By unveiling how anxiety impacts people’s lives, we hope to spread empathy, ideas for coping, and a more open conversation on mental health. This is a powerful perspective.
BW is a 63-year-old woman who works as a banking professional in the small, rural town of Quincy, Illinois. She first realized she had anxiety when she struggled to make even the simplest decisions.
One major hurdle for her has been maintaining close friends and intimate relationships. As she’s developed more friendships, her anxiety has lessened and her happiness has grown.
Here’s her story.
When did you first realize you had anxiety?
Making simple decisions was very nerve-wracking for me — even something as basic as making an appointment for a family portrait would cause me anxiety. Organizing the four of us into a color scheme (which was black — how hard is that?) nearly put me over the edge.
On picture day morning, I realized I had outfitted everyone but myself. In a panic, I ran to a store and purchased a top that was two sizes too big. The back had to be pinned together so it was passable.
How does your anxiety manifest itself physically?
It feels like a huge herd of butterflies is in my stomach. And I always had diarrhea before work.
How does your anxiety manifest itself mentally?
Whatever is causing me angst will play on a continuous loop in my mind. And decision-making is nearly impossible for me.
What kinds of things trigger your anxiety?
It used to be decisions involving my children, and the feeling of not knowing which decision was best. My anxiety would also be triggered when people would ask me to help on a committee or event. I was afraid to say yes.
I’d also worry about not measuring up at work when given a project. It felt like having perfectionism on steroids.
How do you manage your anxiety?
I’ve done cognitive behavioral therapy and have medicated since 2000. Not much unnerves me now!
Do you have any habits or behaviors associated with anxiety that are unique to you?
Skin picking mostly.
What’s something you wish other people knew about being anxious?
I’m not sure if it was obvious I had anxiety. Instead, people probably thought I was a serious, moody, independent soul. My anxiety was the worst when I had a lot of solo time on my hands.
My husband left early for work every day, and we didn’t have kids or dogs yet, which would have been diversions. When you’re alone with your thoughts, they can become looming. My anxiety would subside as I got into my day.
Unfortunately, my office was in the bowels of the building. It was secluded, and there were no windows or human traffic. This couldn’t have been a worse environment for people like me.
Whenever I expressed worrisome topics to my husband, he’d say, “Stop stewing and start doing.” He was right.
Even back in elementary school, swim practice was helpful to me. Practice would begin with a huge problem on my mind, like a girl who was mad at me. But by the end of practice, the issue had subsided.
Exercise has been important to me my entire life, but I always did it for weight and tone, and I exercised alone. I didn’t initially realize the power it had over anxiety.
I wish people had known this and asked me to go for a walk or a run. It would’ve helped. My confidence wanes when I’m anxious, so I was afraid to approach others. Today, I have wonderful walking buddies. When I see them, it’s engaging, therapeutic, and a happy time.
How has anxiety affected your relationships?
I had very few relationships during my most anxious time. It was just too much work and took excessive courage, which I was devoid of. It was easier to muddle through my days alone.
I was most interactive with my sister and parents, but we need all different types of people in our lives.
In the past 10 to 20 years, I have been much more open to friendships, and my life is so much richer. It’s comical even — during a walk or over a glass of wine, one of us will need the ear of the other and the next time, it’ll flip. It can be better than therapy when friends are good listeners.
It makes me sad that I lived so many years without close friends. My kids thought I didn’t have any! Over time, they realized that some of my best friends were long-distance. But we need friends far and near.
As for my relationship with my husband, we struggled in the intimacy department. I was ultra-serious and not playful at all. I was so self-absorbed in whatever this anxiety beast was that I built a wall between us.
He was so frustrated because he tried every trick in the book to interest me and make me feel loved, and I found it nearly impossible to express mutual love. I wrote it off to the busyness of raising children and working hard.
Medication helped immensely, but it’s very difficult to tear down those walls and habits we’ve constructed over the years. I’m still working at it.
Jamie Friedlander is a freelance writer and editor with a passion for health. Her work has appeared in The Cut, Chicago Tribune, Racked, Business Insider, and Success Magazine. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found traveling, drinking copious amounts of green tea, or surfing Etsy. You can see more samples of her work on her website. Follow her on Twitter.