What It's Like to be a Thrill-Seeker with Anxiety

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

This was originally an article I wrote for Odyssey, but I wanted to share it here as well, for those who never saw it originally.
What It's Like to be a Thrill-Seeker with Anxiety
About a year ago, I went skydiving for the second time. Rather than feeling the understandable fear and apprehension that comes with jumping out of a moving airplane, I felt rather relaxed and peaceful, looking down over the rolling green landscape and anticipating the freeing moments of falling. Even the first time I'd done it, I never felt panicked or filled with dread. Certainly I felt a bit nervous, but the real fear part never actually hit me. I trusted the system and the experience not to let me down.
Several months earlier, you could have found me jumping off of cliffs into cold, dark water with my cousins, as we'd done the past several years. I'll ride any roller coaster, go whitewater rafting or zip-lining, boulder over steep rocks or rappel off of towers. Someday, I'd love to cage dive with sharks, scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef or hang over the edge of Victoria Falls in Devil's Pool.
Heights and speed don't bother me, and thrills are something I seek out, rather than avoid.
But I also struggle with day-to-day anxiety. I am someone who looks at a thrilling experience as nothing but exhilarating, but fear things most people never even consider.
As a result of a previous accident, I often panic as a passenger in a car. I feel anxious in small spaces or large crowds, interacting with large groups of strangers, and when I consider the thought that the people I care about may not care about me in return. My anxiety causes me to have bouts of inexplicable sadness, and sometimes makes me feel as though I've lost control of my own emotions or that I'll drive people away. I get intensely paranoid about things I know full-well are completely unrealistic, and sometimes lose sleep considering terrible what-ifs.
Anxiety is a personal experience. It can't be generalized or standardized among the thousands of people that have it. You can't look at me and say: "Everything makes you anxious or afraid," because that's so far from the truth. And just looking at me, you probably wouldn't have a clue what anxieties and thoughts may be running through my mind, but they're there nonetheless.
I never feel fully comfortable talking about my anxiety or trying to explain it, because in many ways, anxiety doesn't make sense. It's a spectrum, and it can vary hugely from person to person. There's also a sense of discomfort that seems to come when you say that you have anxiety. People still aren't sure exactly how to deal with it, what they can do to help and what might just make things worse.
Once again, this is impossible to pinpoint, as it can be different for every person. But I will say this: My anxiety doesn't make me fragile and breakable. My fears and emotions may not always make sense to you, or even to me–however, I'm trying to let them just be a part of my life, rather than completely command me, and hopefully one day they may be gone altogether. But in the meantime, I can still remind myself that fear won't always control me. Not as long as I'm watching sharks swim below me, zip-lining across a canyon, or jumping out of an airplane.

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