It sometimes reminds me of a spring or summer storm. There is always a gray darkness to it, sometimes almost black or sometimes a scary tornado-is-coming yellow. Some days it is steady and dull and constant; others it comes in fast and furious with beating heart and cold hands. It can be expected, like an accurate forecast; or it can spring up out of nowhere, like a cloud burst in a sky that was blue only moments ago.
Regardless of the form it happens to take, I recognize anxiety when it appears. I’ve spent more years of my life fighting it, managing it, learning to live with it, and struggling to accept it, than I have spent years without it. It took time and maturity and counseling and life to teach me what this thing inside me was. I’ve called it a weakness, a monster, a strength; but really it is all of those things, and it is mostly just me. These days, I feel like I have come to an agreement and a way of life with it. I have stretches of time where it is quiet, and I have times where it is wild and overpowering. But I no longer lose the other parts of myself in it.
There are aspects of my anxiety that have been there for as long as I can remember. Parties and crowds have always made me nervous, often in a way I couldn’t figure out. And because I couldn’t understand it, I simply ended up being disappointed in event after event, wondering why it didn’t seem as fun as I had thought it would be. I have always worried about a million things, big and small. The worst case scenario for every situation has always been calculated in my head. I have always felt things so deeply I sometimes feel like I am drowning in my own emotion.
While some triggers have been with me my whole life, some have developed only recently. My discomfort with small talk gets worse as I age. The last few years I have developed a panic when faced with talking on the phone. Some have just intensified as the years pass. The anxiety caused by crowds and people being in my space has increased since having kids. My need for quiet and solitude has grown.
While the list of what causes my anxiety seems to grow, at least my list of strategies to deal with it seems to become fine tuned. I have learned to abandon the strategies that no longer work. I have discovered how to search for ones that do. I have learned when to try what.
I sometimes use meds, and I’ve learned to be ok with that. I prefer something I can take “as needed,” as opposed to a daily dose. At times I have had to concede on that, since anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. While I have often gone years without having the anxiety and depression team up together, the times when they do I sometimes need some help to quiet them.
I have learned to remind myself the anxiety is not real. Just like Tris, from Divergent, who was aware it was only a simulation, and not real. I have learned to tell myself the panic is not real when I am in the middle of it. I have learned to force myself to breathe deep and slow, even though my brain is telling me I can’t. In this realization, I find power. Knowing I am taking responsibility for creating my own calm, gives me the strength I need to see the changes I have to make, or the heart to step back from some relationships, or the courage to simply ride out the storm.
I am learning how to find my calm. How to quiet the storm. I snuggle my kids, and my cats, and my dog. I close my eyes, and I breathe deeply. I write, sometimes what I’m feeling, and other times something completely unrelated to get my focus away from the anxiety. Sometimes just finding words is enough to push it back. And I continue to search, and discover, and learn how to exist with this storm.
Reading my friend Tamara’s thoughts about and experiences with anxiety, inspired me and gave me the courage to write about it myself. Please take a moment to click over to her site, and read her beautiful words about this struggle.