So, your garage has slowly but steadily become your catch-all for all the items you own, the belongings you “may need” in the future. But this “out of sight out of mind, I’ll just put it in the garage for now”plan you adopt every time you unclutter a room in your house hits a snag the day you decide to go out and buy yourself a shiny, new car, but not just any car, the car you’ve been eyeing for a while now; because it’s brand new and is the new love of your life, the last thing you want is for your new babe to be left out in the cold. You happily drive it home and as soon as you turn into your driveway you remember that half of your material possessions are stacked right to the garage door. You’re Immediately struck with an overwhelming feeling of anxiety and dread at the task ahead, every bit as intense as leaving an air-conditioned house and being faced with a hot summer day. So overwhelmed in fact that the only solution you can think of is to make a hasty retreat to your front door.
Being motivated to take good care of your new car makes the thoughts of making room for it constant and the heavy dread ever-present. But one day it dawns on you that in order to alleviate this ever-present angst, you must tackle the problem, feelings be damned. You take no joy in taking it on, but you roll up your sleeves and you work away at it. As you make progress the dread feels lighter and lighter and the anxiety starts to subside.
You may be asking yourself, “What does cleaning up one’s garage have to do with your mental health?” Well, you asked, many parallels can be drawn between someone who has an anxiety disorder and how a healthy person feels in the scenario above. What makes them similar is that the psychological experiences are the same, the feelings of dread, anxiety and being overwhelmed are shared by both. Both rate this overall mental feeling as being unpleasant.
But, the fundamental difference between the two is huge, the individual with the anxiety disorder experiences these symptoms on a very frequent basis and is often debilitated by them whilst the healthy person is experiencing a normal reaction to their stressful circumstance.
In my life, my anxiety disorder is almost always “on”. I was disabled by being so overwhelmed, stressed and in a constant state of dread because, like the person with the garage, I let things pile up from the floor to ceiling in the garage that lies within my head. Similarly, I didn’t have the first sweet clue how to fix it. Like a warm wave, it overwhelmed me at the very thought of trying to figure it out. So I played the avoidance game and waited for it to magically fix itself. Like that was ever going to happen!
Because living in near-constant anxiety became so unbearable, I decided I needed to take steps to minimize my pain. So, like the person who came to the conclusion that they just simply needed to tackle the garage, I began to seek out ways to clean up my internal mess. This took the form of medication and therapy among other things. Seeking professional help and working to unclutter my mind did wonders to ease my anxiety and reduce the heavy heading feeling that came along with being anxious. The medication is simply a tool to help make the job of freeing up space a lot easier. I feel so much more liberated now as a result and now that I am on my way to wellness, I no longer feel lost, powerless and overwhelmed; and just like the person who only wants to preserve their brand-new car, I only want to work hard to improve my mental health.
For those without mental illness, the garage scenario, the feelings that it created for the well individual, that’s what it’s like for someone with an anxiety disorder on a regular basis. If you seek to understand what it’s like, you need only to think of a similar scenario, one that you’ve encountered. Try to think about what that felt like at the time. That’s the feeling, only the disorder amplifies those feelings and the anxious switch is always set to on. Hopefully, this will go a long way to help those who don’t understand it gets to a place where they can. And hopefully, it will foster more compassion for the sick too.