Anxiety comes over me like a wave. It can take my breath away, make my limbs feel tingly, and butterflies swirling in my stomach.
Sometimes I can predict it, like when I’m driving to a new place, or I’m meeting with people I don’t know. But more often it just comes over me for no apparent reason. Sometimes I’m just walking into the grocery store, or watching tv, or eating my lunch. I have no obvious triggers, no warning signs, no rules.
From the outside, nothing changes. My breathing doesn’t change, I don’t look ‘panicky’, I don’t run and hide. If you saw me, you would have no idea that anything out of the ordinary was going on.
This describes my more recent episodes, but it used to be quite different. I used to freeze like a statue. I would feel like someone pressed the pause button on me and I couldn’t move; my thoughts would slow down so I felt like I couldn’t process what was happening. What felt like hours was usually just a few minutes. These are just a few examples, but it is important to remember that there are as many descriptions of anxiety (or depression or PTSD) as there are people who experience it.
I’m sharing this as I am constantly reminded that mental health challenges don’t follow rules. That is just one of the reasons they are so difficult to diagnose and to treat effectively. But it only means we need to take it seriously, observe our symptoms, makes notes, and be honest with ourselves and our care providers. As caregivers, we need to listen and believe what our loved ones are sharing with us. Just because it doesn’t sound like what was explained in the pamphlet or textbook doesn’t make it less real or less valid. By focusing on what is happening, without judgment, shame or guilt, we would save so much time and energy. So if anyone says that whatever mental health struggle you are experiencing is not real, tell them mental health challenges have no rules.