Tonight, a friend of mine linked to a post from another person who suffers from anxiety. As I was reading, I realized that while some of her experiences were similar to mine, in other ways they were very different. Talking about myself, and sharing my experiences doesn’t cause me anxiety, so I’ll share my story in hopes that it might help someone, or maybe just be interesting to some.
I don’t remember exactly when my anxiety began or if there was a specific event that started it, but I can remember experiencing it as far back as the age of six. My first grade teacher was, hands down, the worst teacher I ever had. For some reason she either didn’t like me or didn’t like anybody. The way I remember it now, she’d cut me down in front of my classmates for being wrong, and never bother to explain why. I thought she was mean, and I was scared of her. With that, it probably isn’t too surprising that when we did a craft for Halloween, I was afraid to ask her for it. I say the same, except I remember that feeling, and today I know that it was my anxiety.
While I was in second grade, we moved across town and I started third grade in a different school. Here I had good friends, good teachers, and some problems which I later realized were because of my anxiety. See, I don’t have anxiety or panic attacks in the way that it seems most people who suffer from anxiety do. Instead, anxiety causes me freeze up, and attempt to avoid whatever is causing it completely, even if the consequences might be worse. So all through third grade, I peed and pooped my pants in class rather than asking the teacher to go to the bathroom because asking caused me anxiety. The teachers I had in third grade were pretty good though, and I grew out of this problem that year. The next year passed fairly well, other than dealing with some of my attention deficit issues, but in fifth grade, I started middle school.
Up until a few years ago, I struggled to understand what happened here. After moving to our new house in second grade, I made friends with a bunch of the kids in my neighborhood. Surprisingly, most of us were all the same age, and in the same grade in school. When middle school started, I didn’t have any of my friends in my classes. The friends I walked to school with stayed close, but I started to distance myself from the others though not intentionally. Up until this is where I thought I first suffered from anxiety. As my friends made new friends, I became more and more anxious around them and started to avoid them without knowing what I was really doing. I didn’t realize I was doing this at the time. I thought they were avoiding me because they had new friends. Homework also began to become a problem rather quickly. Being a kid, everything else took higher priority, but as I got farther and farther behind on my homework, my anxiety would grow higher and higher because of it. So what did I do? Duh. I continued avoiding it. My parents were called countless times because of it, and the more I got in trouble, the more I tried to avoid it.
This brings us to my two least favorite subjects at the time: English and Social Studies (history). Trying to memorize things caused me anxiety – it still does. Anxiety made it difficult for me to memorize anything. Anxiety made me avoid whatever was causing the anxiety. I hated English and Social studies and avoided being productive in either one. Science and Math were another story. I’d get in trouble for not doing my homework in both, but my test scores were always good because they interested me, and I didn’t have to try to memorize anything. I was comfortable with them, and everything just sunk in.
Then I went to high school. My anxiety in high school confounds me to this day. In some ways, this was the least anxious part of my life that I can remember, yet in others, the worst. During this period, I had more friends than ever. I really had no problem making friends, and keeping the close friends I already had. I went to dances. I went to a parties. I performed in front of people with no problem. I did all kinds of things you wouldn’t expect a person with an anxiety disorder to do. But I did mention my friends, and I do still consider them all my friends. My friendships were full of anxiety. In most cases, there would be one or two friends, with type A personalities that would involve me. Whenever they’d want to do something, my anxiety would be literally off the scales, but they’d egg me on until I did. In some cases, I knew I needed help getting myself to do do something I wanted to do even though I didn’t understand why at the time, and I’d get them to push me to do it.
Then high school ended, college came and went, and we all started our lives. As the type A friends in my groups moved away, I became more distant with the related friends. It wasn’t that I wanted that to happen. I didn’t know how to keep those friends. Without the people to force me to do it, my anxiety won out. Now here’s the scary part about my anxiety. It’s rarely rational, but knowing that doesn’t help me deal with it. When I say I didn’t know how to keep those friends, I really mean I didn’t know how to keep those friends with my irrational anxiety.
Time went on. I grew up, had a daughter, got married, got divorced, worked and raised a daughter. I had always dismissed the way I felt in situations as being shy, and type B. One day, a coworker suggested I take the Jung personality test, and I did. I scored as INTJ. Then I reread the way the questions were worded, and retook it answering correctly. I was ENTJ? Extroverted? Type A? That started me down the road of really learning about myself. Eventually it led me to find out why the difference between how I actually act versus how I feel I should act in situations exists. Anxiety turned out to be the answer.
To this day, anxiety causes me to avoid doing things that I know I need to do. At times it paralyzes me and leaves me helpless. It holds me back from what I’m truly capable of. It hides me behind a mask. I missed out on opportunities because of it. It has caused me to suffer though situations that I could have otherwise avoided. It has cost me a lot. When I look back at what could have happened if I’d understood earlier, I feel regret. When I think about where I could be now without it, it could be easy to get depressed. But I understand now. I may struggle, but I can fight it. The more aware I become of my anxiety, and the more I understand the role it has played in my life, the easier it becomes to overcome it.