I am an open book about my anxiety. I will talk anyone’s ear off about it. I’ll tell the story of Dan’s (not my husband) suicide; my months on “bed rest” at the end of my junior year of high school; how I cried at sleep away camp because I was so home sick and anxious that I couldn’t enjoy myself; how I gave up debating because I suddenly developed public speaking anxiety after three years competing; and how anxiety/panic almost ruined my wedding. I truly have no filter about it.
What’s hypocritical though (and annoys me) is that I am TERRIFIED of anyone physically seeing me panic. The shakes, sweating, throat grabbing, and crying – panicking is the least attractive thing to watch. I try so hard to hide the physical manifestations of my anxiety and panic, which is a blatant contradiction to my written and verbal openness.
So why am I like this?
I’m not entirely sure. I consider myself someone with high-functioning anxiety. I have severe panic and anxiety but I try my hardest not to be disabled by it. I graduated high school (despite a brief setback junior year), graduated college in four years with a good GPA, and have worked full-time for nearly 10 years. What I fear is having my work affected by my anxiety. I am terrified that if a colleague saw me panic, that they’d think I’m weak, unreliable, unprofessional, and crazy.
Logically, I know that my anxiety and panic aren’t visible unless you really know me and spend a lot of time with me (Dan can tell from miles away when I’m anxious thanks to my anxious tics). I exert a huge amount of control over my physical manifestations. I use safety tools to cope (much to the chagrin of my therapist). But no matter how hard I try, there are times where I simple lose it, and it is mortifying.
Last week, I traveled to Virginia to attend a conference for work. More and more, traveling causes me significant anxiety, which frustrates me to no end. It was only a few years ago where I could travel for days on end with no issue. I had a work trip once to D.C. that spanned 10 days and while I did miss Dan and Bomber, I was not a sobbing mess. I can’t pinpoint what changed and when, but all I know is it’s a vicious cycle-
I find something I want to attend. I register for it and get excited about it. But then, as I get closer to the actual event, the negative thinking kicks in.
“What if I get anxious?”
“I panicked last time- it’s bound to happen again.”
“I can’t handle feeling like this.”
And the thoughts spiral from there until I can no longer find enjoyment in the trip. The result? An extended period of heightened anxiety where I cope by using every safety tool in sight until I can’t take it any longer and resort to medication to get through it. (And for those who don’t know, I’m not opposed to taking medication to help with my anxiety. I’ve been on Zoloft for 14 years and take benzos as needed. I just try not to do it often because I am terrified of becoming dependent on it- a story for another time.)
So back to the conference – I was so excited to attend the event and meet people who work in similar capacities to me. And I was even more excited to see a few friends who live across the country who were attending also. But instead of taking full advantage of the conference, I found myself getting so worked up that I had to walk out of the conference at one point because I was crying. CRYING BECAUSE MY ANXIETY IS IRRATIONAL AND STUPID.
What I try to avoid at all costs happened- someone I knew professionally then found me full-blown ugly crying. I was red-faced, mascara running, sobbing in the hallway a little bit away from the ballroom. She was nice about it- helped me find an empty room where I could have some privacy. And given that I was at a conference about patient advocacy and chronic illness, I know it wasn’t really a big deal. But that didn’t make me feel any better. The fact remains that my anxiety got the best of me and that is so frustrating and demoralizing.
Ultimately, anxiety prevailed and I ended up taking medication to calm down and make it through the rest of the conference. I was an active participant but I felt like my brain was only partially there (thank you lorazepam) and I didn’t get everything out of it that I could have.
I will continue to travel for work – if I want to advance in my career, I have to keep doing that. But I really need to find a way to cope with my anxiety that doesn’t result in me missing opportunities, disrupting the day of others (my poor husband who was in meetings and getting crazy text messages from me). My therapist tells me I need to sit with the anxiety, recognize that it is there, and deal with it. But that kind of exposure isn’t feasible when I am representing my organization and need to be put together and composed. So what’s a girl to do?
Any tips for coping with anxiety away from home? Share what you do in the comments below!