I have been thinking about my anxiety for a few days, perhaps because every second I feel like my chest is being crushed, my breaths are shallow, and I find my fists are clenched so tightly that I’m leaving indentations of my nails in my palms. It has been a bad week, so bad that I had to take a Xanax, something I avoid at all costs 98% of the time. Even a Xanax only made it slightly better.
I did not used to be anxious. I was not a clingy child, I preferred to be alone, reading or playing outside. My next oldest sister is five years older than I am, and she generally didn’t want to play with me. I don’t remember begging for friends; I always had my books and my imagination. However, my anxiety is so overwhelming now that I can become crippled. What happened?
Upon some introspection, I think it started in Afghanistan when I was twenty. That would make sense, right? The mortars, the being shot at, the constant state of the unknown? Wrong. The Marine Corps does a damned good job of mentally preparing their Marines for war. The military spent decades honing the training (see the books On Combat and On Killing) the military recruits go through. War stuff wasn’t what caused my anxiety, at least not the anxiety that currently rears its ugly head. I don’t have nightmares anymore (thanks to me writing my book about Afghanistan), but my anxiety is still fucking awful.
The first thing I had to do was identify triggers. When would I begin to have panic attacks? They certainly aren’t constant. So what causes me to lose my fucking mind and send a wall of crazed texts to someone, throwing all logic, social decorum, and sense out of the window? I am extremely logical, so what the heck gives? Why can I see that I am being irrational and yet not stop myself or control the panic?
My panic begins when I think I am being left or ignored. I can think of many times that this situation has played out.
People have told me that I just don’t like being alone. That statement has always confused me. I love being alone, and I usually prefer it. I just spent a week in Paris on a solo trip where I barely spoke to a soul and I was in heaven. Being alone is not the same thing as being ostracized, and that difference is where my panic lives and manifests. Being alone is a choice; being ostracized is a diseased gift that is handed to you by society.
While in Afghanistan, I was ostracized for months. My (now ex) husband refused to talk to me, my peers were told to avoid me as one of the only females on the base, and once I started to be investigated by NCIS, I was suspicious of what everyone I met had heard or knew or suspected. All of my interactions were tainted by what I had done and experienced on deployment, and I was constantly on the defensive with every person I met. This ostracism phenomenon is something that I want to say is repeated for many people who are investigated in the military. Society avoids the weak, they avoid the people who are “in trouble”, and they avoid people who can drag them down. If you don’t agree, think about this the next time you see a homeless person, or check your gut the next time someone tells you they have been arrested. You will probably ostracize them, even going so far as to avoid their gaze.
Have you ever walked into a room of people you know and had everyone avoid your gaze? You wildly look around to see if you can catch the eye of a friendly peer and find nothing. Do you see how their bodies tilt away from you? Do you notice how their eyebrows furrow and their arms cross? Perhaps there’s a few eye rolls and mean comments you can hear.
One person who has also been investigated and ostracized by their society years ago said to me, “And it never goes away. Every time you meet someone who references that time in your life, the panic begins again. What do they know? Is that why they didn’t answer my email? Maybe that’s why so-and-so didn’t look me in the eye last week.”
This suspicion and over analyzation would continue for me until 2016, six years after Afghanistan when I stopped working around the Marine Corps and a year later started writing ‘Breaking “Innocence”’. For six years, I would go into a blind panic when someone would tell me that they had heard of me. What do they know? Will they avoid me too? Will I lose everything that I have worked for all over again because they know? Forget the fact that I was a hard worker, or smart, or responsive, or funny, or professional, or occasionally snarky. I bet they know. I bet they will avoid me, and I bet everyone else will follow suit. It is going to happen again. The anxious thoughts would spiral into panic.
I thought that by writing my book and having people read what happened, I was getting ahead of the curve. I thought that if everyone knew, they would go ahead, know the worst parts of me, and leave while I was prepared. I braced myself for the ostracism…and it didn’t come, at least not in the wave that I expected (keep in mind that most people have not read the ending so maybe the wave is still building). So that is great! Largely, I think that my chances of societal ostracism is vastly lower than it was two years ago. That calms me significantly.
But what about now? Singular ostracism, which I may so boldly coin, is when one person removes himself or herself from another’s life. This is not necessarily the same as rejection (rejection and ostracism have very similar effects on the human psyche). Personally, I am okay with rejection, as long as it isn’t from someone who I had deemed one of my “inner circle”, as long as it isn’t from someone I love. That, to me, is what tips the scales to ostracism. If I think I am being ostracized or ignored or removed from someone’s life, there are echoes from my past that reverberate so loudly that I lose my fucking mind. I panic, and rapidly enter what is called Stage 2 of ostracism: coping. Coping has different forms for different people. Evidently, as I have recently discovered, my coping mechanism is well explained in this quote: “At some point, they stop worrying about being liked, and they just want to be noticed.” They will do anything to stop the ostracism….anything.
People with anxiety over-analyze every movement and every interaction and then can’t stop themselves from panicking about the scenarios they create in their minds. People who are lucky enough to love the anxious understand this and try not to take anything too personal. People who do not understand this, who do not accept it, who are caught with an inbox full of anxious texts, will probably realize the anxious person is toxic to them and continue to ostracize.
We all want to be accepted. We all want to be loved. Humans are a connective species and we need our connections, some of us more than others.