By Ty H. Phillips
I have anxiety.
I want to tell you that it does not define me but I can’t. It is the anxiety, not me, that decides when I leave the house when I am able to work, when and how much I am able to eat, who I can see, who I can talk to, what I watch, what I listen to, how often I stand up shower, pee, and move. I have an invisible illness. I don’t expect you to understand and I am not looking for your sympathy. I don’t want anything free and I don’t expect you to wait around for me to feel better, if and when I do.
So many times I have been asked what it is like. How can someone help make me feel better, how they can cheer me up, why I don’t just walk it off, think it away, make a different choice and the list goes on.
My anxiety borders on agoraphobia when it comes. It lasts for weeks or months at a time and it is crippling. My anxiety revolves around my health, my heart, and how I am feeling from moment to moment. It’s the constant fear of looming death and I can’t outrun it or accept it.
With anxiety you wake up hot and the feeling washes over you the moment you open your eyes. It can be like you are sitting in the tub and the warm water rises just above your waist and leaves your knees and torso exposed and goose fleshed and you fill a giant cup with the beautiful and hot water and pour it over your head. Its warmth runs down over you, calming you and it feels so good.
But this is the feeling of pure terror, and it washes over you from head to toe. You start to cramp up and shiver, your hands and feet get cold as veins collapse and your heart rate goes up. You feel dizzy and faint and you fight for breath that never seems to come. You begin to pace in an attempt to fight off fainting. Calves and forearms are cramping up, your knees ache, your head hurts and you know you are doing to die. It’s all over. Will I ever see my little girl again? Did I do everything I was able to do yesterday to make sure she knew I loved her or was I locked in my room again, afraid to move, tortured by the noise of the TV and her voice and toys.
How many times did I try and climb the stairs to go see her? How many times did I get to the top only to feel like I was going to pass out and have to go back down and lie down so that I didn’t feel like I was going to fall over (again).
How many pounds am I going to lose because I am barely able to eat more than once a day without throwing it up? I stand on the scale on the days I am able to move around more than a few steps. Five pounds, 10 pounds, 17 pounds, 21 pounds. I sigh and the waves of depression begin. I want to go take a walk in the woods, to feel the sun, to get some fresh air, to move around and stretch my atrophied and aching body.
I begin to get dressed and immediately feel like I am going to faint again. I barely make it past putting my pants on before I am a wreck and am back on the floor with tears streaming down my face. I wonder over and over again what the point is.
Living like this is not living.
I am absolutely terrified of dying. An extremely fear based and unhealthy upbringing has left me in mortal dread of the end. For the first 12 years of my life, fear was pretty much all I knew, especially when it came to death, dying, and the afterlife. Nothing really changed after the first 12 years aside from the flood of teen male hormones and I became angry in my fear. I don’t want to die but the anxiety is so bad that I also don’t want to live like this. I call the doctor and schedule another appointment, because I don’t know what else to do. Something is wrong. My chest hurts, I can’t breathe when I lie on my left side for more than 30 minutes. My pulse gets dangerously low and my chest fills up with trapped air. I am short of breath now.
My little girl asks me if I am going to die.
I try and pretend as much as I can when she is around but I am either lying on the floor with her or hiding, shut in my room because, “Daddy doesn’t feel well.” I see her behavior start to change. She is having bad dreams. She is extra clingy. She is sad when she says goodbye to me in the morning.
I begin to cry again.
I have anxiety and this is what it is really like. Medications don’t seem to help; I’ve tried seven. They all made me sick or feel worse than I already did. None of them have kept the anxiety at bay. The Benzos did, for the short time they worked and as they wore off, the anxiety crept over me like a plague. So, I just take more.
Now I am an addict. I can’t do that again.
This is anxiety. This is the reality of people with mental illness. I don’t want it to define me but sadly, right now, it does.
I have anxiety.
Editor: Dana Gornall