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On the Anguish of Anxiety
Anxiety disorders can be a lot more complex and difficult than many seem to assume.
I have an anxiety disorder. Specifically, Generalized Anxiety Disorder. How most people seem to interpret this is that I’m more prone to anxiety — and that is certainly true. But it manifests in much more complex and devastating ways, especially when it becomes hard to escape sources of significant anxiety. At its worst, it can induce suicidal ideations.
For a few years, I thought I had overcome the worst of my anxiety through better coping methods and self-care. Finally transitioning at 24 after decades of dysphoria made it easier as well. While it would have its flare-ups, I had days-, sometimes weeks-long stretches where I only dealt with the low-level anxiety that pervades practically every moment — “background anxiety” I call it.
The obvious factor is the pandemic, but I also found myself in a position to finally get the gender confirmation surgery I so desperately needed just as the pandemic hit. But it got delayed over and over again, and it felt more and more like I would never escape. It turned my life into a time loop, where the calendar and seasons might change, but I became locked in an eternal present.
The worse the anxiety gets, the more it sends your brain into a fight-or-flight mode panic, which often leads to pushing people away and making drastic, irrational decisions in a frantic fury to break out of the mire — to feel like you can breathe even a slight sigh of relief. Rarely does it come from such actions, but the compulsions still always come.
More often than not, the foe is imaginary, a construct of the catastrophization the disorder induces. However, in my case, as my fears kept coming true — surgery kept getting delayed, I lost my job — it became impossible to escape near-constant feelings of doom. Much as I rationally know the outcome to one thing worrying me does not influence other, unrelated things, one going wrong makes it feel like the others are too. To put it another way: my rational mind thinks superstition is absurdly silly — but my anxiety disorder doesn’t.
These sort of patterns turn can sometimes turn struggles with anxiety disorder into far more than just a lot of individual periods of panic. Once it starts consuming entire days with unrelenting fear, it becomes hard to feel grounded once more, especially if any other problems or fears arise — as happened to me over and over again.
When that state of mind begins to feel forever inescapable, the intrusive thoughts of suicide burst in. I’ve struggled a lot with suicidality, but never for me was it that I truly did not want to live, it is that I was desperate for any escape from the inescapable, crushing fear that makes you feel physically ill day after day. The majority of my life is not this way, but the parts that are have induced abject anguish on an indescribable level.
Even during the fortunately usually more common times when my anxiety disorder is less severe, it leaves me in a position of vulnerability. I can feel so calm and collected but fall apart in mere seconds with the right triggers. Even people with the best of intentions trying to deliver uplifting statements can wind up giving things for my anxiety to pick apart, find things to fear, and use them to add fuel to the fire.
Therapy and medication can do a lot to help, but it is hard to ever truly and permanently conquer the condition. I sometimes get anxiety about anxiety — even when things go well, there’s that nagging feeling in the back of my brain that everything is about to go wrong.
Everyone’s case is different, but my hope is that, with the current trajectory in my life, I can be at a point where I can at least significantly reduce the probability of experiencing anything that is a severe contributor to my anxiety. But that is only because my career, even if losing my job for repeated surgery delays was a major setback, provides the resources when I actually have a job to take care of myself well.
So many others are not as lucky. Until we have a far better mental health system in this country, there are countless people who will just struggle with it endlessly. As of now, insurance often does not cover treatments, and the mental health system is often judgmental and can put you in a place of essentially imprisonment if you are institutionalized against your will.
Many people ignore the importance of mental health in general, and anxiety disorders are often seen as light or minor mental health problems, and this put those who suffer from severe symptoms struggling, often looking like they are attention-seeking — or at least that’s what the intrusive, anxious thoughts tells you it looks like.