The first time I remember getting anxiety was when my mother, sister and I lived with my grandparents while my father was training for a new career in the military. I remember panicking about a physical ailment (I think it was my stomach), and something was telling me I was sick. All I could think was, “something is wrong with you,” and that scared the hell out of me.
It turns out it was nothing — just like every other panic attack I’ve ever had.
But something was telling me I was sick. Something was telling me I was not well, and something bad was happening to me. I don’t remember ever getting it before that time, but ever since then, I’ve had to listen to my anxiety give me the worst possible outcomes for everything in my life.
For those of you who don’t live with anxiety, let me help explain what it’s like. Imagine you’re walking down the street and a police car screams by with its lights on. As the car speeds by, someone steps up next to you and says, “Wow, what did you do wrong to make them drive the direction of your parked car? Maybe you forgot to put it in park and it rolled backwards and hit someone?”
As you rush to your car (which you obviously put in to park because the keys are in your pocket and cars won’t let you take the key out of the ignition without putting it in park) the person follows you and yells, “don’t worry, I’m sure you won’t do a ton of time for involuntary manslaughter!” Suddenly, you see the cop car turn down another side street. As your heart slows down, the person steps up to you and says, “maybe next time you’ll remember 100 percent next time you put your car in park.”
Anxiety is a horrible, unavoidable voice telling you something horrible is either happening to your or is your fault. It’s like a person that silver lines everything, but in reverse. Instead of saying, “well it could be worse,” it says, “this is the worse thing to ever happen to anyone.”
The worst part of anxiety is how easily it strips you of your confidence. I’ve never been an extremely confident person, but anxiety thinks it’s funny to talk you down off your high horse — even if that horse is lying down.
As a young airman in the Air Force, I worked extremely hard to make sure I knew my job well. I went above and beyond to learn my duties, and I prided myself in my abilities. I wasn’t cocky — I was self-aware in a positive way.
In 2008, a plane crashed at the location I was deployed — a plane I had worked three days prior. Everyone who saw it said there was no way our work could have caused it, but every second was filled with questions like, “Are you sure you did this right? How are you so sure? What if you damaged something and didn’t notice?”
This is where anxiety starts to win. As opposed to saying, “Of course I did the job right, I did everything I was supposed to do and even looked at it twice,” I start to second-guess everything. “Did I look at that? Did I miss something?” Even if everything I did was right and the crash was absolutely not my fault, anxiety takes that one last stab and says, “Maybe next time you should triple check that before you’re done.”
And my confidence is now desecrated.
It’s easier sometimes to just let it win. Instead of saying, “Yes, I’m fine. Nothing is wrong,” I say things like, “Well maybe I could have looked at it three times, that way I’ll know next time!” But that doesn’t seem to work, because the next time I do my job, I still think, “Did I do that right?”
And anxiety doesn’t even stop at basic tasks. My health is always in question. At the age of 30, I had the worst sets of anxiety attacks I’ve ever had in my life. For three weeks, I not only thought I was dying, but I also thought it was because I was killing myself.
And what started it? One heart-flutter.
“Oh shit what was that!” My anxiety jumped right on it. “Dude, that’s not normal.” Of course I didn’t think much of it, but I began to pay attention to my heart. When the next one hit, I was on my way out.
“Man, something’s wrong with you. Remember how your grandfather had a quadruple bypass? And remember all those chemicals you work around? Yeah, this is probably pretty bad.”
By the end of the third week, I was checking my pulse every 30 seconds — I was literally putting my fingers up to my neck and checking my pulse. Was my heart rate ever elevated? At times, but after having an energy drink, whose heart rate would be elevated?
It took sitting in my car in an isolated parking lot talking to my mother (who also deals with anxiety) before I was finally able to act like a normal person again.
Believe me, I wish I could just let things go. But the questions compound so fast I can’t even start to refute them. And being someone that likes to think logically about things, I should have that capability. But the constant barrage takes a hold of you, and after so long, you start to believe it.
My anxiety is probably the greatest debater I’ve ever seen. It’s like a philosopher who, even when proven wrong, somehow finds a way to ask the question in a different way to win the argument.
Despite my hatred for it, I can say my anxiety has made me more aware of my actions, which makes me more empathetic towards others. I may get in to arguments with people, but at the end of the day, that damn voice is there reminding me of the worst possible outcomes from my interpersonal actions.
And it’s great for never letting me live things down. My anxiety is always there saying, “Remember the one time you fucked that up? Man, that could have been so much worse.” That only drives me to try harder the next time I’m confronted with a similar situation.
But sometimes I’d like the ability to do what anyone else would have done to a person causing a panic attack as a cop car drove by — punch them in the damn teeth.
Until then, I’ll keep letting this shitty little person continue to berate me until I figure out how to logically outwit them in their game of questions.