(This is a completely unedited stream-of-conscious recording of a few minutes in a day with anxiety. Everyone’s experience of anxiety will be different, but I hope this gives you some idea of what living with anxiety can be like.)
The anxiety is moderate today. I can do what has to be done, but it’s hard. Any moment I’m not focused on something the fear comes back. I once read someone describe anxiety as “you know that feeling you get when your trip and you know yuo’re about to fall? It’s like that but all the time.” That’s not my anxiety. but like depression, everyone’s anxiety is different. My anxiety is like the constant feeling you’ve forgotten something. The sense that the other shoe is about to drop. The roiling nausea of knowing that your whole grade rides on this test and you forgot to study. It has me constantly looking over my shoulder, hunching in, seeking to protect myself from the horror that is always just about to hit.
I’m lucky in my anxiety. My anxiety is usually mild, sometimes bad like today. But my bad days almost never get past “moderate” anxiety. I’m not trapped in my home because meeting a stranger in the hall will trigger a panic attack. I can think clearly enough to know that the fears bombarding me are my illness and not in any way real.
“Breathe” I tell myself. A dozen times a minute, “breathe. Keep breathing.” It’s easier if I can hide. A computer game, a book, an interesting discussion, someone else’s problems. Anything to let me hide from the anxiety and not be aware of it for a while. But hiding is dangerous. I can get trapped in it. Stuck in a book and not able to come out because my mind knows that when I stop reading the anxiety will be waiting, so I can’t put the book down, can’t stop reading, and I don’t enjoy the book, I race through it, flipping pages like cards, trying to read fast enough, to distract myself enough, to push aside the looming cloud of anxiety waiting to ambush me the moment my distraction falters.
I’m nauseas now writing this. Thinking about the anxiety, being with the anxiety, and it grows to overwhelming and my gorge rises until I’m so focused on the nausea that the anxiety is…less of an issue.
Michael and our son running around the apartment and I want to shout at them to stop, to shut up, to be quiet because every noise makes me jerk and look, cringe away. Every toss of the beach ball is a disaster about the happen. Every happy squeal is a lighting strike going off next to my ear. I have aural sensitivities. My ears are…funky…and sounds are closely tied with my anxiety. Just the clicking of the keyboard as I type is (Breathe!) making me write faster, racing “away” from the fear in a parodoxical tic that just makes the fear worse as the keys click faster and louder. (Breathe.) The beach balls sails towards the window and I jump. It falls well short of the glass, but still for a moment I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t think “Oh my god, the window will break!” It’s faster than that, there’s no time for thought, no chance for ideas or words, or anything but that instinctly certainty that something bad is about to happen. But it doesn’t. The ball falls lightly t the carpet and my son moves on to practices summer saults and he asks me to watch and critique (Breathe) and everytime he pushes himself over I want to lunge out of the chair and grap him before he falls and it’s just a summersault which he’s done dozens of times before in the middle of an empty floor. But still my breath catches every time he grunts and pushes himself upside down to fall–“fall” a scant foot to a well carpeted floor where he laughs and gets up to do it again, each time pushing me closer to the edge of my sanity while he plays not knowing that his having fun being a kid is slowly destroying me. (Breathe.)
I cheer his summersaults hiding my reaction as best I can.
He gets tired of summersaults and runs into the kitchen to check the therometer we left in the fridge. We talk about tempature for a moment, and talking about ocld and hot and the way we can watch the thermometer go up now that it’s out of the fridge is safe. But soon he’s asking about the thermometer, does this come off or does that come off, or what happens if I do this… (breathe). And he’s not going to hurt himself, it’s a sturdy thermometer, and even if he does manage to damage it, it doesn’t have mercury or anything dangerous in it. But as my anxiety kicks in his voice begins to ring like someone is banging a bell right next to my head. I breathe and tell him I can’t answer any more questions, he needs to go play. He’s in the “why” stage and I can’t think clearly enough to answer his questions. I’m a bad mother. I should be encouraging him to question, encouraging him to learn, but I can’t think, and I can’t answer, and if I tell him I don’t know all he does is ask why I don’t know until I want to tell him to shut up just to get some peace and quiet.
Instead I distract. “Do you want a snack? Let’s get some crackers.” He wants peanut butter on his crackers, his favorite snack. My movements are jerky and unsure. My grip unsteady. My hands aren’t actually shaking, but the tics and twitches and constant jerks are even worse. Nothing that involves fine motor control–like spreading peanut butter on a cracker, or using a knife (I don’t care that it’s a fucking butter knife! My anxiety goes into really high gear at the thought of any kind of knife). So he gets crackers on a plate and a cup of milk, and I retreat to write some more, trying to breathe, to calm, to use the techniques that short circuit the anxiety. It’s still there. Reminding me of blog posts that need to be written, chores to be done, everything that I need to do and every disaster that could happen because I’m not doing it RIGHT FUCKING NOW. My anxiety whispers about the fact that some busybody claiming to be helping us could stop in at any minute and find something wrong with the apartment (they aren’t busybodies, they’ve helped us a lot and I’m grateful for everything they’ve done, but all my anxiety knows is that they can show up and find something wrong and then….logic is a weak log against anxiety. There is nothing wrong here. Our home is clean, we are fed and clothed, and making progress towards our goals. They’ve stopped by twice and said how great everything looks. And the more I talk myself down, reminding myself that there is no reason for a disaster, no reason to fear, my chest loosens and i can breathe because I can point to solid evidence–they’ve been here before and nothing went wrong. That doesn’t work so well other times. And this is why my anxiety is moderate–because I can talk myself down from the edge, because while my son is quite and there are no minor problems and headaches demanding my immediate attention I can work myself down to the point that I can write this, and I can make myself something to eat, and I can clean my son’s dishes without freaking out that someone will walk in RIGHT THIS MINUTE to criticize dirty dishes in the sink.
I prefer anxiety to depression. Anxiety is easier to channel into action. Anxiety is easier to to turn into adrenaline so I can get my ass in gear and get shit done. Depression shuts me down completely. Anxiety just makes me really, really, really fucking irritable. Unless I start hiding. If I start hiding it’s all over and I might as well be on Mars for all the good I’m doing myself or anyone around me. My anxiety is moderate, my depression can (though thankfully not often) become severe. Of course I prefer anxiety to depression.
But at the end of the day, it’s just a different kind of hell.