At the beginning of the summer, instead of going straight home from my university in Iowa, my family went to visit my aunt’s family at their home in Minnesota for Memorial Day weekend and to celebrate my cousin’s birthday. It was really nice to spend the weekend with the extended family and catch up with everyone in light of finishing my first year of college, especially since I don’t see my aunt, uncle, and cousin as much now that they’ve moved to another state.
I’d known for a long time that my cousin had anxious tendencies. She worries over a lot of things and can’t stand the thought of making someone unhappy or mad. But it wasn’t until that weekend when, for “no apparent reason,” she started acting weird- she withdrew to her room, became sullen, and could not be coaxed out for quite some time. It was then that I saw the full brunt of her anxiety.
It was around that time that I found out that my brother had been seeing the psychiatrist I’d previously seen. He too was dealing with some anxiety. I was surprised to learn this, as I had never noticed this to be the case with my brother. Maybe it had been something that was developing and therefore hardly noticeable at first, or maybe it was just that I was so preoccupied with my own mental health issues that it didn’t occur to me that he might be dealing with something too. At any rate, it got me thinking… anxiety seems to run in the family.
I thought back to this spring when I started to become overwhelmed with anxiety. My anxiety centered around an undefined relationship with my best guy friend, the baggage from a previous best friend gone boyfriend gone ex in the worst way possible, and all of the fears I have about studying abroad in Europe next spring. I eventually made the difficult decision to go to therapy on campus before things got too out of hand like they had in high school. I only saw a therapist three times, but in those three times, he was very impressed with how well I was doing (that sure was good to hear). But I also had my first anxiety attack last spring.
Anxiety attacks are terrifying. You feel like you don’t have any control. You’re scared. You’re scared about how much you’re scared. It’s one vicious cycle. It’s something that is difficult for anyone who has never experienced one (either personally or through relationship with someone who has). The aforementioned best guy friend, who in some ways was the cause of this particular onset of anxiety (the entire extended bout, not the panic attack itself), had a rough time trying to wrap his head around the whole thing.
I’m doing much better now. Sure, I still worry. Sometimes more than I should. But I’m working out how to manage it. I’m learning what I can to understand my own “condition” so that I can educate those closest to me. I’ve figured out that I probably have a minor form of social anxiety. Overall, the things that give me anxiety are social or relational things- frequently the fear that I’ve displeased someone in some way (usually something minor that doesn’t matter to most people) or that I’m constantly being judged. But I’ve also figured out that my greatest allies is all of my family members. Not only do they love me unconditionally, but many of them actually understand what I’m going through because they themselves have been experiencing some form of anxiety.
More recently, many of the cousins on that one side of the family, the side where mental “illnesses” (I really hate terming them that way) runs- both depression and anxiety, got together at a favorite restaurant of ours. One of my cousins explained to us the meaning behind the semicolon tattoo she recently got on her left wrist. She told us about her experience in therapy and finally being diagnosed with OCD. My other cousin, the one mentioned at the top of this post, talked about the weekend at the beginning of the summer and said that she now feels better after going to talk to her guidance counselor about it. Together, we talked about panic attacks and why they are so scary and why it is that other people don’t understand them. My “semicolon cousin” told us that her boyfriend of many years is only recently coming to understand her OCD and that it has been a very difficult process getting there. In other words, we found solace and understanding in one another that we’ve been struggling to find other places.
So, anxiety runs in my family. At least we can get through this together.
If you have a loved one that you think might have anxiety or that you know has anxiety, or if you just want to be more aware and in tune, I recommend reading the article below. Speaking as someone who has dealt with anxiety and with trying to explain what it’s like to someone who’s never had a close friend deal with it before, it’s very accurate: http://higherperspectives.com/love-someone-with-anxiety/.
And at the end of the day, everything is going to be okay. “We are more than the sum of our anxiety.”