In the spirit of #BellLetsTalk day, let’s put it all out on the table here. I’ve always been pretty open about my anxiety but l think most folks think I’m just a worrier. I am a worrier, but I am a person with an anxiety disorder.
I had my first panic attack in the seventh grade. I may have had one before, but that was the first time it was named – the first time it was something. I think back to childhood experiences and wonder if they were normal childhood fears/worries, or if they were early signs of this boiling up. Things like being overwhelmingly homesick my first summer at camp. Being terrified that someone bad would cut a hole through my mattress at night to steal my precious Best Dolly. I had big emotions as a kid. I cried a lot and was easily frustrated. How much of this did other kids experience? What if there were signs?
That first time, that first time I was in one of the old portables at my school. It was hot outside and the air was stale and one minute I was doing classwork and then suddenly I was outside gasping for air and retching. I have had panic attacks in classrooms, at summer camp, and in elevators. A particularly bad one on the escalator in H&M in downtown Toronto.
I don’t have panic attacks as often these days, but I still live with anxiety. It boils up in my chest every so often and I spend days or weeks fighting it back down through my body to get it the hell away from my brain and lungs so I can think and breathe without having to think about just breathing. I have big fears. Overwhelming fears.
The average thirtysomething doesn’t have to take a deep breath and cope with sometimes crippling fears of walking down staircases, right?
While I was pregnant with my first born I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep. This is my new norm. When I’m anxious, I may not have a panic attack, but I don’t sleep. I stay awake late into the night. I make lists. I double check things. I chastise myself for procrastinating.
You see, I procrastinate when I worry about something. When I’m not quite sure how it’ll work out, or I don’t trust my ability to make it happen, I procrastinate. I procrastinate and then I stay up all night thinking about how I didn’t get anything done and worrying about the consequences. And since I’m worrying about the consequences, I continue to procrastinate.
I have worried away and procrastinated away some things, some parts of life, for nearly half my life. I am very good at this.
I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to see a support person, even briefly, and for her to name this. To say yes, this is happening to you because you have a generalized anxiety disorder. Naming things helps. It makes me feel less out of control. Makes me feel like I can find the energy to push the boiling back down.
I am also so grateful that my partner seems to get it. I turn on him when I am scared and overwhelmed and sometimes say or act in a way that is mean or selfish. But he gets it. I do think he gets that I’m just trying to regain control, to take a deep breath. That I’m scared. He does get frustrated, and rightfully so. This has affected his life significantly as well. But he sticks around and won’t give up on me, even in my most out of control times.That’s the kind of partner I may not always deserve, but one I am so grateful for and appreciative of.
I see signs of anxiety in my daughter and it makes me nervous. I watch and compare. I compare my kids to each other and to me as a benchmark. But I’m scared. I don’t want her to ever be rushing out of her classroom in the hot spring sun because the walls are closing in on her and the feelings of dread have become so overwhelming that she can barely stand to be in her body, forget her desk chair. So I watch and compare.
I’ll name it for her. I’ll name it for friends who haven’t named it before, or who have. I’ll name it because it give the word less power and prevents me from boiling over.
I’m a worrier, yes, but more truthfully, I am a person who lives with anxiety.