Knowing what goes on the brain of someone who struggles with anxiety can be a tough concept to understand, because for those who do not deal with the struggle see it as something from another world. How can you wrap your mind around a concept that can be so foreign to you? How can you understand how difficult it can be when many people seem to function perfectly fine? The past two days, my brain has been overrun by my anxiety. This post will give you a look inside my brain when this happening. This is NOT a typical day in my brain (that post will come later), but it IS one of my more difficult days. The days where I feel like my anxiety owns me. The days when I feel its hands around my throat and its grip on my brains. The days I literally feel it’s heaviness weighing on me like it’s something physical. But I can’t touch it, and I feel powerless to stop it. So, I learn to live with it. I learn to work around it. I learn to embrace it and wrap it around me like a blanket. The heaviest blanket in the world. This is what has been going through my head the last two days. This is what goes through my head on my bad days.
I’ve been awake for ten seconds, and already it’s all I can think about. Do I need to go to class? Can’t I just stay in bed? I have so much to do, I guess I’ll have to get up. Well maybe I can take a sick day or something. No, I definitely need to get up, otherwise I’m going to start failing all my classes. Oh gosh, I can’t afford to fail. I’m getting up. I feel like I’m going to throw up. My stomach is in knots. Maybe my shower will make me feel better. The water isn’t hot enough. I need to get it hotter. The knob doesn’t go any further, but I still feel cold. Stop thinking about it, stop thinking about it, stop thinking about it. Focus on washing your hair, and stop thinking about it. You’re obsessing, you know you are. I need to stop. I’m going to be late if I don’t hurry up and get out. Okay, what do I need to do next? Right, makeup. How badly do I need it? My face looks awful but I don’t know if I have the energy to put any on today. But maybe if I look pretty, it won’t be so bad. Ugh, my face looks awful. I definitely need the makeup. I wonder how bad this is going to be. How bad should I prepare for? Maybe it’ll be something good, but I know it can’t be. I might as well prepare for the worst because that’s what’s coming. Stop thinking about it. I have time; we aren’t talking until tonight. Just stop thinking about it. What was I doing again? Oh yeah, mascara. I wonder if I could get away without drying my hair. But then people would know something is up. They can’t know. I might as well plug in my straightener while I’m at it. I wonder how he’s going to tell me. How do you tell someone you don’t want to be friends anymore? Oh god, stop thinking about it before I throw up. I just need to get dressed, and then I’m done getting ready. And then I can rest. I’m already exhausted, maybe I should just stay home. Maybe if I can play sick, I can avoid it for just one more day. But then I’ll obsess about it all day tomorrow, so I might as well get it over with. Stop thinking about it. Go to class. Class will distract me. Class will take my mind off it.
Why is my heart pounding like that? All I’m doing is sitting, but it’s still racing. Okay breathe, just breathe. Oh my gosh, I can’t breathe. I can’t get enough air in. My throat is closing, I can feel it. I’m going to pass out if I don’t breathe. Okay deep, deep breathes. In out in out in out. I feel light headed. I wonder if my classmates can hear my heart racing. My hands are shaking. I can’t focus. What are we talking about again? We aren’t going to be friends after this, I just know it. NO! Stop thinking about it! Leg stop shaking, leg stop shaking, LEG STOP SHAKING. If I cross my legs, it can’t shake. But now my foot is bobbing. What if I cry in front of him? Will that change anything? No, he’s seen me cry before. Stop thinking about it. Focus on the class. Focus on the class.
Is it night class already? Oh god, after this is when it’s going to happen. What am I going to do? What is he going to say? I can’t do this. I can’t do it. I feel dizzy. Oh god, don’t cry. Not in front of the class. I shouldn’t have eaten that food, because now I’m going to throw it up. Stop shaking, clam down, breathe. Remember how to breathe. Don’t let them see you losing control. Don’t think about it. Focus on the professor. Oh no, class is almost over. I need more time. Dinner! I’ll go get dinner. Maybe eating was a bad idea. I’m going to end up throwing up. I haven’t heard anything. Maybe I’m off the hook. But what if he waits til tomorrow? I can’t have another day like this, I need to get it over with. I’ll just text him. Oh god I can’t. I just pressed send. I need some air. I feel like I’m suffocating. There goes my dinner. At least I was outside. He texted back, oh god here we go.
