You know what really gets to me? How after years of therapy and all the rest, anxiety still gets to be like Nope, I’m in charge now and do whatever the fuck it wants until I calm down.
I went to bed early last night because, even though I’ve been going to bed on time, teaching at this time of year is super draining and I needed it. I fell asleep, and then at some point there was a loud kind of popping noise and I sat bolt upright in bed convinced that some catastrophe had befallen us. I asked the dude what it was and he didn’t know. At the time, I thought maybe a light on our tree had broken or something. In hindsight, that feels like a ridiculous thought and it was probably just the dog’s rawhide falling on the floor. But at the time, I couldn’t stop picturing glass blown out all over our living room floor (why there was so much from one little light bulb, I don’t know) and my heart was beating super fast.
I actually fell back asleep pretty quickly, but I was waking up every twenty minutes with a tight chest and hearing phantom noises. At some point I fell asleep for good, but when I woke up this morning it was like clawing my way through the lightning sand in The Princess Bride.
(I would have been ok with that if it had involved getting to hug Carey Elwes, but alas.)
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how much work anxiety is. It takes work to worry. It takes work to dream up worst-case scenarios. It takes work to be constantly on edge. And it takes work to manage it: to make the commitment to give up time, money, things you enjoy, etc. in favor of doing whatever you need to do to lessen it. No matter what part of anxiety you’re talking about, sometimes it feels like a never-ending slog of drudgery.
And I’m tired, guys. I know that most of my feeling this way stems from the fact that I haven’t had more than two consecutive days rest since school started, that I’ve been traveling a lot, and that I’m really feeling the demands on my time. But I’m tired. I’m tired of worrying. I’m tired of managing it. I’m tired of thinking about every little thing I say or do in terms of how it will affect anxiety and will it flare up and what can I do to prevent that and how do I handle it if I can’t. I. Am. Worn. Out.
I want a reprieve. I want a week, a month, a year, even – hell, my whole life while I’m asking for things – where I don’t have to worry so much and plan so much and think so much. I want to be able to say yes more than I do and not worry that saying yes will wind up being a bad idea. I want to not have to explain to my family what I need and why I need it and just be able to be there with them. I want to go back to working in the summers.
As much as I’m complaining right now, there are two thoughts that keep pushing themselves forward underneath all of the I wants and I’m tireds. First, I keep thinking that I’m lucky. I’m lucky this isn’t harder. I’m lucky I felt like I could end therapy and that I had the means to get treatment in the first place. I’m lucky I don’t have the added cost of a daily dose of whatever. I’m lucky that I have a family and friends and a partner who understands. I’m lucky that I feel good most days and am not mired in my own negative, repetitive, ruminating thought loop. I’m lucky that I want to get out of bed and go to work.
Secondly, this is my reality. It’s not going to change. Andy from Headspace says it best: it’s not about getting rid of anxiety. That’s never going to happen. It’s about changing the relationship you have with it. And though I know all of that, and I know that I will feel better equipped to continue managing it when I’ve had a break, I also don’t want to negate what I’m feeling because I’m allowed to feel it. I’m allowed to be frustrated and tired and just want it to be over. I’m allowed to sigh resignedly with the knowledge that it never will be over.
But I also know that I’m the driving force behind my own mental health, and that I’ve been here before. I recognize this feeling: this I want to curl up with my dog and hibernate feeling. I feel like there are two of me: past me is Leo McGary, present me is Josh Lyman.
I don’t know how long I’ll be feeling like I’m done. Probably for another week yet. Possibly for longer. But not forever. I know that six months from now I’ll be like:
This is not permanent. This is feeling of I don’t want to is not the rest of my life. As surely as it came, it will leave. And it will come again. But that’s the work, really: to be ready for it when it comes again. Managing anxiety is not necessarily about the immediate benefits, though those are important. It’s more about the end game. The goal is to get to a place where, even when it gets tough, you can separate out what’s happening to you and know you can get through it. To be able to look at your anxiety objectively instead of as a controllable part of your personality (read: flaw). This is the goal. This is why we meditate, write, exercise, go the therapy, take meds, say no, say yes. This is the work.
All of this is to say that, if you’re definitely feeling it weighing on you right now, you’re not alone. If you want a break, you’re not alone. I feel you in a big way. But I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out, and soon you will, too.