To most, “hypervigilance” is but another word amongst millions of words. Likely, it’s a word few people use in their daily life. But for those of us with an anxiety disorder, hypervigilance is the thing that paralyzes us with fear. Imagine.
I had the resonator in my car’s exhaust system replaced the beginning of February. The place that did it had great reviews on Yelp and came recommended by a friend whose opinion I trust. (No, this isn’t about the muffler shop, not really, but read on.) A month or so later, I noticed my car had a clicking noise when I shut it down. Immediately fight-or-flight kicked in.
What’s that noise? What does it mean? Lots of cars click. It’s the metal contracting, isn’t it? I have a new metal thing in my car, and this is the first time I’ve driven it in warmer weather. That’s got to be it, right? I can’t take a car back to a muffler shop and say my car is clicking. It’s a stupid reason. All cars click. This is the sort of inner dialogue I must always invoke when confronted with fearsome things. This is what hypervigilance leads me to.
So I decided it was likely a normal thing and let it be. Well, sort of. You see, once a thing is revealed under the influence of hypervigilance, it doesn’t simply “go away.” And letting it be? Well, forget that. The refrigerator turning on and turning off has been known to send me reeling. And that’s a set of noises I have carefully catalogued as “normal.”
I “ignored” the clicking for a little over a week. Then a few days ago, I had reason to get out of my car while it was running, and I heard (oh, those pesky, hypervigilant ears of mine) the same sound that had sent me to the muffler shop in the first place. (And in my defense, let me say that I hadn’t heard the sound initially—the guy at the smog check place had originally pointed it out to me.) I freaked. I’d had the new resonator for just over a month, and it already broke?
This led to an overnight anxiety attack. I decided I’d call the shop in the morning, get a feel for their response. That would allay some of my fear. The guy at the shop said he couldn’t tell me if continuing to drive the car would be safe unless he saw it. Okaaaaay…
So off to the shop I went yesterday. It turns out the clicking sound which others might have noticed or might not have noticed, but which I dismissed because my coping mechanism convinced me it was a dismissible thing turned out to be the very thing that caused the mechanic to decide to replace the original resonator. Not the sound I thought sounded like the sound that had triggered the comment from the smog-check guy. The click I’d dismissed!
This is what hypervigilance does to those of us disabled by anxiety. I see things and hear things and smell things that set every nerve in body off on tangents I wouldn’t wish on an enemy. So I share this because most people don’t “get” anxiety and tend to tell those of us who do to relax and that everything’s fine. “Don’t worry about it,” they advise condescendingly. Sorry, that’s not possible in my universe.