Real Stories

Learning and living with anxiety

Anxiety manifests differently from person-to-person and we should be mindful of each other

Anxiety has been a part of my life since I was a kid. I grew up with a hand-twitch that translated the social anxiety I had into movement – and, being a kid, I grew to be so embarrassed by this that, as my mom says, I decided to sit on my hands to make myself stop.

No one ever commented on this to me, though, but being the observant child I was, I knew I was acting different and God forbid that being different ever happens. Anyway, I think that this hand-movement transferred to nail biting as I got older, but then I became aware of germs and decided that I better stop doing that (also: to be cool, you had to have long nails you could paint, right?).

It wasn’t long until a new habit formed during my years in high school. I think this was junior year, although I can’t really remember. All I know is that – as I have reflected on those years in the past – I thought I was so much happier and had very little anxiety.

Perhaps that wasn’t the case.

I started doing this thing in my mouth where I slosh my spit around through the back of my teeth. I can actually hear this noise in my ears, but I thought maybe no one else heard or cared. It wasn’t until one of my stepsisters asked me what it was that I grew self-conscious of it and tried to make myself stop. I don’t do it as much as I used to, but whenever I am stressed, anxious, or thinking about being stressed or anxious, I notice that I start doing it again.

When my anxiety began to run at me full-tilt in the summer before my junior year of college, a whole new batch of ticks and symptoms began to erupt. Aside from panic attacks, my arms and legs would grow tingly for seemingly no reason. Or they would hurt like hell – making me think I was having a heart attack at 21 years old.

I’ve had horrible headaches. I’ve had stomach problems. I’ve had heartburn.

The list is endless, really. I could go on for days about all of the ways my anxiety manifests in my body and how, generally, these physical pains make it much worse.

My mind, though, tends to take control these days. Meaning that my anxiety is mainly in my own head. I say this not because the physical symptoms have stopped, because they actually haven’t stopped at all. I’ve just grown used to them and now usually dismiss them as nothing unless it is something I have never experienced before.

No, my anxiety has run rampant in my head for months on end. It’s like thinking of a little person in your head with a hammer. This person looks like a shadow of you. Maybe it wields some sort of weapon in its hands or has a fiery tongue that darts out to singe your thoughts. It’s like hmm, your day is too good. What can we make you think or worry about that will remind you that your life is never really that good?

Anxiety can feel like this. The hammer bashes against your brain. You jolt. The fiery tongue lashes your mind and thoughts, which leaves burns and scars and smoldering ash. It hurts. It’s blinding. It scares you. It makes you feel like you’re the only person in the world who has invisible scars on their brain that come from your-own-damn-self.

Except, really, you’re not. People all over the world share a similar experience to yours. And while, for instance, I’m here imagining my anxiety as a shadowy version of myself who carries a hammer and has a fiery tongue, you might see yours differently. You might see your anxiety as a storm cloud, someone who hurt you in the past, or maybe you don’t see anything at all. Maybe it just feels like your head weighs a hundred pounds and you wonder how you have the strength to hold it up anymore.

We’re all different and that’s okay, but you’re not alone in feeling anxiousness.
Although mental health is becoming a more prominent topic of discussion, it’s still something that a lot of people struggle with quietly because they just don’t know how common a condition like anxiety actually is. I know I’ve been stuck here for months. While logically, my brain knows that I cannot be the only person in the entire world who has ever felt this level of anxiety, since I’ve never seen or met a person who sees their anxiety like I do, it became a sort of thing where I thought that I absolutely must be losing my mind because obviously, no one has ever experienced what I am.

Yet there are so many of us who suffer from anxiety. We share this experience with one another and, because of this, we should be willing to do what we can to help one another out in these hard or dark times. Anxiety can be debilitating, of course, and you should absolutely take care of yourself first. If you don’t have the energy to help someone else, don’t. But if you do have even enough energy to send someone a quick text or to share a post about your feelings on your social media feeds or to let someone know that you can be a resource or a safe space for them to vent their frustrations, anxiety, or feelings, I hope you can find it in you to do so.

Being there for each other in these dark times is more important than we may ever fully realize. Of course, I’m not a doctor or a therapist. See one of those if you need or want to (a lot of us have been there, too). But that doesn’t mean I can’t help spread the word of positivity. It doesn’t mean that I can’t be a resource for others.

We are not alone even if the anxiety in our mind practically forces us to believe we are. I am going to try and remember this. I hope you do, too.

by Kristin Boyles

I'm a 22 year old college student that studies Creative Writing. I love going on walks in nature, reading, writing, and watching sitcoms.

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