I’m getting really tired of hearing about how I should be doing all kinds of relaxation exercises, working really hard to take care of myself, and my health, and my mental health, and maybe I should try yoga, or changing how I think about a situation in order to survive or whatever…WHATEVER. Because you know what? It’s like I said to my therapist the other day – I can CBT myself into submission ALL DAY LONG. In fact, I’m really good at it, after a lifetime of dealing with the various avatars of anxiety that I’ve encountered in my life.
I truly understand the value of these things. And I can employ my logic and layer it over all kinds of disaster thinking, in order to get through a situation, through my day, through my life…heck, sometimes just to get out of bed in the morning, if I’m feeling really fancy (and by fancy I mean completely terrible). I absolutely find things like walking meditation and mindful thinking useful and I consciously work to engage them on a regular basis.
But y’know what? I feel TERRIBLE lately.
I am in the midst of a longer-than-I-would-like and very concerted process to determine anything and everything in my body and mind that may be contributing to my general feeling of frequent awful. I’m committed to this process because I’ve been feeling bad on and off for a long time, and I like to do things right the first time. For example…I have a variety of neurological symptoms that might relate to migraines, or might indicate mild seizures. Well as it turns out, some of the medications used to treat migraines and seizures are also used to treat different types of mood disorder…and it seems I might also benefit from that. So I’m kinda twiddling my thumbs right now waiting for some tests results, and yes, that has me a little anxious, I don’t like waiting. I’m also experiencing anxiety to a degree that has ranged outward to panic and touched on everything in between, on a regular basis, unfortunately. I don’t want to start or stop any medications that may not be indicated as a “best fit” for me…but we don’t have enough information to make any decisions yet. So I’m waiting and I feel terrible.
I talked to my therapist the other day about how when you boil it right down, the anxiety that I experience seems to be fear-based. I feel that I am “in fear” on a regular basis and that’s not about my medical quest. There’s definitely a logical component to be unravelled here…and I do, frequently. I mean, I’m not living in a war zone. I’m not being physically or sexually assaulted. I haven’t had any traumatic accidents recently. I understand this and I remind myself of this regularly, when I’m taking the inventories an anxious or depressed person takes, in order to realign their thinking. But let’s look for a minute at the stressors that I HAVE faced on a regular and continuous basis, in the past five years of my life.
1) Normal life stuff like a new marriage and a whole batch of kids, a couple of moves. Not negative, but definitely a BIG change.
2) A temporary disability that though it is mostly well-managed, rears its head often enough to be disruptive in a threatening way. It honestly terrifies me to think that it could reassert itself in a way that could prevent me from providing for my family.
3) Toxic bullies in the workplace. Multiple bullies, multiple workplaces, over multiple years. Another threat to financial security.
4) Toxic bullies in my personal life. None that live in my household – aside from that qualifier, I’ll leave that topic a broad one.
5) The financial stress that most “normal” American families are living with these days.
So let’s recap that…I have felt very much “in fear” in one way or another, and very much under stress, for the past five years of my life. FIVE YEARS OF MY LIFE.
How is changing my perspective going to help me? The conclusion that I’ve come to recently, is that telling myself that “everything is fine” and “it could be worse” is destroying me. Everything hasn’t been fine. My concerns are very real. My stress is very real. The threats are real. Many of the things that have happened to create it are very wrong. The outcomes could have, and could still be very bad. They are not situations that should try to trick myself into accepting in any way, in order to survive. To force myself to “accept” them would be to burden myself with a continued, toxic way of thinking, one that will keep me saying “yes” to things that I should say “no” to. In fact, I would assert that every single one of those things is a direct threat to my survival and that to be terrified was 100% completely normal. I will not continue to tell myself that these things are normal, or that my reaction – anxiety – is abnormal.
To clarify – I believe that I have had a lifelong anxiety disorder, which is to say that my natural level of anxiety is just plain higher than a person should live with on a daily basis. That’s why I do things like try to relax and take medication, and visit my therapist. However…I also have regular, huge stressors in my life and they are affecting my overall health. I cannot say “yes” to them. Anxiety manifests in many ways – differently for different people – and differently even for one person, within the course of a lifetime. Different kinds of anxiety require different approaches. The kind that’s currently risen to the surface for me is aggressive, panicky stuff, with depression mixed in. Kind of a foul mixture. Anxiety and depression are familiar to me. But right now I’m experiencing real fears based in real life, not just the shenanigans of the excitable circuitry that I won in the genetic lottery. Those are always present in some way, but what I’m facing down right now is the result of cumulative and crushing and ongoing stressors in my life.
That’s why I have been so focused in the past couple of months, on my health in general. I need to know if there’s anything obvious that I can do, to improve my health and mind. I’ve been getting more mild exercise on a more regular basis. I’ve been eating better. I’ve been eating regularly. I’ve been paying attention to things that make me feel stress, and what I’m thinking in the moments that I feel it. I’m keeping my docs informed so that we can find solutions that will be a best fit for me. I’ve also been doing a ton of research on issues that I seem to face, so that I am well-informed and better able to plan with my docs and not just expect them to “fix” me.
I’ve been more assertive in certain aspects of my life, in situations where I previously would have preferred to fly under the radar and avoid confrontation. My therapist and I call it the “Boss Lady” initiative.
I’m working actively to make improvements to my health and my life, even though I feel kinda terrible right now.
But until I allowed myself to acknowledge just how much stress my environment was serving up on a daily basis…I wasn’t going to be able to start feeling better. Accepting this idea provided me first, with the best cry I’ve had in ages, but it’s offered me a small sense of relief. Because it validates my own feelings on what is happening to and around me. It also validates my feelings about how I fit into the picture.
It’s helped me acknowledge MY limits and the fact that I have reached them. ALL of them.
Right when I was having this breakthrough last week, a friend sent me a book that I may end up talking more about, but I’ll just share one little nugget that gave me some insight last night…the idea that when something happens to you that traumatizes or injures you in some way, your body and mind react and those reactions and their results can sometimes linger. If we don’t take the time to acknowledge that, we get stuck.
This is where I’ve been. I’ve been stuck. Stuck in pain, stuck in fear. And that’s just not how I want to continue living my life.
Upon reading and thinking about this idea, I suddenly became exhausted in a deep way and fell very peacefully to sleep, right there in my chair. As I fell asleep, I felt tension release within me.
My pain is real. My fear is real. They are legitimate and they are valid. They are mine.
I’m not sure what happens next, but whatever it is, and however painful the process may be, I feel I’m on the right track in sorting out my anxieties and their sources.
I’m embracing the reality of just how stressful my life is.
Because it really, really is.