On General Anxiety (and Existential Dread in Particular)

Defining my ADHD would take hours — because I’d probably go off topic, but also because it is a complicated condition, with nuances and levels I started to recognize and understand only recently.

My other mental illness, General Anxiety Disorder, is fairly simple. I’d only need a few short minutes to describe it.  

It is a closed fist around my lungs every morning. 

It grips so tight I feel like my chest will cave in and I will die, breathless and numb, without a single meaningful thought in my head because no oxygen is getting to my brain. ADHD is disruptive and frustrating; it makes me run around in circles, useless, like a Rube Goldberg machine, but it can be fun at times, creative even, and it makes for self-deprecating jokes that are actually funny.

Anxiety is altogether nasty. Nothing fun about it. It is big, dumb, and unyielding.  It eats me up, and for a few excruciatingly long moments when I first wake up I dread life with every fiber of my being.

Anxiety makes it all seem daunting and dark and filled with despair, and my initial reaction is always to ball up and deny reality, try and avoid it for as long as I can because I feel that if I face the world before I am ready — before I take my medication, pep-talk myself into it, and find my breath — I wouldn't be able to stop myself and I’d scream with terror at the impossibility of my own existence until a circuit breaks somewhere inside and I crumble, a little puff of smoke trailing out of one ear.

Anxiety makes me reluctant and wary. It’s like stage fright, but for real life, and I cower from the light, one compulsive thought on a loop in my head: I don’t want to do this. I don’t want to do this at all. 

Anything can give me anxiety. Literally any given thing, crucial and urgent or not. I feel the same foreboding regardless of the difference in difficulty or importance. People seem too intimidating, time passes too fast, work is too hard. I just don’t feel capable to handle it. It is a cocktail of bitterness and insecurity, and I have to either shut my eyes and drink it up (then immediately vomit and hyperventilate) or try to push it away (and then keep pushing through until it’s passed or the day is finished, whichever comes first). Anxiety unsettles me. It threatens everything I’ve worked so hard to build, and it destabilizes my foundations, leaving me brittle and vulnerable. 

I hold myself in my arms to remind myself that I am still here, and I breathe with my diaphragm, and I recount the strategies I had to learn the hard way after falling apart so many times before. I reassure myself that I won’t feel this way forever. I tell myself that my fear is unfounded, that my self-loathing is deceptive, and I take my medication religiously, for I have to trust in science when I am not sure of myself. 

Worst of all, sometimes my anxiety gets triggered by absolutely nothing. It hits me randomly, out of thin air, and I just sit there and worry for no fucking reason whatsoever.  

I’ve lived for forty years and I have had countless experiences—getting out of bed or out of my head should not be an objective problem… It’s illogical to feel this way and yet the feeling is real as paint, coating my heart thick with scorn for having to be here, now, in a world where so much doesn't depend on me, instead of in some imaginary place of my own making which works exactly the way I need it to work to protect me from everything, including from myself. 

Anxiety is cold needles in the back of my neck. It is subtle tremors in my arms, nauseating convulsions in my stomach. It lurks in messy rooms and on busy calendars. It sneaks quietly between the furniture, then pops out from behind the couch yelling “HI BITCH!” and plummets into me with the weight of every item on my unfinished to-do list. It’s an ambush I constantly expect yet I fall for it every time. I want to run and hide, but I’m paralyzed, and I feel helpless and hopeless and weak.

Anxiety is a skip in my heartbeat when I hear a certain tone of voice. It is flinching from responsibility and nursing a bruised pride afterwards.  It is regret for missed opportunities, and it is hurting from letting myself down.

Anxiety is a pit at the very center of my body that vacuums up my soul and drains my will to live free and unburdened by “what if’s” and “I can’t’s”. Anxiety is a threat of failure and the perpetual suspicion of my own inadequacy.  

It’s tragic, really. It’s wasteful to feel anxious when so much is going so well*. When I was younger I fed off that nervous energy but stress is taxing. It is the reason I want to smoke or drive into a STOP sign. It causes me to snap at the people I love. Anxiety has taught me all the bad habits and unhealthy coping mechanisms I now desperately work to unlearn.  It makes me reactive. It rushes me to chose, to do something — anything to get rid of it. It urges me to go into crisis mode, and forces me to panic. I spin out, I melt down, and I am exhausted.

I am quite sick of it.  

Anxiety is making up issues that don’t exist. It is that phantom worry that things will go wrong any second now. Anxiety is DIY misery. 

It drains the joy out of me, and I hate it so much I could cry.

There isn’t a silver lining to this piece. There’s no moral to the story. I wrote it because I was told that verbalizing an issue and narrating trauma can help me heal and overcome, but I’m not betting on it. 

I suspect that I’ll always feel anxious. My only desire is that there would come a time when I’d get used to it enough for it to feel commonplace and become so ordinary that it would lose its power to hurt me. 

*Things are still going pretty well, but with cancer.


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