Feels Like…

Hello all. Today I’m not going to be specifically talking about ADHD, but rather one of my other constant companions, anxiety. We’ll get back to the ADHD content soon; I promise. I’m not rebranding the blog again. But I had some other stuff I wanted to talk about. Later this week, be expecting a post containing a Podcast, and possibly some other content that I’m working on.

This post came about while I was doom-scrolling through Facebook because I didn’t feel like getting off the couch, a favorite Saturday evening pastime. I happened across a post from a comedian I follow that caught my attention. For those of you who don’t know her, Aparna Nancherla is absolutely hysterical, and is also incredibly insightful about mental health. She makes her experiences with it a regular part of her routine, and is comfortable, ora as comfortable as any of us can be, with her anxiety and its role in her life. The comment she posted today was “You know how temperatures are classified as, ‘it’s 81 degrees but feels like 92’? I realized that anxiety does the same thing. For example, today my day is fine but it feels like doom is a thing that lives in my throat.” Something about this stuck with me as I continued scrolling and made me go back. And judging by the dozen or so comments on the post, I was not alone.

There are a lot of tricky things about anxiety, but one of the hardest is how deceptive it can be, both to us and to the people around us. For the person living with anxiety, on the days when it’s bad they can look around and know that everything is alright. The day is nice, work isn’t too bad. That doesn’t change the fact though that their insides are writhing, their palms are sweating, and functioning is nearly impossible. I’ve gone through this myself often. I’ve gotten up for work and felt like the sky was about to come crashing down on my head, even when there were no impending disasters or difficult situations looming ahead. I’ve almost called out of work because the sense of encroaching panic was so strong that the idea of leaving the house was unbearable. The fact that nothing was wrong didn’t change that. In fact, it made it worse. I don’t know about all of you reading this, but I prefer my emotions to match the outsides. If life is going okay, then I want to feel okay, at least most of the time. I’d settle for a day or two of funk, but that’s all. For the millions with mental health issues though, this is rarely the situation. The temperature is okay, but you feel like it’s the end of the world, and when you don’t understand why that’s happening, it’s disorienting and upsetting. It’s natural to desire an origin; we like them in our super hero movies, and we want them even more for our own emotions. When we don’t have them, it’s easy to start feeling very disconnected and out of control.

It also complicates our interactions with the people around us. When we feel panic, or depression that’s out of sync with how our life looks from the outside, usually one of two things happens. Either we express our anxieties and then are told that everything is okay and we ‘just shouldn’t worry’, which is maybe true but still unhelpful, or out of fear of this reaction, we go on pretending that everything is fine. This is a place where ‘fake it til you make it’ can be incredibly damaging. When we start trying to fake our way through a mental health crisis, we often push our limits. We don’t stop to take care of ourselves, we don’t ask for help, and we dismiss what our body is telling us about these limits. This, generally, leads to an eventual crash, because as another insightful person on Facebook today said, “if you don’t respect your limits, they won’t respect you” (I swear, I did other stuff today besides look at Facebook). Being able to understand our emotions, and then to express them, is the best option we have to ensure that we are caring for ourselves in a productive way. But anxiety, and many other mental health conditions make this very difficult to achieve. So we have to learn how to get what we need, even when we’re overheating.

For this reason, getting a diagnosis can be so important. For me, finding out I had generalized anxiety disorder about four years ago, and then that I had ADHD 6 months ago, made a world of difference. It didn’t make the anxiety stop, but it did give me a little more objectivity about what my brain was doing. It also gave me the vocabulary to talk to the people around me, so I had easier ways of explaining why I was not meshing with the rest of the world’s vibe. Watching your internal temperature spike to 92 when the world around you assumes everything is nice and relaxed in the low 80s can be really distressing, and the dissonance can draw a lot of blame from you and the people around you. But understanding why your inner self is broiling like a potato can make you feel like you have a little bit more control over the situation. It can also give you the chance to learn what actually helps you take the heat down. When you feel the thermometer rising, you can sit down for a meditation, go for a walk, take your meds if that’s a resource you have, or if we’re being really literal, go take a cold shower. Whatever you need to do, it’s easier to implement those strategies when you know what’s happening before you’ve reached the boiling point.

So, now, take a moment. Look at the world around you, then check your inner temperature. Do they match? If not, start by taking a breath. There’s nothing wrong with you, and it’s not going to be like this forever. Whether or not you have an actual anxiety disorder, this sort of thing can happen to us all, and it is never a mistake to set up self-care strategies for these kinds of situations. And if you do think you might have some kind of anxiety, reach out and talk to someone. You can start with a family member or friend, or you can seek the help of a therapist. Just find someone you can use to help you find that objectivity, whatever that looks like for you, and then you can work from there. Whatever you do, just remember to have compassion on yourself, and start by breathing. Stop clenching your jaw, take three deep breaths, go get a drink of water. It might not be okay right now, but eventually it will be.

Be well, everyone.