Mental Health Awareness. What my Anxiety Feels Like

I’m much more comfortable talking about my ADHD than my Anxiety. I’m much more comfortable talking about A’s mental health struggles than my own. I view hers as much more important than mine. She also deals with so much more than I do, and does it with a bravery that I admire.

I’ve mentioned my Anxiety here and there, but I’d rather talk about anything else.

In light of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share a little about my experience with anxiety.

I usually see things long after everyone else does, but I recently came across the #insideoutchallenge. I was intrigued by it, and spent some time looking at posts from those who chose to share what their mental illness looked like.

The challenge, begun by mental health advocate and beauty blogger Yasaman Gheidi, challenges people to use makeup art to show others what your mental illness looks and feels like to you, or to support others through participating. I was absolutely blown away by so many of the raw, honest depictions that people had posted.

Images were sad, haunting, inspirational, and deeply meaningful all at once. I started wondering what my makeup would look like if I were to participate. Since my skills at makeup art are zero, and I’d probably just make more of a mess of myself than anything else, (although maybe that look could well define my ADHD!) I decided to forgo the actual makeup, but I know what it would be.

My mental health image would be a cage. Thick iron bars that hold me back and hold me in. I can’t escape my prison, there is no way out. Questions and accusations crowd all around me, pushing at the bars. “Why did you say that?” “How did it sound?” “What do they think of me now?” “Did I say the wrong thing?” “I looked like an idiot.” “Why can’t you just be normal?” “Why can’t you just be like everyone else?” “Why aren’t you like all the other moms?” “I can’t go in there.” “I can’t do this.”

That is how my anxiety makes me feel.

Yes, some days are better than others, but I’m never free. I can’t go to social engagements that aren’t for family. I don’t go out. I don’t meet new people. I could never begin a relationship because first of all I’m too awkward and uncomfortable to talk to someone I don’t know, but if by some miracle someone got to know me, well, they would have friends, they would have family, and I’d never be able to go out with his friends or even manage a coherent meeting.

People have asked me why I’m still single so long after my divorce, and that’s the honest answer. I’ve met a couple of very nice people, (people who for some reason just kept talking to me no matter what I said) but I talked myself out of it because I didn’t feel it was fair to put anyone through what being with me would entail. I was scared.

I second guess every single word I say every single day. Someone can ask me how I am and I answer “Fine,” and yet I still worry all day that I said the wrong thing or appeared stupid.

I’m locked in my own head in a prison of my mind’s making.

I desperately want to be free. I want to be able to talk to people and do things, but I always stop myself. I’m always afraid.

It’s exhausting. The noise of the day gets to me and by the time afternoon rolls around my senses are overloaded.

Add my ADHD to my Anxiety and even I am never quite sure what is going to happen. I forget more when I’m anxious. My short term memory is bad enough due to ADHD, but during times of high anxiety, I can’t remember anything at all. People can ask me a question and I’ve forgotten what it was before I can answer. I zone out more, then look like even more of an idiot, then worry about how much of an idiot I look like, and end up having a panic attack.

That is the truth about living with Anxiety and ADHD.

Doesn’t mean I’m not happy. Doesn’t mean there aren’t things I’m good at. Doesn’t mean I’m not a kick ass mom. (At least my daughter tells me I am, anyway!) It just means I struggle more inside my own head during a day than I struggle outside of it.

It means that when I’m out in public, or at a function, I’m doing the best I can. I appear anti social – I’m not. I appear angry – I’m not. I appear to be snobbish – I’m not. I appear bored – I’m not. When I appear to be crying and having trouble breathing – well then I just need to leave. If I can’t leave I’ll try to disappear for a few moments to collect myself before trying again. I’m trying to paste on a smile. I’m trying to think of one solitary thing to say. I really am. I WANT to talk to others. I WANT to join in. I WANT to be engaged in what is going on around me.

Don’t assume I isolate myself because I want to or because I’m selfish.

PTA meetings, church social gatherings, school banquets, small talk, even meeting my daughter’s friends all have the power to render me a useless puddle. Walking into any situation where I am unsure of exactly what is going to happen when I get there has my heart hammering and my hands trembling.

I work on it every single day. I’d give my right arm to make it go away.

It isn’t going anywhere. It’s part of me. I’ve gotten used to that fact. I just have never figured out a way to make it better. I can’t figure out how to be someone else. I can’t figure out how to do anything with abandon.

Sometimes I think it would be so amazing to just be able to forget for one second the anxiety and fear. I’d love to be able to walk into a room with my head up, not searching for a corner to melt into or a chair in the very last row.

I’ve come a long way in accepting myself for who I am. But just because I accept it doesn’t make it easy. My head is in constant turmoil. There is always noise. There is always a million racing thoughts.

It would be nice to turn it off once in a while.

6 thoughts on “Mental Health Awareness. What my Anxiety Feels Like

  1. joanjager

    I can almost see that mask of suffering you describe. I appreciate the way you dig so deep inside when you share your story. Thank you, Joan Jager, ADD freeSources

  2. jeannieriding

    I am truly amazed Kristi, you have described EXACTLY what goes on in my head and the struggles I face daily. Just reading your blog, just knowing I’m not the only one, is healing somehow. So thank you Kristi! Thank you so very much! Be blessed my friend!

    1. Thank you Jeannie!
      I think that is part of what awareness is about- our anxiety makes us feel isolated and alone, and it is so important to realize that others are going through the same things and know how we feel.
      Hugs to you!

    1. Thank you! With all the doubt that can go on inside our own heads it’s a relief to know others understand. It makes it a bit more bearable to know we aren’t alone. At the same time I hate that others can relate to how I feel because that means they’ve been there and it’s something I don’t wish on anyone.

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