Ten years of experience (via punkasspoet)
I once had a therapist tell me that having an anxiety disorder is like having a faulty alarm system wired up in your brain — instead of going off just when there’s danger (like it would for somebody without an anxiety disorder), it goes off all the time, over little things that don’t actually warrant an anxious response at all. It’s like one of those asshole smoke detectors that everyone’s dealt with at some point or another, the ones that go off whenever you turn on the oven or try to cook something on the stove — you can yell “OH MY GOD, I’M JUST BOILING WATER” all you want, but the stupid thing is going to blare on undeterred. That’s what having an anxiety disorder is like: it’s the smoke detector, and you’re the person on the ground yelling “SHUT UP, SHUT UP, THERE ISN’T ANY FUCKING FIRE.”
Under normal circumstances I don’t talk about my mental health stuff on the internet much — out of anxiety, actually, more than anything else — but I wanted to chime in here because I think this is something people really don’t understand about anxiety disorders. Friends: we know it’s irrational. We know we need to calm down, that things aren’t as bad as we think they are, that our reactions are making things worse than they need to be, that it’s all in our heads. We know. It’s what makes it all so incredibly infuriating, because in life you can just — you know, smack the smoke detector with a broom or take the batteries out or something. An anxiety disorder doesn’t work like that, though god, I wish it did; it requires years of work and active effort and (for some of us) medication to dial down our reactions, even when we know, right down to our bones, that our reactions are wrong.
If you’ve ever read that when someone is having an anxiety attack, it’s not helpful to say “Calm down” or “Stop panicking” or shit like that: this is why. We are saying that crap in our heads already, only we are saying it louder than you, and with more frustration and self-loathing, because we have been trying without success to calm down and stop panicking for the balance of our lives.
I know it can be exasperating to deal with someone with anxiety — boy, do I. I deal with an anxious personality every waking minute of every single day, and let me tell you there are times I want to smack myself with a broom, take out my batteries, and let my whole fucking house burn down. But the thing is, if you have someone in your life with anxiety and their shit is bugging the hell out of you, you have an option at your disposal that they don’t: you can walk away. And if you’re someone who gets frustrated by other people’s anxiety, who can’t be patient, whose very nature compels them to point out that it’s not a big deal and we need to calm down and we’re making it more than it is — that’s okay, everyone has shit they can’t deal with, but use that option. Walk away. Tune it out. Don’t pile on, because that’s actually so counterproductive to the goal of getting the calm, rational person you know out from beneath their anxiety. The more you say the things we’re already thinking (this is stupid, just shut up already, calm down, this isn’t a big deal, why can’t you calm down), the more we become convinced everything in our heads is true, and the longer it takes us to shut it down.
As always, the best way to be helpful to someone with any kind of mental illness is to ask them, ideally during a time when they are calm and in control: what can I do, what do you need, what should I avoid doing, is there anything that helps. But short of that, I can’t tell you how helpful it is to have people in my life that I know aren’t going to echo back at me the shit I’m already yelling at myself. So: try not to do that to people. That’s all we’re asking. Try not to.