My heart is racing. The rhythm of my heartbeat is off to the point that I can feel it more and more with each passing second. Not just difficulty breathing, but the sensation that I can't breathe, the air trapped in my lungs and I begin to cough. Ice cold hands and feet that blankets, socks, gloves, heating pad can't warm. Numbness in my limbs just add to the loss of control of my own body, my mind racing with the thought "I'm going to die" over and over.
I had never been able to say I was grateful for my own personal struggle with anxiety, not until I began seeing symptoms in my daughter's behavior, now 12 years old. She started around the age of 5 with obsessive thoughts that affected her ability to attend certain events. As I have tried to understand her and help her cope, my understanding of myself and others has broadened.
Although each individual experiences anxiety differently, I believe that expectation and judgment is common among us all.
Although in more recent years people have begun speaking out more about their struggles with anxiety, many of us have been struggling and suffering alone for decades. Talking about our struggle brings on irritation, frustration and disbelief from those who have never experienced paralyzing anxiety. The audible eye rolls and labels such as "too sensitive," "dramatic" or "flaky" are all too common.
Comments or conversations about others who struggle to show up due to anxiety have taught us to stay quiet, the shame adding to the myriad heightened emotions we are trying to wade through on a daily basis. Some days we are able to navigate through all of this, but when the anxiety and overwhelm sets in, our first instinct is to avoid situations that will magnify the heaviness of how we process the world around us. This affects our ability to show up to social gatherings such as get-togethers, events and places like church and school.
Expectations, whether self-imposed, in family, culture or by an institution are really important. They help us strive to do our best and push ourselves to become better. There is a certain satisfaction and joy that come when our expectations are met or exceeded.
The problem with expectations for those who suffer from paralyzing anxiety is when we start to worry excessively about a situation that did not go well, or we worry about a new situation we have yet to experience.
Our personal expectations demand perfection or knowledge on how a certain situation should play out. When anxiety is high, these situations bring on feelings of inadequacy. The fear that our vulnerability will be taken advantage of is so real it's almost palpable.
My heart aches as I watch my own daughter obsess over everyday, non-threatening situations at school or church. The fight or flight reactions make her feel silly, or even like she is going crazy. Tears and frustration with herself are so very familiar as I feel them in my own heart and mind. At times I feel so helpless as I stand on the sidelines and she goes through a particularly hard day. Often, her anxiety manifests itself with irritation or anger first. I have learned to just ask her the question “ Are you upset or worried about something?” which will open up a dialogue about what she is feeling, and this can help lighten the blow.
Keeping the menacing thoughts inside our minds only gives them more power over us, so being able to verbalize the fact that our anxiety is high without judgment is tremendous.
Feeling judgment from others is the last thing we need. We are constantly judging ourselves and are afraid that everyone surrounding us is judging us as well. Our inner critic reminds us that we are incapable and tells us that we may as well avoid the feared situation altogether. If we are unable to talk ourselves down from our anxiety, our inner critic wins. We cancel plans, stay home and go over and over in our minds our failure to show up.
Judging ourselves just adds to the cycle. Our failure to engage in any given situation validates the belief in us that yes, we are incapable and weak.
There are no consistencies with heightened anxiety. We try our best to eat well, sleep the recommended amount of time, and do things that help manage stress. Unfortunately, these days, and sometimes weeks, of struggle come and go as they please.
Living with anxiety can be very lonely, but it doesn't have to be. Understanding given by those around us makes the struggle a bit more bearable and makes it so we don’t have to struggle silently any longer.
Kirsten Marie is one of three sisters who highlights the happy in the everyday on their blog at seethehappy.com. She has three kids who help her find joy and make memories through the ups and downs of life. She is an advocate of gratitude and loves to look for the good in the world.