Ready… Set… Go!
10 Things anxiety has kept me from doing:
1. Attending parent-teacher conferences
2. Going to work
3. Playing with my kids
4. Going on a girls’ weekend
5. Leaving the house
6. Socializing with others
7. Staying late at a party/ gathering
8. Feeling comfortable when others drive
9. Enjoying a massage
10. Sitting in any seat but the aisle in an auditorium
10 Things anxiety has helped* me do:
1. Plan for disasters
2. Convince myself that others know what a loser I am
3. Talk me out of doing things that would be considered fun
4. Tell me that I’m not good enough
5. Sleep away an entire day
6. Lose my appetite
7. Drink more than I should
8. Plan innumerable scenarios with innumerable reactions
9. Have imaginary arguments in my head
10. Be critical of myself
*helped is used loosely here.
Anxiety is not a here-today-gone-the-next thing. That’s more like depression. When I am depressed, it comes on slowly like a rolling fog. It’s first brushed off as humidity, as a storm rolling in, as something innocuous, but before you know it, it has completely enveloped your brain and perspective and all you can really make out blurry semblances of reality.
Anxiety, however, is always lurking.
It’s the critical voice that says, Everyone can see you look like shit in this. Look at your belly. It’s huge!
It’s the critical voice that hyper-analyzes ANY perceived threat, whether rational or irrational. It’s the voice that says, Watch what you say, otherwise everyone will know you are a complete fraud/ bad mother/ bad wife/ bad teacher/ shitty neighbor/ horrible friend.
It’s the critical voice that accuses you of being lazy and irresponsible and unfunny and ungrateful and unloving and undeserving and ugly and a poor excuse for a human being.
On super good days, it’s completely absent from my mind. I don’t worry about anything at all and I am simply happy and present in the moment. Sometimes it comes and goes without leaving lasting damage. Choosing something to wear might make me run around in circles in my brain, but going out with close friends might be fine. However during the ride home and insomnia filled night, I might analyze and criticize every single thing I said and did.
But even if I have hours, days or a week anxiety-free, it comes back with a vengeance. Borrowing an analogy by the great Jenny Lawson, anxiety is like an abusive boyfriend. Except that boyfriend is your own brain. For a while you get lulled into thinking things have changed, things are better, your brain is with you and not working against you anymore, and the next you are bitch slapped in the heart with self-doubt and judgment and anxiety starts beating the crap out of you for no reason and it’s telling you it’s your fault the entire time.
So what happens when that voice comes?
I used to use it to guide everything. About six years ago I had a therapist who made me read “Free Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy. She wrote it after she was ridiculed for allowing her nine year old to navigate the NY subway alone. It was supposed to make me feel better about allowing my daughter to walk to the street to get the mail and ride her bike around the block and go on sleepovers without me having a panic attack.
I’m a good student, and I wanted to change, so I read the book. But when we discussed it, I was a bitch. I asked the therapist if Skenazy had ever gotten robbed, or groped, or assaulted while riding the subway. Or if she had witnessed such a thing firsthand. The therapist had no answer. So I said, Until she has seen and experienced the negatives of riding the subway alone, she has a lot of nerve telling others it’s no big deal to allow their children to do so.
It was clear I had a lot of work to do.
Over many months with the therapist, I worked DAMN hard to change my brain so my demons wouldn’t affect my daughter more than they already had. I let her walk to the mailbox and forced myself not to watch her. I allowed her to ride her bike around the block and forced myself not to follow. And she went on sleepovers and I forced myself not to check in and see how she was and what was going on.
And I AM better about all of that. Most of it. Maybe. Well, sometimes.
Anxiety is all about control. And I need it. If I check up on my kids, then I will interfere with some bag of awfulness that might happen. If I am in control, then I can plan eight different rescue scenarios if the noise I hear at 3am ISN’T a cat. If I am in control driving up north, then the car won’t crash.
Which is weird, because even if I relinquish control, or have no choice, and something negative happens, I STILL blame myself, not the person in control. I still self-loathe thinking there was something I could have done, an outcome I should have known, a path I should have anticipated.
You might be reading this and thinking, “Whoa, what the FUCK, Andrea? Loosen UP! Do you really think you can control that much?” And the answer is…well, not RATIONALLY speaking, of course. I mean, I know that. Intellectually.
But the brain is a really tricky organ and research proves that once neural pathways are established it can be difficult to re-route them. My brain is like Michigan as soon as the snow melts. There are highways and roads all over, but many routes have construction and there are several detours that aren’t always marked. Some roads are completely riddled with potholes and cause damage every time they are driven. Others are simply dead ends.
Yet I like to think that slowly, surely, with enough work (and luckily no tax dollars), one road will be re-paved and safe for thinking again. “Want to ride your bike to Ritter’s? Just be careful!” And then another. “Sure, you can spend the night.” And then another. “I’ll meet you right outside the bathroom.”
It’s a giant task, and at times a painful one. It’s a given that anxiety-the-abusive-boyfriend is going to be pissed at the work being done and say it’s hopeless and nothing will never change.
I gotta get a restraining order…