Anxiety has been a part of my life for a very long time.
Last week, after two years of therapy, my therapist suggested that I see a doctor about getting a prescription for anti-anxiety pills.
The suggestion immediately made me anxious.
She informed me the pills could help with this "transitional period" in my life, and that people with anxiety usually see it get worse the older they get.
This, of course, made me more anxious.
And then I wondered, most anxiously of all: Is this really a transitional period—or is it just my life?
Snapshot Of An Anxious Woman
As it turns out, I am not alone in my persistent worrying. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), 6.8 million people are afflicted with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, aka GAD, defined as "persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things." And wouldn't you know it, women are twice as likely to be affected as men.
Experts attribute this in part to hormones and brain chemistry; the brain system involved in the fight-or-flight response is activated more readily in women than men, for instance—and it stays activated longer, too. There's also some evidence that the female brain does not process serotinin—which it's believed helps with mood balance—as quickly as the male brain.
But (you saw this coming) socialization also seems to play a role. As the Scientific American put it, "Women more often feel responsible for the happiness of others, such as their children or their spouse." Over time, pressures—perhaps best embodied in the preposterous "you can have it all!" ideal—have only become more pronounced. One study from a couple years ago revealed that, based on a sampling of 63,700 college students, five times as many young adults are dealing with high levels of anxiety as in the late 1930s. Glamour has even gone so far as to call anxiety "the new young women's health crisis."
I am, then, a very anxious example of a much bigger problem. And it affects me every day.
I worry about my career as a freelance journalist. What if my assignments dry up? What if I don't have a backup plan? What if I'm left destitute?
I worry about marriage, and if or when I'll get married. Every time I go on Facebook and see the almost-daily engagement announcements, photos, and videos—yes, people are now producing almost full-scale productions to announce they're getting married—I stress out about whether or not I should be married by now. I love my boyfriend, but is that enough? Is the fact that we're not married a sign we're not actually committed?
Usually after worrying about marriage, I worry about having kids. Why is everyone already having kids? When did this start happening? Does the fact that I don't have the urge to have kids mean I don't want to have kids, or that I won't be "the perfect" mother to my kids?
Each time the questions begin, I can feel the anxiety wend its way through my body. It starts with a tightness in my chest, like a bowling ball has become lodged in my diaphragm, then creeps down to the pit of my stomach. As it manifests in my physical being, I always end up harboring one thought: I'm a complete failure.
Anxiety has been a part of my life for a very long time. But as I get older and life gets more, well, real, things have only gotten worse.
I guess my therapist was right.
In trying to determine the source of my anxiety, I've decided part of it has to do with perfectionism. I want to have the perfect life, be the happiest person, and do everything just right. But it's also about my compulsive drive to make the most out of life. I plan, plan, plan to make sure I can get in as much "fun" as possible. But then all the planning makes everything less fun than I wanted it to be . . . and the anxiety begins again in my throat.
Maybe I am more anxious than the ordinary 28-year-old female. Maybe I will turn into my mental-illness-stricken father—who I have long tried to avoid becoming. But, though I have no problem with the idea of anti-anxiety pills or judge those who need to take them, I'm not sure I'm ready to take drugs as an answer to my problem.
Maybe instead, I should face this anxiety head-on.
A (Mostly) Anxiety-Free 2015 Resolution
I don't want to numb myself to the emotions that I feel—which is why, after a lot of self-reflection, I've decided to make 2015 the year I say:
Fuck stressing over things that I can't control.
Fuck stressing about getting to dinner at the exact right time.
Fuck worrying about if my boyfriend thinks I'm an idiot when I cry.
Fuck juggling appointments that need to be made, and emails that I need to write, and oil changes that I need to get for my car.
Fuck it all, because you know what? The ball will drop sometimes. And that's okay.
So I'm going to stop giving a fuck about everything else and focus on me instead. I'll start with small changes: going to yoga more. Drinking chamomile tea. Taking herbal supplements.
I don't expect to become anxiety-free overnight, but I finally realize that I have control over this anxiety that has gripped me for so long.
The last thing I want to be is someone who worries about spilling coffee beans on the floor when I'm 50. Instead, I want to be the 50-year-old woman who spills coffee beans on the floor, laughs, and says: