Understanding anxiety is no easy task, even for those who suffer from it. As with anything, it affects everyone differently. Some people have panic attacks, others don’t, but those who don’t have panic attacks aren’t necessarily suffering less than those who do. I myself very rarely have panic attacks, when I do they are usually induced by me being trapped in a room with a spider, while the spider is just going about it’s spidery business trying to find flies wondering why there’s a human girl sat in the corner hyperventilating. I know how horrible they can be (panic attacks, not spiders) and feel great sympathy for those who suffer with them on a regular basis.
At the moment I keep seeing various cartoons, articles and videos trying to explain what anxiety is for those who don’t know. I think this has both a positive and negative effect. It is fantastic that people are talking about it and opening themselves up to the world, but often these pieces are presented as ‘this is what anxiety is like’ (often not by the author themselves I hasten to add, but by the sites that share them) whereas someone else may suffer from it differently.
One you may have seen is this one comparing anxiety to being in the rain. This is a pretty good way to describe it, though it doesn’t completely match up with how I feel about anxiety. If it were me, I’d be so worried about being rained on that I would have gone out with a coat, umbrella, waterproof trousers, walking boots, and a boat and then be paranoid that people would think that I was weird for being so hyped up about the rain. On the other hand, you may look at it and think ‘that is exactly how I feel about it’ or ‘I know someone who feels like that’ and it helps you. I think the danger with these is that people begin to think that anxiety falls under an easy definition. The website that shares the illustration about being stuck in the rain lists it under the heading ‘here’s an easy way of understanding anxiety’ when it would be better to say ‘here’s a way of understanding how anxiety can affect some people’.
I have my own way of describing how anxiety affects me, and I’m still working out how best to put that into words (who knows, maybe I’ll do my own cartoon), but the basic gist of it is that I feel like there’s always something following me, sometimes it’s right up close my heels and trips me up, others it’s way back in the distance, but I know it’s there somewhere (hm… I don’t think I’ll make Poet Laureate any time soon.) If anyone fancies sharing their own comparisons then let me know, I’d be very interested in hearing them!
When it comes to talking about anxiety, I would say to those who don’t suffer from it, don’t try and fit someone who is confiding in you into a definition you picked up from someone or somewhere else. There are several anxiety disorders, and each is characterised by different symptoms. Be sensitive. To those who do suffer with it, don’t feel that you don’t deserve to feel bad because someone else appears to have it worse than you. Everyone deserves help!
The NHS has a fairly good break down of the effects anxiety can have which can be found here and provides good information on what the different anxiety disorders are. Again, not everyone will have all the symptoms, and other people will have symptoms that aren’t listed (I kept on getting this weird bubbling sensation in my leg which a doctor assured me was a common anxiety symptom which I found no mention of on the website. I was freaking out convinced I had a blood clot or something.)
Just remember: everyone is different and everyone experiences things differently!
Images sourced from here!