Aaron R. Davis
Anxiety is a tingling sensation that pricks and pricks and pricks at you until you want to figure out a way to rip it out from under your skin. And it tries to convince you that you deserve that sensation because you’re not a good enough person to not feel that way in the first place. And it’s hard not to hear that voice.
Anxiety is a constant buzzing through your entire body that feels like it will destroy your senses if you don’t destroy something else first.
Rationally, you know it won’t help. But it doesn’t matter, because anxiety makes you irrational. It almost disconnects you from rationality. That buzzing just builds and builds and builds until you can’t notice anything else through this haze of annoyance and irritation. And because all of that makes it so hard to focus, the only thing you can think of to lessen it is to punch something, to hurt someone, or to hurt yourself.
This is what anxiety is like. At least, it is for me. Too often.
I’ve sat here at my computer for over an hour now trying to write something that makes sense, but I can’t do it, because all I can feel is annoyance and anger and this irrational feeling that maybe hurting myself in some way will just make it all go away.
For example, my left hand keeps tingling as the adrenaline from my anger and the frustration from trying to write and the high blood pressure that exacerbates all of this mix together in a cocktail of rage. It’s like all of this nervousness is just traveling from my hand in waves over my entire body and into my very sense of being. And I keep wondering: if I took a hammer and just broke my goddamn hand with it, would that give all of this energy something to pool around and help me calm down just a little bit?
This is the weird, dangerous irrationality of anxiety mixed with panic and anger.
This is the thing inside of me that makes me overreact to things like frustration and being overwhelmed and thinking things are unfair. This is the thing that makes me want to hit somebody just because I’m impatient. I learned it when I was a kid because that’s what my mother did to me, and that’s what her mother did to her, and so on to who knows how far back. That learned response — get frustrated, hit something, feel bad about it later when it’s too late — was internalized before I was old enough to rationalize it. (And for the record, I’m not blaming my mother, I’m just saying it’s an emotional response that I was inadvertently taught.)
Anxiety fools you into believing that causing yourself pain is a good way to manage the pain you absorb from external sources, from not being able to process the world, or from not being able to handle the expectations you place on yourself. That it takes all of those bad feelings and fears and emotions and focuses them into one spot in a way that’s not complex and under your own control. Anxiety tells you that the unhealthiest coping mechanisms make perfect sense.
There are medications for this. The problem is, except for the occasional Xanax, I can’t really take any of them. I’ve tried three times, and three times it’s affected my health even worse than this anxiety does. Loss of interest and motivation in life. Extreme weight gain. High blood pressure spikes. Insomnia. Erratic heart rate. Suicidal thoughts, and not in that “the world hates me and I’m worthless and I want to hide from all of my problems” way, but in an “I’m so desperate now that this may be the only way to make the pain stop” way. Each medical failure completely tears down all of the emotional defenses I’ve tried to teach myself; each time has left me exhausted and vulnerable and more prone to irrational thinking and impatient anger.
This is the reason I’m trying to write all of this. I don’t know how many other people out there feel this same way and have this same problem. But I’ve made the decision not to try any more of them. I can’t take the feeling of lost progress anymore. I can’t take the constant rebuilding. For me, it’s a combination of being mindful, being moment-focused, meditating, exercising, taking in less caffeine, talking myself through anxiety, breathing techniques, relaxation exercises and therapy. If that sounds like a lot: it is. And I don’t mean that to take away from people who have successful and positive medication experiences.
But I do have to work harder to not feel the way I do right now, where I’m barely stopping myself from screaming at the top of my lungs and turning over furniture.
It’s not impossible. It just takes a lot of mindfulness. It takes willingness to look at yourself honestly and try to unlearn negative behavior patterns that you’ve internalized. It’s fucking hard. Really fucking hard. And failure will feel like nothing but setbacks. And you’ve got to not be so hard on yourself and just get back to forming new behavior patterns.
This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But I have to keep believing that I can do it instead of feeling like breaking my hand is somehow ever a good idea.
If you can’t take medications, either, just remember that you are not the sum of your anxieties. They don’t define you. I know they’re often overwhelming. I know that buzz is there a lot of the time. But it is absolutely possible to manage it if you try.
Just try. Take a deep breath and just tell yourself to try.
Aaron R. Davis lives in a cave at the bottom of the ocean with his eyes shut tight and his fingers in his ears. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.