There’s a pretty socially ‘acceptable’ way that anxiety manifests.
It’s curling up in a corner. It’s hyperventilating. It’s the shy girl at the side of the room, just needing a hand and some kindness in order to come out of her shell.
That’s not to say that society accepts and supports people whose anxiety does manifest this way. It’s a romanticization, which is just as damaging a form of stereotyping. It’s damaging for the people who ‘fit’ the idea of anxiety. And its damaging for those of us who fall outside of it.
When neurotypical people talk about anxiety, they’re not willing to talk about the other, less sympathetic, manifestations. They don’t want to talk about the paranoia. The don’t want to talk about the anger. They don’t want to talk about the swirling sense of messy, screwed up despair with the world.
I get angry a lot.
It’s probably one of the primary ways my anxiety is channeled. Anger with people. Anger with situations. Anger with inanimate objects. Anger with myself.
It’s mostly my anger with myself that somehow gets redirected as anger with other people. And, when the fog begins to recede, I deeply regret the way in which I have treated people – and, in a perpetual cycle of rage, I become even more angry with myself for doing what I’ve done.
It’s not normally a loud, passionate anger, although I have been known to partake in that sort of thing. That anger, the fiery rage that gets written into plays and talked about in school textbooks in the farflung future, is saved for moments when I’m filled with an outrage-fuelled confidence. Those moments when I have a placard in my hand, or a pen between my fingers, or when I’m sitting in a coffeeshop amid people with like minded passion in their hearts.
This anxious-anger, this angry-anxiety, is different.
It’s smouldering and simmering. It bubbles behind my eyes, pinching at my forehead until I want to reach in and scrub the pain away from my skull. Tiny noises, like someone walking past my room or a neighbour having a conversation in the garden, feel like someone is screaming in my face – and my fight or flight response makes me want to shriek and claw like an animal battling for my life.
I’m not a nice person to be around. I am every inch the rude, insolent teenage stereotype – only I haven’t been a teenager for nearly eight years. I respond with a clipped what!? if someone calls my name. I stamp and slam doors and make a point of doing anything the world dares to require me to do as loudly as possible. I huff and puff and chunter unintelligibly-but-still-clearly-pissed-offedly under my breath. I exist in a cloud of EVERTHING IS INFUFIATING AND I HATE EVERYTHING, and you absolutely do not want to be sucked under with me.
I’m not a nice person. And that devastates me. I want to be a nice person. I don’t want to treat anyone, let alone my family and friends, in the way that I do. It’s like I’m watching myself on the other side of a pane of glass, banging and screaming but unable to get through to stop myself from behaving that way.
It’s one of my greatest fears – that, as these feelings come to a crescendo, I become an emotionally abusive person.
Abuse is inexcusable, no matter what. No diagnosis makes it okay. But getting my autism diagnosis and realising why I turn into this horrible person every so often was a really important step towards understanding, pinpointing and altering my behaviour. My autism is not the reason I do these things. It’s the way in which I respond to the overload and anxiety that comes with autism. And I can do something about that.
Its not easy, though. These waves of anxious bubbling anger and irritation still hit me. I still treat people badly. The anger at myself for doing so only fuels the fire further. Just this weekend is a good example: for a reason I haven’t quite been able to put my finger on, I was tightly wound, like I was wound around a tree covered in thorns, and every word or sound uttered was pulling me tighter. I tried to barricade myself in my own space, but the real world doesn’t work that way.
And I snapped. I snapped at my mums. I snapped at my brother.I snapped at my dogs.
And I’m sorry. I’m so sorry that I did that.
I can go weeks, months, without falling into that pit. And then one day, for no obvious reason, I stumble. And then, when I either claw myself out or get hauled to safety by somebody else, I just feel guilt.
But I can’t do that.
I can apologise. I can make it up. I can work to try and alleviate next time. Beating myself up doesn’t get me anywhere. It doesn’t help anyone. I can be so much more productive than that.
Knowing that I’m not the only one helps. I can learn from others. I can talk about it, and work on it, and cry about it, and rant about it, and recognise it for what it is – the side of anxiety they don’t show, they don’t write about, they don’t talk about. But it’s still anxiety.
It’s not romantic. It’s not tragically beautiful.
It’s messy. It’s bloody. It’s alienating.
But it is what it is.
I can’t fix it.
But I can work towards minimising the damage.