It’s Anxiety Awareness Month, which is a hilarious concept to me—as if I am ever unaware of anything. Trust me, I’m aware. I’m the king of awareness. I’m aware of every dang thing.
I wrote back in 2014 about what it’s like for me to have an anxiety disorder, and as I re-read it to gain some ideas for this article, I was frustrated to learn that nothing much has changed in the last two years. I’m still the same nervous, hypervigilant person I’ve always been.
Let me make you a list of the things I had anxiety about this week:
- Too many people at an Earth Day fair. Had to take an hour to sit and have some food before I felt confident enough to navigate the foot traffic.
- Whether Bell was having enough fun on our vacation or whether I was just dragging her around.
- A weird lump that I’m pretty sure is a nasty pimple but could be cancer.
- Work concerns gave me a stomachache yesterday.
- Whether or not to retweet a study I found about the inefficacy of dieting for fear of offending people (though it brought me great comfort). I went back and forth on this for an hour.
- My oldest child is having some emotional struggles, and I worry constantly about him, especially if I haven’t heard from him in an hour or two. Vivid images of him hurt/dying tend to flash through my brain when I’m especially worried. This has happened since he was born and happens with both my kids off and on.
- There is occasionally a black widow spider who takes up residence in my mailbox, and I am always freaked to put my hand in there.
- I couldn’t find parking for a first meeting with someone, and I was around five minutes late. She got there first. Anxiety made me nervous off and on for the rest of the night. So, of course, I also had anxiety about how dorky I was and whether I talked too much about stuff I shouldn’t have and looked bad.
That’s a short list, I can guarantee there are more things I can’t remember off hand.
I am better at anxiety now, though. The list above not withstanding, the illness doesn’t run my life the way it used to. I do things and live life even though I’m afraid. Sometimes, I do tweet the thing because I have a right to take up space even if it might offend someone. I went and met someone new, despite my fears and discomfort. I took care of myself at the Earth Day fair, even though I felt bad holding Bell up while I did so. Doing that allowed me to continue our day in a great mood, rather than being snappy and anxious and pushing through things.
What helps me most is an ongoing practice of mindful awareness. If I can notice I’m anxious, I can take the time to care for myself. I spent a lot of years having no idea that I could be anything besides anxious, really. I was born with it, so imagining life without the ever-present physiological and emotional symptoms was difficult. Now, I am not anxious all the time. I’m still anxious often, but I have many minutes in a row where I’m calm and unburdened by worry. That’s pretty rad.
I’ve found great solace in identifying the bodily and mental symptoms of anxiety and then honoring them like I would a friend in need. By allowing myself a moment of kindness, I can often get on with things. If I offer anxiety time to breathe, it will fade into a quieter version of itself. If I fight it, it will fight back. Calm, generous patience is the only way I know to get anxiety to chill the hell out.
Anxiety is an always-on system, but it isn’t everything. If you suffer from anxiety, you’re not alone, and you’re not weird, and you’re not too sensitive. If you don’t, hug an anxious person today (but ask first, and don’t sneak up on them, and be sure you are respectful of their space because we can be touchy about that stuff and some people don’t like to be hugged).