My dear Sweatpants & Coffee tribe,
These are anxious times.
Now, more than ever before, people are talking openly about living with anxiety. Of course we’re anxious! Anxiety is the appropriate response to the state of the world today. It’s a miracle any of us can unfurl from our fetal ball long enough to get anything done.
The news is full of horror and heartbreak. The doomsday clock is a-ticking. Everything is on fire or flooding or being shaken to bits. There are at least five things in your sandwich that will likely kill you.
But I want to talk to you about the difference between being scared for appropriate reasons, like the thought of impending nuclear destruction or how close you came to wrecking your car when that person pulled out in front of you without signaling, and actual anxiety disorder. Because the former is an adaptive response to your environment which helps you to make decisions in order to survive, while the latter is like a faulty fire alarm that goes off all the time for no reason whatsoever, to a degree that impacts your well being.
I think of those of us who have the clinical condition known as Anxiety Disorder (which breaks down into several distinct diagnoses including social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder) as Anxiety Blobs. Or, I don’t know, maybe your anxiety doesn’t manifest as a blob. Mine happens to be a vaguely worried, amorphous lump.
Anxiety Blobs experience normal anxiety, too. We worry about doing well on tests or being able to pay bills or if that person likes us. But we also have anxiety that can be constant, severe, and overwhelming. It can be triggered by a particular event or circumstance or it can just happen, out of the blue, like a freak tornado. We may experience physical symptoms like sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, nausea, racing pulse, disassociation, tunnel vision, fatigue, and dizziness. If untreated, an anxiety disorder can negatively impact your work, your relationships, and your overall quality of life.
In short, it blows. Big time.
However, I’m here to tell you that anxiety is survivable. That there are bright moments that part the clouds of despair and fear. You may always live with the disorder, but you can manage it like any other chronic condition. I’m not saying this is easy. It’s not. The most heroic thing you do might be opening the door of a therapist’s office and making yourself go in. It might be texting a friend that you are not okay. It might be choosing to wash and feed yourself so that you can get to the next lily-pad and figure out what to do next.
There is always an action you can take, even if that action is infinitesimally small.
Some of my coping methods include:
– long walks
– shower crying
– cognitive behavioral therapy
– Netflix marathons
– soft blankets
– cat snuggling
– allowing loved ones to be kind to me
– looking for ways to be kind to others
– making stuff
– telling the truth, loudly if necessary
Your own list may vary, but if you sit down to make one, you might realize you have more coping skills than you thought.
It’s going to sound very strange and even counter-intuitive, but one of most effective ways I’ve found for dealing with my anxiety is being open about it. There is nothing more vulnerable than an exposed Anxiety Blob, my friends. And being honest about this struggle is scary as shit. Sometimes, it hurts. Especially when people hurl it back at you like a stone (“whatever, go take some happy pills”). But you know what I discovered? You can’t shame me with something I totally accept about myself. Yeah. My brain works differently. Sometimes, I take medicine or go to therapy for it.
HEY. WOW. LOOK AT THAT. I’m still here, living my imperfect little life. The sky has not fallen.
The world is scary and difficult, but also full of beauty and hope, and even those of us who live with fire alarms in our heads can learn to navigate it.