I’m fairly open with my friends about most aspects of my personal life, but my anxiety has always felt like a taboo topic. My biggest fear is that they won’t understand because they haven’t experienced it themselves, but I also worry they will judge me for being “crazy,” overly dramatic or weird.
Anxiety is something that affects me daily, and while I’ve learned to manage it, it’s also one of the many things that defines who I am as a person. I don’t need my friends to be sympathetic, but I do want them to fully understand why I do the things I do and the occasional disconnect between my heart, my brain and my body.
Here are some secrets about my anxiety I’ve never been able to tell my friends:
1. Big group outings are my nightmare.
If I’m at dinner and I can’t see or hear everyone seated at the table, that’s outside of my comfort zone. So, generally speaking, being around more than 7-8 people is when I start feeling anxious and unsure of what to say or do. If I have to meet someone at a bar or restaurant, I’m already thinking of what could possibly go wrong. Attending trade shows or events where dozens of random people are wandering around makes me want to barf. I just don’t know what to do with myself. It’s not like I’m going to fall over or turn blue if I’m in a crowd, but I can feel myself freezing up and shutting down. When that happens, I don’t feel good and I want to be anywhere but there.
2. It affects me on a physical level.
You know the butterflies you feel on a first date? The pit in your stomach and the barrage of thoughts racing through your head? Multiply those butterflies by ten, add diarrhea, sweating and the feeling of your heart pounding out of your chest, and you’ll understand how it affects my body. On top of this, sometimes my jaw and hands will shake. Even when I’m at home, I’m not safe from this. After particularly triggering events, I can literally lay awake in bed all night thinking about something that’s bothering me. It’s impossible to shut my brain off, and even if my body is screaming for sleep, my mind always wins. I don’t always experience physical symptoms, but when I do, sometimes I feel like I have to tame a panicked, wild animal.
3. Sometimes I feel like the most awkward person ever.
You know the episode of Family Guy where the Kool Aid man bursts into the courtroom at the absolute worst moment? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch it here. In addition to the awkwardness, people frequently mistake my anxiety or shyness for me being bitchy, which is even worse. I’m often so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing that the fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Even if others aren’t actually judging me or staring at me, it feels that way and it has ever since I was a teenager.
4. It isn’t always there
This is what’s so complicated. Sometimes I’m fine, sometimes I’m not. While I know certain situations will provoke my anxiety and I do my best to avoid them (or prepare myself as best I can), I can’t always predict it. There have been times where I’ve walked into a room and completely owned it, but the next day I might feel nervous about going to the grocery store during a busy time of day. Even I don’t fully understand it, so how can I expect my friends to?
5. The Xanax jokes are only so funny
I have a prescription for Xanax. Though I only take it 8-10 times a year for what I deem to be “emergencies,” it’s something I find to be incredibly useful. In the past I’ve joked that someone needs to “hand me the Xanax,” but for some reason it’s not as funny when my friends say it. It makes me feel like they don’t want to deal with the real me. So you can joke about it, but please think about the message you’re sending first. Or, here’s a better idea: Instead of asking if I need a Xanax, ask if I need a hug.
6. I really do enjoy spending time with you
Have I told you this? I’ve meant to. I may drive you nuts with my tendency to overthink everything and panic about seemingly trivial matters, but I love you and I truly appreciate your decision to stick with me. I hope you find my Elisabeth-isms endearing rather than annoying, and I hope we can laugh about them later on. Eighty percent of the time you probably won’t even notice this, so I’m not too worried about it. Aside from being supportive and listening to me, there’s nothing more I could possibly ask of you.