Anxiety is just a word. It does not define me, but in a way, it does.
Anxiety is a word I dismissed for years. I chalked up my perfectionism, my attention to detail, my jitters, my fidgeting, my tense muscles, to me having a type-A personality and some serious drive. I never fully understood, or wanted to understand, that the majority of what makes me who I am is because of anxiety.
I’ve been anxious for years – as long as I can remember, really. Obsessing over my grades, reveling in assignment deadlines, perfecting every sentence of every essay, paper, and college exam. It’s even part of what has made me a successful adult. And up until recently, it’s just been there. It’s been something I’ve dealt with. I don’t know how to be honest, but I’ve managed.
As I’ve gotten my footing in adulthood, it has definitely taken a turn for the worse. Anxiety worsened with constant worry. Worry about my job – am I doing good enough? Worry about my bills – I paid my student loans on time, right? Worry about my friendships – how do you make friends as an adult? Why didn’t I get invited? Worry about relationships – does he really like me?
It seemed to turn for the worse overnight.
In November 2015, I was involved in a rollover car accident. I was in an Uber with friends, and we were t-boned by a drunk driver. Another passenger was paralyzed. And though I sustained few physical injuries, I left that accident with what I now know is PTSD.
PTSD, or “Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault,” according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
In reality, my anxiety really did turn for the worse overnight. I started replaying what I could remember from the accident over and over again, often getting stuck in a spiral of questions I’ll never have the answers to. The sounds of the accident on a loop keeping me awake into the early hours of the morning. Nightmares. Physical pain, and emotional confusion. So many sleepless nights. I started making excuses to get out of dates and hanging out with friends. I started getting unreasonably angry and irritable at/with everything. I was an emotional mess.
The most surprising byproduct of all was that I was able to suppress all of it and not ask for help.
I’ve been seeing a therapist now for months, and it’s been eye-opening. I didn’t realize how bad it had gotten until a few sessions passed. I didn’t realize how much it’s affected my life and others around me until recently. I didn’t realize how it has changed my personality. Anxiety is consuming and blinding.
I learned that because of my anxiety, I was/am more prone to developing other mental health problems like PTSD. I’m more susceptible, and especially so because I wasn’t dealing with it in a healthy way.
Over the last few months, family and friends have expressed if they didn’t talk to me, or know me, they would have never guessed anything was going on. I kept calm on the outside, with anxiety escaping in small tics (nail biting, messing with my hair, picking at cuticles). I seemed put together, maybe a little stressed, but overall adulting very well. I was high-functioning. Obviously that’s not, and wasn’t, the case.
I say all of this because writing is my therapy. Accepting this as part of who I am is my therapy. And I know I’m not the only one who struggles with anxiety. It’s taken me a long time to accept it – I’m still accepting it – and know that I will likely deal with this for the majority of my life. It’s OK to ask for help, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. There are many people who may not understand what you’re going through, but there are that many more who do. They know exactly what you’re going through. I know exactly what you’re going through.
If you ever want to talk, or need help with resources, please reach out. Anxiety doesn’t have to define you.