I have only a vague idea of what I’m going to write here, but I feel like this narrative may somehow have value, so I’m going to share it.
I’ve always had people in my life that had generalized anxiety and OCD. It was not always easy. They were unreliable, sometimes at really, really significant moments for me. Their hangups prevented them from showing up for me in situations where it really mattered. They required constant reassurance and validation. It fatigued me, but I was on the insecure side, so I was cool with it, mostly. I also had had my own mental illnesses, including PTSD, so I didn’t expect anyone to be sensible and reasonable and easy all of the time. On the other hand, they were constantly appreciative and amazed that I wanted to be around and to have them around, which I was glad to accept, but didn’t really get.
After the bomb of generalized anxiety went off inside me, everything changed. I had no concept of how truly awful this disease is. I thought it resembled PTSD. A flare up here, a trigger there, some sleep disturbances, but you wait it out, you put one foot in front of the other, you talk yourself through and you persist. Generalized anxiety is not that. It is a different beast.
Try and recall if you can (or if not, imagine) a moment where the ostensible “end of your life” was on the horizon; you’re certain that you’ve made the one mistake that will cost you your job, your friends, your family, your freedom and everything you hold dear. Maybe you had one too many drinks and were pulled over by a police officer. Maybe you were supposed to watch your siblings, but did your own thing instead, and, for just a moment, you didn’t see them and thought they were gone when you got home. Maybe you had a brush with death. Can you recall, intimately, the way the air got thin? Did you start to reel as your pulse raced, as if you were moments from fainting? Was there a ringing in your ears? Did your mouth become parched? Did your stomach drop to your knees? These physical sensations are important, because these are the states you will live in under generalized anxiety, over nothing.
One ambiguous sentence in an email, or a response that is slow to arrive, or someone whose glance lingers just a hair too long on you and you are spiraling into that place. Sometimes you will exist there for no reason at all. You will wake from a dead sleep, or be unable to sleep, in this state. You will feel the adrenaline and its toxic effects wearing on your body. If you don’t produce enough saliva, you can’t effectively eat. When you try to swallow the food, the dryness of even the wettest foods will make you gag and sometimes vomit, especially if your stomach is already wrecked with acid. There is no reasoning with the anxiety. Focusing on it, even with the cognitive techniques that work so well on other things like depression, just makes it bloom. If you put one foot in front of the other, and just try to keep busy, you wind up irritating people with your constant self-absorbed chattering and shitty listening— it is an easy tell of someone with GAD or OCD that they are always revising and clarifying and providing more details for what they’ve said, terrified of having it misconstrued. You overshare. You’re weird. You can’t also tolerate the ambiguity of silence, so you fill it. Even that small an unknown is a terror. The tense tenor of your voice and quick words read assholish, angry. They don’t know you’re scared to death. They think you’re pushy; selfish. You know that they think it, you see them thinking it, but you can’t stop yourself. You literally can’t make your appearance match your intentions because you’re jumping out of your skin. Focus on anything but your stressors is impossible, and you will make stupid mistakes. Lots of careless, reckless, unbelievable mistakes.
You will find a thing that works sometimes for distraction, like videogames or yoga (for some of my friends, it was unfortunately opioids) and as it momentarily takes the pressure off, you will come to depend on it. You will find that your anxiety will resume as soon as your tv show is over, or as soon as your heels aren’t pressed into the ground while you do downward dog. Your friends and lovers will resent how much time you put into whatever avoidance mechanism, even if they’re really great.
There’s a lot more, but I just wanted to share some of that, because I had no idea. I regret the ways I didn’t understand or appreciate my friends with anxiety when I was clueless.