It isn’t a choice; it isn’t made up
Anxiety sometimes doesn’t look like anxiety. To someone who has their eyes pried shut, it could look like sensitivity or overreaction. To a person who doesn’t think it’s real, it could quickly be written off as a friend on their worst behavior.
A clinical disorder dismissed as just another bad mood.
Social media has had its bad moments, but one thing we can credit it for is its ability to draw attention to topics like mental health. With an audience within reach, a brave handful have stepped up to the plate, turning their keyboards and screens into platforms for awareness.
Despite the growing consciousness, however, it seems that certain stigmas revolving around anxiety just can’t be diminished all that easily––most especially in a society like ours. People who feel trapped inside of their own minds are called names or told to get over it, because everybody else seems to be able to do so. Tradition and conservativeness don’t always negate open-mindedness, in fact, they shouldn’t. They can coexist; we can empathize.
In the hopes of tapping into this subject and sparking positive awareness, Wonder spoke to two individuals who have been diagnosed with clinical anxiety. Ahead, they share their honest experiences, the perceptions that surround their condition and why anxiety isn’t just a costume they can shed.
How and when did you discover your anxiety?
M: It was a thing I always felt as my years in college progressed but I wasn't really sure about it. And then one day, I had my first attack. Everything was fine life-wise, but on the way to school I felt like I was going to break down and I did.
Almost a year and a half after was when I was diagnosed. I was working on a really heavy project that was too much for one person to handle and I broke. On top of that, my boyfriend broke up with me and I was shattered over it. I never talked to my family about what I had been feeling, about thinking I might have clinical anxiety. I hid everything. But when my relationship ended, I didn't have the will to act like everything was fine anymore so I finally asked my mom to get checked up at the doctors.
A: I first discovered it, I was still working at my previous job. It was around October 2014. It was a very difficult time because they wanted a change of direction [for the website I was working on]. It was a huge jumble of changing responsibilities and also the threat of them not knowing what to do with me. That sort of triggered it. I told my mom how I was feeling and she suggested I visit a doctor. I did and she said I had anxiety––that all the feelings and heaviness and overthinking was because of clinical anxiety.
“I never talked to my family about what I had been feeling.
I hid everything.”
Are there certain topics or people you know can trigger your anxiety?
M: I have triggers that, if I come across them, for sure will hit me like a ton of bricks: people, songs that remind me of painful memories, places even. But I also have days where I just wake up and everything is just not happy for no reason at all…Usually those are the days that I don't want to talk to anybody, much less be around people––even my own family.
A: Sometimes I know which topics, like if we’re talking about the future. Like, I have friends who are going abroad and taking their masters and I’m here. I know I’m doing something, but what if I’m mediocre forever? My anxiety doesn’t focus on one topic…it’s everything.
Anxiety can manifest in attacks. How do the attacks feel?
M: Do you know TV static? When the cable is off and black and white dots fill up the screen and it has that really loud sound? That's what my thoughts feel like. Everything, even outside my head, is louder. The slightest noise can set me off and I can't really explain it but I just need quiet. Aside from the noise in my head, it takes a physical toll on my body, too. On slightly anxious days, it’s just a lot of crying. But on really bad days, it starts with crying and then my breathing becomes really shallow so I start to fight for my breath. I also get pins and needles everywhere on my upper torso.
A: I do have attacks but I think I hide them really well. Attacks are triggered really randomly. For example, the latest one wasn’t triggered by anything. It was just a big cloud of overthinking, like when you wallow in you head for a long time and start thinking of multiple possibilities. It’s hard to figure out what’s real and what’s imagined. It’s mostly noise in my head, but sometimes I do forget to breathe.
Has your anxiety hindered you from doing things you wanted to?
M: [I vlog and] anxiety gets in the way of it. I have weeks where i'm just down and out, so it's hard to get up to film and act like I'm okay. I also get invited to brand events a few times a year. A majority of the time, I decide to go and then on the day itself I back out completely. I'm too scared to go on my own and socialize because i'm so awkward and I don't know how to handle myself.
A: Yes, from making friends. I have a very, very limited amount of friends and I don’t even meet those people constantly. That and being able to study abroad. On one of the really bad nights, I was horribly overthinking and I figured out the reason why I keep pushing back studying abroad is my anxiety. I don’t want to separate myself from something that’s comfortable. Another trigger of my anxiety is my parents; I need to know how they are health-wise, location-wise.
“It’s hard to figure out what’s real and what’s imagined.”
Now that you’ve figured that out, do you think studying abroad is still a possibility for you?
A: Yes. I think it’s just. What I always say is, bubuwelo ako. I’ve been doing that for three years now, but whatever. I guess I just need to take a really long time to just get my head in it and start doing it.
As someone who suffers from it, do you think it would be correct to call anxiety a condition?
M: I think it's good that people acknowledge that it's an actual sickness. That helps people understand it more and do away with the stigma revolving around mental health problems. Most people write it off as “kaartehan” or “masyadong sensitive” lang yung tao, but that’s not the case at all. It really just isn't something you choose to have or something you can control. It's just there, like a low rumble in your head that you have to live with hoping it won't get louder and louder.
A: I guess naming it a condition or a sickness isn’t that important to me. What matters to me is for people to know that anxiety isn’t just something that’s made up. It’s innate; it’s not like I can just get over it. I can’t just shut down my feelings and be a normal person. It’s not a choice to have anxiety. It’s a process and it might be there forever; what can change is how I cope with it, I guess.
Have you found ways to cope with your anxiety since discovering it?
M: I find that going running around the village helps clear my head. Talking to my closest friends helps, too; I'm the kind of person who needs to talk it out. More often than not, after I'm able to voice all my worries, I feel better even if it's only a little. Going to the doctor was also a big help for me. It felt like for sure I was going to get better because I had a professional helping me. Oh, and writing helps me out big time. When I write, it's like I'm organizing my thoughts on paper so they're easier to sort through and figure out.
A: I ignore it, which isn’t healthy. But I try not to depend on my meds. I have meds although they’re not heavy ones; just something to calm my heart rate so I’m not always on 110%. I just ignore it most of the time. A healthier way, I think, would be to go to a doctor or just talk about my feelings to a friend.
“I can’t just shut down my feelings
and be a normal person.”
How can someone support a person with anxiety? Are there do’s or dont’s?
M: I think for me, the number one thing is to not force anything that I clearly can't do at the moment. On days where I can't function and I'm told to socialize, it aggravates the situation. It's important to know and understand that with anxiety, it takes time to recuperate and get back on your feet, you know? Also, don't get angry because a person refuses to do something. For example, I stay in my room a lot and my parents really dislike it, but I stay in there because I feel safe. I feel like nothing can hurt me or push me over the edge.
A: Don’t try to invalidate a person’s feelings. Try to engage that person in an environment that isn’t confining. Be there physically. You don’t have to be like, what do I tell you so you can feel better? Just knowing that someone understands and that a person doesn’t feel the need to “fix you.”
Art Alexandra Lara.