Trigger warning: This post contains information about generalized anxiety, which may affect some survivors.
“WHY IS EVERYTHING THE WORST?” Brittany Murtaugh
It was not until recently that I even realized that I have an anxiety disorder. Before I just thought I was a little neurotic and introverted, which I am, but that was not it.
I have anxiety. It was not an easy thing to accept. I thought it was a phase, or that it was something I needed to get over.
That did not happen
After some time, I started to identify what were regular thoughts and what were anxious thoughts, and that is when I began to come to grips with the state of my mental health. I wrote this in an animated way, very similar to the sporadic nature of my brain, which can be weird so get ready. My anxiety is exhausting and difficult and hurtful, but I share it with you in this way because it is how I need to express it.
Here is a list of things that have recently bombarded through my brain:
- Is it weird that I spend time on my own? Am I anti-social? Do people secretly hate me?
- Do people think I am pathetic or weird and are only nice to me out of pity?
- Does the way I walk make me look strange? Do I sit weird?
- WHY ARE DRONES A THING? If it flies near me again I’m gonna lose it.
- What would happen if everyone is my family died?
- What would I do if I was kidnapped?
- Breathing is a thing you have to do. Stop holding your breath you dummy!
- Why did my boss ask me into their office? Am I in trouble? I’m getting fired.
- Why did I come to this party? Everyone can tell I don’t fit in and now I’m acting weird and people notice and they don’t like me.
- What if I get in the way of an ambulance while driving and because of me someone dies?
- Let me double check my alarm again to make sure it is set to AM not PM.
- I feel so incredibly uncomfortable in my own skin. Why can’t I crawl into bed forever?
- Does my coworker like me? I haven’t done anything wrong but I feel like I made a huge mistake I know nothing about.
- WHY IS EVERYONE LAUGHING?
- Why do I not have enough to get by on my own?
- I got a traffic ticket and now my insurance is going to go up and I will not be able to pay it and my record is ruined forever.
- If my sister moves away I am never going to see her again or she is going to get hurt?
- Why is nothing I do good enough?
- I am never going to find a partner or have children and I will be alone forever.
- If this does not go perfectly people will think I am incompetent forever.
- WHY IS EVERYTHING THE WORST?
- Having to have this conversation is mentally exhausting and terrifying.
- Can people tell I’m anxious? I need to cool it. I don’t want people to know I’m freaking out. Stop staring at me.
Brittany’s Constant Thoughts
These thoughts may seem small to some, but I often feel like they fill up my entire brain. I never really knew the difference between a person who doesn’t have anxiety and someone who does. Everybody has had these thoughts (maybe) at some point in their lives, right? The difference is I think about this stuff CONSTANTLY. It is physically and mentally exhausting. That is apparently the difference, the consistency and intensity of these thoughts. Even right now I am only thinking about what people will think when they read this post, how they will react, and if their opinion of me will change, but I continue to write.
Anxiety has shaped my life. It often holds me back from fully experiencing situations. I can think of countless occasions where my racing brain has said STOP YOU DUMMY! REMEMBER ALL OF THIS STUFF I LIKE TO THINK ABOUT TO RUIN YOUR DAY? No? HERE YA GO, I’M GONNA MAKE YOU THINK ABOUT IT!
Shut up, brain.
My typical reactions to anxiety manifest itself in a variety of ways. My Dad tells me I rub my eyebrow, which I never noticed but is complexly true. I clench my fists and hold my breath, my chest begins to hurt, my face turns red and I lose my focus—not ideal.
A few weeks ago, in class I had an anxiety attack during a particularly triggering group activity. We had to tell our group what we would want to write on our headstone when we died. Ok teacher, let's talk about how triggering this topic could be for people who have experienced profound loss. Bad choice. My face turned red, I held, clenched my fists and said “pass.” My brain raced for the rest of the class. I could not tell you one other word the professor said.
In this situation, I was mortified.
I knew everyone saw my reaction, and my anxiety spun out of control thinking of the reactions of my classmates. Thankfully, that was only my brain. The members of my cohort have been extraordinarily supportive. I confide in them and because of that they are able to be an ally for me. This is my proudest moment in terms of my mental health. As BMO from Adventure Time says, “sometimes life is scary and dark. That is why we must find the light.” One of my lights have been my cohort. Living with anxiety, I am constantly challenging myself to find that light. That is easier said than done. Some days the light takes longer to find, or I cannot find it at all, but I know I will have tomorrow to try again.
If I were to give advice to another person navigating their journey towards a better state of mental health, I would suggest that they find something that makes them simply, truly, and uninhibitedly happy. My anxiety is telling me not to share this with a wider audience, but I’M DOING IT. In all honesty, when I am feeling that my anxiety is exceedingly high, I watch Adventure Time. For those of you who have not seen it, it is a cartoon that promotes themes such as authenticity, compassion, self-love, heroism, inclusion, friendship, loyalty, acceptance, and service.
Everybody needs to find an outlet that can help channel these thoughts that are overtaking your brain and feel validated. Other things that work for me? Music, my favorite movie, or a good book. Does it always work? Nope, but that is okay. I have learned to not only accept my anxiety for what it is, but to actively reflect upon it and to be authentic in my daily life.
I want everyone to know that living with a mental health issues is not something to be ashamed of. I want everyone to accept their whole beautiful human selves and thrive. I will always struggle, and I accept that. It is ultimately my struggles that show me the way, and I intend on going far.
About the art:
I was lucky enough to serve as Brittany's advisor in her Senior year at Lesley for her position on the Campus Activities Board. I absolutely loved the way that she put together this story, and I laughed out loud at some of the things I also think constantly, but forget that it isn't normal. She and I share a lot of similarities in the way our anxiety manifests.
We also both LOVE Adventure Time! So it was only fitting that I created this watercolor piece of BMO. I hope it can bring her the light she needs in times of darkness, just as the show does. Proud of you Brittany, and I'm glad I get to give you this one in person!