Oddly enough, not all anxiety is created equal

Being an extrovert with generalized anxiety and panic disorders is a weird deal. Most people associate anxiety with social anxiety – which is a totally valid and prevalent symptom! It just happens to be one I do not have.

On the contrary, I thrive off of the majority of social situations. They cheer me up, calm me down, and are generally pretty essential to my overall wellbeing.

This can be a weird thing to explain to people. I’ve been in social situations where I’m anxious or starting to panic and don’t know what to do, so I tell the person I’m with. Generally their (totally well meaning!) response is: it’s okay if you need to go home.

Unfortunately, that’s probably the worst thing you could say to me when I’m starting to panic. If I wasn’t losing my shit to begin with, I sure as hell am now.

One of my biggest anxiety triggers is feeling like I’m unwanted. Being told that it’s okay if I need to leave typically comes across as —

I don’t want you here. No one does. Stop ruining this for everyone else and just get out.

Typically, this results in a bit of silence, a whole lot of crying, possible screaming, and cruel words on my end in an horribly misguided effort to defend myself and show that I am not okay and I know you’re trying to help but you are making it worse.

Similarly, people don’t always get that not having social interaction can set off my anxiety as badly as too much of it can with someone dealing with social anxiety.

If you have social anxiety, imagine what it’s like when you’re thrust into an unfamiliar social situation for which you had zero preparation that you are not allowed to get out of.

That’s how it feels for me when I don’t have the option of being around people and have to be alone when I just don’t have the capacity to do so.

Like most mental illness, my specific brand of anxiety has pretty frequent and visible effects on the people in close with.

It isn’t always easy on them. In fact, I know it’s pretty frequently rough. And I appreciate what they do for me more than I’ll ever be able to express.

Obviously, it’s irrational to expect anyone to be aware of every individual’s anxiety triggers and how they each need to be treated in panic situations. That’s not what I’m looking to accomplish here.

All I’m saying is, if you love someone with anxiety, panic disorder, or any other mental illness, talk to them about what they need. Even if you have previous experience with mental illness.

Especially then.

Well-meaning people who automatically think they know what’s best for you hurt in an indefinable but very real way.

Ask what helps your loved one when they’re struggling, find out if they’re comfortable with telling you what triggers them so you can avoid it, or help if there’s a situation where a trigger comes up.

See what there is you can do to help. And preferably, talk about it when your loved one isn’t already on high alert. 

From experience, few things are more stressful than being expected to tell someone how to fix whatever is going on with you when you already feel out of control.

Talk to the people you love, friends, partners, family — I promise that the effort will not only give you valuable tools in dealing with crisis situations, it will help show your loved one that you care, and often more importantly, that you respect their agency and ability to know what is best for their personal situation.

Love and respect, people. It goes a long way.

Notes from a panic attack

It’s hard to accept when you’re not okay.

You do things that have worked before, you convince yourself that you’re not slipping out, you spin and you spin and try to claw our way out until you’re blank and bleeding.

It’s hard to accept that you aren’t okay.

Being sick, being lost, being unable to connect with your surroundings, being unable to quite convince yourself that things are real, it’s terrifying. It’s fucking terrifying.

You’re not okay right now.

You’re not in control of this, and tonight, you can’t be.

You’re sick and you’re never going to be able to control your symptoms all the time.

There’s no use in railing against this any more than there’s use railing against any other chronic disease.

This won’t be forever.

There will be days when you feel better.

Those days may seem like moments but I promise, they are not.

The good days are as much a part of your life as the bad.

It’s hard to accept when you’re not okay.

And it’s even harder to remember that sometime soon, you will be.

Octobers

This has been a bit of an evening. I just met with the Into the Woods cast for our last (official) gathering and I’m feeling it.

As is always the case near the end of a show, I was exhausted and ready for a bit of a break. It hadn’t really hit me that Woods was over and that I had actually done it until tonight.

Tonight, I also started coming to terms with how vastly different my life is from a year ago.

A year ago I dropped a callback for a show that I loved, sobbing because I couldn’t imagine adding any more pressure to my life. This year I worked my ass off to get cast in one of my dream shows.

If you’ve never dealt with anxiety or panic attacks, I don’t think I can quite convey what they feel like. The feeling that you’re completely useless, disappoint everyone you love, and have nothing to offer the world. It can get hopeless. It can get to the point where you feel like you’re watching your surroundings blur past and you can’t move and you can’t scream and there’s no one who can convince you that this is real, that you are alive.

You can become so numb, weak, and terrified that all that matters is getting from moment to moment. Forget getting through the day. Get through the morning. Get through your class. Get through waking up crying for no reason and forcing yourself to move, to get up, to just get up.

In general, the parts of last year that I remember are not the happy moments. I remember being desperate to snap out of it, to be able to breathe, to be able to handle stress like a normal human being.

I remember the complete dependence on my friends and loved ones, reliance on people who I will never forget and who I will never be able to repay.

I remember crying until I threw up, hyperventilating until I passed out, and screaming without being able to stop myself.

But you know what? I’m lucky.

I had people who loved me, and little by little I became stronger, more aware of myself, and lucky enough to pull myself out. Not everyone can do that. Not everyone has the resources or a mental illness that will allow them to do that.

I don’t think that I’m stronger than anyone else and I know that there are people who go through hell I couldn’t imagine, but I won’t minimize my personal hell to acknowledge someone else’s.

Last October, I was secluded. I was addicted to my friends and family, putting far more pressure on them than they deserved. I hated and feared myself so much that I was terrified to be alone. I had a boyfriend who endured more than he should have for me. I could barely get through my classes and could barely remember my weeks.

This October, a lot has changed. I worked on a huge show that I adored, and had the time of my fucking life. I learned how to do things on my own, and little by little, I’m learning how to be okay with being alone. My relationship ended. And I finally accepted that it was okay to let that happen. I’m here, and I feel like I’m actually living my life. I am so grateful, and so proud of what I have been able to do.

I still have anxiety and I always will. I’m sure that I haven’t endured my last panic attack. But you know what? I’ve gotten this far from October to October. I’m not afraid to keep going.