I suffer from an anxiety disorder. Social Anxiety Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) to be quite specific.
I like to be alone, most times. I love to do things on my own. And think things through. All on my own.
There’s this peace I get from being on my own.
But on the other hand, I can’t stand to be alone most times. Contradictory, yes.
There are times I get so overwhelmed by anxiety, I have to be around people. I feel claustrophobic in my room and I want to be let out.
It’s like a cage most times.
I sit on my own and I feel anxiety coming on like a cloak. I run out of my room or wherever I am and seek human contact if only to keep the anxiety at bay.
One time, I was sitting with friends. We were talking and laughing and all that. I was in the middle of a deep discussion with one of the guys. I was trying to get my mind off things. Off my life.
All of a sudden, one of my girlfriends butted in and took over the conversation. I went mute.
Not only do I suffer from anxiety disorder, but I also suffer from low self-esteem and this feeling of martyrdom. I don’t know the real name for it. It’s a story for another day.
But as I sat and watched them talk, I got this huge feeling of anxiety. My palms were sweating. My heart was beating fast. I couldn’t breathe properly. It felt like the world was coming into me.
I wanted to come out of my skin. And thoughts were accompanying these feelings. Thoughts I can’t even remember. I just know there were lots of thoughts swirling in my mind.
I just wanted to leave. To where? I didn’t know.
But I was panicky. My chest was constricted and it hurt. My legs were vibrating.
But I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening to me right in front of them. They wouldn’t understand. I just stared unseeing in front of me.
My brain probably shut down but it was still working a mile a minute.
I was in the middle of an anxiety attack. And no one knew. I couldn’t even communicate what I was feeling for fear of being mocked and ridiculed.
Till today, I don’t know what caused the attack. It could have been because my friend butting into the conversation meant I had to think those thoughts I’d been hiding from.
It could have been because I felt I was no longer in control of the conversation. Or it could have been that I had repressed anger at my friend for intruding…
I don’t know. And I probably never will.
But what I do know is that these attacks come at the oddest of times. I get it most times. And I see myself through it.
Anxiety is hard to explain to a second party especially one who hasn’t dealt with it before.
There are different types of anxiety. And they are all characterized by the inability of the person suffering from it (I refused to call us victims) to communicate how or what they feel.
What also makes it hard to communicate with others is the fact that they may judge you before or after you try explaining to them.
I had a friend who always seemingly joked that I talked too much. That I was always with someone talking or doing something. That I couldn’t sit still.
I explained to her that funny enough, I like being on my own. But sometimes I just had to be around people. But instead of her understanding, I felt the judgement coming off of her in waves.
She didn’t believe me. And she said as much. Even went as far as slightly mocking me. Said I like to walk around and follow people too much.
I felt hurt. But it’s the life we live. We face things and people do not understand. They don’t even want to understand.
Most people assume anxiety is just a “phase”. That it would pass very soon. And then we get anxious waiting for anxiety to pass. An endless vicious cycle.
Anxiety disorder is different from stress.
Stress is sometimes caused by things happening in the external environment, like work. Once you’re out of the environment, the stress lessens.
But anxiety is different. It’s there whether there is a cause or not. It’s like an extreme worry for different relevant and sometimes irrelevant things. And it occurs continuously even after the cause has been tackled.
Social Anxiety disorder is characterized by the fact that the person feeling it fears humiliation in public. The thoughts of even being in public could cause an anxiety attack.
Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is not shyness. Shyness is more like a reluctance to meet new people and converse. But SAD is much worse. It’s irrational anxiety that practically causes you to break out in sweats when you meet new people.
To be honest, it’s hard to write about anxiety disorders as someone who suffers from it. The simple act of researching on it causes bouts of anxiety. And writing about it is a somewhat gruelling process.
But I just wanted to put it out there. Anxiety is not stress. You can’t just tell someone suffering from it to “get over it”. It doesn’t work like that.
Just have it in mind that someone you know could be going through anxiety and not just normal stress. Try to reach out. You might save a life.
Because anxiety disorder survivors (that’s what we are, not victims) have suicidal tendencies.
But believe me. We don’t want to die. We just want to be loved and understood.
Writer: Uwagboe Efosa Dorcas
University of Benin, Benin City, Nigeria