Mid-week post! No notifications for this one, but please note that my week is busy and my regular Friday update will be happening on this Saturday (August 25).
Before jumping into the below slew of messy messiness spewed from my thought-maker (ie: brain), a brief intro to tell you the following post is just what the title says: Me, Myself and My Anxiety. The twist is that I had a bit of a breakthrough today and I'm happy about things so I'm sharing. If you're not interested, I'll see you on Saturday! If you are, thanks for reading! Hope the rest of your week goes well :)
Me, Myself, and My Anxiety
Anxiety ate my whole yesterday. Just ate it. I lost a whole day. Probably the day before that, too, but through the fog it’s hard to say for sure. I can certainly say that it was my whole day yesterday, though.
I’m what I’ve coined to be a Spiralling Anxious. I know lots of people who spiral out like I do, so it’s a generic term that fits really well for us. The spiral is the overthinking for how I go from being fine to being deeply depressed and angling into self-harm. For some of my friends, it’s a steep twisty-slide – like those metal tubes from old-timey playgrounds where you accelerate on the way down and there’s always a loose rivet that cuts your arm or leg on the way by. For me, it’s like a staircase and each new thought that feeds into the spiral is another step down and you don’t notice how far you’ve gone until you look back and see all those steps.
That’s the worst part: all those tidy steps of Why I Suck.
I mean, sure, a well-adjusted person can just shake their head and climb back up and the labels on each step can be discounted as momentary self-doubt and realistically untrue. But I’m not that well-adjusted. I can fake it, don’t get me wrong, I can be really high functioning when I need to be, but faking it sure ain’t the same as actually shaking it off.
If you don’t have anxiety, then I guess the steps can be likened to sadness, or even falling in love. Each small thing that accumulates until – in sadness – you cry because your heart broke a little and it’s just filling your mind with the aching of it, or – in love – you have an accumulation of small things that got you to this place where a pet, person, or thing is just that perfect thing for you and fills your whole heart. Anxiety spirals are like that. They consume whole parts of you one piece at a time: mind, heart… sometimes it even feels like your soul is devoured by the fear.
And that’s what it is: Fear. Plain, old, and simple fear. That same fear that is completely, socially acceptable when there’s a phobia tag on it, but is somehow perverted to a brain delinquency when called anxiety. It’s the same fear as that of heights, spiders, and speaking in public. A panic attack is identical to that person on the Eiffel Tower who’s gripping the hand railing and sweating, their skin drained of healthy tones as they gasp for breath and their friends and family pull them back from the terrifying edge. The difference is that people outside my head can’t see what it is that’s terrifying for me.
A large majority of people in the world hate speaking in public, so I’ll use that as an example. Being up on stage and staring out at rows and rows of attentive – if slightly bored – listeners, or maybe even standing up to speak at a work meeting when surrounded by peers and colleagues that you respect but feel you need to disagree with. Public speaking is, for most people, hand-sweatingly terrifying. Social anxiety for me is feeling that looked-at pressure whenever I answer a phone or have to speak to a teller at a store. I’ve spoken in front of crowds of over one hundred people during work conferences, played concerts in high school band for crowds close to one thousand people, and the fear for me in front of those crowds is identical in strength to speaking with a store worker when I need to ask for the location of an item I need to buy. Because of this, I basically assume I don’t have a fear of speaking in public because it’s the same as talking to any stranger, and that’s a fear I can usually get over.
The rest of my anxiety is – of course – not so cut and dry simple. There are the panic attacks that struck in the middle of Costco or a Mall and my husband holding my hand to lead me out with my eyes closed (sensory over-stimulation during times of high stress). There are the imaginary predictions of how a conversation will go badly and make me look stupid to someone I respect and that feeling stops me from making work related phone calls until such a call becomes an necessary priority (of the uncountable times this has happened, I can count the number of times I actually looked stupid on one hand). And then there’s the ongoing, internal dialogue provided by a childhood and adult life surrounded by key people to my development and well-being who themselves had narcissistic personalities and adored my easy-to-manipulate codependency (all of the negative people have now been replaced by a circle of honestly good and well-intentioned people in the past few years).
