You know those times when nothing huge has happened, but somehow things like not sleeping well, a transition, and/or something hanging over your head has your anxiety like
This was me for the last week and a half. The reason I kind of dropped off the face of the earth is that we went on summer break at the end of June and I really wanted to just sit on my couch watching tv for a few days. And I did that. And it was awesome. But I wasn’t very mindful about the transition; it was like going from 100mph to a dead stop, and that kind of change, even when it was my idea, is always an anxiety trigger. I also had kind of a crappy last couple of weeks at work, the dude and I have been talking about some future stuff which is awesome but also scary, we’ve got a couple of trips coming up, and I’ve had this idea for his birthday for like two months that I’ve been thinking about but hadn’t gotten the chance to put together yet (except I did the other day because my sister did me a solid). Oh yeah, and I have to somehow learn psychology and then be ready to teach an AP class on it in six weeks. All of that together meant that, even though I was loving relaxing, my subconscious was basically churning 24/7 and just trying to keep track of everything that was going on. I spent a lot of mornings waking up at 4 or 5am and lying in bed for a couple of hours until I finally gave up and padded into the living room. I took a lot of naps. I had a lot of headaches. I took a few ginger pills for nausea. I cried a few times. I even – gasp – stopped doing yoga for a few days. It was like that scene in The Princess Bride where Buttercup jumps in the water with the shrieking eels: they’re kind of swimming around her and feinting, getting close to her but not really doing anything other than screaming intermittently. And then one of them charges her head on.
I felt like the anxiety would scream once or maybe twice a day, I’d cry or my heart would race or whatever, and then I’d be fine until the middle of the night when it opened it’s giant maw and came straight for me.
To be honest, this in itself – being anxious for a few days – is not a huge deal. I’ve been through it many times and I’m sure I will go through it many times again. I understand that it’s not my fault, that I’m not a bad person because of this, and that it will pass. But sometimes it seems like no matter how well I’ve been managing the anxiety, nothing can tame it and my only choice is to do what I can until eventually my nervous system calms down. And yes, I know, I probably could have alleviated some of the symptoms by continuing to do yoga during that time, but honestly, I’ve been practicing 5 days a week since February and my body needed a break.
Anxiety is like an endurance race: it’s challenging, it’s difficult, some moments are better than others, and ultimately there’s no way out but through. An endurance race tests the limits of everything – physical, mental, and emotional – and so does anxiety. The only difference is that, most of the time, no one can see all of the effort you put in to managing your anxiety. No one sees the countless hours you spend ruminating. No one knows that you work out so often because you need the endorphins to keep your anxiety in check and stabilize your mood. No one, except maybe a partner, knows how many nights you spend unable to sleep, or how many mornings you wake up with your heart beating out of your chest and feeling like you’re going to throw up. A lot of times, anxiety is invisible to everyone but you, even though we think it’s incredibly obvious. (There’s a source for this but I can’t find it. Will link when I do.)
This feels like a double-edged sword to me. On the one hand, I love that I have to be really anxious and basically having a panic attack before anyone notices. The part of me that wants to look like I have my shit together all the time is so grateful for the way anxiety can hide. And I’m grateful that it’s internal because it means I have an opportunity to practice my management skills before someone notices and wants to help. Not that I don’t love help, but avoidance isn’t a great management strategy and I have to be able to at least try to deal with it on my own. Even when it feels like too much – say, during a panic attack – I know in my brain that it’s not because I’ve been through it before. I’ve always felt alone in one way or another, so it makes sense to me that my mental health issues make me feel separate and that I prefer to deal with them in isolation. I’m not sure if there’s a causal relationship there – maybe being alone triggered the anxiety or vice versa – but I do know that I’d much rather try everything I can do on my own to manage it before I ask for help or indicate that I’m not ok. Assuming I have choice in that; sometimes you just can’t stop a kid from walking into your classroom while you’re slumped at your desk crying over nothing.
But the part of me that feels isolated by the anxiety and just wants someone to see that I’m in distress and to show some compassion hates that it’s so invisible. The dude is really good at reading very tiny clues, and I’m more forthright with him than with most people, so it’s rare that he doesn’t pick up on when I’m feelings anxious. I’m grateful for that. But sometimes it can be really hard to be a person who is able to handle a lot and who “hangs in there tough”, as we say in my family. While I like that aspect of myself, knowing that that is desirable not only in my family but in my workplace and our culture in general makes it really, really hard to be ok with not being ok. Don’t get me wrong; I am a tough motherfucker and I can handle a lot of shit before it really starts to wear me down, but that makes it nearly impossible to admit when I’m worn down. I’m lucky that I have a small little collective in the dude, my sister, and Bird. They make me feel safe enough to admit that, not only am I anxious, but it’s pretty bad. And honestly, sometimes I really just want to wallow.
I know that most of that is anxiety talking: it’s always worried about getting worse or what’s going to happen and my brain gets overwhelmed and wants to just shut down.
But I do think breaks are important, and I also think it’s important to acknowledge all of the things that dealing with anxiety makes us feel. I don’t know about you guys, but I get so frustrated when it flares up because I’m so careful about managing it. It can’t just stay in its little allotted part of my brain? Because if it can’t do that, then what the hell am I spending all this time managing it for?! (Answer: so that it will stay in its spot more easily and for longer periods of time than it would if I weren’t managing it. So that it’s not a raging beast when it does get out.) And I get angry. I’m so mad at my stupid DNA for putting me through this. And I’m so mad that I’ll have to deal with it for the rest of my life. And I’m sad that I could give this to my kids and have to watch them deal with this. I’m sad because if I’d paid more attention to it sooner I probably could have avoided a lot of heartache. I’m sad because even though there are a lot of people who I know and love, anxiety makes it hard to devote the time that friendships need, especially in a city like New York where everyone is so freaking busy all the time. Since all of this started four years ago, it’s become harder and harder to maintain closeness because I just can’t be out as much as I used to. I’m lucky that my friends understand when I have to cancel, that they still invite me out, that they make an effort to include me. It makes me feel so loved, and it also makes me feel sad that I can’t say yes as much as I used to because I’ll be paying for it in one way or another.
I guess right now I’m at the part of my race that marathoners call the wall: everything hurts, you’re thirsty, you’re tired, you’re demoralized, and you still have so. fucking. long. to go. I’m better than I was a few days ago, and I know I’ll be better still after we go on vacation tomorrow. All this is to say that even though I’m mostly doing really well and I write about that a lot, I also still have bad days. I hate them. They suck. They’re inevitable. The only way out is through, so let’s go through together.