Anxiety. A topic I’ve definitely written about, but never really on a personal level. I’ve written about it to defend others. I’ve written about it to defend it as an actual illness, but I’ve never publicly written about how it affects me.
If you know me, like at all, it will probably come as zero shock to you that I struggle with anxiety. I mentioned it here briefly once, that my particular brand of anxiousness ebbs and flows, and has peaks and valleys. While it is basically the only tried and true constant in my life, it is not always the weight of the world on my shoulders. Unfortunately though, when it rains, it pours, and sometimes this anxiety can be crippling.
A little back story here is that I’ve had the option to take medication for anxiety since I was about sixteen, after a particularly brutal summer and literally zero life events to pin the blame on. (But I can remember very real panic rising in my chest on occasion for as long as I can remember.) I can transparently tell you that this option to take medication was an option that I have never abused. That bottle has sat in a medicine cabinet for over a decade and I went through periods of time where it was incredibly necessary, lengths of time where it was used occasionally in moments of dire need, and waves when the bottle grew dusty on the shelf it sat. I’ve had two wonderful doctors in my lifetime who have taken great care of my mind and body, and for that I am incredibly grateful.
Recently, after a very long season of calm in my life, I decided it was time to give up that option, cold turkey. I’ve really never been addicted to anything… outside of television, Youtube, and Oreos….. and the transition to being off of anxiety medication was pretty smooth. (Outside of sleep. My goodness, I never sleep. I have not slept without the aid of medication in maybe like, my entire life. Zzzquil is no miracle worker, but I guess it’ll have to do.) I had successfully been anxiety med free for about 8 months until a few nights ago.
**Disclaimer: what’s to follow is real, and vulnerable. It’s not earth shattering or anything you’ve never heard before. But, if someone you love struggles with anxiety or depression and you cannot seem to understand or be supportive, I hope that you take something away from this. Sometimes the scariest part of anxiety is being trapped alone in your mind because the negative response from your loved ones is kind of unbearable.
**2nd Disclaimer: If you can relate to any of the below, I’m sorry, and you’re not alone. Sometimes all it takes is an ear to listen or a shoulder to lean on. Or someone who owns every season of Community on DVD. What I’m saying is, I got you.
Something I don’t think that people realize is that literally everyone has anxiety. Everyone has worries and fears. No one’s life is perfectly carefree. I think what distinguishes ‘anxious people’ from everyone else is how their brains process worry. For example, if someone says something backhanded to my husband, he bitches about it one time, and is back to his regularly scheduled life after about two minutes. Me in that same scenario, I would hold that grudge for a lifetime, analyze the words for every waking hour of the next few days, waking hours would increase because I’d lose sleep over it… and you get where I’m headed with this.
A snapshot of how anxiety affects my daily life: While going to work, social outings, etc. doesn’t actively make me feel stressed, it physically exhausts me to remain composed all day. I have the most difficult time comprehending how people do volunteer activities, go to the gym, hang out with friends after work, and so on because when I get home from work I am literally dead on my feet from ‘keeping it together’ all day. I feel this way after parties and really in every situation that I can’t just let every morbid thought that crosses my mind consume me. This is a feeling that unfortunately millions of people can relate to.
Sometimes when I hit a bump in the road, mental health wise, I am blindsided. Sometimes I’ll have been perfectly happy a mere 24 hours earlier, only to fall into a 3 week slump for no reason at all. This slump however, I saw coming on. 2017 has been kind of a difficult year with a lot going on, and despite my best efforts to stop it, the anxiety train was headed full speed ahead at me and there was nothing I could do. It’s like an out of body experience, watching your thought processes spin wildly off kilter as the laws of rationality are suddenly out of your reach. All of these words and situations, and frankly, nothingness, came to an epic bubbling over as I sat parked in front of a stranger’s home in Nowhere, Kentucky, hyperventilating so violently that I had lost peripheral vision and was moments from fainting. A part of me says, that is crazy, you are crazy. But, I’m not, and neither are you if you’ve ever felt the same.
So yeah, it happened. It hit me like a freight train, the same one that’s hit me head on time and time again for as long as I can remember. But, don’t lose hope. The older I get, the more I learn about how to cope with this struggle. Crazily enough, over the years, this panic has fostered some art that I’m proud of, an openness that is out of character for me, and some really special relationships. These days, I feel better equipped to handle my fears, to push through the occasional darkness, and to lean on people who have definitely put in the work to understand and support me. Thank you, so so much, for being there.
To end this, I want you to know that I’m on the up and up. Realizing that I’ve been in a slump is the starting point to doing something about it. If you’re also struggling, that struggle is temporary. Everyone is different, so try and figure out what best snaps you out of it. Maybe it’s talking to someone: a parent, a friend, a partner… a doctor or counselor. Maybe it’s exercise or reading. Maybe it’s eating healthy or spending more time in social settings. Maybe it’s medicine for a little while, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Maybe, plain and simple, it’s taking some time for yourself, to heal, recuperate, and build defenses against what are often just our own demons. Whatever it is, I have faith that you’ll emerge on the other side, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to face life head on.
xoxo Leigh Ann