Understanding the Anxious Mind

For the past eight or nine months, I’ve created a bubble around me of people I trust, making sweeping efforts to withdraw from drama. Through this process, I learned; the bubble always pops.

Here’s what that’s like for me: Imagine, you’re a crumb and you fall onto the sidewalk and an ant discovers you. His tiny ant friends are soon alerted and before you know it, you’re swarmed! A disgusting black blanket moves furtively and anxiously to completely and methodically chew through your every last morsel. The very thought makes me sick.

And more than anything, this is what it’s like when things are outside my locus of control. And I love control, especially in all of its anxiety-ridden devastation.

“Anxiety is not fear, exactly, because fear is focused on something right in front of you, a real and objective danger,” reports the New York Times. “It is instead a kind of fear gone wild, a generalized sense of dread about something out there that seems menacing — but that in truth is not menacing, and may not even be out there. If you’re anxious, you find it difficult to talk yourself out of this foreboding; you become trapped in an endless loop of what-ifs.”

For me, the what-ifs appear with even the simplest of situations. Ryan will inquire, for instance, if I would like to attend a concert last-minute, and my chest will immediately be gripped with all of the possible unknowns, and how all of these unknowns make it impossible for me to go.

Where is it? What time does it start? Are we going to get there late? Do we have to pay a cover? Will I have to walk in heels? I don’t have a cute outfit without heels. It’s going to be cold outside. Will I have to stand at the concert and carry my coat? Will it be hot? Will there be a lot of people? Are the people going be younger than me? Will they be boring? Will the band be good? Who’s going with? Are we going to get drinks after? Will the restrooms be clean? I can’t stand public restrooms.

No, I don’t want to go. I can’t go. Rationality urges me to do my make-up and try on clothes while anxiety grips my heart so tightly that I’m dripping with angst. By the time Ryan arrives, I’m paralyzed into doing everything I can not to burst into tears.

I distinctly remember my first such outburst in a sixth-grade hallway. After an elementary school of calm, I peeled back the doors on middle school to discover inequalities, insecurities and the bulging wart of worry – a reoccurring blemish in my otherwise untarnished path towards happiness.

Taken together, panic, social anxiety, phobia, obsessive-compulsive, post-traumatic stress and generalized anxiety disorder, make anxiety the most common mental illness in America, affecting an estimated 40 million adults, reports the Times. That’s not even counting the garden-variety worriers like mothers who fret when their daughter doesn’t call, or husbands that believe a phone call in the middle of the night signals a terrible occurrence.

My coping mechanism is to nest as methodically as anxiety chews. Withdrawing further perpetuates the vicious cycle of shrinking into comfort, into habits, into a place that is safe and away from criticism or mistakes or hurt or anger. I crave the days that are built around everything going according to plan.

Research shows that I’m good for the human race. Without those who are hyperviligant, we wouldn’t be able to leap into action so quickly. High-reactive kids are “less likely to experiment with drugs, to get pregnant or to drive recklessly.”

The Times also reports we’re “generally conscientious and almost obsessively well-prepared. Worriers are likely to be the most thorough workers and the most attentive friends. Someone who worries about being late will plan to get to places early. Someone anxious about giving a public lecture will work harder to prepare for it. Test-taking anxiety can lead to better studying; fear of traveling can lead to careful mapping of transit routes.”

But for me, the mental anguish of wearing myself ragged “with a brain that’s always on high alert” is suffocating. I long to be laidback. To be the kind of person who doesn’t wring their hands under the table. The kind of person who “gives up any notion of being guarded or protected” in order to be intimately known. A person that can arrive effortlessly to a concert.