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Dealing with anxiety and calling it what it is

I've had mild to severe allergic reactions off-and-on for the past two years or so. Recently, I had to go to the hospital after taking an epi-pen that didn't work. When I got there, they gave me steroids and monitored my heart rate. They refilled my typical prescription for prednisone and benadryl and I left about four hours later once they took blood tests, determined that I didn't have any auto-immune issues and that I wasn't in any danger of my throat closing up.

The next few days felt like a nightmare. My hives and the swelling weren't going away, I continued to take benadryl around the clock, and I had a set of job interviews that week. Convinced that I was allergic to mold or dust or cleaning supplies, I did a lot of walking around the city, warding off panic attacks with constant movement, laying in the Art Institute gardens when I didn't know where to go, watching the clouds and tourists pass, trying to focus on breathing excercises and scratch scratch scratching at my ankles and arms where hives had nested, periodically assuring my parents that I was okay, but my throat was tight and I didn't know what to do. After a few days I went to urgent care and told them what was going on.

I never would have considered that I had anxiety, and I'm not sure why. In retrospect, all of my major episodes were around major life changes. I don't know if this is periodical, or something that I'll have to continously learn to manage. It's hard to judge the severity of this. I have nothing but my own experiences to go off of, and they seem pretty typical on the surface.

Most of the time, unhealthily, I thrive off of my anxiety. It motivates me to continue to produce, to work hard, get things done, that kind of bullshit- and I won't feel at peace until I complete everything, and even if I do, there always feels like there's something more I could be doing. Now with college over, the pressure to find a new apartment and a new job, like most recent graduates, is stronger than ever and my anxiety is attempting to fill that void.

Given my freetime, I have this idea that if I'm not writing fiction, I'm a failure. If I'm not editing my short stories, what am I doing? If I'm not writing a novel, who gives a shit about my writing? Part of me knows that it's unfair to put that much pressure on myself, but my anxiety disguises itself as a prophet whispering its stupid secrets to success. I know that if I were a friend of mine, I'd tell myself not to worry about it, that writing comes with persistence, drafting and time, that anxiety is inherited and not something to be ashamed about. But now that it's me, my reality has completely shifted. Since I've been prescribed anxiety medication, my "allergies" have gone away. I'm thankful for that, but it feels like I've decieved myself and I'm working on not being ashamed of my limitations.

I haven't told any of my friends what's been going on, just bits and parts. I'm not really sure how to or if it even matters, but I feel I need to appologize for blowing plans and becoming a little reclusive, and I think that's important. I also know A LOT of people, A LOT of my friends, who deal with extreme anxiety. I know it's not something that I should be ashamed about, I know it.

I think back to when I was younger and the points where I was anxious but didn't know what to do or what to even call it. I remember being severely affected by the idea of bed bugs after reading a book about them. I was most scared by the idea that they were too small to see. It's strange to think that my allergies are kind of an adult version of this. I got so worked up about both even though they didn't actually exist.

In middleschool I started getting sick a lot and paniking before going to school. I was being bullied and slut-shamed, my parents were going through a divorce, and I had no idea what was going on with my body like your typical preteen. I thought I'd developed a chip on my shoulder since then, that my compulsive behavior and perfectionism was driven by my self-dobut and my personality, not by my anxiety. I remember studying for hours in highschool, convinced that if I got all the AP credits in the world, I wouldn't have to go to community college. I did school plays, tried to sing in choir, tried to play in bands to get over this overwhelming stage fright. I always thought that these things were minor and typical, but now I'm realizing that they are part of a larger picture.

It wasn't until a couple years ago that I first started experiencing the blatant physical effects of anxiety: muscle tension, excessive worry, hives, swelling and insominia. I'm sure coupled with the self-doubt that comes along with art school and graduating early, they were heightened. It's weird reading a list of the signs of anxiety disorder and realizing that you have most of them, and that yeah, maybe this is a real problem if it's become debilitating.

Anxiety affects 3.3 million Americans according to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, and there may be more who are undiagnosed or mistreated for allergies or something similar. It's not a cut and dry disorder though, and that's what makes it so difficult to talk about or even diagnose. If you are reading this and you've had similar experiences, please seek help and know that you are not weak for doing so. Anxiety or any mental disorder is completely chemical and not something to be ashamed about.

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