With a Capital A

In honour of National Stress Awareness Day, I want to talk to you about Anxiety. Not anxiety – Anxiety. If you’re one of the 12% of Canadians who suffer from an Anxiety disorder, you probably understand why I feel the capitalization is necessary.

Oh, by the way – in case the fact that I’m writing this hadn’t clued you in, it appears that I am part of that 12%.

The first time I ever experienced anxiety with a capital A, I was 24 years old and having the time of my life working at this amazing summer arts camp in the States. And of course, as in all summer camp stories, I was in love. We bonded over our mutual obsession with an obscure web comic, and shared our first kiss by the shore of a starlit lake in the Adirondacks. It was a pretty magical summer all around. I won’t pretend I was never anxious about our relationship, but I feel like that’s just part and parcel of dating in an environment where all of your coworkers are young, cool and single.

I did find, though, that midway through the summer I started to feel a little off. I chalked it up to love-sickness and the rapidly waning quality of the camp salad bar, and made sure that I was always well-supplied with Tums. And then one day during a game of Cups with my campers in the dining hall, I was engulfed by what I can only describe as a wave of utter panic. I cast a desperate look at my (thankfully very intuitive) co-counsellor and dashed for the nurse’s office. I couldn’t explain what was happening, but bless that woman’s heart, she tucked me into one of the clinic beds mama-style and let me cry it out.

To this day I’m not sure what provoked the attack. I mean, we were past the halfway point in the summer and the boyfriend lived in Connecticut, so our relationship’s expiration date was on the horizon. But we still had a few weeks left, there was absolutely no reason for a meltdown on that particular day.

My second bout with Anxiety occurred a few years later, when I was out at a pub downtown celebrating a friend’s birthday during Nuit Blanche. I only knew a few people at the party, but I ended up clicking with the others as well and a couple of us decided to check out a few exhibits after the party broke up. As we were walking toward the event hub, I started to feel a strange tightness in my chest. My heartbeat began to speed up until it felt like it was trying to bust through my rib cage, and I could feel the pounding of my pulse even in my eyeballs. My breath was coming in short gasps. The sidewalks were crowded, but I managed to stagger through the crowd to an empty stretch of cold wet pavement. My new friend (no doubt reconsidering her taste in pals at this point) sat with me while I debated calling an ambulance, but after a few minutes my symptoms started to subside, and within 20 minutes it was like it had never happened. I spent the night on a friend’s couch as a precaution, but the feeling didn’t recur so I dismissed it and moved on.

My most recent bout occurred in late June of this year. After a few years of increasingly precarious employment in a new field, I decided to take on a couple of contracts in an old field, event management. Both of these contracts required a lot of self-motivation, which is just not my strong suit at all. I was obviously doing my job as required, but things were not going along as I had initially hoped, and so – naturally – I started to get a little anxious. And then a lot anxious. It came to a head on the second night of the event weekend. We’d been having some problems with volunteer retention (through no fault of mine), and the schedule for the next day was looking particularly barren. Now, I’m well aware that these things always work out with good leadership (which, despite my pre-event organizational issues, I always provide), but I think that by this point my body had already started the downward slide and there was just no talking myself out of it.

My heart felt too big for my chest. All my worries for the next day were engaged in a high-speed car chase around and around in my head. I lay down in my bed and practiced rhythmic breathing, stretching, YouTube guided meditations — hell, I even drank a glass of warm milk! — but nothing helped. I think I slept 20 minutes that night.

These are just the big events, of course; the dramatic stories you collect and carefully catalogue to help you make your case, because of course no one believes anything is wrong unless something is capital W Wrong.

I’ve not officially been diagnosed with an Anxiety disorder yet. I’ve tried, but as anyone who’s ever tried to seek assistance for an emotional or mental health issue can tell you, it is a fucking uphill battle. I will of course continue to seek help and support, but in the meantime, just giving myself permission to call it what I know it is has been the most incredible relief.

I’m tired and it’s 11:57. More on this, and my many other personal issues, in another post.

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