Anxiety: Living With Myself and a White Elephant
I have generally always been a morning person.
I'm not one to fight about getting out of bed, and I've often been teased for my ability to shift my attention from one thing to another almost instantly. It's as though I've turned a light off in one room in my brain and flipped on another, and waking up for me is almost like that. There's no real struggle to turn on the brain and get everything going in my head, and I've generally been grateful for that.
As I've gotten older, I find that a routine has helped. In my case, I get up, take my anti-anxiety meds and my vitamins, let the dog out while the kettle's going, get my breakfast organized, and then sit down for more or less two hours to play Angry Birds, do a crossword and write. During this time, I also pound back two cups of coffee, and that is what gets my day started. I have two kids, 12 and almost 8 (seems odd to say that), so this is pretty much the only "quiet time" I get - but then, what's not quiet between 4:30 and 6:30 in the morning? If I'm lucky, I sleep til 5, but lately, that seems a rarity.
It's a relatively calm, quiet time, punctuated by the various sounds of my family sleeping upstairs, cars driving by outside my door, and my pounding on a keyboard.
It's also a time where I feel a knot forming low in my gut, like I've eaten something that's not exactly sat well with me. It feels as though my hands are tingling, and my chest starts to get a bit tight.
There's the anxiety that we all live with daily - anxiety about tests, job interviews, and so forth are very common and that's part of the stress that keeps us going from one day to the next. If there was no stress whatsoever in our lives, we'd be liquid, with no motivation to get our butts out of bed and get things done. It doesn't matter if this is positive stress, like your kids giving you a hug or being turned on by something your partner said or did, or negative stress, where you're worried about something happening or not.
For those of us with anxiety, that vague sense of worry is always there. We get really good at distracting ourselves with life in general, but for many, it can be there simply because it can. Today, for instance, there's nothing I'm particularly concerned with; my kids are happy and healthy, I love my job, and I have gotten regular exercise started again after nearly four weeks of not doing too much on that front as a result of the pre-Christmas rushing around.
Yet here I am, writing away while my brain is trying to convince the rest of my body that everything's fine and there's no immediate danger.
It's not a crippling sense of anxiety that I'm currently feeling, but more that vague sense of something's coming and it's not necessarily good, like my body's trying to figure out what there is to be concerned with. I'm also lucky - there's only been a very few times where I've actually had to deal with panic attacks, which are horrible.
But I'd almost prefer dealing with a full blown panic attack once in a very long while - just to get this anxiety out of my system, like a release valve - to having this. I'm not a big fan of panic attacks, but feeling this many of my mornings is not great either. I've tried exercising in the mornings, but I find it throws off my schedule, and that upsets anyone who's used to a schedule, never mind just people with anxiety.
So I stick to my current routine, breathing and trying to stay focussed on whatever the task is at hand. It's sort of like climbing a rope; if I stay focussed on the next thing and then the next thing to do, I can concentrate on the moment, rather than the what if.
Charlie Brown Had It Right
Charlie Brown And I Have A Lot In Common
I've always felt a particular connection with Charlie Brown, the "round headed kid" from the Peanuts comic strip. Sure, my favorite character was Snoopy, but there was something inherently relatable about Charlie Brown.
I have never been a cynical sort of person, as he might seem at times, but I've never viewed Charlie Brown as a cynic. Anytime he's brought up something, it's always with a degree of worry - worry that he couldn't get something done, worry that he couldn't talk to the little redhaired girl - but he always "resets" and when he decides something's going to get done, he gives it his all. Once he's tried it and it doesn't work, as it usually does, he's back to worrying.
I so get that feeling. I describe myself as enthusiastic, and generally a bit goofy, but as Charlie Brown says, "My anxieties have anxieties."
To me, that describes just about what living with anxiety feels like for me. It's also left me with very little physical tolerance for ongoing negativity. I generally don't like a negative attitude - who does? - but when I'm surrounded by it, it feeds my black dog of anxiety and makes it worse. I become touchier, like my fuse has shortened tremendously, and my mood gets blacker. I know that I end up having to "vent," as most of us do when surrounded by negativity, or I will blow a fuse ultimately. This in turn leads me to feeling incredibly guilty, and the anxiety starts again.
Living with anxiety sucks—but I'm not a victim, and neither are other anxiety sufferers, either. That's why it irritates me no end that people won't talk about mental illness, as though if you don't discuss it, it magically disappears. Nothing is like that. If you avoid something, it doesn't go away in a puff of air, and mental illness is the same.
It's hard enough accepting that I have a lifelong mental illness like anxiety; knowing society still is reluctant to be open about mental illness is terrible. Yes, it's easier to discuss a broken or cut limb, or a surgical scar, but the look some get on their faces when talking about mental illness reminds me of people who have just run into some sort of vague, exotic smell, and that's not only unnecessary, it's unwelcoming.
People with mental illness are doing what they can in the best way they know how to get through their days, just like everyone else on the planet, and they're learning new coping strategies daily. It's not something we can simply "not" have on request; there are so many times I've been told that I've got nothing to worry about that I've lost count. I know, in my head, that I've got nothing to worry about - that doesn't immediately remove all anxiety, though.
People with anxiety in particular know that for some people, the things we worry about seem little - but to us, they're not so little. We're learning how to manage, how to "fake it 'til we make it," but if you're someone who doesn't have anxiety, please don't view the person that does and think or tell them that there's nothing to worry about. We'll likely agree and then go back to battling the anxieties in our head, trying to manage our breathing and trying to look like we're keeping everything all together.
We don't necessarily want to have you "fix" the anxiety or whatever the mental health problem happens to be; we have medication, therapists, and coping strategies for that. An attempt at understanding and being truly supportive, though, is a better bet. Like or love us through whatever seems to be happening for us at the time and we'll eventually bounce out of it.
That's a promise.