Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Parasite

It takes over your life. Encompassing your every thought. It is a parasite, leaching the life from you until there is nothing left. Small tasks become insurmountable, and nothing is ever good enough. Though not diagnosed until last year, my whole life has been shaped by my anxiety disorder.
I have always expected perfection from myself because anxiety decided that nothing else is good enough. And, of course, perfection has always been far from my grasp. I know that it is not possible, and yet it is not optional. The constant struggle between what I need to achieve and what I can  achieve has left me in a constant state of unease.
I am unable to eat at restaurants if the pictures are crooked. Everything must be symmetrical. If being symmetrical is not a possibility, then it has to be very purposely asymmetrical. My silverware has to be perfectly straight relative to the napkin, table, and each other. I obsessively pop my knuckles.When I get really stressed about something, I have to sit for like an hour shuffling cards because I find it relaxing. I obsessively make lists so that I can keep track of the twenty things I am worrying about at one time. It is exhausting, but without doing these things, I would not be able to make it through each day.
The symptoms don't stop with the little quirks that get me weird looks. The constant anxiety eats away at every part of my life, leaving a carcass behind. Half the time I am only able to fall asleep if I stay awake till four or later until I am so tired that I am physically incapable of staying awake. The other half of the time I sleep fourteen-plus hours a day. For a while, I used exercise as a healthy way to manage my stress. But my obsessive need to push myself has led to countless injuries that will never fully heal. My shoulders are constantly tensed. These muscles then pull on my neck and back, causing constant pain. It got to the point for a while where I had to go to the chiropractor three times a week so that I could have basic motor function. I have spent countless mornings and nights doubled over in pain because anxiety has started to eat away at the lining of my stomach. It was a long time before I realized that my anxiety was the reason I lived in constant pain. Knowing helps, but I still have to deal with the consequences of what the stress has done to my body.
Anxiety is a strange character. Sometimes it decides that I must keep pushing myself far past anyone else’s expectations or what I am even capable of achieving. It dictates that I must take three math classes in one year because I didn't know enough when I attended the summer program at Stanford.
Other times it decides that since perfection is not possible, the only possible solution is complete avoidance. Most of the time I don't even realize it is happening. I will just stop. Stuck in a haze. There are months of my life that are only marked in my memory by being jerked out of that haze and spending the next week on a maximum of two hours of sleep a night so that I can begin to fix everything I messed up while I was gone.
Last year, in a desperate attempt to fix a relationship that had been destroyed by the effects of my anxiety, I finally agreed to go to a therapist. It didn't take long for the therapist to diagnose me with GAD (generalized anxiety disorder). I take Sertraline and use calming techniques that my therapist taught me to manage my anxiety disorder.
I still have trouble with my anxiety, but I have learned a lot since I started getting help. I now know that I don’t have to be perfect at everything. That it is okay for me to be myself. I now know that people won’t resent me if I ask for help when I need it. I now know that anxiety is a leech that sucks the life out of me. I don’t need to let anxiety run my life anymore. I can be free of the parasite that has ruled my life for so long.

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