It’s Mental Health Awareness month, and everyone’s talking about erasing the stigma.
Which is great, except for the fact that when I say things like, “Oh, I had postpartum depression” or “I have an anxiety disorder,” I can see the judgment. The look in a person’s eyes changes. Even if they don’t physically do it, I can sense the desire to back away from me. To not be near the tainted one.
Not everyone is like that. I have some really awesome friends. Friends who understand. Friends who understand that when I am having a meltdown over something, it’s not just that thing.
I, like over six million Americans, have generalized anxiety disorder. What does that mean? Well, basically it means that I live with anxiety and I’m never quite sure when it will show up. As defined by the lovely DSM, GAD is characterized by persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about everyday things. Sometimes I wake up feeling anxious. Sometimes it strikes right before bed and makes sleeping not super easy. Sometimes I am doing just fine and am all sunshine and rainbows and something will set it off.
But not everybody understands.
So, I’m about to do something that I don’t normally do, and I really don’t like to do.
I’m about to let you inside my head.
You see, I’m an over sharer, but I use it to my advantage. I post a lot on Facebook. I tell people a lot of things. Mostly because sometimes I think things are funny, and one of my greatest joys in life is to make people laugh.
But I control the flow of information. I don’t share things that I don’t want to.
And if I’m being real with you, my dear reader…I don’t want to share this.
But I’m going to, because I’m not the only person with an anxiety disorder.
This is what I was thinking earlier today:
“Okay, so I have to get Bug to school and then take Peanut and Sprout to Target and then we have to go to Trader Joe’s and the post office. Crap. It’s raining. It’s raining hard. And people are judging me because Peanut won’t wear his freaking boots and he HAS to wear his Star Wars Crocs, so we’re slogging in the rain and he’s getting wet and what if he gets sick and then he gets me sick and then my trip to Indiana next week gets all messed up?”
“Jon has to work late pretty much every day next week, meaning that I’m stuck putting them to bed by myself, and I hate doing that. It pretty much takes away from any time to myself that I’m going to get and I have so much to do. I have to get these bills paid. I have to make sure I answer all these emails and I get back to this writer and I still haven’t reviewed this book like I promised.”
And then yesterday, I wound up calling my husband near tears in Costco, because:
“Jon, I’m having a breakdown, because I looked and there’s still a stitch in his head! [My Peanut busted his head open a couple weeks back and had to get stitches] I already took him once and they told me that they took them all out but there is clearly a stitch in there and now I have to go back there and insist on them doing their job!” And I’m sitting there in tears because I needed to go to Costco and get stuff, but at that moment I had to leave and take Sprout and Peanut and drive them back to the Urgent Care and my afternoon was spent doing that instead of the shopping I needed to do, but again, could not. Also, I had already been back there once and they had said that there wasn’t a stitch left in. But there was.
Or even this:
“Crap. I have to call T-mobile and have them remotely activate my new phone. What if they give me flack for getting my phone from the Apple Store and not them? What if it doesn’t work? What if I have to wait THREE MORE WEEKS to get a new phone?”
People, I have anxiety about people judging me who work for T-mobile. Who I don’t know. Who I will never ever talk to ever again.
It’s not like this all the time. I function fairly well and manage to keep a pretty tight rein on it, especially when it comes to being around my kids. But it is like this sometimes. And I have no say in when it shows up.
I’ve spent the last few years trying to find ways to control it. Yoga has helped. Meditation has helped. Exercise and the support of the people who love me has helped. Right now I’m in therapy and we are working on new coping strategies for me. I’m not on medication, and I’m working with a therapist who understands that I don’t want to be on it right now–but it’s not something I’ve ruled out, because it may be that therapy isn’t enough. And that’s okay. I did take medicine during my bout with PPD because it was the right thing to do at the time, and if it’s right for me again, I will go that route.
One of the biggest things I’ve had to learn to do is to practice self-compassion. To give myself grace. But if you read this and take away nothing else from it, it’s that you need to understand that for someone with anxiety, something that seems like no big deal to you seems like the world to them. And it’s never just one thing. It’s always more.
I wish it were easy to make it go away. I know so many people think that I could be less anxious if I really tried. If I prayed more (do you have any idea how much I have prayed about this? Please, people), they think, it wouldn’t be so bad. If I did this. If I did that. Do you have any idea how hard it is to do things for yourself when you have anxiety? It can be paralyzing. I am only ever able to pull myself out of the worst episodes when I have to do stuff for my kids. They make me capable of more than anxiety would want me to believe. My love for them is the one thing that allows me to trump it. Perhaps perfect love does conquer all fear.
But that requires a somewhat Herculean effort, and often leaves me quite drained.
All I want–and all most people in this world want, really–is kindness. Love. Compassion. And I’m sharing this for two reasons, the first being I want people to know that they aren’t alone. That there are many ways to get through this.
And the second one is much more selfish. Writing has always been my main source of therapy, and I’m doing this for me just as much as I am the anxious reader who sees this and feels the sweet relief in the knowledge that they aren’t alone.
You aren’t alone, and I’m not, either.