This Is Anxiety

Kate Bishop
Eugene, Oregon

After graduating from college, I spent the summer looking for a real job, and landed myself two interviews. The first, a publishing company, asked me what I saw myself doing in the next few years. I naively told them I could see myself at their company for a year or so, and then likely move on to something new. I did not get that job.

During my second interview, a law firm, I tried the opposite attack and lied through my teeth about everything. Was I passionate about the World of Law? Of course. Would I be willing to work overtime and weekends for no additional pay? Sure. I got that second job, moved to Chicago, and promptly lost my mind.

I began suffering panic attacks every day, all day long… If you have never had a panic attack before, the best I can describe it is that crazy rush of adrenaline you get when you’re on a roller coaster, during those few seconds right before the ride transitions from the slow, creaky climb to sudden free fall. Your limbs tingle a little, and your stomach knots up in anticipation only to be released in a matter of seconds. That feeling is intense, and for most people, it’s exhilarating because the feeling is temporary. You’ve only tricked your body into reacting to fear.

With a panic attack, that primal, physical reaction to fear is constant. There is no relief, no sense of exhilaration. Your blood pressure rises, causing your heart to beat a mile-a-minute, your limbs go numb. Your stomach starts sinking, only there is no bottom floor for it to hit. So it keeps sinking, and sinking, and sinking. Every physiological alarm your body has for fear is firing at once, and your mind becomes consumed by a panic that defies all logic.

But worst of all, even though you know your body is playing a trick on your mind, your mind is trapped inside the fun house with no exit, and no idea when the ride will be over.

Cindy Au

How I make important phone calls:

1. Write down whatever I have to say.
2. Practice over and over.
3. Call the number.
4. Hang up as soon as someone answers. I wasn't ready or I jumble up my words.
5. Wait an hour or so and hope I don’t get the same person.
6. Wait some more because I was not ready an hour ago.
7. Call again (I may go though steps 3 though 6 again)

Sacramento, California

Until I read Scott's story, I had never considered my fear of vomiting as an actual disorder and its impact on my life. (I haven't vomited since third grade and sweat profusely at the hint of it.) After reading this story, however, I realized that fear was probably at the root of my inability to bear children.

I can still remember the panic I felt when I found out I was pregnant in 1996; I immediately knew mine wasn't a normal reaction. My friends were filled with joy at the news of their own pregnancies, but my own positive test result filled me with sheer dread and panic. I immediately became obsessed with the thought of morning sickness and a gripping fear that anxiety would kick-in in the middle of my pregnancy and cause me to harm myself or my baby. The thought of walking around in a panic attack for nine months was just too frightening. My head was spinning with dark thoughts, not onesies and strollers. So when I miscarried after 3 months, I felt overwhelming relief. And that made me feel even more ashamed and abnormal. I felt the same relief after my second miscarriage—and never tried again. …

I have two master's degrees—in journalism and in public health—and have always had interesting jobs: in publishing and TV, at the U.N., for a top medical university—worked in Japan for a few years—but it seems I'm only able to move horizontally, not vertically. I always start strong and then become filled with crippling anxiety that keeps me from moving forward. While I have had some success as a journalist, my anxieties have caused me to lose out on many opportunities presented throughout my career(s). Working in the newsroom of a major NYC tabloid was exhilarating, challenging, and gratifying, but my anxiety and insecurities got in my way. I consider myself a great reporter—I'm resourceful, curious, can find info fast, a great interviewer, and have great story ideas, but anxiety sometimes fuels my dread of face-to-face interactions.

The ironic part is that many people think I am so confident and able; even my close circle of friends have no idea how I struggle with anxiety that makes my head spin, and spin my insecurities out of control.

I also come from a family that escaped the Holocaust, but never connected my anxiety to my family history. My mom was born in Germany; she and her mom lived in Paris while my grandfather was in a labor camp in Marseilles. They came to NYC when she was 10. Looking back, I can see how my family members have masked their anxieties and passed them down to me and my two sisters—none of us have had kids!

New York

Throughout my life, my anxiety has lessened in severity, then amplified, then attenuated again. It's the sine wave of suffering I endure. I refuse to take anxiety medications because I despise how the drugs make me feel. The feeling is like I just left the bar after a three-hour tour of the good stuff on the top shelf. Oh! Then the relief and simultaneous let down when the anxiety drug wears off! The sober realization that I'm chronically anxious stinks. As a reward for heroically toughing it out, I get to manage my clenched teeth, pounding heart, acid reflux, and chest tightness.

I try to make friends with my anxiety and jokingly call it my “super power.” Like a teenage X-Men character learning to avoid burning holes in buildings, it takes practice to get it under control. I have the help of therapists, mentors and a patient wife who knows that sometimes I just need to burst out in tears on the couch, mentally and emotionally exhausted. Tomorrow is another day and it may get ugly. I can handle it.

Andrew Buskey
North Bethesda, Maryland

I have a 7-year-old child. I work from 7 to 5 pm, then I become my own housemaid. At nights I work on an online master's degree. On Saturdays I teach an English class. The tingling, the insomnia, become the way to do it all without stopping. But on Sundays, I always feel like crap, its hard to leave the bed, hard not to cry about every little thing. Making myself tea or making the bed becomes an extreme sport, my body is a numbed animal that comes back to life every Monday. 

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James Hamblin, MD, is a senior editor at The AtlanticHe is the host of If Our Bodies Could Talk.


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