There are some things that all the books, lectures, courses and research just can’t teach. They’re the things that come from people – the ones we talk to, listen to, connect with, acquaint with, like a little, love a lot or fight with.
So much is known about anxiety, but then there’s the human side. Science is awesome but even with everything it’s able to tell us, when it comes to that human thing we do, there are some things that can’t be properly understood until they’re experienced, touched, felt or seen – for real, not just through words of theory or a computer screen or the stark white pages of a straight-talking book.
The points that follow may not be relevant to every person with anxiety, but neither is the list of symptoms. Humans aren’t ‘boxable’ – we know that. We’re complex, fascinating, frustrating and between the heart and the head, there are countless versions of the human experience.
Here are the things that I would not have known – could not have known – were it not for those who have experienced anxiety from the front line.
Anxiety is the fuel of contradictions.
Sometimes feelings that are on opposite ends of the feeling spectrum, and which seem separated by the fact that any co-existence would be, you know, impossible, actually do co-exist. Sometimes they even feel the same.
The first is craving solitude and craving people all at once. The second is having a fear of being seen and a fear of not being seen, at the same time. If you’ve ever known or loved anyone with anxiety and found yourself saying to them, ‘But I just don’t understand what you want.’ Don’t worry. Chances are they aren’t quite sure either. And that’s completely okay. Be grateful for the opportunity to practice being comfortable with uncertainty.
They’re wise – so wise – about who they choose to be part of their tribe.
Anxiety comes from a hair-trigger threat sensor, remember, and the threat of psychological harm (humiliation, rejection, shame) can feel just as real as the threat of physical harm. Because interacting with people can be so anxiety inducing, people with anxiety are choosey about who they let close. They’re not rude about putting up the wall to those who don’t quite make the cut – not at all – but they’re decisive. If you’re one of the ones for whom the fortress is lowered, feel blessed, because you are. There’s something about you that feels safe and lovely to be around.
They’re awesome to have in your tribe too.
Why? Because they’ll always have your back, your front and for the things you don’t see coming, don’t worry, because they’ll have them too.
People with anxiety are some of the most emotionally intelligent people I’ve met – they’re funny, kind, thoughtful and strong. They’re also very sensitive to what’s around them – it’s part of having a heightened threat sensor – and that sensitivity also extends to you and anyone else they’re around. They’ll think about what’s okay to say and what’s not okay to say, what needs to be done and what you might want.
Anxiety has a way of persuading people to try for as much control as possible over the ‘unknowns’ in order to avoid potential chaos. This means they’ll be the ones who make sure everyone knows exactly where to meet, what time to leave to get there on time, what to take and the best way to get there. They’ll be the ones with the spare jumper, the spare coins and the spare phone charger. And if you need to make a call to let a bunch of people know you’re both running 20 minutes late to dinner, but your phone is out of charge, don’t worry, their phone will have plenty – you won’t need it though because they’ll already have sent the text to let them know. See. Way ahead of you. Just don’t forget to let you know how much you love them for it.
Thoughts have more pull than knowledge. Yep. They run the mothership.
The thoughts that are stoked by anxiety can be frightening, frustrating and suffocating. Above all else, they’re powerful. They’re more powerful than a lifetime of knowledge and the collective knowledge of a group, so don’t even bother trying to reason – it’s pointless. ‘Knowing’ that there’s nothing to worry about isn’t enough. Once fearful thoughts are in full swing, they will run the show. They’ll drive behaviour and bring feelings (fear, panic, anxiety) to life. All the knowledge in the world about what’s valid, real or likely won’t make any difference to those thoughts that are swelling. It’s the power of the mind against the mind.