The Least Helpful Thing You Can Say to Someone With an Anxiety Disorder

When you have a mental illness, let alone multiple illnesses that compound on each other, you get used to a certain amount of well-intended but inane advice from any number of people that comes with the intention of helping you out of a rough spot. This generally comes and goes in waves. You’ll receive advice from several people over a matter of a couple of weeks then go months with nary a comment on the topic.

Probably the literally least helpful bit of advice I’ve received time and again is this — “Just suck it up, dude.” Or some variation thereof.

I realize this is said with the best of intentions. It’s said with the idea that I’m just sitting back on my ass and coddling myself, using my anxiety as an excuse for not working. And believe me, I wish it was that simple. If it was it would mean that I actually could just push my way through it, set my anxiety aside, and get the things done that need to be done to further the goals I’ve set for myself.

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, or easy. What I have, what I live with every day, is a legitimate illness. I take medications twice a day to manage it. And granted, I’m high-functioning at this point, but I’m high-functioning precisely because I have a combination of the medications I take and a set of specific coping mechanisms I’ve developed over the last couple of years to help me deal with my anxiety. I’ve tested my boundaries. I know where my limits are. I know exactly the size of the box I live in. I know what sorts of things I can do and which I can’t. I know what reactions my body and mind will go through if I exceed those boundaries and the kinds of mental and emotional breakdowns I’ll experience if I do. I know this because I’ve spent the better part of two years experimenting and testing those boundaries, gauging how my mind and body react, and then learning how to still function within the limits of those boundaries.

I always appreciate advice and suggestions, especially from people who have been through what I deal with, from people who also deal with depression and anxiety. I even appreciate advice from people who don’t experience those things but who are understanding of and sympathetic to my condition. Invariably, though, the people who tell me to simply “suck it up” are the same people who have never dealt with anxiety on this level, who have no idea what it feels like to have anxiety and panic attacks every few minutes because you’ve over-reached, because you’ve done too much. They have no idea what it’s like to feel your heart race, your head pound, your vision close in on you, your chest tighten to the point where you feel like you’re suffocating, and to feel like you need to either run or die and that even if you run, you’re probably still going to die. They have no idea what it’s like to feel that not just once in a day but to experience it several times in an hour. They have no idea what it’s like to have to live breath to breath because that’s the smallest single unit of measurement that gets you through from one moment to the next.

I appreciate the concern, though. I really, genuinely do. But telling me to just suck it up is absolutely the least useful bit of advice you can give me. It assumes I haven’t already tried to do that. I have. For years. Ultimately, it landed me in the hospital and forced me to drastically alter the way I live my life. I’ve had to claw my way back to form and function, to carefully and very deliberately test my boundaries and know where they are.

You’re welcome to sympathize and empathize with me. I really do appreciate those people who do that. But please, for the love of sanity, please stop telling me to “suck it up.” All that does is prove to me that you don’t understand, that you probably don’t want to, that you think I’m simply being lazy, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

I’ll tell you what — the next time you suffer a crippling injury, like a sprained ankle or a broken leg or a major surgery that lays you out for an extended period of time, remember me and call me. I’ll be sure to advise you to simply “suck it up.” Maybe then you’ll understand, just a little, what it’s like for me.

Curvature

“Explain what I’m looking at.”

“Timestream 8496775816-AQZ-25.13.4. We pulled it from yesterday’s archives when it was flagged anomolous.”

“Meaning?”

“Look here. Grid 117, Segment 16, Node 135. See that curvature?”

“Yes. Explain its significance.”

“Timestream curvatures aren’t unusual. We see them when someone passes near a major gravity well. Black holes produce such events. Same with stars and Jovians.”

“So what’s unusual about this curvature?”

“The subject was traversing hard vacuum at the time, no known gravity wells in proximity.”

“So–”

“There’s more. This is just one branch of this timestream. We sampled other branches. Most, but not all, displayed similar curvatures. Again, no known gravity wells.”

“Cause?”

“Unknown at this time.”

“Then speculate.”

“Best guess? A fourth spatial dimension impinging on the subject’s timestream. We don’t have the tools to confirm this hypothesis, of course, but it’s our best guess for now.”

“Ramifications.”

