I have not been medically labeled as suffering from anxiety because I have never approached a psychologist or a psychiatrist or any kind of counselor for their verdict on what I experience. The only thing I have ever done is to Google my symptoms, read stories similar to mine and conclude that what I suffer from must be anxiety.
In its tamest form anxiety is a heart palpitation with what I imagine must be furrows between my brows (I can’t know for certain because it has never occurred to me to check in the mirror what I look like while I’m experiencing anxiety). Sometimes it leads to tears. Because it crawls under your skin and asks your nerves to send signals of pain to your brain and you crawl in some corner, or even in full view (you hardly care), and you cry. At other times it leads to angry words. Like a fight defense where you feel cheated, betrayed, denied of justice, made to stand in the village square in full public view, your sins naked, brought to trial by unworthy judges and you who repeatedly scream, “I am not guilty!”
I suppose every person must have had an occasion where they suffered from some form of anxiety – nerves before an exam, or maybe while waiting for one’s turn at the dentist wondering if what you think is cavity pain is going to turn into a root canal surgery, or worry over someone’s whereabouts because you tried contacting them five minutes ago and half hour ago and last evening and the day before yesterday and they are just ignoring your texts and calls and maybe, just you altogether. These forms of anxiety come and go like sea waves crashing on the coast, corroding the cliffs of our souls, but slowly over millions of eons, so that any scratches made are just on the surface, barely noticeable a year down the line.
But in some cases, anxiety comes a lot more like a tsunami and destroys everything in its wake and when it leaves, you don’t even realize (or care) because it has done everything to damage your core. Your once heart palpitations are now rapid beatings of a muscle trapped in your chest attempting to break through the confines of the rib cage and set itself free. Your breathing pipe is constricting, perhaps to save you the trouble of taking in more oxygen that will be supplied to the brain that will continue to feed into an endless loop of ugly thoughts. You feel something in your extremities – you are cold and tingling and numb. You get dizzy and literally feel the planet tilt at an axis of 23 degrees.
So you end up feeling everything and nothing all at once. I am not sure the human body is designed to cope up with something like it. To a neutral observer, it seems like you are about to faint. To a professional therapist, it sounds like you were having a panic attack. To you the next morning, everything seems fine – you still have ten toes and ten fingers and two eyes and two brows and one mouth (if those are the number you started out with). But to you in that actual moment of anxiety, oh to you, it feels like the end and the beginning and the pleading and the hunting and the inside and the out and the never and the forever.
But wait, I have talked about what anxiety feels like and does to me, which wasn’t even the point of this post. Sure, anxiety feels what it feels like and the power of meditation and positive thinking and healthy living and blah blah blah will help. But you know what will help more? Empathy. From the people around. People you live with. People you don’t live with. People you talk to. People who only know you online. People you meet. People you greet. People you love. People you don’t.
And this is an appeal to them all.
Anxiety is difficult enough to bear and live with, far tougher to admit. I admit I’m someone who has been dealing with anxiety for I don’t know how long. And denial doesn’t help. If I deny it, I make every episode worse for myself. If you deny it, you make every episode worse for me.
The trouble arises when there is a dispute between two people, at least one of whom suffers from anxiety. Fight, argue, disagree – all acceptable. But if you witness someone taking in that long, deep breath, fighting, fighting hard, not to argue with you but to stay calm and you know this person suffers from anxiety, stop engaging. Just STOP. Right there, right then. Don’t let them reach a full-blown attack. They anyway might. And you can do nothing to stop it. But what you can do, at that moment, is not become a participant in the process. You can disengage. You can step back. Literally, step back. Leave the room if you are angry. Leave them alone if you must. But don’t stretch the argument. Don’t push them to the point where they actually faint. Don’t make them go over the edge and undo the work that they patiently, painstakingly do every day, every hour in repairing their emotionally scarred selves. Arguments are of little importance. A person’s mental, emotional and physical state is far more critical. Don’t ask someone – why should you suffer from anxiety? You have everything, why do you worry? Patronizing words and worse, deprecating remarks will not banish someone’s anxiety.
Don’t tell them not to stress, don’t tell them to go on walks, don’t tell them to go vegan. Just don’t. These things may help, may not help. But what does help the most is empathy. If I suffer from anxiety, don’t let me suffer. And don’t deny that my condition exists. And don’t make it worse. Leave me to sort myself out if you don’t understand what you are supposed to do. Just don’t add fuel to the fire. Don’t add yourself to a process where you deal more decay and injury. Don’t make someone go back to square one over and over and over again.