I don’t know if it’s my anxiety that is intensifying, or my awareness of it. Either way, it’s become so much more present in my daily life. Is living with it and coping with it the same thing? I don’t even know what that means. I know some days it completely paralyzes me. I’m functioning, but nothing is getting done, nothing feels right, nothing feels like a ‘win’. Nothing is wrong, yet nothing is right. I’ve began trying to take a better hold of it. Talking about it more, admitting, even just to myself, that I do have anxiety, that it’s not a horrible thing, just something that needs to be managed. Some days go better than others, most days take all the effort I can muster and then some.
Anyways. I came across an article on The Mighty the other day, What It’s Like to Have ‘High-Functioning’ Anxiety, that figuratively brought me to my knees. It put feelings, and expressions, and illogical actions down on paper, in words, that I hadn’t yet been able to do. And now that I’ve read the words, I feel it pouring out of me.
I almost literally could’ve written this myself if I had the courage to face the thoughts, if I had the craftiness to translate it into words on my own, so I’m thankful to have discovered the article that’s given me a way to get it out.
We all have demons – mine take form in silence, in high performance, in a confusing mixture of being effortlessly social but highly introverted, in what has now been named “high-functioning anxiety”.
High-functioning anxiety looks like…
Achievement. Busyness. Perfectionism.
When it sneaks out, it transforms into nervous habits. Nail biting. Foot tapping. Running my fingers through my hair.
If you look close enough, you can see it in unanswered text messages. Flakiness. Nervous laughter. The panic that flashes through my eyes when a plan changes. When anything changes.
It comes out in being able to exude confidence, but really feeling it. It comes out in doing everything right, gaining the right recognition and praise, only to be accepted in terror that I’ve forgotten something or have overlooked a mistake that’ll later be found. It’s feeling defeated even in success. It’s organized chaos, it’s overloading my plate with to-dos, it’s pushing myself to multi-task into the brink of failure because one second of empty time throws me into a panic attack.
High-functioning anxiety sounds like…
You’re not good enough. You’re a bad friend. You’re not good at your job. You’re wasting time. You’re a waste of time. Your boyfriend doesn’t love you. You’re so needy. What are you doing with yourself? Why would you say that? What if they hate it? Why can’t you have your shit together? You’re going to get anxious and because you’re going to get anxious, you’re going to mess everything up. You’re a fraud. Just good at faking it. You’re letting everybody down. No one here likes you.
All the while, it appears perfectly calm.
It’s lonely. It’s being in the center of your family and closest friends and not feeling like you can talk to anyone, like anyone wants to talk to you. It’s feeling like everyone else’s husband or boyfriend is hanging on their loves, but mine is ignoring me all night. It’s looking around and feeling like the only one sitting or standing alone. It’s perfecting that persona of a social butterfly, but fighting off self-doubt every single second.
It’s always looking for the next outlet, something to channel the never-ending energy. Writing. Running. List-making. Mindless tasks (whatever keeps you busy). Doing jumping jacks in the kitchen. Dancing in the living room, pretending it’s for fun, when really it’s a choreographed routine of desperation, trying to tire out the thoughts stuck in your head.
It’s silent anxiety attacks, hidden by smiles.
It’s always being busy but also always avoiding, so important things don’t get done. It’s letting things pile up rather than admitting you’re overwhelmed or in need of help.
It’s constantly keeping busy. It’s convincing myself resting is a waste of time, there’s always too much to do. I can spare one more hour of sleep to fold laundry, yet spending 45 of those minutes finding reasons to do everything but get to the laundry. It’s getting up an hour and a half before my alarm goes off, two hours before my son wakes up to do random chores, random cleaning, nothing at all of real importance or necessity.. simply because I’ve woken up and there’s things to be done, that going back to sleep wastes time and there’s just too much to do, and denying the fatigue that comes with it.
It’s going back and forth between everyone else has it together but you, and so many people have it tougher than you.
Get your act together.
Suck it up.
You’re not OK, you’re messing everything up.
You’re totally OK, stop being such a baby.
I know I might need help. I know I should ask for it. It’s the constant struggle of am I really even struggling? Even as I type this – do I need help? I’ve always been able to grit my teeth and bare it. I can take it. I can always take more. Some people have it so much worse. I don’t want to be a burden; I don’t want to complain. I’ve always pulled it off in the end. This too shall pass. This too shall pass. Always, this too shall pass. How do I know what’s what? Maybe I am just being overly sensitive, overly dramatic. Or maybe not.
Because how “OK” are you when a day without a plan is enough to make you crumble? When empty spaces make you spiral at the very anticipation of being alone with your thoughts? When you need to make a list to get through a Sunday: watch a show, clean your kitchen, exercise, answer five emails, read 10 pages, watch a show… ?
It’s the constant game of tug-of-war of being okay and not. Some days I convince myself it’s all in my head, I really am just fine, just suffering from anxiety. Some days I know I’m lost. I know I don’t have it together. Which days are right? I can juggle the thoughts and fight my own self over and over and over, and I’ll never know. It’ll never feel just right.
So you learn to rein it in. Channel it. Even though sometimes you do everything right … and you’re still left with racing thoughts, the panic. The not good enoughs.
When will it be enough?
Now. The final thoughts in the article is where I feel I might be at with my own anxiety. The knowing better part, but not yet having the strength to do anything about it. The part where I’m beginning to recognize what I am and who I am and how I function, but am still trying to figure it out at the same time. The part where I’ve accepted it, but maybe feel ashamed. I don’t know. I’ve never said that out loud or even in my head before. Is it shame that keeps me from letting myself manage this better? I don’t know. I need to keep reminding myself of some of the following pieces – about not valuing myself on my day’s productivity, not feeling like I have to prove my existence, not seeing bad days as failures and also knowing how to forgive myself.
Expressing it and talking about it and admitting it helps. Writing this post helped.
Having anxiety means constantly managing motion that can be productive or self-destructive, depending on how much sleep you got. Depending on the day. Depending on the Earth’s alignment with Mars. Depending on…
It’s when “living with it” means learning how to sit with it. Practicing staying in bed a little longer. Challenging the mean, unrelenting voices that say you’re only worth what you produced that day.
It means learning how to say, “I need help.” Trying to take care of yourself without the guilt. It means every once in a while, confiding in a friend. It means sometimes showing up even when you’re scared.
It’s fighting against your own need to constantly prove your right to exist in this world.
It’s learning how to validate your own feelings. That even though you don’t feel like you’re enough, and you’ll never be enough, it’s knowing you’re at least anxious enough to benefit from help. That admitting you need it doesn’t confirm voices’ lies. That taking a break doesn’t mean you’re a failure.
It’s finding your own humanity in the anxiety, in your weaknesses. It’s trying to let the energy inspire you, instead of bring you down. It’s forgiving yourself when it wins.
A first good step is staring at it straight on and calling it by its name.
High anxiety can be a natural consequence of a busy lifestyle, but its existence is akin to the chicken and the egg. Which came first, the anxiety or the busyness? Am I always moving because I’m anxious or am I anxious because I’m always moving?