I feel like I want to sit the world down sometimes and explain to them what it's like to live with anxiety.
I feel sometimes like I need to sit people I know in real life down and do the same thing.
It gets especially bad when well-intentioned people start to give anxiety-ridden people like me advice about how to overcome this affliction I have and have always had. Meaning well is awesome, really and truly, but there are a lot of times that words spoken (or written in this online age) don't actually help, and can actually make things worse.
I've always had anxiety issues. I've always been a worrier, for as long as I've lived. For most of my life I vacillated between thinking there was something totally wrong with me and believing that it was normal to over think things to this extreme. Then I grew up and realized that there really was something wrong with me, that this isn't normal at all and that as much as it is useful at times, it is damaging all the rest.
There are definitely times that being overly analytic by nature comes in handy, don't get me wrong. I can do research like a librarian that never steps foot out of the building. I can formulate intricate arguments on just about any issue, bringing up the nuances that most people wouldn't even consider. I can write complex posts on serious issues without even editing them once.
Then there are all the other times.
Like at 2am when I literally can't shut my brain off, and every single concern that I ever have flies by a million miles a minute.
Like this morning when I was dreading my doctor's appointment. This particular version of anxiety is well-founded and based unfortunately in reality. When you've walked into a totally normal appointment and found out that something is very wrong, later being told that your baby has died and neither you nor your body had figured it out...you worry. That worry doesn't go away with the next pregnancy or the next or the next. It lingers. It fades almost completely after a good visit with a strong heartbeat tracing, then it starts to creep back in, a little more every single day until it is all you can think about in the moments before you walk into the office for the next appointment.
Like when I was told that my appointment was actually scheduled for tomorrow, not today, and all that worrying and waiting would have to be extended for another 24 hours for no particular reason other than some awful miscommunication that doesn't actually affect anyone but the voices inside my head.
Like then. Like right now.
I've unfortunately passed this on to one of my kids, who tests high across the board for generalized anxiety as well as every.single.subtype.
I don't want them to be like me. Not about this anyway.
People like me have a hard time functioning at times. This anxiety goes so far beyond normal worry, normal stress. It takes your sleep, it takes your ability to think rationally at times. It makes you imagine every possible scenario then play them out entirely in your head just so that you can work through what might happen if it ever happens, except that most of it never ever happens.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to not have a place where you actually feel like you can just relax? That there is no place where you can just release all those thoughts? That there is no way to ever unburden yourself from all this stuff that you carry around, shoved into pockets, tucked away from the light because you don't want anyone to see it, and so you cram it down even more?
When I say that my anxieties have anxieties, it's not actually a joke.
I'm sure that some of you out there understand. I know because some of you have reached out to me about it in the past, and I'm sure that some more of you will do it now.
I'm sure that some of you have heard the same things I have heard, and that you've probably done the very best you can to be gracious and take the advice of the well meaning people who don't understand.
I'm sure of it. I'm sure you have heard all these things:
- Have faith.
- Pray. It all happens for a reason.
- Stop worrying so much.
- Don't give in to fear.
- Everything will be fine.
- Life's too short to worry.
I know that I have. All those and more. Most of them just today, in fact, because I am worried about this appointment that I was supposed to have and still haven't had and I am worried because I know that while everything probably will be fine that it isn't always. These fears in my head aren't irrational ones this time, they are based in reality. My reality.
I know that those who say these things are trying their best to help. I know this, and so I do my very best to be gracious.
I thought it might be helpful though to recommend some alternatives, some things that people could say to someone with anxiety that might be more helpful.
- Breathe. Focus on this moment. Tell me what is going well right now. (this is HUGE)
- Stay positive.
- Your fears are legitimate. Let's talk about it.
- I'm sorry that happened in the past.
- I understand.
- I don't understand, but I'm here to support you however you need it.
- Do you need a hug/shoulder/tissue/chocolate/coffee/whatever?
- Can we go for a walk, get outside? (sunlight exposure helps me tremendously)
Anxiety, post partum depression, PTSD...all things I have dealt with in the past or live with every day. Things that people around you are dealing with right now. Things that you may have to contend with on a daily basis.
They are not things we choose. They are not conditions we want to deal with. They are not things we can just wish away or ignore or shut our eyes to. They are real. They are as much a part of us as any physical diagnosis ever could be.
We wouldn't tell a diabetic to just get over it. We wouldn't tell a cancer patient that they just needed to adjust their attitude. We wouldn't tell a person with a broken leg to have faith that it will get better.
And yet, our society does it all the time with these other conditions. The ones I write about here today.
It's not easy, writing about these pieces of me, but I do it anyway. I do it in the hope that someone out there might read this and know they aren't alone. I do it in the hope that someone out there who loves someone like me might read it and understand a little bit better.
I do it because the voices inside my head only get louder if I try to ignore them, and because I won't let them win.
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