“Honestly? No idea, but it’s probably not good.”

Sandstorm

He trudged through the sand, up and over great dunes of the stuff, while the wind blasted him with even more of the fine grains. Visibility was shit, and he walked more by instinct than anything. He’d long ago lost his way. The gale-force storm did nothing to change that.

He was covered head to toe with protective gear, with just enough room to allow for his goggles — not that it mattered. It was impossible to see; he may as well have been blind for all the good it did.

He walked straight into the wind. The fingers of his hand were curled tightly around the reins of his faithful mount, which was also covered completely. This kind of storm was enough to strip the meat off a creature’s bones in short order. The only difference is that his horse actually was blind, at least temporarily, by the rags he’d tied in place to protect the animal’s eyes.

Together they walked, man and mount, as the wind blew, cutting a path through the sand, both beneath their feet and in the air. The storm would pass, in time.

A Morning In the Life

I’m driving to Frankfort, on my way to the Ironblock to set up and get some work done today. I have plans to do some work for my boss, but I also have some personal projects I want to work on that I haven’t had time for lately. I’m still rubbing the sleep from my eyes, despite the fact that I’ve been up since 6:00 with the kids in order to get them out the door to school. We managed that task with a minimum of tears. Neither of my children is really a morning person, even less so when they’re fighting off head colds, just as they are right now. I have a touch of that same cold myself, and it’s all too apparent in the way I feel this morning — scratchy throat, sinus drainage, itchy eyes, etc. Theraflu is my friend this day, just as it is anytime I get sick. It’s already giving me the boost I need to get going today.

The sun is just beginning to show itself on the horizon, though it still hasn’t broken that plane. But its light glows orange in the sky, which is itself cloudless and pure blue. It’s almost difficult to believe that November is nearly over already, considering it feels like the month has only just begun. Christmas is going to be upon us sooner than we realize, which sets my thoughts upon my kids and thinking about what I want to get them for Christmas. I’m not overly flush with money; I’m still not working full-time. So whatever I get them this year, it won’t be much, and they may be the only ones I buy for. This is my life right now. I’m grateful for the paying work I do have, and I hope again that it will soon provide more paid hours in the near future.

My phone pings on my dashboard. Another message from my girlfriend, who I once again silently thank God for. She is a refreshing presence in my life, and I marvel again at the chain of circumstances that brought us together. She is quite literally an answer to prayer, and one that I didn’t expect to be answered nearly so soon. We exchange ‘good mornings’ and ‘I love yous’ as we head into our respective days — the beginning of mine, the end of hers.

I arrive at the ‘Block and settle in at my usual desk to get some work done. I’m usually the only member here most of the time, which suits me just fine. I prefer the lack of distractions. The staff here keep talking about all the additional improvements coming in the near future. I’m looking forward to seeing them, especially the addition of standing desks, which my body sorely needs. It’s nice, though, to be able to work from a location of my choosing and to be able to set my own hours. I’m enjoying this web development job a great deal and hope again that it turns into something closer to full-time work soon. I could sorely use the money, which will be the means for me to settle up on some outstanding debts that have been hanging over me for quite some time now and be able to move out of my parents’ place into one of my own.

I hear work calling my name, so I plug my music into my ears, further reducing the risk of outside distractions, and position my hands above the keyboard. Time to get started. There’s much to be done today.

Danger in the Dark

At some point the redolent scent of moisture reached our noses, clinging to the air around us. Soon, it became apparent why.

We reached a section of tunnel that was damp and cool, moist with condensation that itself brown and foul-smelling. We avoided touching the walls by pure instinct, knowing somehow without quite knowing why that the dripping seepage was dangerous. The floor itself was only mildly damp, and we trod carefully through it. You glanced at me, and I could read the concern in your eyes. I understood without saying anything for I felt it myself. This was something new, something neither of us had seen in the darkness before, and we both knew there was threat in those rivulets of dank water.

You led the way once more, lantern held before you. Here and there pools of moisture collected in the seams between wall and floor — pooled but did not spill over. What held that dark fluid there I cannot tell you. But we were careful not to touch it, lest we risk it spilling onto our feet.

