My anxiety is a low hum or an angry buzz.
Several weeks ago, I almost had a panic attack filling out an online form. Granted, the form was for something important, and I didn’t want to mess it up. But, it wasn’t a life or death situation. Yet, my body decided it was.
My breathing was ragged. My heart pounded rapidly in my chest. My eyes filled up with tears. I dragged my hands through hair, and my already disheveled pixie cut was even more so. I curled my hands into fists and pressed them against my forehead willing my body to calm the fuck down. But, I couldn’t calm down on my own. Not really. I sat there looking at the form and wondering why my body decided it was a T-Rex chasing me instead.
I needed my partner to intervene, to look at the form and make sure there were no mistakes, to assure me that everything was fine, and to hit send for me because I couldn’t even bring myself to do that. The form was done, and yet, my heart still thumped, thumped, thumped too quickly in my chest.
My anxiety is high right now. It has been high for months really, but for the past several weeks, it has been higher than that. I’ve been taking my acute meds not every morning to gain some relief but many mornings. Even with the additional meds, my heart still tries to beat its way outside of my chest. My right eyelid still twitches, twitches, twitches on more days than not. I still shake my hands out, so I don’t shake apart. My brain still cycles through the horrible what-ifs:
What if something bad happens to one of the kids? What if I never write again? What if I become too afraid to drive? What if my partner grows tired of me and my constant anxiety? What if my anxiety never calms down? What if I can’t keep going like this—what happens then? What if this is not just my present but my bleak future? What if I always have to live this way? What if this is my life? What if this is my life?
My eyes still fill up with tears. My lungs still struggle to breathe. I still stave off the worst of the panic—mostly.
Most days, I manage to calm myself down enough to carry on. It’s hard, and it feels like a full-time job rerouting my anxiety through out the day again and again and again until I find some semblance of peace. But, I do. Find something that looks like peace, or at least, as close as I ever come to it.
But, some days, my anxiety is more obvious and harder to hide. The physical symptoms become impossible to mask.
One of those days, my teen is apt to say, “The bees are angry, aren’t they?”
And I’m apt to reply, “Yes, yes, they are.”
Bees, for some reason or another, have become a longstanding metaphorfor my anxiety. I’m not sure exactly when I started referring to my anxiety as bees (or when my family caught on). But I represent my anxiety as bees, consistently and persistently.
I might not know when but I do know why. My anxiety feels like bees that live under my skin or in my brain—or both. (I think it’s both.)
Sometimes, the bees are only at a low hum. I can just hear them, but they don’t bother me. They are there, but I can live with them. I’m used to their low frequency soundtrack. It’s familiar but not quite comforting.
Other times, the bees buzz about, shifting and moving and never quite still. They draw my attention away from what I need to be paying attention to. They distract me. They confound me. They pull me into myself and out of the world.
And then, then, other times, the bees are angry and loud and unavoidable, and it feels like they are going to erupt from under my skin. The buzz, buzz, buzz is all I can hear. It drowns out everything else. I can’t think. I can’t settle. I can’t be. These are the times that anxiety clings to my thoughts and actions like viscous honey. Every time I try to remove it, I only get stuck in it more. And more stuck, the more frantic I become, and the more the bees buzz and buzz and buzz. I can’t escape the buzzing.
But, the bees live under the surface, right? They lurk in my brain and body. They torment me, but they are hard to see. Anxiety can be hard for other people to see.
Anxiety looks like me on any day ending in “y,” wearing yet another band t-shirt and my favorite pair of glasses with a messy pixie cut and maybe some wild earrings.
What you can’t see is my brain buzzing with intrusive thoughts about everything that can go wrong and worry—so much worry—about all things I can't control and many of the things I can. What you can’t see is how I try to hold it together behind a fake smile. What you can’t see is how constantly fight against my anxiety day in and out—how I struggle with it. It's not visible like the band shirt or the glasses or not quite smile that appears in almost every selfie.
What you can’t see or I don’t let you see is how anxiety also impacts my body. I described it above, right? My racing heart. Shaky hands. Dizziness. The constant urge to cry. Crying. Fatigue. Occasional full-blown panic attacks. I hide the bodily symptoms when I can. I minimize them when I can’t.
When the bees are angry, my body and brain pay the price. The buzzing has consequences—they just aren’t always visible. Often because they aren’t actually. Often because I don’t want them to be, and I try to hide them.
Sometimes, the bees are manageable—a low hum. Sometimes, they are not—the angry buzz, buzz, buzz. But, it's hard to tell by looking at me whether I am managing or not. And truth be told, I don’t always want folks to know when the bees are angry because I am barely hanging on.
The bees don’t calm down simply because I’ve asked them to. And more than that, they never go away.
But, I am trying to remind myself that these periods of high anxiety come and go and that the bees will quiet down just like they always do eventually. And I’ll get some peace, or whatever I get that is close to it. I just have to take it day by day until the buzzing once again becomes a low hum.
This is likely very unfair to bees, I do know this.
Okay, standard disclaimer here: As I mention in the essay, I am on meds for anxiety that work the best they can, and I go to therapy for anxiety among other things. I’m not asking for advice here on how to manage my anxiety or asking for advice at all. So, please refrain from giving advice. Thank you.