, I still have nightmare fantasies about it. (Mind you, I closed my eyes when the ghost came out of the TV, so I never even saw the scariest part.) When I turn the lights out in my room, I’m pretty much convinced that the little girl from the movie is going to pull my leg and drag me out of bed if my feet aren’t completely covered by my blanket.
My rational mind knows that makes no sense. My anxious mind is scared to death.
5. Allow other people to help me when I’m overwhelmed.
It is literally easier for me to be stressed over my insane workload than for me to take help when it’s offered. I start coming up with all of these crazy things that can go wrong.
My anxiety leads me to believe that if I let anyone else post set up stories to be published on this site or if I let them help me with writing the daily stories, the entire structure we have going will completely crash. Now, I have gotten past this somewhat and recently allowed our executive editor to take the reigns when I was at a wedding. She did fabulous job and nothing blew up, so I’m making strides in this area.
Unfortunately, I’m still freaking out about a million other things in this arena, so I can’t brag about my progress just yet. But I have faith that it will get better with time.