Recently, I was wrapping things up with my therapist, and just before we were done with our session she said something like- “Oh, well you have anxiety anyway, so that makes sense.”, and she said it so matter of factly, and I was a little bit offended for some reason, like, pssshh- I get a little nervous sometimes, but I wouldn’t say I have anxiety! Which is so funny, now that I think about it, because…I obviously HAVE anxiety. I must have been in a really good phase or something, because her words kind of wounded me. I just don’t think of myself that way.
That’s the tricky thing about MY particular set of mental peculiarities. I am not anxious all of the time. It comes and goes with me. There are certain situations which trigger massive anxiety, and once my thoughts start spiraling out of control, it is very hard for me to pull myself back into logic and reality. One of those is, clearly, my children. There have been times when it was worry about my health. Occasionally, I will obsess over losing my job or having to move. But all of these are pretty manageable except for the one about my kids. That is my big-ticket item, the one that I can make myself physically ill over.
So, when things are going along nicely, and our routine is well established, and nothing weird happens, I forget that I even have anxiety. Because, technically, when I have nothing to be anxious about, I kind of DON’T have anxiety. But that’s the thing- there will always be times when things don’t go as planned. I can’t control every single situation so that it works for me, and I really shouldn’t have to. Sometimes people’s phones die. Sometimes they are running late, or they lose track of time. These little tiny things, innocent, average, every day things, can make me lose my mind. When I can’t reach my little one’s dad because his phone is on the charger, or she is at the fair with a family friend who lost track of time, I don’t think “Oh, they’re fine.”, I think “Well, I better get in my car and go look for the wreck they were in”, only in a more screamy voice.
Anyway, I am in a lot of private groups on Facebook, and the other day I joined several more- groups for people with anxiety. After I had my meltdown on Tuesday, I just thought maybe an anxiety support group might help. So I joined three. Last night, a girl posted that she had been obsessing about a pretty unlikely health worry, and that she knew it was silly, but she couldn’t stop thinking about it, and she couldn’t stop pacing, and she was exhausted, and I reached out to her, and so did a lot of other people, with stories of their own, and with…well, support. Here’s the thing: Not one single person said “Oh, come on, that is so ridiculous! Of all the things to worry about, you think you have THAT?” Which, if it were any other group I am in, that would have been said. Instead, at least three other people confided that they had shared the exact same fear at one point, and others shared similarly unlikely worries. Everyone got it.
And I woke up this morning still thinking about that. That not only did I totally get where she was coming from, but everyone in the group that spoke up did, too. And that is when it hit me- I TOTALLY have anxiety. These people are my people, because they get it. When I am freaking out, even when I know I am being crazy, I just can’t stop being scared. Fear literally takes over my body, and will not listen to reason.
And here’s the deal- this is not a new thing, not at all. I started having full blown panic attacks at the age of 17, sometimes as many as five, six, or seven every single day. I didn’t know what they were, so I thought I was either going crazy or someone was poisoning me. The only problem with the poisoning theory was that I was around different people all the time. So instead of realizing that this was improbable, my poor, sick brain assumed that everyone was trying to kill me, and I just stopped eating food that anyone else had touched. Do you know how difficult this is? I lost a ton of weight, and my mom said something like “My god, you look like you are dying of cancer.” Which, of course, gave me a whole new set of worries to obsess about. Honestly, the only reason I pulled myself out of that mess was because I got so sick of worrying all the time that I just said “Fuck it, I can’t live like this anymore- if I’m going to die, so be it, but I have got to eat.” And I just threw all caution to the wind and ate at Denny’s. From that day on, I stopped having panic attacks, and thought I was cured.
But…here I am, at 43, realizing that it never really went away. I masked it for many many years with drug abuse, and now I am discovering that it has been here all along. It was just covered up. I am so lucky that I can talk about it to the people around me- my boss knows that I get weird, sometimes, and she is super supportive. And I am sort of the quirky friend, the crazy co-worker, the funny-but-super-high-strung one. Being the oddball is kind of my thing. I’ve made it into a bit of a joke, I guess. Because it make it more tolerable, for me and for everyone else, too. Which made me forget, or not notice, that it is real. The moments when I want to cry because I’m so scared, when I can’t sit still, when I can’t breathe, when I can’t slow down my fucking insane thoughts- that’s not funny at all.
My point is, I guess, that I woke up this morning and realized that I really, really have anxiety. And that it’s been part of my life since early adulthood- this is NOT a new thing. It might look a little different, my fears might have changed a little bit, but the feelings? They are exactly the same. And now I get to figure out what happens next. But I have found some people just like me, and I am much less afraid.