“I put my hand on my husband’s heart.
‘It’s like there is an engine in my chest. And it’s revving, revving, revving for no reason. That’s what this anxiety feels like.’
His look of confusion didn’t really change.
‘So even if my mind is fine, even if I know I’m okay and I’m not worried or stressed about anything in particular, my body is still being flooded with all this unnecessary energy. And then the sensations in my body try to tell my mind that I’m not okay. This battle to keep my mind and spirit calm and focused on what is true while the engine in my chest keeps spinning and roaring — well, it’s exhausting.’
I leaned my head on Chris’s shoulder and tried to slow my breathing.
My husband and I don’t speak the same emotional language. Mine has a lot of words; his, not so much. We also have trouble communicating about mental health. It’s another language rooted in experience I’ve had a crash course in since being diagnosed with clinical anxiety seven years ago — a language I wish that I and others close to me would have had decades ago because I’m pretty sure this has been a life-long struggle. Even though my husband loves me and wants to support me, it’s hard for him to understand me. So when my anxiety recently flared, seemingly out of nowhere, I grappled yet again over how to explain it.
I’ve tried a hundred different ways to put my anxiety into words. It’s not the same as worry or stress. It’s not trying to control a situation or merely fixating on a problem. It’s a physiological experience. Like coffee jitters in my heart. Like the mental swirl of a dozen waking dreams that you can’t escape. An outer calm with an inner chaos. Like an exposed nerve that viscerally reacts when it touches something too hot or too cold.
I can’t tell my husband to just Google anxiety because no single definition or description can aptly capture an individual’s experience. Mental illness is a nuanced beast that attacks every person differently. I have a friend whose arm gets itchy when her anxiety flares. Another friend gets a migraine. Someone else I know gets mentally stuck in every worst-case scenario.
The unique manifestations of mental illness can make it a very lonely experience.
Am I making this up? Should I just keep it to myself? Should I try to ignore it and move on?
The internal battle is real. But here’s what I’ve learned: It’s worth it to push through the pain, fear, and awkwardness to tell someone how you really feel.”
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