My Experience with High-Functioning Anxiety

I first notice it in my throat, a tightening, like I just swallowed a pill that didn’t quite go down the right way. Other times, I will notice it in my neck and shoulders at night, when I finally quiet myself enough to realize all the tension I’ve been carrying throughout the day. Often this makes it hard to fall asleep. Even still there are times that I am left wide awake by the endless stream of thoughts that permeate my brain when all I want is rest. Then there’s even the feeling I get in my chest. The palpitations and the nervous feeling only made worse by the fact that my heart is racing, an endless cycle. Usually when this is happening, I say nothing and push through until the wave of anxiety subsides.

Last night was one of those nights. I tossed and turned and replayed every scenario of everything going on in my life up to the current moment. Work has been pretty challenging for the last several weeks. Things have been extremely busy, and there are a few people that I have felt I am constantly walking on egg shells around. Trying to manage this with my need to make everyone happy is exhausting. I deal with the stress with a smile on my face and try very hard to not let anyone see behind the façade.

I have been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, but I tend to refer to it as high-functioning anxiety despite the fact that it is not an officially recognized diagnosis. For me it is just a better description of my personal experience. Sometimes people mistakenly assume that someone with anxiety tucks themselves away hiding from the world outside, and this may be the case for some people, but my experience has been very different. For me it has more to do with my endless pursuit of perfection. The carefully constructed image of myself that I want to convey to others in order to hide my insecurities and imperfections.

I have an endless array of hobbies, volunteer work, achievements and pursuits. Many of these things do bring me joy and fulfillment. But there is also my need to be busy, to fill my time so that I can stay out of my own head.  There is also my embarrassing nervous laughter. Laughing to fill the space in a conversation, when maybe I am feeling insecure. Other times it is my shortness with someone caused by how overwhelmed I am feeling at that moment. Different things trigger this for me and I am aware of what those triggers are, but every once in a while the wave of anxiety still pours over me.

Most people (outside of those who read my blog, and those very close to me) would never realize that I am constantly at battle with my own mind. This is significantly better – I do take medication, practice yoga and breathing techniques nightly and try to eat healthy and live a healthy lifestyle. But occasionally nights like last night sneak up on me and suck me into that black hole of my mind, with the endless gravitational pull of my incessant thoughts.

It’s often hard to remember but if you are coping with an anxiety disorder, realize that you’re not alone. Often those you may least expect may be dealing with similar issues. Anxiety isn’t a stereotype, it looks different on some people than it does on others. Exercise and breathing techniques work, talking to someone is even better, self care is a necessity.

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Exploring Clifty Falls

“We’ve all had a heartache. And so my journey now is to find some sort of grace in the face of this defeat. And I can look at the journey, not just the destination. I can feel proud, I can stand here in front of you tonight and say I was courageous.”  – Diana Nyad

The quote above speaks loudly to me. We all face disappointment and I know that I have endured many of my own heartaches. But somehow, wandering in the woods brings out the strong, sometimes buried courageous side of myself.  Its not just about the destination, but facing head on the challenges of your own journey. Sometimes I find myself trudging on trying to get to the end destination instead of focusing merely on the beauty around me, and the strength it took to reach the top of that hill.

So much like life… some times we find ourselves wishing it away. I will be happy… when… if only…. as soon as (insert end goal). Often, I relate my hikes back to situations I am facing in life because I find there are a lot of comparisons to be made there metaphorically. Clifty Falls is one of those special places with no end destination, because there is so much beauty every where you turn. There may be a few hills along the path, but the payoff and strength gained is worth it.

A couple of weekends ago I visited Clifty with a friend of mine and did some exploring. First, we went to scope out the waterfall, because it’s super easy to get to and is a must see for the first visit. Then, we went down to the creek bed to wander around for the rest of the day (Trail 3). There was hardly anyone there that day (it was still cold) so we let the dogs enjoy some off leash time too.

For me the creek bed is always a delight. Its dried up in many areas, which allows you to explore all through it. The cliff sides and trees surround you and the beautiful creek stones and occasional flowing water makes for gorgeous views. The creek also features many large coral and shell fossils. All of these sights, and sounds let me fall away from my daily barrage of worries (again… coping with anxiety) and just savor the current moment. FYI there are many different trails in this park and it is certainly suitable for beginners.

If you live near Louisville it is only a short 1-hour drive to Madison, IN where you will find Clifty Falls State Park. Madison itself is a charming, historical riverside town. Anyone needing a place to hike this spring, and a place to enjoy the “now” should certainly add Clifty to your list of nearby visits.