Today’s post is about anxiety, and I think it’s only fitting that I feel anxious about writing it. Because if you have anxiety you know that it isn’t easy to talk about. In fact, talking about anxiety usually makes the anxiety worse. But, here it goes.
Last night I made a pretty big mistake at work. It was an honest mistake, no one was hurt, we didn’t lose any money, and though it will take a few weeks to totally overcome the consequences, most of it was cleaned up by 10AM this morning. However, here I sit, several hours after the problem has been resolved, and I am still so anxious about it that my heart is racing. On my drive into work this morning, I was convinced I was going to have to pull over at any second to succumb to the anxiety-induced nausea I’d been feeling since I woke up. This What Have I Done feeling will likely stick with me for weeks… And all over a mis-sent email. But this is what life looks like when you view it through the lens of Anxiety.
I do a lot of work to come across as a very confident person who has their shit together and knows what they’re doing. Even when I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m pretty good at acting like my lack of control is well within my control. But to be honest, not-so-deep down I am usually freaking out about, well, everything.
I had my first anxiety episode when I was 10. My parents were newly divorced, so I had a lot of reasons to be stressed and anxious, but at the time I didn’t recognize the feeling. I woke up my mom in the middle of the night, telling her that I just had this feeling in my chest that something was WRONG. Now I carry around that feeling with me all day long, and though I’ve gotten used to it, I can say with some certainty that at any given moment I am probably feeling more anxiety than most people ever will.
If I ever try to bring this up, people will ask me, “Well, what are you stressed out about?” or “Why do you care so much?” But that’s the catch. Anxiety is not stress. Stress is related to an incident, to a workload, a fight, or a looming deadline. It comes and goes and you can usually look at it and say, “I am feeling stressed because X.” Anxiety, on the other hand, is just a lens through which you see your life. Or at least the lens through which I see my life; a lens that brings that “something is WRONG” feeling into everything I do. It’s an infuriating, helpless feeling, and if you see your life through the Anxiety lens, adding stress on top can be an overwhelming combo. Now, this morning’s event was an something with a beginning and, eventually, an end. It is not an indefinite thing. But it is these types of episodes, things that a normal person might dwell on but which absolutely push me over the edge into borderline mental breakdown, that make me realize that the real problem is that my anxiety is so high on a daily basis, that it can feel like if anything else happens, I won’t be able to cope. And it doesn’t even have to be big things. Unheard voicemails from relatives, the phrase “Tax Season,” hearing my family already start piping in their opinions about my desire to have a January wedding… any of these things have the ability to push me over the edge. Who knew.
So why am I writing about this now? Because over the past few weeks I have really started to think more about my health in terms of everything being part of a greater whole, instead of just having each piece in its place. My body is healthier than it has ever been, but I can’t just say that I eat well and exercise and therefore am healthy, if mentally and emotionally I am on the brink of a freak out at any moment. And though CrossFit and taking care of my diet have both improved my ability to cope with anxiety, I don’t deserve to live a life full of daily heart rate spikes, indigestion, teeth grinding (despite my really attractive plastic mouthguard, which I lovingly refer to as my merthgerd… go on, say it…), jaw clenching, and all the other fun things that come along with the Anxiety Lens.
So what now? What can I do about it? Honestly, after 15 years of feeling this every day, I still have no idea. But I think that finally I am ready to start trying to figure that out. Which is a pretty big deal for someone who can have a hard time listening to a voicemail from her grandmother.