Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Anxiety of Me

Via a picture that came up in my Timehop, I was reminded that today marks the three year anniversary of one of my worst days of anxiety in life. When you have anxiety, every (literal) day is a day with anxiety, it's just a matter of the level. Some days, I hardly know it's there, and others it's taking up all the space. Three years ago was definitely one of the latter. I don't care to rehash all the what of that day, but it ended in a hyperventilating panic attack in a hotel room. So, yeah.

While my look back at memories are often enjoyable, on days like today, things take a very different turn. I wouldn't say that anxiety is something I don't want to remember. Again, it's a part of me, so it's not like I can forget even if I wanted to. 

As I think about that point three years ago, I was just beginning therapy. It was something that was long overdue. There was some residual trauma that I just had never worked through, and I had to face those parts of myself. Some of that was a terrible case of impostor syndrome. I'd unexpectedly been promoted put into an interim role at work. I had taken the "acting" part of my title a little too literally, and I'd convinced myself I wasn't good enough. Rather than believing I could do the job, my anxiety was constantly whispering in my ear that I might not be qualified enough or competent enough or anything enough to be there. I left that job holding onto some of my hardest days and feelings of doubt, rather than appreciating all I'd done to manage two jobs and do quite enough to do that well. I went into a job after this where I did too much. In the face of a job that wasn't a fit, I became angry and frustrated and really tired. In this role, my anxiety stemmed from negative emotions and anticipation of what was to come in each workday. This escalated to the point that I was once pulled over on a drive home for erratic driving. When the officer came to my window and asked, "Is everything okay?" I said to him in an eerily calm tone, "Honestly, I was just thinking about work." It was in that moment I realized how far my anxiety had accelerated. It was terrifying.

I took all of that baggage (and more) into therapy. It took me a year of weekly appointments to get to a point where I felt I had enough tools and techniques to self-regulate my anxiety. Was I cured? Heck, no. That's not how anxiety works. However, I finally felt empowered over myself. It's such a weird thing to say, but cognitive behavioral therapy is really about teaching you how to manage yourself better. 

I still have anxious days - Today was one of them. Anxiety is lots of things for me, none of which I particularly enjoy. It's like. . . 

  • Trying to drive a car forward, but obsessively staring in the rearview mirror the entire time.
  • Considering every single ending of a Choose Your Own Adventure book simultaneously.
  • Having a montage of everything negative that's happened in the past few weeks running on loop in my head.
  • A forecast with a chance of an anxiety storm every single day. 
  • A big ol' Dawson Leery ugly cry - This one's not an analogy, it's a legit response.
  • Wearing a mouthguard at night to combat the way I carry my stress. Also, I clinch my fists, and sometimes my hands hurt. Again, not an analogy, but a physical manifestation.
I don't share any of this for sympathy, or for anyone to think of me differently. The reality is that if you didn't yet know this about me, now you do, and I'm still the same person. I am just a person that navigates anxiety - with varying levels of proficiency. Anxiety will always be part of me - It's always been here. I can tell you some of my earliest experiences with it, it just took me a long time to name it what it was. 

I often look to books and TV shows and movies to describe how I feel, and tonight as I wrote, this quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower came to mind: 

“So, this is my life. 
And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad,
 and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.” 

For me, talking about the happy parts of me, along with the sad has come with great freedom. Letting go of the fear of stigma and judgement has allowed me to open up and share. I spent so much time terrified to give voice to what was inside of me. However, I overcame that fear. It was scary at first, but I soon realized that when I was the voice, I held the power. When i spoke over the anxiety and acknowledged what was there, I maintained the control.

I've written about mental health before, and I've sat and typed those posts in a hot mess of tears. Tonight, as I type, I feel different. Three years later, some things are different, and some are the same. Some are good and some are not so much. And so, I'll end this reflection with yet another quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower: 

“Please believe that things are good with me, 
and even when they're not, they will be soon enough. 
And i will always believe the same about you.”