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Anxiety neurosis, also known as free-floating anxiety or Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is easily the worst kind of anxiety you can have.
Here’s what it looks like.
Something’s wrong. Something’s wrong and I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I can’t breathe I—
I just need to go outside. Maybe I need a drink. Damn I need a Xanax. Maybe it’s nothing. Maybe it’s because I was driving earlier. Maybe something’s wrong with my car. Maybe I left the stove on. Did I leave the stove on? I can’t breathe I can’t breathe why can’t I breathe?!
It’s okay. It’s okay it’s okay it’s not okay it’s not okay something is wrong.
Maybe I screwed up at work. Did I triple check that document? Maybe my boss is angry at me. Did I say something wrong? Do I have enough money in my account? I better check. Shit. Is that enough? Am I going to be okay?
I’m not okay I’m not okay I’m not okay I need a drink goddamn it I—
Anxiety Neurosis: My Heart Hurts and I Can’t Breathe
When I was still drinking and getting high, I never had anxiety attacks.
Probably because I was on way too much Xanax.
And even when I wasn’t, I think I didn’t really have anxiety because bad things were happening constantly. I just got used to failure. Really used to it.
It was surprising when something went right.
When I got sober, I started to get anxiety.
Suddenly I had things to lose. Suddenly things were going right.
There are a ton of different symptoms of anxiety. For me, the biggest one is the inability to take a full breath. I try and try, but it’s like someone is sitting on my chest. It can be so bad that my chest hurts.
The worst part about it is that it often has no clear trigger. They used to call it anxiety neurosis because people like me were thought to be neurotic, which is another way of saying that we’re crazy.
Nothing is obviously wrong, yet I’m worried. Nothing has happened that would trigger a reasonable fear. My fear is unreasonable, and therefore insane.
My brain is an idiot, essentially. It’s certain that I’ve screwed up somewhere, that I’ve made a mistake, and so I pour over my life and everything I’ve done in the past days or weeks or months or years to figure out what’s wrong.
They call it free-floating anxiety because it’s just out there. It’s not like the anxiety I get when something actually is going wrong or could go wrong.
Frankly it’s worse. It’s nice to have a clear target for my fear, something to focus on. When I have no idea what’s causing the anxiety, I actually do feel neurotic. I feel nuts. I couldn’t explain to someone why I feel the way that I feel.
A normal person needs a why.
For someone with anxiety neurosis, there is no why a lot of the time.
I Don’t Know Why I Feel This Free-Floating Anxiety, but It’s Real
One of the most frustrating parts of having anxiety is that a lot of people don’t take it seriously.
“There’s nothing wrong, honey. Can’t you just calm down?”
No. I can’t. If I could, I would.
Sometimes this just leads you to keep the fear to yourself, to bottle it up and run. Sometimes I just have to get away from people (sometimes that’s social anxiety joining forces with my free-floating anxiety to destroy my life).
Sometimes there’s just nothing I can do. I can’t run the anxiety away. I can’t exercise it away. I can’t drink it away. I can’t pray it away.
I just have to sit in it. Some people say this is one of the ways to conquer fear—to sit in the damn fear and just feel it.
I don’t think fear and anxiety are the same thing.
Anxiety is something that’s happening on a chemical level. My synapses are misfiring. My brain is telling me something’s wrong when probably nothing is wrong, so I start going through the list of all the possible things that could be wrong to see if I can pinpoint the cause of this feeling I’m feeling, only to make the anxiety ten times more neurotic because I can’t pin down a damn thing. This turns into perfectionism—I must do everything perfect or else.
Sitting in my anxiety is about the last thing I want to do, but oftentimes all I can do is wait for it to leave. I try to distract myself if I can. One of the things that helps is to do something that feels productive, like writing. At least then I feel like I’m fighting… something.
Because a lot of the time I feel like the anxiety is being caused by me. I wrecked so many things in my life for so long that one of my biggest sources of anxiety is myself, that I’ve screwed something up.
And even when I haven’t, I’m worried that, by making a mistake, I’ve set the conditions for something to go wrong. For instance, if I’m not extra careful on a hike and don’t watch where I’m going, it’s my fault if I slip and fall and break an ankle.
I’ve gotten intense anxiety on a trail before just because night was falling. I was terrified that the woods were suddenly crawling with mountain lions, and I blamed myself for being so stupid and not leaving earlier. Then I blamed my wife for walking too slow.
That’s one of the worst parts of anxiety—for me, it morphs into anger. I direct the anxiety outward, and the people around me suffer.
There Is Hope. Anxiety Neurosis Doesn’t Have to Control Your Life
I can tell you that today my anxiety is under a form of control, which is to say that I don’t get it as often as I once did.
Here’s what I do:
- Take a non-narcotic anti-anxiety medication (BuSpar)
- Take several mood stabilizers (Lamictal and Abilify)
- Meditate regularly
- Pray regularly
- Work hard and avoid mistakes
I admit that the last one is probably neurotic. Working hard, objectively, is a good thing, but I take it to an extreme. Regardless, it’s what I do. If I find a better way of dealing with my free-floating anxiety, I’ll be sure to let you know.
It’s not a bad way of life. I have to remind myself often that it’s okay to not be perfect, that sometimes mistakes are okay, but in a world that hates mistakes, perfectionism is often valued.
It looks good on a resume.
For me, it’s the other things on my little list that help more. My anxiety is, at its root, a chemical imbalance. My brain is afraid when it shouldn’t be. So those medications help my brain to calm down, and honestly, they work better than Xanax because, over time, I experience a gradual reduction in anxiety, as opposed to a massive destruction of anxiety whenever I want.
The meditation is nice, but by itself, it’s not enough.
The worst thing you can do, though, is nothing. I used to just live with anxiety and think that it’s just something I have to suffer through. When I stopped being stubborn and went to a psychiatrist, life started to get a lot better.
I still get a little anxiety. I have a little right now writing this post. Did I miss a typo? Will people even read this? Will they care? Do I sound rambling and stupid?
I don’t know if that’s justified fear or free-floating anxiety or just me being neurotic, but the one thing I’ve learned in the past 9 years of sobriety is that I have to take action despite anxiety and fear.
Courage is action in the presence of fear. I took action by going to a psychiatrist. I took action by writing this post.
You can take action too, whatever it happens to be. Don’t let your fear of treatment or hard work keep you in a state of suffering.
You can do this.