Love, Life Stories, Wellness

5 things I wish my friends understood about living with anxiety

We talk about our poop like it's no big deal, but somehow, mental health is a joke?

You can tell what kind of day I’m having by what I drink first thing. Most days a year I make myself Cuban coffee, first thing in the morning. I have a morning ritual that I stick to. I believe it does the double duty of helping both my anxiety and my ADD.

I don’t usually drink that coffee right away, which is probably a good thing since my morning coffee is 3-4 shots of espresso and a few ounces of milk. I sip it over the course of the morning, and by the time I finish it it’s ice cold. But I don’t care because it’s still delicious.

Then there are other mornings, mornings like today when I pray we have at least one can of Coke in the house. That’s an integral part of my ‘bad anxiety day’ ritual. For some reason, sometimes water is too harsh for my stomach. So when the water I already drank, not knowing this is one of those times, comes back up. I go straight to the kitchen and fill a glass all the way up with ice, wipe down a can of Coke Zero (or 2, tbh), and fill ‘er up. There’s something about the gas in the Coke that helps with nausea.

It also feels decadent af to drink a Coke for breakfast. I honestly couldn’t tell you why it works, but on bad days, this simple ritual helps me almost snap out of it. Whatever it is.

Because by the time I’m done with my Coke, I’m back to the center. Or at least on the way there, as opposed to on the way to a full nervous breakdown.

There are so many little things that can make all the difference when it comes to dealing with a bad anxiety day. Being aware of them might either help you directly or help you know what to do if someone you love has anxiety issues.

1. Therapy is expensive, and sometimes, your therapist is not helpful.

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First off, I tried therapy. I went to the only therapist I could afford. And he was not very helpful. Usually, I would unpack whatever breakthroughs I had during our sessions on my own in between sessions. A lot of these breakthroughs happened when he was ranting about something that I fundamentally disagreed with, and I would get really riled up. I’d also be completely unwilling to engage on the subject. So I would just sit there thinking while he ranted.

When we got to the point where my deeper issues (and I’m very aware of what they are) needed to be addressed, I knew he wasn’t the person to guide me through that, plus he literally laughed in my face when I told him about a realization I had had. And that was the end of that.

I’m not saying I’m done with therapy forever, but I know that it’s not in the cards for me right now. At least not until I can afford to shop around until I find a woman with a similar world view to me, and with whom I can feel comfortable.

2. Sometimes I want to talk to you about it, and I just want you to listen.

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Talking about my anxiety, no matter how nonchalant a tone I use, makes people uncomfortable.

Sometimes people get weirdly defensive about it. Like I’m accusing them of making me anxious. And though that might be true sometimes (offending relatives know who they are), most of the time it’s several factors that cause a panic attack.

I just wish that when I’m having a bad anxiety day, that it isn’t weird for me to text someone, “omg I’m having such a bad anxiety day,” and have that person respond casually back, “omg those are the worst.” So often, simply talking about things makes such a pretty big difference. I don’t want you to be all extra – just a casual conversation here and there would really help.

3. It affects every part of my life.

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In the last year, my anxiety has really taken a turn for the worse. My panic attacks symptoms are also really physical. Most people get some combination of heart palpitations and trouble breathing, but I have heart palpitations on the regular (which now might actually be a thyroid thing, so cause TBD) and I have never been able to breathe at the same capacity as other people (thanks allergies!).

So, when I started throwing up every morning while simultaneously breaking out into a cold sweat and having horrible stomach cramps right when I had to leave the house, it didn’t instantly click that it was an anxiety-induced panic attack. Or like when my skin suddenly became extremely sensitive, so much so that I can’t go into a pool anymore and I think I might have developed eczema, I didn’t realize it was probably anxiety-induced.

It also takes so much energy to get myself back to neutral, that I oftentimes don’t have the energy leftover for human interactions. So if you don’t see me for a while, it’s not because I’m a jerk. It’s because I ran out of energy tending to myself, and now I don’t have the energy to interact with you.

Note: this is also probably more of an issue for introverts, as opposed to extroverts who are energized by interacting with others.

4. So many people have it but don’t realize it.

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I do believe anxiety has a genetic component. But like everything, nature and nurture both play a part. In my culture-slash-DNA pool, the women are all anxious af. Except instead of calling it anxiety, they call it other things. Like the old women are referred to as “miedosas or fearful. Working-aged women, especially those raising children, are referred to as having gone crazy or hysterical.

Younger women (read: single and childless like yours truly), are usually labeled as either weird or weak. “Se ahogan en un vaso de agua, (they drown in a glass of water), as my mom always says.

I want to shake them. All of them.

Shout from the rooftops: “You’re/She’s NOT crazy! You/She have/has ANXIETY!”

We have such an obsession with medicating every tiny illness in our lives, we talk about our bowel movements like it’s no big deal, but somehow mental health is like a joke? It’s a scam? No.

It’s super important and super real.

5. You can’t control my narrative.

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This might have been my most difficult lesson to learn. I had to learn to stop others from telling me what is at the root of my anxiety. I had to stop letting others tell me what my problem is. I had to learn to control my own narrative. To turn that monologue into a dialogue. I had to learn to say, “you can’t tell me why I feel like this, only I can determine that.” Taking control of my anxiety narrative was a huge breakthrough for me.

Anxiety is deeply personal. What causes it can be anything from circumstances in your life, to a chemical imbalance, to genetics. Only I can unpack my past in order to best understand my triggers. And triggers change all the time.

Just realizing that I had an anxiety issue was a huge step for me. It felt like the clouds parted when I did.