Sometimes, I can tuck my anxiety away in my pocket and pretend it is not there. Other times, I feel so overwhelmed, I can barely breathe, and everything is suddenly too much cue panic attack.
Panic attack: “an intense wave of fear characterized by its unexpectedness and debilitating, immobilizing intensity. Your heart pounds, you can’t breathe, and you may feel like you’re dying or going crazy” – HelpGuide.
When I was first diagnosed with anxiety, I felt that a huge part of me was explained. Reading the symptoms, I knew I had always struggled with anxiety. But a diagnosis just felt too real. I did not want to be one of those people if you know what I mean.
It was also a relief to have an anxiety disorder diagnosis. I was not the only one in the world who was scared to go to the store by herself. Knowing others experienced debilitating fear helped me better deal with my fear, too. After all, misery does love company.
When I was diagnosed with major depression disorder years later, I felt that another part of me was explained. My physical symptoms, such as nausea, constant headaches, and uncontrollable crying was, as I had expected, symptoms of an underlying disorder. But I never imagined they would be symptoms of a mental disorder. Our brains can do crazy things to our bodies.
Finding peace at Mt. Cutler
Again, it was also nice to recognize that others also struggled to find the will to get out of bed every day. I felt less alone, and that there was a whole community of people experiencing the same thing I was going through.
I have been on and off medication for the past few years. During my times when I try going “off” medication, I think, maybe this time I can rewire my brain and alter the way it functions. However, I usually end up knocked on my butt, forgetting how powerful mental illness can be.
It is powerful. And regardless of all the things I have read about how we can alter our brains and their chemical reactions through straight willpower… well, I have yet to achieve that.
Instead, without medical assistance, the neurotransmitters in my brain get all out of whack, and I literally cannot function. Instead, the most I can usually manage is to crawl into a ball in bed, crying if someone looks at me “wrong.”
That, folks, is mental illness. And it can suck. It can suck to literally have no will to live, and then for everything that comes with living to be, just, way too much.
I found out last year that I am also a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), or have what is now known as sensory-processing sensitivity (SPS). About fifteen to twenty percent of the population, including the animal population, has this trait. These individuals often have other mental disorders, such as anxiety, depression, autism, ADHD, and others.
High sensitivity, or sensory-processing sensitivity, means “an increased or deeper central nervous system sensitivity to physical, emotional, or social stimuli” – VeryWellMind.
Painting at High Chapparal Open Space
It means everything is, literally, louder to us HSPs. The light, the noise, the stupid tag on the back of my shirt, and the annoying fabric on my sweater that makes my skin break out every single time. Life is, literally, just too much sometimes. And sometimes, we need to just go lie down in a quiet area, with comfy clothes on and shut out all the stimuli before we can “properly” function again.
I may have also been misdiagnosed in the past. My anxiety and depression may be how another disorder, such as autism or ADHD, has manifested. Women are often misdiagnosed because, well, we are good at “masking” and pretending to be normal. Women often “hide their symptoms or work harder to ‘fit in’ with their peers,” meaning often, they go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed – MedialNewsToday.
My therapist, an amazing woman, was the first to point out that some of my behaviors and reactions might suggest an underlying disorder that others had missed. Let me be clear: I am weird. I always have been. I am socially awkward, and many have said this trait in me is charming. It is likely only deemed charming—and only sometimes—because I am so aware of my awkwardness and weirdness. I can laugh at myself. I embrace the things about me that make me weird. I like my weirdness.
I have always known I was different. I always felt that I did not fit in some way, yet that I could pass as “fitting in.” I am often the therapist friend, the one who others come to because I just get people. Yet I do not often get myself. Or I sweep my own needs under a rug because sometimes, it is just easier to help others with their needs than to face my own.
And that has worked! Kind of. It has also been draining and exhausting.
I love helping people. I also like not feeling burnt out and overused. Overworked. Cars cannot run without gas in them.
Finding beauty in the mess at Mt. Cutler
My therapist, the one I pay to help keep my gas tank full, encouraged me to take a test. The results showed that I was likely on the autism spectrum, with almost every category falling under Neurodivergent, or “likely autistic.” And the categories where I fell under “Neurotypical”? Social and communication skills.
I am good at pretending to be “normal.” I can pass as a “regular” human.
I am starting to learn something, though. The more I talk to others, the more I realize they are also pretending.
Maybe they do not have an anxiety disorder or depression. Maybe they have never had a panic attack, or they may process the world in largely neurotypical ways. But they are all pretending just as hard as I am. They are looking in the mirror, wondering if they are “good enough,” wondering if that ‘Covid 15’ weight they put on makes them unworthy and struggling to keep their anxiety, that voice that tells them they are “doing it wrong,” inside their pocket, too.
We are all struggling so hard in this life. But guess what? We are doing it together. And that is awesome, and it is beautiful.
And if there is one thing I want to urge you to do today, it is this: remember that the person next to you, no matter how well they are playing it off, is likely struggling, too. So give them some fucking grace.
And hey, you beautiful person: give yourself some fucking grace, too.
Autumn is a recent graduate in English-Literature and lives in Colorado Springs. During her personal time, Autumn likes hanging out with her super handsome horse, Red, and all the other 4-legged creatures in her life. Autumn is a fan of tall trees, forests, and all the wild and untamed parts of nature. She loves reading, researching, listening to others, and gaining as much insight into the physical and spiritual world as she can.
Autumn knows life can be hella hard, but she also thinks it is astonishing, amazing, complex, and fascinating. She hopes to be ever-growing and evolving, and she does her best to remain open to new perspectives, insights, or opinions that challenge her own. She would love to hear your personal stories and why one of her own articles resonated (or didn’t) with you. Autumn writes mostly about philosophy and mental health but loves to explore all topics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on March 20, 2021.