Everything is the worst thing ever.
That's how it feels to have an anxiety disorder.
Worrying that someone is going to break up with me produces the same chemical reaction in my body as having a tiger chase me.
Fearing that I'll lose my job or that I've upset my boss feels like I'm on an airplane and it's going down, man. It's going to crash!
Anxiety is the sound of my blood pounding in my ears.
It's not being able to get a breath because I feel like a camel is sitting on my chest.
It's dry mouth and a head that feels too light.
At least at this point in my life, I know that many thoughts that scare me aren't founded in reality. They're a sort of negative speculation and often they're wrong.
At the beginning of one previous relationship, I had a difficult time accepting that an amazing young woman, now my ex, could be interested in me.
She once took what I thought was too long to reply to a text message and I worried she was done, that she wasn't interested in me anymore.
My compulsive negative thinking was extremely persistent and caused a lot of anxiety that I had to find a way to work with.
The worst thing to do would've been to keep texting her, trying to get her attention, or trying to figure out why she wasn't answering me.
That's really unattractive.
So, the first thing I did was let things be.
That's right. There was nothing I could do about whether she sent me a text message. I decided to focus instead on managing my thoughts and feelings.
I asked myself, “Do you know that's she's not interested in you anymore?”
“No. I don't,” I replied.
“Do you even know what she's doing today?”
“No. I don't know what she's doing today. She could be working, or taking a nap, or maybe the battery in her phone died and she hasn't even gotten my message yet. There are countless things that could be preventing her from getting back to me that have nothing to do with me.”
Then, I went for walk with my dog.
I find walking to be really helpful in dealing with anxiety. Moving forward is symbolic as well as therapeutic. It's a change of scenery and a new perspective.
I spend much of my life indoors. Going outside for a walk interrupts my patterns and habits. Sometimes, being outside also makes it easier to be in the present moment and to ground myself in the physical world.
I looked at the trees as I moved past them. A breeze rustled through the leaves and touched my skin. I could smell the scents of summer, the cut grass, the barbecues. I watched the skyline as an orange sun started to sink behind the houses.
And I watched my dog poop in someone's front yard.
Of course I picked it up. I had the plastic baggies with me. And I wonder if my dog ever thinks it's funny when we walk down the street and I'm carrying a bag of his poop.
Anyway, it wasn't long into my walk before I started to feel a lot better.
And then something almost magical happened.
I got a text message from the woman I was dating inviting me to spend time with her the next evening. The text came at almost the exact moment I'd forgotten about waiting for it.
She wasn't tired of me, or done with me, or upset with me.
There was nothing wrong at all.
I had made everything up in my head.
I don't even remember what she told me she was doing that prevented her from getting back to me.
What I do remember is my anxiety grabbing a tiny piece of information, a text message yet to be answered, and encouraging me to worry over things that simply weren't true.
Anxiety is a liar.
*A version of this essay was originally printed in Complete Wellbeing Magazine.
Note from Author:
It's been almost two years since the events that inspired "Anxiety is a Liar" took place, but I think its popularity comes down to the fact that so many people share the same experiences. Most of us have started relationships and ended them. And so often our thoughts can run away with us and twist the tiny bits of information we receive about our ex into painful ruminations. Sometimes, we just go ahead and make up all of the information on our own. At least, that's what I do.
I still find relief in walking. And I still take my dog.