Living With Anxiety

Because I have anxiety, a lot of my time is spent managing fear responses. Fear is at the root of anxiety, and when you've got generalized anxiety, you find that you are afraid much more than your peers during your day to day existence. Being afraid is uncomfortable, but deescalating your responses to fear is downright exhausting. I always think people can see it when they look at me. What's actually pretty shocking, though, is that most people would never know that I have clinical anxiety. Despite the battles that rage in my head, I usually appear calm and pleasant on the outside. People very close to me know my tells, but for the most part, I carry this burden silently. I actually hid it from myself for a long time.

Actually, I didn't know until I was 34 years old that I had anxiety, at all. I knew I was sort of high strung, but not that I was caught up in a cycle of fear and poor coping mechanisms. I've always been what I would call fearful, or nervous. I would fear failure or appearing inferior so it forced me to be a high achiever. I would fear my kids getting sick so I would clean the house top to bottom each day. I would fear getting fat so I would work out like a fiend even when sick or run down. I know now that what I had was high functioning anxiety; instead of shutting me down, it pushed me to function at a super-human level. I actually took pride in my achievements, not knowing they were a symptom of a condition that would start to take its toll.

I often ask myself "how can you be blind to something that dictates your life?"  I know now that I just didn't realize how much it consumed me mind, body, and soul. I only began to realize I was different when I got married and had kids. Comparing my own responses in situations to those around me was one of the light bulb factors for me in realizing I wasn't "normal." My husband and I would joke about just how afraid I was of everything. My nickname became Psyduck, after the Pokemon who's head explodes when he gets too afraid, lol. It was a term of endearment from a man who knows that, for me, humor is an antidote to anxiety. I look back now with the clarity that only hindsight can create, and see that very ncikname as the very reddest of flags. 

The warnings were all there, but I didn't know what to look for. I've read that "when you're living in water, you don't know you're wet" and it's honestly the best description of my experience. Perhaps another analogy would be living your life in a mine field. You're always at a heightened state of alarm, but you get familiar enough with the layout of the mines to avoid an explosion most of the time. It's not pleasant, but is doable...for a while. 

Until I was blindsided by the accumulation of a lifetime of untreated anxiety last year, I managed to not just function, but enjoy life. Like I said, I am not someone people would peg as anxious, unless they really know me. My laugh is always the loudest in the room. I only spent time succumbing to my fears behind closed doors when I could let out that breath I always held in private. That is until I had a very messy and very transparent date with the devil last year when panic started oozing from my pores for months on end. The cat, was as they say,  out of the bag at that point. I could no longer deny my nature, even though I had for years.

I will say that having children was really hard for me, and I sort of recognized that something was off although I was too ashamed to address it. It was not the responsibility or the logistics of parenting that hit me, but the sheer terror of having a small being that you love so completely come into the cruelness of the world. I was not prepared for the amount of worry I'd experience on behalf of my children; I'm still not, nearly twelve years in. Naturally, the universe would bestow upon me a child with severe risk for anaphylaxis and a battle with asthma and eczema that brings me to my knees. I tell myself that it is because of my anxiety for his well-being that he has been well cared and advocated for but, I digress. Brene Brown says that the ultimate vulnerability is to love someone other than yourself. To love a child is to be absolutely vulnerable, and that is really, really difficult for someone who is already low on defense mechanisms. 

After a lot of introspection and honesty, I can admit admit that I am anxious most of the time. It is always there at a low level, but gets exacerbated by seemingly innocuous occurrences throughout the day. A prime example is when my son mentioned to me the other day that his legs were a little sore. My husband proposed growing pains, which was correct. My immediate internal reaction was much more dire, thinking of leukemia and all the horrors associated with it. I really had to take some deep breaths and convince myself that he was fine and the world was not unraveling before I could engage in rational parental discussion. I feel embarrassed revealing that darkness to the world, but it hammers home the reality of how the anxious mind can hijack the mundane and drive it right into madness.

As I learn how to live with anxiety, I'm trying to be more open about my trials. Admitting there is a problem prevents me from denying the existence of one. Denial is something that I've used throughout life to pretend I was fine even when there was a tsunami building just off the horizon. I'm trying to convince myself that being anxious does not make me weak, but actually much stronger for having to pull myself up day in and day out. I live under the constant threat of fear, and yet...I live. I'm trying to own the part of me that I never wanted. I'm trying to be me, authentically, even if I am a Psyduck. 


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