Wikipedia defines anxiety as “Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, and uneasiness, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing.” Wikipedia on Anxiety
Merriam Webster defines anxiety as “fear or nervousness about what might happen” MW’s definition
I usually find anxiety impossible to explain to people who have never suffered from it themselves, but I will often explain it as an irrational fear. I cannot speak for everyone who suffers from this, but in the cases where I can identify what I am scared of it is 9,9 out of 10 times something that I know isn’t dangerous. I already know this, and one of the least helpful things people will tell me is “what is the worst that can happen?”, I already know I am being silly, I know the worst that can or will happen, is not the worst that I am fearing (if that makes any sense).
I am generally an overly rational sort of being. Jokes will often pass me right by, and I like my world to be orderly and nice. Anxiety is the opposite of this. My anxiety is the opposite of this, it is the loss of control, the disappearance of order, the total realization that the world simply cannot be understood or classified, people will never be predictable.
This post has been gestating in my mind for a couple of months since I found the video in the bottom of this post. Anxiety can be explained, but if the people you are trying to explain it to have no real frame of reference they will not understand your explanation, but I feel this video gives a frame of reference.
Let’s give you some scenarios first, these are specific to me, and if someone in your life struggles with anxiety their scenarios will likely be different.
Read these scenarios thoroughly, and keep them in mind for the video.
I am sitting in the lecture hall. I will usually sit myself down on the end of a row roughly midway back, but today my train was late, and I had to find a seat in the middle of a row, towards the back of the hall. The professor was getting ready to start and all the people who had to get up for me to pass are sitting back down. I feel like a terrible nuisance, and am extremely annoyed with myself for being late. I should have taken the earlier train, even thou this would haven made me almost an hour early. I am hot from hurrying from the train, and I feel that I am slightly sweaty. I feel like everyone around can smell how awful I smell, even thou I showered this morning. I feel like I am smelly and disturbing the lecture. I feel like I am noisy as I get my notebook out of my bag, the person in front of me is tall enough that I have to crane my neck to read the bottom of the slide. I feel like I am blocking the view of the person behind me by doing this. I tuck my elbow into my side as I take notes, because what if I bump the person next to me? My shoulder hurt from this and my notes are terribly messy. What if the people around think I am stupid for writing so ugly? The teacher asks a question of the class, I know the answer to this, I think, but I don’t really want to put my hand up. Nobody puts their hands up. What if this makes the teacher feel bad? He’s a good lecturer, it’s not his fault the class is shy. I put my hand up. My answer is wrong. Or right. At this point it doesn’t matter, I am so stressed I can hardly hear myself talk. My face is warm and I am convinced I stink so bad or sweat and stress they can smell it out into the hall. It’s becoming hard to breathe or think, or even hear. I focus inward and lose the rest of the lecture, I keep taking notes, but I cannot understand them when I go through them later, and I cannot even remember what the lecture was about that day.
This is 20-75 percent of the lectures I go to. I varies wildly how often this happens, depending on things like my life outside of school, how well I slept/how tired I am, if I have eaten/drunk enough that day, if I am having a good or bad day in general.
I am on the train, bus, tram or metro. I am either sleepy ‘cos it’s early, or tired from a long day of cramming knowledge into my head. I am in the window seat and the seat next to me is empty. I have my book in my hand and my noise-cancelling headphones on my head. The headphones filter out most of the noise, but the girl whining about her something on the phone in a high nasally voice filters through perfectly, making concentration hard, and making my stress levels rise. I plug my headphones into my phone and turn on some tunes to drown her out with moderate success. A mother and screaming child comes on. It cuts through my music like a knife. Someone sits down next to me, he/she smells of cigarettes or food or something. It doesn’t matter. He/she glances at me, maybe trying to figure out what I am reading, maybe I smell. My concentration is gone at this point. I put away my book, and switch to an audio book instead. The screaming baby is sending knives through me scull, and the whining girl filters in better through the book than through the music. My head hurts, making my neck and back and everything hurt. By the time I reach my stop my everything feels frayed. I wanna sit down and cry, but I can’t.
This is between 40-90 % or my commutes depending on many of the same things as over.
The shopping trip
I am in a store. The type of store or purpose is unimportant. It’s noisy and cramped. Or at least it feels cramped. I am trying to get to my items but I have to weave past a lot of people. I want to be out of there, like 5 minutes ago. A lady is standing right in front of what I need, blocking my access, but clearly just thinking. “Pardon me”, but she doesn’t hear me. I try again, but this time my voice won’t work and all that comes out is part croak, part nothing. I decide to wait, but now I am in the way of someone else, I move and bump into the first lady who glares at me. I snatch my item, try to get out an apology and run on. It the line to pay some person in front of me has forgotten something and runs back in to get it, the next person spends forever counting out coins, the person behind me is impatient, and standing way way way to close. I hurry to pay, pack and leave. I wanna curl into a ball and die.
This would be 40-50 percent of all shopping I have to do.
Usually each time is a little different, but this is a couple of examples.
Being a cutter usually my mind will revert to the need to harm myself. Depending on the period I will have a cutting impulse 1-50 or more times every single day. In the best periods I have none, in my worst I will actually self harm. Apart from one slip-up this summer I am two years clean. For a smoker or drug addict that would probably be their go-to need. The worst ones leaves me suicidal. It’s been more than 5 years since my last suicide attempt.
Aaaanywho. Here comes the video. I don’t know if it will work for anyone but me, but it’s worth a try. Put on a pair of good headphones, and try to keep one of my scenarios in mind while listening to the tone. Imagine the rising frequency to be your stress level and the pitch of your thoughts.
And please give me some feedback. Did this teach you anything about anxiety? I only know this is sort of what it feels like for me.