Basically, I’m a loosely woven basket that was told to carry water and believed when too many people I cared about told me that it was my fault that the water drained out. It turns out that I’m actually a strainer. The qualities that I was ridiculed for are large parts of what make me, well, me. Knowing that doesn’t mean I don’t easily fall into berating myself for not being a better basket because all the other baskets around me could hold more water than I could…
Notice how I said “other” baskets and “more” water? Everyone around me, at any time in my life, still leaked water because we were all baskets. Sure there are pails out there and man are they awesome to strainers-forced-to-be-baskets like me, but their water only spills when it overflows or they get knocked over. Strainers like me can’t be water-carrying baskets and we can’t be pails. I still get a knot in my stomach from that drilled-in speech of “you can be whatever you want if you believe in yourself” crap from elementary school. Do you know what people without any legs at all can’t do? Walk. Do you know what people with no legs can do, and I have seen someone do? Balance on one hand on a rail of their weighted wheelchair to extend their reach up to a high shelf in a grocery store that I can’t reach, and pause to balance half way down to read the label. The “be whatever you believe you can be” says that, with hard work, I can balance and lift myself like that, too. Reality says I have chronic pain disorders in both arms and a degenerative spine and even attempting to train for being able to do a full set of twenty push ups will cause me permanent damage that will mean the rest of my life will be spent with someone else dressing and feeding me while my hands dangle uselessly at the ends of my arms.
In this scenario, my anxiety from the abusive internal dialogue says that my reality reasons are an excuse and I’m weak, pathetic, and a failure. Then my anxiety from imaginary predictions says that anyone I tell about being scared that I won’t ever be able to balance on one hand will reinforce that I’m weak, pathetic, and a failure, and they’ll remind me of that time – one of numerous times, they’ll chortle – that I failed because I’m a failure. And now, at this point where these thoughts of failing at balancing on one hand because I’ll never be good enough to balance on one hand are spiraling on top of needing to Be A Good Mom – No Not Like That, and Be A Good Worker – No Not Like That, and Work/Life Balance Means You Must Work More To Afford A Life, and The House Needs Cleaning, and, and, and… this is where large crowds and loud kids and overwhelming rows upon rows of endless shelving become a nightmare of hand-sweating panic. Only I’m not on the Eiffel Tower, clinging to a railing as I stare down from body-splattering heights, I’m at Costco getting groceries with my husband and kids. And people are staring because my oldest is asking me if I’m okay and holding my hand as I try not to cry because People Are Staring And That Means I Am Bad. Which is where the abusive internal dialogue loops back to start the next flight of stairs on the spiral down because I’m bad because I’m a weak and pathetic failure…
Anxiety is fear, wrapped up in and triggered by complex emotions and external stimulations to those emotions. I can’t pass it off as less than any other phobias that are out there. It’s not rational, it’s not “all in my head” because there are external forces acting that created and curated it, and it’s not something that can be controlled with the catch-all treatments for misunderstood brain workings of positive thinking and regular physical activity. I have fears of spiders and of climbing on free-standing ladders, but those get the label of a “phobia” and most strangers will gladly and openly discuss those fears with me. My fear / anxiety is labeled as a mental issue, or a disease. It’s not a disease for me. I’m simply scared.
Yesterday (and maybe the day before) got eaten by my fear / anxiety even though I was happy and things were going okay. I tripped on one thought and stumbled down the first few stairs and before I knew it I was looking up at all those steps labeled neatly with all the reasons for Why I Suck. I did all the things that I could to combat the labels and to start rubbing them off with my sleeve: I played with my kids and did some writing and editing. I was still scared after that, so I called a friend I trust and we chatted for a bit (her anxiety is eating her days, too, but she’s also got an inky sleeve to prove she’s fighting back as much as she can). I was still scared after that, but – as she usually can because she’s outside my spiral – my friend pointed at the thing that I’d initially tripped on. It’s something I trip on a lot and it’s hard for me to look at so I don’t talk about it much. I was still scared after that, so the kids and I did some cleaning and I did some cooking and I texted with my husband who’s out of town for work right now and then it was bed time. I was still scared, so I stayed up and did some knitting to try and calm myself, or at least exhaust myself.
I woke up before my alarms this morning and I was still scared, but at some point my youngest had climbed into bed with me and she was sleeping restlessly. She was having bad dreams and she was scared, too. So, I turned off my alarms and I stayed in bed with her in spite of having work to do because she needed me to be A Good Mom, and this morning that meant ensuring she was safe. I woke up a couple of hours later and cuddled with my youngest to calm down her bad dreams again, and then my oldest – who gets scared of dark rooms at night and was having an extra scared night last night so I made certain to give her extra reassurance before bed – came in and told me about her dream where we adopted a cat with the softest fur and who could talk like a person and she was still so in love with this kitty even after waking up and wasn’t that just the best dream ever? They weren’t scared anymore.
