Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Interesting Thing About Anxiety

Meet Obi, my therapy cat. 

My friend John has been writing a blog post a day for the new year. I admire his ability to write something short, pithy and with a moment of illumination. My writing is overwrought and overlong. I back into stories. I do this thing that I'm doing right now.

I wish I could be concise. I wish I could keep it light with a deft touch of wisdom. Hell, I'd even settle for something funny. But when I sit down to write, nothing funny enters my head these days. The only stuff that comes to mind is the tough stuff.

Maybe that means I should just go ahead and write about the tough stuff?

I've been in and out of therapy since I was 14 years old. For the majority of that time, I've worked on what I've perceived as my "heavy duty" issues. Things like depression, suicidal ideation, self-mutilation, an eating disorder. You know. The big guns of mental illness.

But mostly, as an adult, I've conquered or at least learned to manage those issues. The long-term depression is mostly a thing of the past, thanks to therapy and medication. (Yay! Science!) It's only very recently that I've begun to look at anxiety.

Isn't that odd?

Anxiety was never really at the forefront of my mind. Believe me, it's been running in the background   like so many of the apps on my iPhone. But it didn't seem like a life-or-death situation. Hell, it even seemed kind of useful at times.

Anxiety drove me to overachieve. Anxiety drove me to get shit done. Anxiety made my house really, really clean. Hell, anxiety kept me pretty slim, most of the time. What's not to like about a little low-grade anxiety? Keeps you on your toes!

It turns out that's not exactly true.

Maybe I've been avoiding looking at my anxiety because it scares me? What lies behind that anxiety? What causes it? As much as I describe it as an app constantly running in the background of my mind, what I fail to mention is that the app is run by a bunch of Russian hackers and they're stealing all my financial information.

What's even more interesting about dealing with anxiety head on, is that the more I talk about anxiety in therapy, the more anxious I become. Oh Irony, thy name is Psychoanalysis. Lots of people would tell me to just stop talking about it and then everything would be fine.

But the truth is, I'm not fine.

Anxiety causes a lot of panic in my life. I'm sure it's shortening my life by years if not decades. I'll probably drop dead of a heart attack or get stomach cancer because of all the worrying and stressing I do about every little thing. And my body carries the physical symptoms of anxiety. Headaches. Constant neck and shoulder pain. Stomach pains. It's not good.

Living with anxiety is like stepping on the gas pedal of your car while it's still in park. My engine revs, if not screams, at times. But nothing moves. You may not even know I'm so ramped up because my outer appearance is still set to "Park."

But inside I'm burning my motor out.

So I'm talking about it. I'm talking about why I'm so anxious. Why I panic. Why seemingly minor things cause me to freak out as if my world is about to end. It's not comfortable. I don't like any of it. And talking about it is temporarily making the symptoms worse.

That's how it is sometimes. Sometimes you have to get worse before you get better. Maybe that's why so many of us never get better?

It's not easy to walk through the fire. But I have faith that there is peace on the other side. And I also have faith that I'm strong enough to get to the other side. And that, my friends, is quite something. At least for a kid who didn't think anything would ever get better and that no one would ever come to rescue her.

Turns out, I can save myself. And I'm getting kind of good at it.


  1. Oh My Goodness. This is so me. You described my brain activity completely. I don't know if I could have every described it as well as you did. Anxiety is my oldest and dearest, and most reliable friend. And I hate her. But I need her. I don't know how to operate without her.

    This last year I have had things going on that normal non-anxiety brains would have a hard time dealing with... so mine is just in absolute overload. It's making me tired all the time, and I can't keep weight on. I sleep but never feel rested, and my back and neck have exactly one million microscopic knots in them.

    I need changes. I need to do the work that you are doing. It's becoming so clear to me that I can't go on like this forever.

    Thanks for reminding me today that we are all capable of saving ourselves, and really the only one's qualified for the job.

    1. I have no doubt that you are capable. You are one rough cookie.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Mandy. I don't think your writing is overlong or overwrought — it's usually the length it needs to be, which is the essence of concision. Some things just take a while to say.
    Now I got to go write the post I told myself I wouldn't write.

    1. You're nice.

      And I'll go check out that new blog post.

  3. Your writing is perfect. Every time. And that's simply because it always seems to come from the heart. I'm working on that darn anxiety, too. I think I was so often in survival mode growing up that I didn't have time to even fully register my anxiety. I had justified anxiety, full on survival mode, moment of relief mode, and crash---depression. However, now that my life is more in my control (which is actually really scary when you have kids and are responsible for them, too), I've been struggling terribly with anxiety. I have been trying something new the last month or so though, and I think it's helping. My anxiety actually has an ebb and a flow to it. It seems to peak mid-morning and evening. So those are now the times when I try to get a bit of exercise to rewire my thinking. 20 minutes or more of rhythmic, mindless, preferably boring movement just helps me to manage it better before my anxiety fully turns on. It's taken me a long time to learn that I do better when I work to counteract my anxiety immediately rather than to wait it out or to try to work around it. Of course, I have a schedule which allows for that right now. When that changes next year, I don't know what I'll do. But I imagine I'll come looking to you for some good reflective writing and thoughts. As always, thank you!

    1. What a nice thing to say!

      I feel the same way about exercise and rhythmic movements.

  4. I remember when I got my first ulcer at 18 my grandmother saying over the Thanksgiving dinner table that I was, 'too young to have an ulcer,' Well gee then I guess I'll stop having an ulcer then! I know where my anxiety comes from: childhood poverty, abuse and fears of returning to a helpless state like when I was 0 to 7 years old. So anytime I can't affect change on a situation, can't control the circumstances and can't fix something / everything (traffic, my fiancé's long term unemployment, my degrading muscle health, etc.) it harkens me back to being helpless and being hurt. When someone should have been protecting me. So now I think I have to never relax, always be vigilant because nobody will protect me but me.

  5. Those are some very familiar themes to me. I definitely freak out any time I feel under attack, out of control or helpless. It's quite overwhelming.

  6. Depression made me not care, an eating disorder made me lose weight, but anxiety made me throw up, cry, avoid, hide, feel guilty, hate myself, and wash, repeat. Thank you again for your validation

  7. Your writing is spot-on, It's readable, understandable and so much more. Thank you for sharing. Sincerely, Richard O.usa

  8. My youngest sister suffers from anxiety. It's really difficult for me to understand what she experiences but every time I read one of your posts about it, it significantly helps me "get it" to a small degree, which in turn, helps my relationship with her. I feel like I should probably send you a check in the mail for your time.

  9. I identify so much with everything in this post: The revving on the inside while outwardly appearing ok has led to so many awkward conversations since I've been more open about my anxiety recently. I was originally led to your blog via (thank goodness for her humor about anxiety)and my interest was piqued by your practice of Buddhism. Thich Nhat Hahn has been a huge influence in my coping strategies with anger, depression, and letting go. Anxiety is still the "least" dealt with of my super fun "background apps". Just curious if you have any recommendations from a practicing Buddhist's perspective on anxiety?
    Also: I love your writing, the validation you offer to me and others, your humor, therapy cat (I've got 2 at home and lucky enough to have a job with 2 more), and your addiction to Windex. Thanks for being so open.

  10. No joke, reading this post gave me anxiety. I could feel my heart beating faster... I come from a long line of nervous nellies on both sides of my lineage. I feel your pain. I look forward to reading how you break through. I've found (when I can crack at it) it's just a total mind game. But getting the mind to play the always easy.