If you suffer from something it’s not always easy to make people aware of what your problem feels like. If you’ve got flu and tell someone about it, chances are they’ve had the flu at some point and can recall how it clogs up the brain with gunge and sucks the energy from your aching body. It’s not so easy when trying to describe the physical and mental symptoms of an anxiety condition. It can be very frustrating.
All people will have experienced a flavour of anxiety in their lives at some point but it will almost certainly be focused and situational. Hearing a noise downstairs in the house late at night, a sudden clap of thunder directly overhead, taking your first flight on a plane, wedding day ‘jitters’ – all have a focus that people can easily relate to. However, what if that focus is a situation which one might not think is a cause for bad anxiety e.g. going in to a shop, meeting someone in the street, sitting down for a nice meal? What if there is no focus at all and just ‘being’ seems to make you feel terrible?
Over the years I’ve used so many analogies to try and convey to non-sufferers what general & social anxiety feels like. Some seem to get somewhere and I feel heartened by seeing a spark of understanding in the other person’s eyes. However you can almost see other attempts bouncing off someone’s head and their eyes have a distinct ‘Does not compute’ look about them. Ironically, health professionals fall in to the latter category in my experience.
Just as a starter to this anxiety section of my blog, I’ve listed some analogies below, some old and some new. Although symptoms can overlap and everyone experiences things in a different way, I have loosely put them in to two groups for now. One is for general actions such as walking down the street or even having a bad anxiety day at home alone. The other is for situations involving other people.
If a sufferer reading this is feeling isolated and you spot an analogy that matches how you sometimes feel, then I hope it helps to simply know that you are not alone. If a particular analogy helps a sufferer to communicate to another person how they feel, then this has already been well worth my time.
Just a small footnote, the fork/soup analogy comes from something that Noel Gallagher said of his brother Liam. It was used in a different context but I thought it very apt for this exercise – so thank you Mr Gallagher.
General/Out & About
Like having a photo of every thought you’ve ever had, laid out in a vast room and an internal process is showing them to you randomly at 1 second intervals or less.
Every nerve ending in my body is screaming and my lungs are in a vice.
As soon as I set foot outside the door I feel like someone armed with a fork in a world made of soup.
Like I’m a rat in a maze and the walls are made of people who are all staring at me and silently passing judgement.
Body temperature rises and the perspiration just won’t stop.
Day to day noises magnify and mix together in to an overwhelming chaos.
Somehow I feel that I don’t belong here – not in this street, this town not even this planet.
Like my head is somehow imploding, gaining mass and heating up. Something heavy sits on my chest and tries to push the air out of me.
As if my brain has immediately turned in to a swarm of wasps. Thoughts become chaotic and I find it difficult to remember basic things like my address, phone number etc.
Like splitting in to two different people; the one who must interact with the person/people in front of me and someone else who is pulling the strings, making me speak. They control an internal monologue which is disconnected from my outward self.
The sensation that something is building up inside me and I don’t know whether I can control it. I don’t know if I’m going to explode and destroy everything I can see or collapse in on myself, becoming so dense that I implode under the pressure and vanish.
Having to fidget because I can’t stand/sit still for fear that I’ll have some sort of noticeable event/spasm/fit. Moving covers the twitches. I must attempt to divert the person’s attention away from being directly focused on me.
I would give a year of my life just for this interaction to end now and to let me go.
People use the phrase ‘a fate worse than death’ and I feel like I could find out what that is at any moment.
My throat is becoming constricted and I feel like I can’t swallow. If I can’t swallow then something unknown and terrible is going to happen to me.