I started writing this post a couple of months ago, but decided not to finish it because it came off too ‘special snowflake’ or a dig on other types of anxiety (which it definitely isn’t) but my good friend Aisling posted recently about atypical depression and how it differs from typical depression, and I realised that it’s important we talk about how things affect us differently purely on the off chance that someone sees them and thinks “ah!”. Not everyone experiences mental health in the same way, so here it is, this is my anxiety…
Anxiety seems to be the topic of choice right now. I can’t go five minutes on any social media platform without seeing articles, blog posts and comic strips about it. It’s great! It’s raising awareness of a very real Thing that I was basically oblivious to until one day I suddenly realised that the Thing I felt had a name. Yay!
Except the problem is that all these blog posts and pseudo-articles and comic strips all seem to follow the same theme: “10 reasons your friend doesn’t want to come out to play”, “Here’s why your mate keeps cancelling all your plans”, “Your anxiety-ridden pal just wants to hide at home under the duvet”, “5 reasons you can’t make a phone call” … and so on.
And yes, each of these refer to different symptoms of anxiety but these pieces are generally specific to social anxiety, and that isn’t all there is to anxiety. It’s not my anxiety.
My anxiety doesn’t stop me from going out with friends. In fact, it pushes me to socialise as a much needed distraction but often then results in me over-analysing friend’s behaviour to look for clues as to whether or not they really like me. And, if we’re socialising outside of the house, it causes me to constantly assess my surroundings and the people nearby in case of Some Big Disaster.
My anxiety doesn’t stop me from making phone calls, it just causes me to spend hours afterwards wondering why I said That and not This and, especially in a professional context, causes me to question the entire conversation and whether or not they’ll want to work with me ever again. (Ironically, this has caused me to withdraw from clients causing the breakdown of a great working relationship anyway.)
My anxiety doesn’t cause me to avoid strangers and public interaction — I will play up to a crowd — but it does cause me to freeze or shut down when offered even the most basic of choices. I can’t go into a Subway and ask for a sub as I get ‘analysis paralysis’ and start to panic … over whether or not I want salad on a fucking sandwich?
My anxiety doesn’t rule out crowded places, but it once crippled me on the tube because I saw someone who looked like a person from my past. My anxiety lets me wear outfits verging on obscene to command attention but doesn’t like me being the first person to walk through a door.
My anxiety isn’t every day, and it isn’t even every period, but it is real, doctor-diagnosed anxiety. And it is my anxiety.