That thought that I trip on a lot, the one that makes me scared and is the first step in my spiral? It’s actually labeled I Suck. All the other steps down are supporting arguments to that top step. I trip on that top step a lot because it was lovingly carved out by selfish hands during my childhood to ensure I knew I was Not A Good Enough Basket, and then engraved as fact during my teen and adult years because being a strainer was the definition of Not A Good Enough Basket. I can’t use my sleeve to erase that label. My anxiety, my fear – my phobia – is that I’m only me, and that me sucks.
I cried this morning when I realized that this is my anxiety. That I suck. That I will fail at everything, and people I love will suffer because of me being so shitty. I’m too codependent to ever be worth anything by myself. Add a bunch of regular life stress and pressure on top of that and it’s no wonder that over my lifetime I’ve habitually fallen into self-harm habits and black spirals down into situational depressions lasting months (or that one time, years). And it explains why adding extraordinary situations onto regular stress and pressure – as in loved ones dying – compound into panic attacks and dread at small tasks; because face it, when I’m well aware of how much I suck the stops in productivity caused by gaping emotional wounds and the grieving cycle aren’t welcome additions.
This morning I did cry, but I didn’t cry because I suck. I cried because for the first time ever I have a vocabulary of why I’m scared. I have a spider to point at, or a height to stay back from, or a crowd to speak in front of. I am currently surrounded by a caring, loving, amazing group of people who have lists of Why I Don’t Suck and who will help me when I’m scared. Even the ones who don’t understand, who don’t have the fear / anxiety, they ask about what’s going on in my head out of curiosity and a desire to understand so they can help me when the fear / anxiety is too much to handle alone. Reaching out – for the first time – actually makes sense to me, and I get it – I really, actually get it – that people believe in me and, to them, I don’t suck. I’m a codependent, that’s just part of who I am and it’s not something I can change about my hard wiring, and knowing that there is a core group of people who know that I – me, myself, and my anxiety – don’t suck is a fucking huge breakthrough for me.
I cried this morning because my anxiety has a name, and because being codependent and having a core group of people who know I don’t suck means I can trust in them that I don’t suck. I will always be afraid that I suck, the same as I will always freak out because of a spider or get that shaky feeling in my stomach when I have to climb a step ladder, but being afraid that I suck doesn’t have to mean that I actually do suck. I can be over here, my good enough strainer self, and be happy for all the baskets out there doing their basket thing. I don’t have to believe I suck because I’m not a good basket, what I need to be doing is working on being a better strainer. That’s what I am, and I’m good at it. I can be scared and still get things done because I can be brave, too. For the days that get swallowed up by my anxiety, those are okay. The same as I tell my kids, it really is all right to be scared. Even brave heroes in story books have days where they just scrape through the daily grind of living, and those heroes usually have people who believe in them… just like I do. I don’t have to save the world, but I have a couple kids that need a mom, some books that need to be written, and a husband that loves me.
I can have anxiety and be scared of failing, just like I’m scared of other stuff. This fear can be just like I’m scared of other stuff. My fear of failing at being me can really be the same as my other fears, because I can give my phobia a name: isuckfaillia. I weeded my garden yesterday and had a spider crawling on my arm, and the day before I walked into a web with my face and bare arm because a spider had spun it across the door into our garage. I didn’t have a melt-down either time.
I’m still scared and I still have anxiety. I probably always will. Isuckfaillia is a bad phobia to have. But, if I can brush a spider off my arm without flailing and screaming like I did when I was younger, then I can get better at dealing with this fear too, especially now that it has a name. This will take years to get better at, and I’ll have to be brave more than I’m comfortable with right now, but discomfort is usually growth. Growth is needed if I’m going to brave past this newly-labeled but old fear. One thing I am good at is being brave. I have the ink-stains on my sleeves to prove it.
A weekly blog updating on Saturdays with quick personal blurbs about me, as in what's going on during my life as an Author and mom, and that doles out my short stories and novellas in bite-sized parts for everyone to read for free!