Stop crying. Don’t cry. Stop crying. I can’t. Don’t let them hear. No one can know. How did this happen? I knew this wasn’t good. Why did I do this? Why didn’t I just let it go? Now we aren’t friends. I need someone. I need someone who will understand. He’s working. I’m on my own. Oh god just stop, please just stop. You don’t understand. I’m sorry. Please just go. I’m sorry. Please. I can’t stop crying. I can’t breathe. I’m shaking. When did it get so cold in here? Nothing can make this better. I’m sorry. You need to understand how sorry I am. Stop trying. Stop trying. Just let me go. It’s better for both of us. I’m not strong enough to push you away, so you need to walk yourself. I can’t breathe. I can’t get any air. Stop crying. Stop crying. Just go to bed. Just go to sleep.
I’ve been awake for ten minutes, and I’ve replayed the conversation in my head fifteen times. What could have I said differently? Should I apologize again? No just let it be. I can’t fix this; there was never a chance of fixing this. Can I please skip class today? No I have to work. Work will be good. Just stop thinking about it. Go shower. The water isn’t hot enough; I’m still shivering. Stop crying. It’s a new day. You’ll survive. Just stop crying. Get out or you’ll be late. Just get ready. Should I make coffee? Of course I should, I always drink coffee. I can’t remember the last day I went without it. No I can’t, my stomach hurts too much. Coffee would just make me sick. Maybe I’ll have some later. Just get ready. Ready for what? What day is it? What class do I have? Oh, it’s Tuesday. Maybe I should talk to my roommate about it. No, I don’t want to bother her. I need to stop burdening people with my problems. Maybe I should eat something. No, that was a bad idea. Here we go again; throw it up. Get it out. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about it. Stop shaking. Leg stop shaking. I need to focus. Don’t cry. Stop crying. Someone will see if you don’t stop crying. Find a distraction.
Work. Work is good. Work distracts it. Work keeps me from thinking about it. Concentrate on work. Don’t make a mistake. If you make a mistake, they’ll fire you. Don’t mess up. Make sure it’s perfect. Don’t ask a question. Figure it out. Work is done. What am I going to do? Do I dare eat? Maybe just a salad. I already feel sick. I need food. Hold it down. Keep it down. Stop thinking about it. JUST STOP THINKING ABOUT IT! Make it stop. Make it go away. I’m sorry, please don’t leave me. No, I’m fine. He’s not coming back. He doesn’t need me messing with his life. I’ll be okay. I can get through this. Just. Stop. Thinking. About. It.
Now this was vague on purpose, and obviously, I fast forwarded through a few points, but I think you got the gist. Trying to function in your daily life with anxiety invading the darkest corners of your brain can be nearly impossible. So how do we do it? It becomes part of the norm. You learn to function despite the fog, because you have to. This is just an example of what it’s like when something is on your brain. You can’t help but obsess over it, play out every possible scenario, and replay it over and over wondering how you could’ve changed it. You are afraid to eat, because when you do all you want is to throw it back up. Your head pounds as much as your heart. Your limbs shake and you have to remind yourself how to breathe. It’s like being trapped inside your own brain, and feeling powerless to free yourself. So for right now, I’m just waiting for it to pass.
Anxiety comes up in so many different forms, and it can be ugly. You may not even notice it if you don’t know where to look. The key is to be patient and empathetic when they are finally able to open up about it. Don’t tell them how to fix it. Don’t tell them to stop worrying about it. Don’t make them feel like their worries are invalid. Don’t tell them to stop worrying about it. Don’t be the Devil’s advocate. DON’T TELL THEM TO STOP WORRYING ABOUT IT. Just be there for them. Remind them that they aren’t a burden. They are fighting a war inside their own head, and all their left-over brain power is going toward acting normal. Anxiety isn’t pretty, so don’t romanticize it. It’s ugly, it’s mean, and sometimes it can even be terrifying. Now you have some insight as to what living with anxiety feels like.