Hello Anxiety, My Old Friend
You ever been in the supermarket, trying desperately to look cool while while choosing a ripe-but-not-overripe watermelon, when someone says your name with a question mark in their voice. You freeze, a surge of sweat prickles your underarms as you attempt to register why the voice sounds both familiar and mildly irritating. You put the melon down knowing good and well you still rely on a phone call to your parents to give you a quick tutorial on how to choose the perfect melon. You turn with an equally tentative "yes?" to see her. That girl from high school who annoyed you at best and drove you mad on your worst days. Your mouth makes small talk and you find yourself acting like your high school self (all giggles and a higher pitched voice for some reason) and just when you find yourself about to use a 15 year old slang, the encounter mercifully ends.
Some of you know exactly what I'm talking about. A damn near ambush! At the store! Ugh! Where did she come from? How were you not more attentive? You order one of those glasses with the mirror on the side - same day shipping.
That's how it felt when my heretofore low-grade anxiety revved up to high gear the past 8 months. I've since recovered from the "flare up", thank goodness. I have GAD (generalized anxiety disorder) and my baseline runs anywhere from "what if I suddenly forget how to drive?" (while driving) or "there could be a snake in the toilet as I take my midnight pee." If something untoward happens and shocks everyone else, I'm like "oh, scenario 765." Sometimes my husband will say "so..." and I'll look at him woefully, hand over mouth, face fallen already. It's absolutely ridiculous. I walk around so tense it looks like my arms are attached to my ears, my shoulders are so high. The specter of impending doom never more than a few feet behind me. And this is just at my house. If I have any social engagements, oh gosh! If you add taking the kids and a thunderstorm, well it's just pure chaos. (Some of you have seen me and talked me off the ledge. God bless you. Thank you for doing that). But that's my general baseline for the last 10 or so years and it's manageable to me. Basically my life is those anxiety memes you see on the internet. Here's a link to a nice little list. I promise you won't catch it.
Given the nature of the last year, I should not have been as surprised by increased anxiety. Just like I shouldn't have been surprised by "Jenny" in the produce aisle because we both never left the town after high school. I should have been more surprised I hadn't run into her before now. But I was. I struggled to acknowledge, re-direct and replace my negative and spiraling thoughts. I was trying to catch water in a sieve and panicking when I couldn't seem to contain a single drop. I had been coasting for almost a decade on humour, deflection, avoidance and escapism, but mostly I was able to use the skills I learned in therapy years ago. That and the love and support of friends and family. And plenty of Jesus. But the flimsy coping I mentioned earlier on fell out from under me. Worsened insomnia, increased trust issues and near paranoia. Oh and my favourite...thinking it's a nighttime earthquake but it's just my heart racing like a mustang on the open plains making my whole body shake. Thoughts whirling around like a cyclone, so loud it's impossible to sleep. Panic attacks were one thing but things got dark. As I lay me down to sleep, anxiety whispers "wake up sis, it's time to weep."(<-----Wrote that little gem down in the thick of things).
This next paragraph could be a trigger:
Go with me here...when I have a headache, the kind that's right behind the eye or the one that's right in the middle of your brain and feels about the size of a slightly melted ice cube...I visualize poking an ice pick through my eye to try to get at the pain. And for the one on the middle of my head I imagine a jack hammer boring through my skull to reach the little cube of misery that won't stop throbbing. It's a tiny jack hammer made specifically for this sort of thing, of course! This visualization, however insane it sounds, helps me dull the pain before the ibuprofen kicks in.
Well, I had a day when I felt like the blood in my body had built to too great a pressure and was poisonous and burning. Surely my head would physically explode if I did not relieve this extra volume of septic blood. I visualized a kind of bloodletting just to ease the turmoil. I know, it sounds bad but that's how my brain works and I visualizations work for me.
How the heck did I get here and how could I dig myself out of this dark, narrow pit? How many signs did I ignore and miss that got me here? How out of tune did I get with myself. And how in the world did my propensity for escapism as a coping mechanism fail me?
I remember finally crying. Bawling, actually. I hadn't done that in years. I had a panic attack in the bathroom. I cried some more and my husband held me. And then I told one friend about my dark day. And I told another friend. I asked my friends to pray for me. And I prayed and pleaded for the re-capture of my mind from sludge and darkness. And I reminded myself that I am a BAMF and that I am worthy of care and love and feeling my feelings. (Oh you didn't know you could pray and be your own hype woman? Follow me for more tips). And when I was able, I looked up and around and heard the cries and struggles of others and I picked back up my end of the collective yoke.
Y'all it was a rough spiral but I made it! I don't even have anything profound to say about it. I just wanted to put it out there as a testament to my own struggle and survival. It takes away the power of suffering in isolation.
I am a little mad at myself for letting my anxiety get to that point but good gosh if there was a year it was going to sneak attack me, it was this last. Am I right? Please note I said a "little" mad. I know my anxiety makes me seem irrational but I have nothing but grace upon grace for myself. Sometimes I am more human than I give myself credit for. But here's what I'll try to do differently:
Be more aware of how I'm feeling and how that's manifesting itself in my life. I remember doing a mindfulness exercise with a raisin (that's right, a raisin). At the time I was like "what the heck?" but now I see how checking in and being present with my body can reveal how stressed I really am.
Snuff out anything that feeds my anxiety (it was hard to get away from that last year).
When people ask how I'm doing, I'll be more open and honest. I'm really good at deflecting and horrible at articulating my feelings. But to give no effort is not the answer.
Cry if I feel like it.
Rely on my faith more quickly.
People deal with so many issues while going about their daily business of working, raising a family, maintaining relationships (many with limited resources). Please, please take some time to pat yourself on the back. You're out there doing your best and that's plenty. That's enough. Check in with yourself, do what you must to regroup and survive. Tell someone safe (and/or professional) that you are struggling. Ask for help. Whatever your particular "thing" is, I hope you keep on keeping on.