“It feels like I’m drowning. Like I’m slowly being strangled and I wanna scream, but I’m in a bubble, and no sound is coming out. You lose feeling in your body for a while, becoming numb so much that you can’t hold your own weight. It feels like the world won’t stop spinning–like it will never stop. This is your new norm, and you have to get used to it.” (Description of a panic attack taken from an interview)
On a worldwide scale, statistics say roughly one out of four people will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. With such a large percent of the population affected, it’s only natural that the subject of anxiety tends to come up in discussions of mental health. But for the rest of the population without anxiety, chances are the particulars of anxiety are rather murky.
Everyone experiences anxiety occasionally. Fear and apprehension because of an impending crisis or stressful situation are all part of the natural fight-or-flight response humans have developed to survive. It is an entirely different situation, however, when these episodes of anxiety repeatedly interfere with one’s normal activities and occur intensely out-of-proportion to the real danger. Such is the struggle of those with anxiety disorders. Beyond the severe and prolonged feelings of fear, anxiety disorders can involve symptoms like panic, trembling, hyperventilation, gastrointestinal problems, increased heart rate, trouble sleeping, and difficulty concentrating. Whether the disorder comes from medical causes, environmental stressors, family genetics, or past trauma, anxiety as a mental illness is a very real obstacle faced by millions of people—including those in our own social circles.
A big part of what we do here at Talang Dalisay is try to build an environment where honest, safe discussion on mental health and illness can happen regularly—where understanding the experiences of people similar or different to ourselves becomes easier, and we are able to say with sincerity, “You are not alone.” In an effort to bring to light the real stories of people who have or have had an anxiety disorder, here are a few experiences and insights from a few sources (who will remain anonymous for privacy reasons) with first-hand knowledge on the subject:
When did you first realize that your anxiety was beyond the normal?
Source 1: It was more of a process than a moment. Grade 7 was the first time I started worrying about myself. I remember feeling something stopping me from talking to people who I felt were more popular or who would judge me. But then, I remember being able to act confident for this one social event, so I told myself, okay, you’re fine. Then the next year, I had a super hard time socializing with older people for school things, but I kind of just dismissed it as me being really shy. The thing is, I knew other people who were shy—this didn’t feel like the same thing. I was never shy as a child, so having difficulty in social situations seemed to come out of nowhere. I’m usually really loud, and I have no problem performing in class. The inconsistent shyness was starting to alarm me enough. Eventually, through Tumblr and research, I learned about social anxiety; my mindset then was like: look at it, read, don’t self diagnose, and try to confirm that it’s not you. So I did. But afterwards, the question was still there. By the start of 2017, I asked my dad what he knew about social anxiety. Ten months later, I decided to get help.
What do you struggle with the most regarding your anxiety?
Source 1: I think the worst part is when I get stuck in a bad chain of thoughts. What will happen is, if it gets really bad, all my thoughts will contradict each other. As in, I’ll have bad thoughts, and then I’ll try to fight them and prove them wrong—but then the bad thoughts kind of just assert themselves more. There will suddenly be a new argument for why I’ll fail or why whatever bad thing might happen will come true. Whenever I feel bad, all I want is a break to just rest, but I know the rest of the world won’t wait for me to stop feeling anxious. Then, I start worrying about the fact that I’m worrying. I guess it’s like a virus that spreads beyond what I’m actually immediately having a problem with. To me, it ends up feeling like my anxiety bleeds into other things.
Was it hard to ask for help?
Source 2: Definitely. I didn’t really know what I was asking help for! It was something I couldn’t describe yet, so I struggled to relay it to other people. Mostly, I would just keep to myself until I found a way to describe it which took quite a long time. I ended up approaching mostly my barkada in school first—not all of them though, just a select few. Even then, it took me more than a year to be transparent with them. It helped a lot though because then I had someone to run to when I would have panic attacks in school. I didn’t have to deal with it alone anymore. I guess what made it so hard to reach out was that fear that they might misunderstand me, that people would think I was just looking for attention or making stuff up.
How important is a support system for you? How has your support system helped you?
Source 3: My friends were very important in the sort of release I needed, especially on bad days—a sort of exercise for my brain. In addition to giving me the the opportunity to freely express my thoughts, they also asked me questions that led to a deeper understanding of what I was really feeling. Honestly, sometimes, what I needed was more than a group of people who listen. Being listened to is super valuable, of course, but at times, what I really needed was friends who would “call me out”. Dealing with my anxiety, sometimes I would get a little off track with my life—caught up in my worries. In a really loving and thoughtful way, they would bring me back to reality. Without my support system, I really think that I would have, in a sense, shut myself off from the rest of the world. I was tired of being afraid of daily life, of both the present and the future. It was starting to take a toll on my other relationships. Of course, I was worried that I would be a burden to them or that talking to them about my own struggle would affect them too much. But they reassured me that they would always be there to help me through my anxiety.
What’s the one thing you wish you could tell other people with anxiety?
Source 3: If you feel like your anxiety is weighing you down, don’t be afraid to reach out to other people and steady yourself. Draw your strength from the good things and the good people in your life. The most important thing to know is that you’ll never be alone. I myself am still in the process of opening myself up to sharing, even on those days when I feel like I’m about to be swallowed whole by the ground or “insert other doomsday scenario”. We can do this, you guys. Think of it this way… anxiety isn’t some dragon you have to kill just to prove that you’re okay. It’s actually just one you have to become the master of.
What’s the one thing you wish you could tell people who don’t have anxiety but want to understand it?
Source 2: When someone with anxiety tells you about their state of mind, please don’t shut them down right away. Please know it probably took them months to come clean to you. Just try your best to understand and be present for them.
For more information on anxiety disorders, visit https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961