Companions in the Dark

We traveled again, the tunnel growing narrower and wider at sporadic intervals. At times we were able to walk side-by-side. At others we were forced to move one behind the other, and when we did, we each took turns leading the way forward. When you led your stride was always strong, confident, sure. When you followed you kept watch at our backs, confident that nothing would be able to sneak up on us.

And of course we talked as we moved along that silent corridor, our voices strangely muted, even in that rocky passage. We’d known each other only a short while as Wayfinders, but already we had grown close. Closer still since you had saved my life.

Passages split off our course periodically. Some we passed by without looking, knowing by instinct that they were not the way back to Haven. Others we turned into with equal confidence, certain of our path. But far more often we were forced to give pause, consider the choices before us, and make the best decisions we could.

Such was the life of a Wayfinder.

Aid in the Dark

You were at my side in an instant, an angel of light and beauty so magnificent that even now I cannot put it to words. You fell to your knees and cradled my head in your lap. I barely heard the slight pop of a vial being uncorked, but a second later a liquid coolness touched my lips, wet my mouth, and slid down my throat. The relief was instant, the agony I felt mere seconds before banished almost completely. The sudden contrast was so stark that I nearly fell to weeping right there. As it was I felt a few tears slip from my eyes and slide down my face to my ears.

It took me some time to regain my composure. You were patient as a saint and waited until I was ready to continue. And when I was, your smile was beatific, radiant to my eyes. You’d just saved my life, and I didn’t want to tear my eyes away.

You took the decision from me. You turned and began walking again, this time on a path that slanted slightly upward. I watched you go for just a moment, and then once again I followed you into the darkness.

Wounded in the Dark

We spotted dozens of other traps as we progressed, avoiding each with ease. They were not well hidden, seeming to be laid more as an annoyance than as to be any genuine threat. And yet we took no chances. We treated each one as potentially lethal, until finally we had crossed nearly the entirety of the expansive room.

It had taken hours to traverse, as sometimes we needed to double back on ourselves to avoid a particularly complex system of wires, switches, and pitfalls. So it was with relief when the opposite wall finally came into view in the glow of our lanterns, the exit from this place a gaping black maw.

You stepped through the doorway first, light of foot and agile as always. I was never so nimble on my feet, and I couldn’t help but admire the beauty of your movements.

And then I was on the floor, convulsing, a terrible sharp pain crawling up my leg. There had been one final trap for the unwary, and I, like a fool, had let my guard down. The trap had reared up like a scorpion’s tale and stung me.

Discernment in the Dark

The floor leveled out and opened up into a cavernous space. We held our lanterns aloft, as high above our heads as we could manage, but even so there was not enough light to chase away the inky blackness. In the shadows around us we could hear things moving, things alive, things that scuttled. I felt a cold shiver crawl down my spine, and I saw a similar reaction on you.

We pressed forward.

This room was new. Not new in the sense of recently built, but new in the sense that I was sure no one else had been here before. The dust was thick on the floor, and we left footprints behind us. Stone columns passed us on either side as we walked, and still that sense of life persisted all around, unseen.

You slapped an arm across my chest suddenly and stopped me. I looked at you, quizzical, then my eyes caught sight of where your other hand was pointing.

A tripwire.

The wire itself was old, flimsy. It looked ready to snap at the barest breath of air. We sidestepped it and continued on our way, more cautiously.

Descending into the Dark

We set out again, following the same pathway we’d been on before. The floor beneath us continued to slope downward. The ceiling of the tunnel dropped low in places but never so much that we needed to stoop. We weren’t certain where we were headed. Such was the nature of traversing the darkness of these tunnels. The exact destination could almost never be known, which was why it was almost always safer to travel with a trusted companion.

We talked along the way, as we so often did, our lanterns lighting the way ahead just enough. You told me of your upbringing, something you’d never shared with me before. I shared with you the pain I’d gone through, the pain I was even now still experiencing. Friends we already were, but through that time in the dark, we bonded closer still.

The passage ahead came to a ‘T,’ and we were forced to make a decision. You seemed uncertain which way to go, and so it fell to me to guide us. I’d kept a rough map of the tunnels in my mind as we walked, and so I turned us to the right.

Jack-of-All-Trades, Master of Words