I love rollercoasters. There is little that can compare with the sensation of high-speed maneuvers while flying through the air. But the experience that I delight in most is the slow march up the incline at the very beginning. It is the thrill of the unknown. You don’t know what twists and turns lay ahead, you don’t know the exact moment when the pendulum will shift and the free fall will begin. I love that feeling. But I love it because it is temporary. If that feeling of anticipation lasted forever, it wouldn’t be fun, it would be torture.
Anxiety is that torture.
My depression almost drove me to suicide. It put me in the hospital for a week. It annihilated (for a time) my relationship with my children. But if you gave me the choice of trading my depression for anxiety, I would grab my depression with both hands and run for the door.
Anxiety is as different from your everyday worry as depression is from sadness. I do not have generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder and for that, I am so very, very, grateful. I have, however, experienced anxiety for a time, due to one of my antidepressants, and it taught me compassion and empathy for those who experience this disorder on a daily basis.
Can you imagine for instance thinking about doing something normal, like driving your children to daycare only to have a swarm of harpies shrieking all of the possible negative things that could happen as a result of your actions? What if we get into an accident? What if they get kidnapped? These negative thoughts are so real and so powerful as you contemplate them in your mind that you can visualize them happening.
You are paralyzed because anything you do will be the wrong thing and will set off a negative series of events that will destroy everything. The worst part is that you know, in your mind, that you are overreacting. You know logically that all of those bad things probably won’t happen, but you are so trapped in the possibility of them happening, so trapped in the feeling of fear, that you are literally immobilized.
This is not a trivial experience. The physiological component of anxiety is powerful. Here are a few of the fun things that those with severe anxiety disorder or panic disorder may experience according to Mayo Clinic: fatigue, restlessness, or sweating; hypervigilance or irritability; racing thoughts or unwanted thoughts; excessive worry, fear, feeling of impending doom, insomnia, nausea, poor concentration, sensation of an abnormal heartbeat, or trembling. Now imagine having this happen for hours, days, months, years. Imagine the fear you might develop of having to experience this anxiety. It would change your entire life. You would actively avoid anything that might trigger your anxiety.
Can you imagine that? Imagine that was your life on a regular basis. Now imagine that you tell people this, people whose worries flutter by their heads like butterflies, occasionally landing or during very stressful times making slow revolutions around their head. They have “strong minds.” They can contemplate their concerns sometimes constantly and then move through them. They can worry but still function.
So although they may try to understand, they cannot, because it is something that must be experienced to be understood. “Oh, you worry too much. Why would you need medication for that? Just don’t think so much.” The implication is that if you can’t control your anxiety, then you are weak. If you tried harder to be stronger, you could be normal just like them.
Anxiety is not weak people dealing poorly with the normal worries and concerns of life. Anxiety is a disorder that strong people bear, that distorts the normal worries of life into living nightmares and triggers a constant state of high alert that drains the energy, peace, and hope from your soul. Anxiety can be debilitating. But it is not weakness. Anyone who could survive with this illness for weeks, months, years has strength that I cannot begin to fathom.
I met a woman once who suffered debilitating anxiety every morning. All she could do was sit and rock slowly back and forth. She felt every moment like she was ready to crawl out of her skin. It was incessant torture. So one day, her husband found her in their backyard, a long kitchen knife grasped in her fist contemplating suicide. Thankfully, she asked for help and thankfully there are medications that help her to manage her anxiety.
Next time you encounter someone with anxiety and you wonder why they can’t just forget about it and move on, just be grateful that you aren’t strapped into that never ending rollercoaster. Be gentle with them. They are fighting a hard battle.
Light the Darkness,