Anxiety and Isolation

Believe me when I say that the connection between isolation & anxiety is real.

If you suffer from a mental illness (such as, anxiety, an eating disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder or any other diagnosed mental health condition), you know exactly what I’m talking about.

That feeling you get an hour or two before an event you said you’d go to but then you think of every possible reason in the book to back out & make excuses for why you just can’t make it? Been there. Done that.

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My anxiety has made me miss best friends’ weddings, birthdays, holidays, family events & even planned trips. It has made me let down the people I love the most. It has made me lose friends, relationships & even lose touch with the most important relationship in the world: the one with myself. 

One of the most common symptoms of anxiety is social isolation. Being around people who don’t suffer from the same issues, who don’t always understand them & risking exposure to triggers are all things our illness wants to avoid.

That’s why we don’t show up & why it’s harder for us to give you an answer on the spot. We want to be there but we can’t.

It sounds crazy, right? If we want to do something, don’t we have the freedom to do as we please?!

Technically, yes.

In practice, no.

Mental illnesses aren’t always seen or heard but they’re always there. Getting in the way of our day to day lives, putting a damper on our relationships, making us retreat to ourselves & feel the need to be alone with our thoughts & making it hard to be around us sometimes.  

Anxiety is a double-edged sword. We need love & support, but we turn it down because talking about our issues & facing them is scary. We question why we have to live like this all the freaking time & it’s a lot easier to just compartmentalize the life around us, hide, pretend the problem isn’t there or to be alone than to feel like we place a burden on the lives of others. Isolation is a mechanism for us to avoid having to face the reality that is our anxiety. It's the easy way out or the road most travelled, if you will.

Everyone’s anxiety is different & it’s hard to explain why sometimes we’ll jump at the opportunity to be around people but others, we’ll hibernate & isolate ourselves for weeks. Truth is, anxiety feels & looks different for everyone. Two people can suffer from the same anxiety disorder in completely different ways. Sometimes, my anxiety even feels & looks different to me from one day or hour to the next. Some days, it’s raging. I feel like I’m fighting to come up for air. I have no control over my demeanour & I can’t keep my composure. My thoughts are scattered, my mind is racing & I feel a constant need to be busy & moving. Other days, it’s subdued. It’s there but I don’t feel it as much. I feel in control of my thoughts & I’m better able to manage the way I react & behave. My thoughts are never full in order but they’re not as disordered & I find comfort in relaxation & in not needing to be constantly occupied.

I know that my anxiety is something I’ll probably live with forever, but I don’t let it bring me down because I've also learned that I'm a work in progress . I show up when I feel I can & I don’t when I feel I can’t. It’s my reality & something I wish I could explain or vocalize better. But it’s hard.

If you feel the way I do, I want you to know that you’re not alone. The key is identifying your triggers, knowing how to respond & being mindful that sometimes, avoiding them is best, while other times, it's important to step out of your comfort zones, remove the security net that isolation provides & try to rise above the triggers & face them. Reality is you’re the best judge of how you feel. Your anxiety or what you perceive as anxiety isn’t diminished or less worthy of somebody else’s anxiety, even if it doesn’t fit a definition or fall into identified symptoms. What matters most is that you know that your anxiety is there but that you learn to control it before it can control you.