I haven’t posted anything in about a week. I’ve started a few posts and given up halfway through because they didn’t feel right. I’ve finished a couple but decided not to post them because they need to be edited. And I’ve been a little sick the past few days, so I didn’t really want to do much besides sleep. I could blame it on writer’s block, but that’s a cop-out because it’s more than that. For the past week or so, I have been completely absorbed by the monster that hounds me continuously– anxiety.
I loathe anxiety. It is one of the worst feelings in the world. Most people get twinges of it now and then– before a job interview or when there’s a crisis– but I am one of those wonderfully fortunate people who gets to enjoy it every. single. day. It’s a lingering remnant of mostly-conquered complex PTSD (differing from basic PTSD in that it is caused by a series of extremely stressful events, rather than a single, massively-traumatic event), and I have come to accept that it will likely stay with me for the rest of my life. It’s not nearly as bad as it used to be. I don’t have nightmares very often anymore, and I rarely suffer from insomnia. I don’t experience crippling depression like I used to or have full-blown panic attacks. That was when it was really bad and made my quality of life pretty unlivable.
The anxiety I have now is like a shadow that stalks me. It lingers at the edges of my thoughts and reminds me of its presence with heart palpitations triggered by seemingly insignificant, everyday occurences– like getting cut off in traffic or getting a phone call from a number I don’t recognize. Things that “normal” people take as a matter of course are detrimental to me. If someone knocks on my door when I’m not expecting anyone, it takes me an hour to get my heart rate back to normal. If my boss says he needs to talk to me, I automatically assume I’m getting fired and break out in a cold sweat. Most days, I can live with these little “freak-outs” and fully recover by the time I get home from work. I shove the anxiety away and distract myself with menial tasks or TV. I am a master at distraction.
Then there are the days when my anxiety decides it wants to take over. These episodes usually only occur once or twice a year, but when they do, they ravage me. It drains my energy, makes my gastric ulcers flare up, gives me migraines, and occasionally sets off my autoimmune disorder. It makes it impossible for me to relax or eat or sleep, and distraction only comes with alcohol. The anxiety lies to me. It tells me that I am going to lose everything and everyone. It tells me I am alone and that there is no hope. It tells me that my world is going to cave in on me, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. And it tells me that I am bad, that I hurt everyone, and that everything I do, or have ever done, is completely wrong. These bouts typically last a week or two, and by the time I come through it, I am exhausted. I will fall asleep the moment I get home from work and not wake up until the following morning. It takes awhile to recover.
What I have to remember, when I am drowning in this state of abject fear, is that it is temporary. I have survived it countless times over the years, and I will survive this time too. It might take a little while, but I will walk out the other side of the tunnel in which I am currently lost. The biggest and most effective lie that all emotional/mental disorders have in common is that it will never get better. That’s simply not true. And it’s my choice whether it gets better. I have more control than I feel like I have. I can choose to let it defeat me. I can give up. Or I can fight it every day, no matter how weary I am, and know that one day soon, I will wake up in the morning and not feel panic.
It’s vital to break the stigma of mental illness and to expose the lies it tells. I didn’t choose to have this problem. It was a direct result of trauma combined with a tendency towards chemical imbalance. Just like you would never judge someone for having arthritis or hypoglycemia or asthma, you should never judge someone for suffering from depression or anxiety or PTSD. It’s not something anyone chooses to have. But a person does choose how he/she treats it and copes with it. I watched depression defeat my own father. I watched helplessly as it lied to him, and he believed it. And it stole him from me. That’s why I can’t allow the same thing to happen to me.
I choose to break a cycle that started in my family generations ago. I choose to show my children a better way to live. I choose to be the strong parent I needed. And hopefully, that will make a difference for the generations that come after me. This is not an easy subject to discuss. It’s not an easy weakness to admit. But it’s necessary. Bringing it out of the darkness of shame and into the light of knowledge takes away a lot of its power. Any of you reading this who might suffer in silence– stop.
I have fought my battles, one at a time, for many years. And I have not lost one yet, as is evidenced by the fact that I am still here. I don’t plan to lose. Ever. So when I’m trapped in that senseless fear and can’t see my way out of that very dark tunnel, I look at the tattoo I have on my left forearm– still I rise— and remind myself that this time, too, I will get up and keep going until I can see light again. I get tired– weary, exhausted– of fighting, but I will never stop. Because I will not allow anything to steal me from my children or my husband. I would never have chosen this for myself, but it has shaped me, molded me, made me strong. It has given me the insight to help other people. And I am thankful for those things. So if you find yourself lost in the darkness, don’t stop looking for the light. It will find you.