I’ve had anxiety my whole life and it’s a bitch. I don’t know if it was brought on by anything specific such as being bullied to the point of trying to take my own life as a kid or growing up as the black sheep in a very religious household where I didn’t belong, or if this is just how my brain is wired.
I get anxious about everything. When I’m working, I triple check my emails before I send them for fear of saying the wrong thing and making someone hate me. During every major time of transition, I spend countless hours thinking of every “What if” scenario that could ruin the happy ending I’m hoping for. For example, I spent at least the first year of my relationship with my now-husband wondering when he was going to get sick of being with a sarcastic pro-choice atheist like me and decide that he really wanted to be with a conservative Catholic girl who would be more like him. Don’t even get me started on how I felt about meeting his parents for the first time. I was terrified that they were going to hate me (you know because I’m an atheist corrupting their good little Catholic boy). Amazingly, I now have a great relationship with my in-laws. Lately, I’ve spent my nights lying awake thinking of anything that could make our big jump into home ownership fall through, all the little what-if situations my fucked up brain can invent.
The common factor in every example I can think of is that, when thought of reasonably, the What-If scenarios seem highly unlikely. However, the problem is that anxiety doesn’t listen to reason. It’s like having an argument with someone inside you:
Me: Well, the mortgage company said everything looks good, so I guess I can stop worrying.
Anxiety: Not so fast, Anna. What if they change their minds? What if they add more secret fees you can’t afford? WHAT IF?
Me: I’ve already gone over every legal detail of this transaction. We’re good.
Anxiety: You’re sure? Companies do illegal things all the time. WHAT IF?
Me: Shut up anxiety!
Anxiety: WHAT IF?!?!?!
In the past, when I’ve been honest about my doubts and fears (especially at work), people (actually let’s just call them assholes) would usually respond by berating me for being a “negative person” and tell me I just have to smile all the time and stop worrying. If you’ve ever said such a thing to someone with anxiety, please don’t do it again. That’s the worst thing you can say to someone whose brain has already told them that you probably hate them. That just makes their anxiety worse. There is no amount of fake smiles, positive thoughts, and unicorn fairy dust that can cure anxiety. All we can do is take a deep breath and continue to cope with it as best we can.