People Don’t Understand the Difference Between Stress and Anxiety

Not everybody. But anybody who has never suffered from anxiety. The people who use “I have anxiety” to be synonymous with “Things aren’t ideal and I am a little stressed.” Several times I have tried to explain what it actually feels like. Tried to explain the difference when somebody says something along the lines of “Geez, just calm down.” And I can never really find the words because it can be completely different every second.

So let me try last night.

I was in bed. Visions of all the moments from my day in my head. Some how they actually happened. Some with the witty retort I wish I had thought up at that time. Some with the mistakes amplified to show me where I messed up. I was in that weird close-to-sleep-but-not-quite-there state. So close to drifting off when… BAM. I had this huge pit in my stomach. Like I had just eaten a bowling ball and my stomach was so heavy it was trying to drop through the first several layers of the earth. Meanwhile, my lungs seemed to be trying to fill up faster and faster in an attempt to fill up like a hot air balloon which would lift my stomach up out of the ground.

I tried focusing on my breathing to stop the hyperventilating.

This actually ended up making me dizzy because I was alternating between breathing too much and not enough.

There were things in my vision that were so clear and high definition. Meanwhile whole other areas were fuzzy as if they had been blurred out in gray scale. So I just closed my eyes to stop the weird, whirling effect the real world gave me.

This was worse, because then I could vividly see all the horrible stuff in my mind. All my worst fears come to life if I can’t straighten my life out right this second. Yet they aren’t fears during that moment. They are inevitabilities. These things WILL happen.

I felt like I was being suffocated by the universe, that everything was actually closing in on me. I could feel my skin crawling with the closeness of everything to me. But at that same moment I also felt like everything around me was being pulled farther and farther away from me, showing me this big, flat expanse of everything and me being a tiny little speck completely alone in it. Imagine being a dust mote on a big flat piece of fabric. Nothing else around you anywhere. Completely isolated. Now imagine that there is another blanket directly on top of that one squashing the dust mote. Too much of everything and too much of nothing all at once.

I could hear things in a muffled way. Like when you are under water in the pool and you hear people talking. Yet you are trying to hear specifically what is being said. Or you are trying to not hear anything at all because how dare they come talk during your tranquil swim? The loud things become way too loud and overblown and the quiet things become way too silent and disappear.

I tasted blood. I had bit the inside of my lip while trying to slow my breathing. I can still feel the bump where I bit down.

All of this happened in what felt like an instant. But it also felt like it was taking forever. Like when you are in a car crash and the impact happens so quickly but you can see it happening in slow motion.

I began to cry. Silent tears. I ran out of tears within a minute or so, though. Yet my body still kept trying to cry, thinking it was still crying.

Eventually it all stopped. I was exhausted physically like I just worked out every muscle group at the gym. I was drained mentally to that point where you don’t even know what you are thinking, because your board has been entirely erased and everything you were thinking of before is gone. You can’t even remember what it dealt with, but you are trying and can’t find even an inkling. I was emotionally spent, still with that pit in my stomach. I can’t answer questions at that moment, since too much just happened and I may not be able to talk yet as my brain slowly tries to regain control over me.

And I had a major migraine.

Is this what people feel when they say “Oh, I’m so stressed. I forgot to do the dishes”? Probably not.

So stop telling me that I am stressing out about nothing. You think I wanted to go through that? That I was secretly willing myself to have a panic attack? I promise you it is no vacation. Please try to understand that when I feel anxiety about something, I have no control over how my mind attempts to cope. I need compassion, not eyerolls.

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