I’ll just come out and say it, anxiety sucks. Like a lot.

Welcome to a life where everything feels overwhelming and your body likes to absolutely freak out on you for no apparent reason.

There’s nothing like wanting to be excited about your best friends visiting for the weekend, but all you can actually feel is looming dread over how overstimulating it might be. Oh, and maybe you’ll say something super offensive and end the whole ten-year friendship. (Yeah, because that’s likely to happen.) Or what if you don’t have the kind of jelly she likes. (The horrors!) Or maybe there’s something you missed cleaning the bathroom and she is going to be inexplicably grossed out and hate you forever. (Because you pick friends who are that shallow.)

Right. Move along out of proportion fears, the adult brain is in charge here. But no, it’s like living with a screaming toddler who just won’t shut up about how his milk cup is a different color than her brother’s milk cup and she’s sure that his is better. My brain is not logical when it goes into anxiety mode. It refuses to be and any attempt at bringing sanity is met with crazy tyrannical laughter.

But seriously, while making light of my brain at times helps me keep my sanity, mental illness is not a laughing matter. There is nothing humorous about your body going into uncontrollable shaking fits, accompanied by gasping for air, and feeling like the world is ending.

There are things about anxiety that I simply can’t make light of. Like the way it robs you of joy and makes you incapable of thinking clearly. Or the way it makes you terrified of everyday normal activities. Or the way it limits your life.

Living with Limits

The last one is perhaps the hardest. After discovering I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Panic Disorder, I am beginning to come to grips with accepting the real limits mental illness puts on my time and experiences. Everyone accepts that physical illness or disability comes with limits. No one expects a person with one leg to run a marathon. But the stigma is still there with mental illness that we just need to toughen up. There is always someone willing to tell you that everyone feels anxiety from time to time, you’ll be fine, you just need to relax.

But there is a huge difference between the everyday anxiety that everybody experiences and a disorder. Honestly, why don’t we use different words for these things? With a disorder, your brain and hormones have been altered. Your brain has developed an ingrained pattern of fear response and your body is physically different than people without an anxiety disorder. So it’s not just mind over matter.

Altered hormones can be regulated, ingrained patterns can be shifted. Our bodies are made to change. But it takes time. That career success you see other people having, the blossoming social circles, the confidence and self-possession you crave, I believe people with anxiety can have those things. But it has to be in our own way and time, and honestly, it will probably come slower and with more concessions than we would like.

A Not So Entertaining Juggling Act

For instance, I’ve discovered that my capacity to get stuff done is simply lower than other people. My brain needs to pause between each new thing and consider everything that could go wrong and every possible ramification. This is time consuming and exhausting work. I would always marvel at what everyone else managed to get done with their lives. You mean you can work full time and have a hobby? Who knew?

Most days, I can’t do it all. I want to be able to work full time, have a healthy marriage, a great social life, physical fitness, cook and eat healthy meals, sleep, write, and have time left over to you know, have fun once in a while. But this is a very tall order for someone with anxiety. And it’s frustrating because several of those things are very important for coping with anxiety, ie. eating healthy, exercise, sleep, and play. But I find myself incapable of carrying them all.

I feel like a comedy skit of a person who didn’t bring a cart into the grocery store and is attempting to personally carry a week’s worth of groceries. Of course, I keep dropping things all over aisle 12 to the amusement of a crowd of gawking onlookers. Except it’s not funny at all, because the grocery store won’t let me have a cart no matter how many times I ask, even though everyone else seems to have one.

So I do my weekly routine at the grocery store, dropping bread and eggs. And the sad part is that I really wanted and needed the bread and eggs, but I simply can’t hold it all. Inevitably the things that most often stay in my hands are the things that taste good but don’t help me be healthy. Ice Cream and frozen french fries stay in my grasp, while fruits and vegetables roll away on my way to the checkout counter. This is the frustrating life of anxiety.

Permission to Grieve

An answer, of course, is to buy fewer groceries and go more often. But this takes precious time and diligence, not to mention it’s exhausting. And who goes to the grocery store every day for only a few things? That’s not normal. No, living with anxiety is not normal. It takes a frustrating toll on the body, mind, and spirit. I’ve had to grieve this loss and that’s okay. It’s necessary and good to grieve this loss of normal in our life. Let yourself feel how much anxiety sucks. Get angry about it and pound some pillows. You don’t always have to try to see the bright side.

Yes, it will absolutely get better as you learn to do life with anxiety. But that doesn’t make right now easy. It doesn’t make the sacrifices we have to make, the number of things we say no to, the fatigue, or the debilitating thoughts easier. I’d love to tell you that anxiety will just be another thing you conquer that makes you stronger and better. In some ways that is true, but in others, it’s not. You have an unfair disadvantage in life, and yes you can take steps to overcome it and thrive in life. But your life has still been made harder. You have permission to say that anxiety sucks.

I often think, “Well, others were born in abject poverty, with a debilitating illness, or physical disability. Where do I have the right to complain?” Because I know deep in my bones that this is not how I was meant to be. Anxiety was not the life you would have chosen or wanted. It became a part of your life unasked and has broken you in some way. And that is worth grieving. Even if the rest of the world is grieving their own or worse brokenness. We don’t have to just grin and bear it and say that others have it worse. Grief is the first stage in healing so let’s not skip this step. It’s not fun, but acceptance of our limitations and pain is necessary to walking toward that fulfilling life we know we were made for.