Once upon a time there was a little girl. A 5 year old who desperately wanted to take ballet but attended one class and couldn’t do it anymore because she was too afraid. I recall the black leotard and thick, pink tights with the red stain of fingernail polish dotting the thigh. I was so excited to have a real ballerina costume. I remember the mirror that spanned the entire studio wall and the golden sheen of the wooden floor as our ballet shoes slid across the surface. I can see the reflection of the little girl with a slick ponytail but ragged feelings. She wanted desperately to stay and dance, but was too scared.
I lasted one class.
Today, I turn 46 and I’d like to say that I have grown since then, and in ways I have, but in other ways I am still that frightened little girl missing out on life because of fear.
Actually, I know now, due to recent incidents and visits with medical professionals, that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
I’d like to say that it’s easy to type that. In many ways, it explains SO MUCH about me, my decisions, and my life. But one truth is, it is hard for me to say it out loud to the world. I don’t want it to sound like an excuse.
Another truth though, is that this anxiety is real. It’s not a figment of my imagination, it’s not a cry for attention. It’s a part of me and who I am.
And honestly? There IS a small bit of relief in knowing that there’s a medical reason for some of the angst I have lived with for as long as I can remember.
My biggest challenge lately is helping the people in my life understand that I’m not this way because I choose to be. As a matter of fact, having anxiety makes me miserable most of the time. The incessant worry is physically and mentally exhausting.
The knowledge that my worry upsets and bothers the people I love just adds to the stress and misery.
But I want people to know that I can’t turn it on and off like a light switch, hard as I try.
My anxiety looks like this:
It’s excessive worry and irrational thoughts. My ‘right’ brain knows full well that the things I am obsessing about aren’t really true or will not likely happen, but my ‘wrong’ brain just can’t find a way to stop. I ask questions that shouldn’t be asked, I suspect things that haven’t happened, I check the news reports and the front drive and the computer screen and the rooms of the house. The ridiculous thoughts just spin and churn and turn and spin again and I have to work very hard to jump off the sickening ride.
It’s physical. I’m a healthy person, but when I am having huge anxiety, I feel it in my body. My throat constricts, my head swirls, my heart races, and my stomach churns. I’ve learned that breathing deeply slows down my mind and body and fills me with more calm. The tricky part is remembering to breathe.
It’s emotional. When my anxiety peaks, I am moody, grumpy, easily saddened, irritable, and overly sensitive. I’m prone to cry silent tears in the car or shower and must work hard to explain myself with a lump stuck in my throat. I try hard to help people understand.
It’s indecisiveness at its finest. Everyday decisions that people make all the time, in the blink of an eye, can be stifling for me. Gift giving is a perfect example. I love giving gifts to people to make them happy, but I find it nearly impossible to made a selection. What if they don’t like it? What if they already have one? What if it’s too cheap? Expensive? Wrong color? Wrong brand? From the wrong store? The what if’s and possibilities and maybes drown me. I can take the simple, joyful act of doing something nice for someone and ruin it with my anxiety. I know it sounds ridiculous but this is my truth.
It’s insecurity’s best friend. See the example above. Anxiety zaps every ounce of confidence right out of me. I can’t stand in the kitchen and chop vegetables without incredible anxiety about whether or not I’m using the correct knife and proper technique. I can’t answer which restaurant we should choose for dinner because I might name a place that the other doesn’t like or want. I can’t walk into a room and not care what others think I look like, sound like, etc. Do you see how exhausting this is for everyone involved and how frustrated it can make people? No one makes me feel this way. It’s not anyone else’s fault or doing. I know this. I truly do.
Which brings me to the last point.
It’s embarrassing. I am horrified that I can’t just get through many of life’s everyday events without some sort of anxiety induced thought. It mortifies me that I bring a level of stress to things that should be fun. Water parks? Fun, right? Not for a person with anxiety. I see germs, clumps of hair, wet band aids and drowning and…well, you get the idea. Vacations? I’m a hot mess. Bed bugs, lost luggage, strange faces and places, overspending, worry. And I love to travel. Love it. I’m ashamed that I’ve let anxiety take joy, take life from me.
The five year old me didn’t know what was wrong with her. She just knew she wanted something and didn’t have the skill set to stick with it. Luckily, I’m OLDER and also WISER. I don’t have many, if any, answers. YET. But I am taking proactive steps to learn how to live wholly, fully, and meaningfully with this brain of mine. I recently started taking a low dose medication and seeing a professional to acquire some coping skills. I don’t have to suffer silently (or out loud) anymore. I honestly feel like there is a way to work around and with this. If you’ve ever felt this way or are currently feeling this way, please feel free to reach out to me. I don’t have all the answers, but I do understand. There IS a better, happier way.
To gaze into the mirror and see myself dancing back, that might just be the best birthday gift I could ever give myself.