What is Anxiety Like?


Disclaimer: I'm fine, physically and mentally, as of the present moment.

CN: Anxiety, panic, mental health, mention of cancer and blood

People sometimes ask "What's anxiety like?" I offer you this story. I call it "Just In Case."

"Just to be sure we aren't missing something," is what the doctor told me when he handed me the test. This was a week ago last Monday. The test was meant to provide an answer to a question that I sometimes ask of myself: are we sure this isn't cancer?

"This" is a physical issue I have which is entirely benign, but does mean, being entirely circumspect, that sometimes there is blood where one would not expect blood. My labs all come back clean (especially for a diabetic), and I had a negative result with this test last year. But because the issue still sometimes shows up, the doctor handed it to me, and said it again. "Just to be sure."  Just in case.

I left the physical feeling relatively giddy, but also stressed out; the test meant a restricted diet for about a week, which was really annoying because some staple foods of ours are on the banned list. But I had gotten through my physical, and through an eye exam, and I had gotten over 10,000 steps before it was even dinner time, so I was doing great. I was an adult. I was amazing.

That was not the me who woke up on Tuesday. The me who woke up on Tuesday wasn't thinking "just in case it's cancer." The me who woke up on Tuesday was Anxiety Me, and Anxiety Me instead thought "because it is cancer."

Anxiety is a pair of goggles strapped to my face, unremovable, that looked at everything I did, and told me: "This might be the last time you do it." Anxiety is me wondering how I was supposed to enjoy my upcoming wedding anniversary when I knew it might be my last. Anxiety is questions like "How will you feel about leaving Sonya a widow?"

Anxiety is every hobby being tainted with accusations and recriminations. Playing a video game? "You could spend your last time thinking you're healthy a lot better than this." Watching The Defenders? "Sure hope this is good enough that it's a worthy ending to your viewing of the MCU." Writing? "You realize you might not live to see this book get published, right?" Going on a walk with S.? "She's mad. She's super-mad. You've ruined everything."

Anxiety is me, unable to close my jaw without it clicking, my breathing always a little shallow, my chest feeling like it's been machine-tightened. Anxiety is everything anyone around me does being proof that they were mad at me -- or sometimes about to hit me.

Anxiety is me unable to speak whole sentences for some stretches of Saturday. Anxiety is me knowing that if I let any of these feelings out, I was deserving of punishment for having failed.

Anxiety is me dropping the test off on Sunday afternoon, and feeling like I crossed under the gate that said "Abandon all hope." Anxiety is Sunday dinner feeling like my last meal.

Anxiety is, when my doctor's office got back to me before I even started my work day to say the test was negative, the absence of my stress chemicals being so devastating that I felt twitchy and woozy, like the glue holding my arms on had finally failed. Anxiety is me literally having to just sit and do nothing for a few minutes before I could think straight again.

That's anxiety. Anxiety is "just in case" becoming "you're dying."

And this is a very bad week. This is 10 out of 10. But I'm always at 1 out of 10, at least, and often at 3 or 4 if I've slept poorly or had one of my known triggers or energy-drains already tax me. Like if I've ridden in a car for any significant distance. But you know what helps? Medicine. Mindfulness. Techniques I've learned in what therapy I've had.

I tell that story both to get it out of my own skull, and because I hope it helps someone. And I end it by saying: It's okay to not be okay. It's okay to need medication. It's okay to need to have a doctor change your medication. It's okay to see therapists, in whatever setting works best for you. And if you can do those things, I encourage you to do them. If I hadn't, that 10 out of 10 week could have completely broken the dial.

I hope this helps. Now, pardon me. I'm going to go and try to take my own advice.