It’s hard for me to talk about anxiety. It makes me nervous and uncomfortable. Anxious.
The time my anxiety is at its worst is at night, when I’m supposed to be sleeping. It’s not uncommon for me to lie awake for hours (and hours and hours) while my brain runs on a hamster wheel of worry. The doctors call it “chronic insomnia,” but I just call it awful. Anything can keep me up. It often starts with worrying about what I need to do tomorrow. I dutifully write down ALL THE THINGS so I can chill out and sleep, but usually I just move on to worry about the next thing. Will I have time to finish it all? Let’s go over the anticipated schedule again. What if I oversleep? Better check the alarm. Is my child still breathing? I’d better check his room. Was that sound the house settling or a burglar? I can’t remember if all of the doors are locked, better check.
It’s not just semi-legitimate scenarios that run through my head. My anxiety can twist anything into worry and sleeplessness. A few weeks ago, when the lottery was up to 85 gajillion dollars or whatever it was, my boyfriend mentioned he’d bought a ticket. That night, I laid awake in bed for hours, worrying about all the horrible things that could happen IF HE WON. IF HE WON THE LOTTERY!! Number one, that may be the most unlikely scenario, statistically speaking, that I could possibly worry about. Two, of course I would worry instead of planning out all the fun we’d have, like a normal person would! For hours, I worried about a potential future scenario that was less likely to occur than an actual sharknado.
That’s the thing, though. A normal person wouldn’t take these worries and keep running them through their paces for five hours in the middle of the night. Until the noise gets so loud in your head that you have to cover your ears, because it feels like it’s hurting them. Until the weight of it all feels like it’s pressing on you physically, like a mattress on your chest. Until the incessant spinning starts getting you dizzy and breathless. Until you’re so overtired and stressed out that you start fantasizing about someone hitting you over the head with a blunt object, just for the sweet relief of unconsciousness. Until you just can’t take it anymore, and cry, in your bed, at night, by yourself, due to purely interior torment.
Yes, I’ve tried deep breathing. I’ve tried warm baths, and warm milk, and cool rooms, and exercise, and sound machines, and no caffeine, and vegetables, and oils, and praying, and meditation, and reading, and counting, and herbal remedies, and medicine, and sleep studies, and any other thing that has ever been suggested. I’ve even tried things that haven’t been suggested—telling my brain to just STOP, trying to envision the color “clear,” composing sonnets (which usually devolve into limericks). I’ve tried it all, but somehow, some way, the anxiety and worry are stronger and more persistent than the remedies.
And this isn’t one of those self-help or how-to articles on insomnia or anxiety. Because I still don’t have a fix for it. I drag my tired body through waking hours, dealing with my jobs and my child and my house and all of my responsibilities and obligations while running on single-digit sleep for days at a time. Eventually, the physical fatigue outweighs the mental fatigue, and I will sleep for a whole night. Sometimes I nudge it along with an entire bottle of wine. I’m not saying what I’m doing is recommended, because I’m sure it’s not—but only those who truly understand the extremity of complete exhaustion are allowed to judge me for that.
In the end, I suppose I want to open the door on this human experience for you. If you have never experienced crippling anxiety, I am asking that you empathize with your fellow humans. I don’t need your recommendations for fixing it as much as I just need you to acknowledge that anxiety is a real thing, and it sucks. I’m hoping you can recognize that anxious people are not weak or delicate—they are stronger and more resilient for dealing with their internal troubles.
And if you have experienced anxiety, I want you to know that you are not alone. Seemingly functional and successful adults, such as myself, struggle with the same thing you do. I know how you feel. It is awful, and demoralizing, and sometimes hopeless. But at least you’re not alone in dealing with it. There are other people out here, roaming this rock, hurtling through space, who have been there, and have endured. And there are others, who have not experienced it, who can open their minds beyond their own experience and witness yours.
It’s not much, but it is something.