Keeping Up Appearances When You Have Anxiety
The rational side of my brain knows that there's nothing to fear. But the other side of my brain is under siege. It's trying to get the fuck out of there and doesn't care what kind of special reasoning you have. My heart pounds so fiercely that I can feel it reverberating in my throat. My eyebrows knot, my eyes squint, my breath quickens. I begin to sweat. My legs get restless. My head aches like a 1,000 hangovers. I gnaw my fingernails down to the quick. The more I try to calm down and think about something else, the worse it gets.
Why is this happening? It's a refrain that plays in my head over and over. JUST STOP IT.
It finally becomes unbearable and I close my eyes. And breathe deeply and slowly. In. Out. Just breathe. You've got this. It's OK. You're OK. There's nothing to fear. Keep breathing.
That's what happens to me sometimes. I have generalized anxiety disorder (and depression, but that's another post for another day) and sometimes the smallest thing will set off a panic attack. It can begin and end in a matter of minutes, or sometimes it drags on longer, or it can come and go in an intermittent cycle of suckage. I can't control it or always predict when it will happen, and though medicine helps a lot, it's still not a 100% cure.
Sometimes I don't leave the house for days, other than taking my kids to school, because I think somehow solitude can prevent it from happening. Calls get ignored, texts go unanswered. It's all I can do to keep it together, to keep my balance in this precarious eggshell dance. Armed with my arsenal of comfort, I tune out the world.
"Why don't we talk anymore?"
"Where have you been stranger?"
"Are you mad at me?"
"Anxiety? That's kind of a lame excuse, isn't it?"
"How come I never see you?"
"What is going on with you? You seem different."
And sometimes I'm fine. I'm me. The clouds part, the sun shines. I feel good. I laugh, my eyes twinkle, I hum my favorite songs under my breath.
It's a roller coaster - equal parts thrilling and vomit-inducing. But all I can do is hold on. Enjoy the climb, endure the fall.
Sometimes my outer facade masks my inner turmoil.
"Well, you look fine to me."
"Whatever. You're just being lazy."
"Making up excuses, are we? I can take a hint."
Invisible illnesses are cruel afflictions. They keep up appearances, like slapping a fresh coat of paint on a crumbling interior. And those afflicted by them can only beseech you to try to understand, to be patient, to know that "it's not you, it's me" is actually a true statement.
I can't control it. I can only do my best and surround myself with love. And remember that the good days outnumber the bad.
P.S. I also wrote more about my struggle with anxiety for Holl & Lane Magazine.