What does it feel like to have anxiety?

Stacey Warner discusses her own findings on suffering from anxiety.


This was a question posed to me a couple of weeks ago by a close friend of mine. Both of us suffer from depression but I also suffer from anxiety- in fact it is pretty much the other way around, I suffer from anxiety and it causes my depression. He couldn’t understand it but wanted to so he could help support me. I had to think about it.

Any mental illness is an extremely intangible thing and quantifying it is a tricky and yet somewhat important thing to do. Here is what I said to him, but please keep in mind that mental illness affects people differently. This was simply a way to describe it that connected with him and by sharing this, I’m hoping it might help others to. I’d like to point out, that although I use buttons as something insignificant, I mean no disrespect to Koumpounophobics for whom it is a very real problem.

I want you to imagine something for me. I want you to pretend you have a fear of buttons. Buttons, for most people, are a relatively common and insignificant daily object, right?

Well let’s pretend you’re afraid of them. Now you wake up in the morning ready for work. The first thing you do is get dressed. And there, you have to face it, are buttons. On your trousers and on your shirt. It takes you five, ten, maybe fifteen minutes to gather the strength to get dressed and by the time you do, you’re running late for work. Now you have to get dressed in a hurry. As you do you’re shaking and trembling and as a result you look messy and untidy.

You get into work and by this time you’re already a bit exhausted mentally because you’ve just gone through this massive ordeal in the morning. You also feel like you look a right state and therefore your confidence in yourself is shaken. This is only reinforced by someone’s passing comment “Interesting shirt” or something else trivial and meaningless. But you know full well you look a mess and you know full well it’s a dig. Then you have a meeting with a client and there they are in their shirt, those damn buttons, and you get a sense of unease just being around this person.

You start to wonder what is so wrong with you. You start wonder why it has to be such an ordeal in the morning, when everyone else seems to get by fine. Thing is, those buttons are such an insignificant part of most peoples day but from that first confrontation in the morning the consequences ricochet down your day. You feel awful because you can’t understand it at all, why you seem to struggle so much, and you feel very judged for it.

But do you want to know the worst part? The very worst part of it is, is that you probably don’t even know you’re afraid of buttons. You never sit there and think “I’m afraid” it’s just ingrained into you that you can’t do it. You can’t start that morning by buttoning your shirt. And that’s it, that one tiny, insignificant thought has ruined your day. Of course when you have anxiety, it can be more than one thought, it can be several. But that’s what it feels like for me, being afraid of something without really registering it but suffering the consequences anyway.

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