I know it seems odd to refer to anxiety as a friend, but we’ve known each other for so long, it’s hard to think of it as anything else. Oh, don’t get me wrong; it’s not a good friend. It’s more like that annoying friend that keeps tagging along even when you don’t want them to. You don’t even know why you’re friends anymore; you have nothing in common. You just keep hanging out because you always have.
Merriam-Webster defines “anxiety” as: apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill. I prefer their medical definition: an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.
Yeah, self-doubt. That’s it. That’s the core of anxiety. What happens when we’re full of self doubt? When we think we’re not good enough? We find things we can control. We clean the house. We build something. We write a blog. We do anything so that we feel like we’re in control of something. Otherwise, we lose it. Our anxiety takes over, and all rational thought is gone.
So, how can we tell if someone struggles with anxiety? Do they look a certain way? Is there some sort of physical mark? Unfortunately, there isn’t. You can’t really tell just by looking at us. Sure, sometimes, we get a little twitchy or fidgety, but on the whole, we do our best to maintain our “normal” façade. Everything with us is internalized. What you see on the outside is an everyday person, but on the inside, we’re screaming. Let me show you some examples:
As for struggling with anxiety, it feels something like this:
Now, I’m going to throw some statistics at you, but I promise not to make it too dry. For some reason, the VA’s latest anxiety studies only focused on older veterans. Hmm… I wonder why. Maybe it’s because that study found that:
A study of nearly 7,000 men aged 50 or older found that Veterans were no more likely than non-Veterans to have depression or anxiety. The results were published online Aug. 22, 2014, in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
Why such a narrow study? Why only focus on 7,000 men over the age of 50? I did a Google Image search for “veteran” with no filters. This is the first image that came up:
That’s very patriotic. The veteran is shadowed by the American flag, which is appropriate. But look at the veteran. That’s an older man. Now, look at me:
I don’t look like the man in the picture. The VA’s study is massively flawed, because it doesn’t take into account the vast amount of younger veterans who are my age (41) and even younger, who are returning from recent conflicts.
A study was done of Gulf War veterans (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm) in 2004, which was a bit broader. Here, in a nutshell, is what the study found:
This table, quoted from the article Gulf War Veterans with Anxiety:
Prevalence, Comorbidity, and Risk Factors by Donald W. Black, et al, shows that reported anxiety rates are higher among Gulf War veterans. Let’s use this to imagine just how many veterans of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, like me, are coming home with some sort of anxiety disorder.
What I’d like you to remember from all I’ve written is that anxiety is something I struggle with on a constant basis. You may never see it, but it’s always there beneath the surface. I cope by taking medication (escitalopram, 20mg) and relying on the grace and understanding of friends and family. I also rely on my faith to a certain extent to remind myself that the voice I constantly hear telling me how worthless I am is lying to me. I also remember to “Count My Blessings” and “Take It to the Lord in Prayer” when looking for comfort. The bottom line is that there are a number of resources available for those of us who struggle with anxiety we can turn to.
Also, if you happen to be one of those poor bastards who catches me in the middle of an anxiety attack, I’d like to present you with some common phrases I’d like you not to say to me:
- Calm down/Relax/Take it easy, etc. Yes! Of course! I’ll just calm down! Trust me, if I could calm down on my own, I would. Telling me to do what I really want to do but can’t is just going to make it worse.
- It’s not a big deal. Sure, it’s not that big a deal to you, but to me, in my anxiety-riddled brain, it’s the end of the world.
- Suck it up. Yeah, let me do that. I’ll just suck it up, otherwise, you’re going to think less of me, which is going to set off my anxiety more.
You can find more in this article from Bustle, but those are the big three that really set me off when I’m in full-blown anxiety attack mode.
So, when you ask me how I’m doing, I may say I’m fine, but in reality, I’m more like this: