Everybody’s probably heard the inspirational quote that states that “Growth starts outside your comfort zone” or even that “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. Not a big fan of inspirational quotes to begin with because I think they’re more often than not cliché drivel, this one in particular is very high on my list of “quotes that annoy me the most”. Because that comfort zone they’re talking about? I don’t have one.
Yes, we’re about to get personal up in here: Hi! I’m LP and I suffer from Generalised Anxiety Disorder. What this means? It means that I’m always sorta kinda afraid of everything. And I do mean everything, the only exception I can think of are cats.
For everybody now thinking “Wait, so does that mean you’re afraid of people?” Yes, yes it does. I am often afraid of other people, especially in group situations and/or if I don’t know them – it’s not personal.
Apart from the almost indefinite amount of things I’m sorta kinda afraid of, there’s also things I’m Actually Terrified of: Boats, both tiny boats and those mega cruise ships in particular. Big industrial buildings in the dark. Mines and things underground like the underground. Is it obvious that being introduced to the stories of both Remi and the Titanic at an impressionable age has left a huge – no pun intended – impression?
The level and intensity of my fears of course depend on how good I feel: when I’m not acutely ill and have had a good night’s sleep things are a lot less scary, but I’m never completely without fear. There are also things that I’m less afraid of than I used to be: I do travel by underground regularly nowadays. But not when the carriages are stuffed to the max. No, not even if that means that I’m going to be late.
Despite suffering from these fears all my life, I have only relatively recently been informed that I am suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder. That might sound weird, but it’s not. What you know, is your “normal”: I just thought everybody felt like I did. How was I to know that my standard emotions on a random Tuesday afternoon are what most other people would consider being “extremely nervous”? I had no clue that when other people claimed to be “nervous for an exam”, they didn’t mean the sheer terror I felt. Nor are they dealing with intrusive thoughts like I am, thoughts in which I start screaming in the middle of the exam room, followed by kicking over my table and then throwing my water bottle at the teacher. Things that I have of course never done and never will do, that’s why they’re intrusive thoughts.
The fact that with Generalised Anxiety Disorder most of the fears are irrational, doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. Me having had serious cases of bad luck in which things that “Nah, that would never happen” DID happen to me, also didn’t help. Think of things like being suddenly completely ignored without any explanation by somebody who claimed to be my BFF literally the day before, a freak train accident near Hoofddorp, and a stroke at 40.
The people now going “But wait, isn’t being chronically afraid of everything really bad for your blood pressure?” are of course completely right. While there is enough physical evidence to assert that my blood pressure issues and the misery that followed are not solely caused by my Generalised Anxiety Disorder, I am absolutely convinced that living in extreme fear for decades did make matters way, way worse.
Having this – in my case – mostly invisible condition has both advantages and disadvantages. An advantage has been that many times, I have managed to pass as a consumate professional at times that I felt I was going to die of fear. At the same time, this has been a disadvantage, because people think I’m this “chatty and witty” person, while in reality it’s just that I won’t shut the fuck up because I’m in the middle of a panic attack 97% of the time. Another big disadvantage has been that for years, I’ve forced myself to do things because “I’m scared of everything anyway”, without putting in any thought as to if they were things I wanted to be doing in the first place.
Recently however, in line with me working on better managing my life and my fears, I’ve made a list of “Things I do, that I don’t really want to do, and that I could actually also not be doing”. First thing on the list were all these non-mandatory get togethers I would drag myself to periodically, while crying to my mom over the phone that “I can’t do this. I really can’t!” The kind of get togethers I would really enjoy if only I was… different. Or so I told myself. I have come to realise however, that this reasoning makes no sense: I am not that hypothetical different version of me, I am the me that really doesn’t enjoy these evenings.
I find them overwhelming and stressful, and me forcibly trying to blend in and constantly feeling like I’m failing miserably at that, only results in me having a panic attack. In the mean time, everybody else in the room is having the time of their lives – they’re only curious why the “weird lady in the wig” spends so much time sniffing in the toilet or furiously typing on her phone. So I have decided to no longer attend these evenings.
It really saddens me that this means that there are particular people I will never see again. And it might also close off potential professional opportunities. But despite all that, I am just very relieved that I’ll never have to try to survive these evenings in a state of panic again.
This leaves me with more emotional resources to do all those mandatory things that I’m scared of, that will hopefully become less scary over time. Because I believe that growth starts when you build yourself a comfort zone.