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Honestly, That Makes Me Anxious

***Trigger Warning: This post discusses anxiety and panic attacks. Reading about anxiety sometimes makes me anxious, so I wanted to warn you ahead of time. I am writing with caution, so as not to create anxious feelings, but to bring understanding and solidarity. However, if you have anxiety, please proceed gently, and skip to the end for just the comforting part. With love, Madeline***

I’m an extrovert.
I also have anxiety.

I was in college when I had my first recognizable panic attack. When it happened again a week later, I decided, “That was not a fluke. I need help.” So I scheduled an appointment with the free counseling center on my campus. (I will sing the praises of free counseling for college students all day long!) My first session with the counselor, I said, and I quote, “I’m not really an anxious person!”

You see, I had a very stereotypical idea of what anxiety looked like. To me, anxious people were similar to the character Fear from the Pixar movie “Inside Out”: jumpy, irrational, high-strung. I figured my worries were normal and average. Doesn’t everybody worry about deadlines so badly they can’t sleep? Doesn’t everybody get distracted from their schoolwork thinking about that one time someone jokingly made fun of them in front of a class of people? Doesn’t everybody put off filling out paperwork until the last possible second because, well, you know, it’s stressful?

The truth is, no. Not everybody does that. My worries, while they seemed rational to me, weren’t normal. And the truth is, they interfered with my life. I wasn’t sleeping because I was worrying. I was irritable and unable to concentrate because of my anxiety. My anxiety was interfering with my relationships with my friends and Bryan, whom I had recently started dating. My doctor and my counselor were able to easily diagnose me with Generalized Anxiety Disorder.

I didn’t think I had anxiety because I was social. I had fabulous friends and a wonderful boyfriend. We stayed out late and goofed around and laughed until we thought we would explode. My life was good! I didn’t think I had anxiety because I was an extrovert. Crowds, meeting new people, public speaking: those things didn’t and don’t make me anxious.  I assumed that because I was okay with those things, I wasn’t an anxious person.

My anxiety is different because I’m an extrovert, but I still have anxiety. Driving, making phone calls to people I don’t know, filling out paperwork: these things give me anxiety. It manifests in panic attacks at dinner with my extended family because someone tried to give my exclusively breastfed 5 month old a piece of ice. It comes up when I am trying to soothe a baby who has been crying for an hour without stopping. I put off changing my name on my driver’s license for 18 months after I got married because I was so anxious about going to the DMV.

Part of my anxiety manifests as extreme procrastination. For a while, I told myself that it was because I just worked better under pressure. After I started reflecting and learning about my anxiety, I realized that I put off doing homework because it made me anxious. I was anxious that it would be “good,” but it wouldn’t be good enough for me, and I had to be good enough. My extreme perfectionism caused me to put things off because if I didn’t give myself enough time to get it done, I could blame the lack of time instead of my own inability to create an excellent product. I had to reschedule my final college Capstone presentation three times because I hadn’t finished writing the paper. Thankfully, I graduated college, and I’ve been able to avoid deadlines since then. As I have been writing for Youer than You, I’ve noticed some of this returning. I am trying my best to mediate my anxiety by writing in spurts, giving myself grace, and allowing “good enough” to be “good enough for me.”

Being an anxious extrovert means that sometimes, people don’t understand your anxiety. Growing up, I heard a lot of, “You’re okay, Madeline,” or “Don’t be dramatic, Madeline.” My big, extroverted personality seemed to discredit my anxious feelings. People assumed things didn’t really bother me as much as they seemed to, since I was so “dramatic.” As I’ve learned about myself and my anxiety, I have learned to say, “I feel anxious,” or “I am not okay,” in moments when I think I’m being misunderstood. I’ve had to be honest with myself and the people around me, and learn to say, “Honestly, that makes me anxious.” Thankfully, my husband, Bryan, and the rest of my family are very kind and understanding when I’m feeling anxious. Bryan is wonderful about saying, “What do you need right now?” Sometimes I don’t know, and he tries to help me anyway. I am blessed to have him.

If this post has resonated with you, if you have identified with the things I’ve said, if you thought to yourself, “Wait, how is this girl inside my head?” please know that your life is not over if you have anxiety. I remember walking out of my counselor’s office, devastated that she believed I had an anxiety disorder. I felt like my whole opinion of myself had been transformed. It has taken me lots of time and counseling to accept that this is just a piece of me, like my extroverted personality and my talent for public speaking. Please, please don’t think that you are “bad” or “less” or “broken” because you have anxiety. Mental illnesses are just illnesses, like diabetes or high blood pressure. We don’t treat people as if they have a moral failing for being diabetic. We give them the medication they need, and help them manage their condition with healthy eating and tracking their blood sugar levels.

Part of managing my anxiety is being intentional about my self-care. Anxiety is insidious. It creeps up in the worst moments, when I’ve forgotten to eat breakfast or drink enough water. I have to take care of myself in the most basic ways, which is hard when there are a million other things in my brain. But I do, with help. I eat breakfast every morning after I get to work with my nanny babies. I keep a water tracker on my phone that reminds me to drink a certain number of ounces every hour. I take my vitamins and go to bed early. I don’t always do a great job of it, but I try to do something to care for my mind, body, and spirit every day.

Another part of managing my anxiety means that I have a prescription for Xanax, an anti-anxiety medication. In the spirit of honesty: I haven’t taken it in a long time, but I have a doctor’s appointment to reassess my need for anxiety medication. Sometimes, circumstances change and so does our need for medication to treat mental illness. Please don’t let the stigma against mental illness keep you from seeking medical help in treating your mental health.

But one of the most important pieces of managing my anxiety has been seeing a counselor. I have been seeing a counselor off and on for the last five years, and it has been so good for my anxiety, my relationships, and my overall wellbeing. I am firmly of the opinion that everyone should see a counselor at some point in his or her life. If you’re a college student, check to see if there is counseling available on your campus. Many schools that have students who are getting their Masters Degree in counseling will do free counseling as part of their learning. If you’re a high school student, start with your guidance counselor at school. If you’re out of school, www.psychologytoday.com is a great resource. You can enter your zip code, the gender of the counselor you would like to see, the specialty of the counselor, and even your insurance provider to find counselors who best fit your situation.

If you love someone with anxiety, especially an extrovert with anxiety, I hope this has helped you understand them. This has been extremely difficult and vulnerable for me to write, but I knew that I needed to. Have grace for your loved ones who aren’t managing their anxiety well. Help them care for themselves. Encourage them to seek professional help. Maybe even make the phone call for them. The first phone call and the first appointment are the hardest step.

If you’ve been reading and relating: I see you. I am you. Most importantly, have grace for yourself. Anxiety isn’t the end of your world or mine. Even when it’s debilitating, it can be treated and managed. We are strong and courageous. We are thoughtful and careful. We are intentional and we are exceptional. We may feel anxious, but we are absolutely wonderful.

Blessings to you in this holiday season, my lovelies. Take good care of yourselves. I love you!

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