After securing my baseball hat to retrieve the mail, a walk to the end of the driveway that leaves me sweaty and breathless (I'm thin, and this is not a weight issue), I thought about what a former friend once told me. When I disclosed I was receiving treatment for anxiety, he responded, "Keep that shit to yourself, dude. Everybody has that."
People fail to understand that anxiety, especially when it is as severe as my own, is physical. My head shakes and jerks in the middle of conversations. My hands tremble. My heart races. Eye contact is brief. I move my legs incessantly, scratch, fidget, touch my cheek, chin, ear, nose, forearms. I tuck my hands in my pockets, fold my arms, tap, tap, tap my fingers. Sometimes, I get so nervous I look away, my head gets stuck in that position, and the only comfortable way to correct myself is to touch the opposite side of my face. Every movement tries to alleviate the anxiety. Every movement exasperates the problem until I'm in a state of panic.
I was in a grocery store recently, intent on buying Starburst Jelly Beans. As usual, I walked with my head down. When I bumped into a lady on my way to the counter, I apologized, stuck my jelly beans on the nearest shelf, and fled to my car.
Granted, I've been without medication and insurance since losing my job almost two years ago (anxiety is disastrous during interviews), but even when I was seeing a therapist, learning breathing techniques, on medication, and exercising, anxiety was present, tucked away like a coiled serpent waiting to strike. Some days were worse than others, usually resulting in a phone call to work that I wouldn't be coming in so I could remain indoors on the couch, at my computer, or sitting on the toilet. Vacation days went as fast as I earned them.
The first doctor to diagnose me said, "You're lucky to seek help. Most people with this problem become alcoholics," and the reason for that is simple: alcohol, though temporary, squashes anxiety better than any designer pharmaceutical on the market.
When an anxious person drinks it's much like being a cannonball. They've been quiet and compact, silent in a dark tunnel. Bang--they're loose. There's an incredible feeling as if soaring, all is clear and serene, worries are a thing of the past, and then they descend, see themselves dropping, and are helpless against the impact. They explode through family and friends, ripping chunks away from relationships as they roll to an abrupt stop. The thoughts of the devastation they caused lingers for days, rousing worse anxiety, and drinking again can make it all go away.
It's a horrible cycle I'm quite familiar with and occasionally adore. After all, anxiety is king, and I am its lowly peasant. Going into public, whether a store, the movies, a restaurant, or a family function, is exhausting. The things I say and do keep me awake at night; they make me cringe years after the fact.
I propose only this: before you laugh, scowl, or look down upon the odd behavior of a stranger, consider they might only have one hand on the wheel, and if you share my affliction, I recommend to keep doing what you fear, even if you fear everything.