I had never considered anxiety.
I didn’t consider it an excuse, I didn’t consider it to be legitimate, I didn’t consider it to be something owned by strong people. I didn’t consider it anything that would ever affect me. I just didn’t consider it.
Now, I can’t consider what my life would be like without anxiety constantly bubbling just below the surface of my skin, flowing through my veins, closing my airways, forcing my heart to throb, allowing fear to take over my world.
For thirty five years I was fearless. I lived a life less ordinary traveling the world, drinking in experiences both good and bad with no concern for the consequences. I wore a confidence that could be seen from afar and there was nothing that I felt could shake me. I worked hard, played hard, lived hard and loved hard. My time with my husband was no different and he was my mirror, my twin flame, when it came to each of these things. We fell in love almost instantly, loving each other harder than I ever imagined possible. We forwent consequences and risked it all on getting married a mere ten weeks after meeting each other. We would take off together and soar over everything else at 30,000 feet, making plans for where we would explore next. We were so sure. I was more confident about him than I had ever been about anything else in my life. He assured me he felt the same. We were on top of the world. Standing at the summit. The air seemed clear and the ground felt stable. I had no idea the mountain was going to crumble under my feet and send me tumbling down with the landslide into my new reality. And crumble it did. When I came to stop after the fall, I stood up before the dust had settled and realized everything I had known about my previous world had been reduced to rubble.
The anxiety set in immediately. It set in without warning and it set in with a fury. Like it had been waiting on me, knowing that my time would come. It was, and is, the most uncomfortable constant I have ever experienced.
Irrational fear is a difficult thing to explain to someone. It doesn’t even make sense to me so I can only imagine how ridiculous it seems to anyone else. How do I explain at 36 years old, I have an aversion to opening a closed door and that I check compulsively to make sure my bedroom door is open? Or that I have a newfound need to sleep with the television and lights on because if I wake up in my dark bedroom, panic sets in? How do I explain that I am constantly worried about things I have never been worried about before? For example, that person didn’t respond to my text message….I wonder if they are still ok? What if they leave and I never see them again? Or…that seemed like an awfully cryptic and depressing facebook status update…maybe I should write and tell them how loved they are so they don’t end up dead on someone’s bedroom floor? I can’t eat food and expect to keep it in my stomach. I haven’t slept more than a few restless hours a night in months and if I do happen to fall asleep, I am woken by the kind of nightmares on which horror films are based. I wake up screaming. Literally. My new reality consists of trying to get through my day without completely breaking down from an overload of fear and emotions mixed with war-time style sleep deprivation and lack of nutrition. Its a nasty combination.
It all sounds a bit dramatic. I know. And believe me when I say that before I was tossed into the throws of this alternate reality, I thought anxiety was total bullshit. A made-up condition. I couldn’t understand why someone would fall prey to the idea that they can’t control their mind. I thought of people who claimed to have anxiety as weak minded. They were obviously short on desire to overcome and overly desirous of an excuse. “Just deal with it,” I would think. “Pull your shit together and put on your big kid pants.” I mean, come on, right?
Guess who’s the asshole?
I’m the asshole. The anxiety ridden, karmically indebted asshole who has sat down to a big plate of perfectly cooked foot to insert right into my mouth. And let me tell you. It tastes like shit and hypocrisy.
Having anxiety is not fun. The reason I have this new onset of anxiety is not fun either. Losing my husband to his own suicide and dealing with the trauma of finding him the way I did was enough to knock me right off my high horse, reduce me to utter penitence and force me to beg for the comfort and confidence I used to possess, praying to a god I don’t believe in to make it stop, make it hurt less, make it easier.
Anxiety is brutal. It is never not there. Sometimes it is mild, allowing me to keep myself upright and think of it more like an annoyance than the primary object in my mind, but other times it is all encompassing and because of it, I am rendered completely non-functional . I can’t think, breathe, stop crying, stop my hands from shaking, leave my house, talk on the phone, sit in silence, be with others, be alone, eat, stop vomiting or sleep. I have to force myself to operate on a primitive level and hope that my involuntary functions, like my inhaling of oxygen or the beating of my heart, don’t give out on me like they always feel they are about to.
I don’t think you can respect what it takes to get through an anxiety attack unless you’ve actually suffered through one. I admit that I had absolutely no idea how horrible it is. It feels like you are dying. Or at least, to me, it feels like I am dying. Or maybe it is just so bad at times that dying feels like a better option than dealing with the anxiety attack. Then again, maybe it is hope. Maybe I just hope I’m dying so I can relieve myself of feeling this broken.
I can’t even remember what it felt like to feel comfortable, safe and grounded. To feel sure of what tomorrow would bring. Those feelings are gone. A total thing of the past. They left me the night my husband did and I suspect I will never fully recover any of them. Those feelings belonged to the part of me that belonged to him and when he disappeared from my life, those parts of me did as well.
I don’t remember what it felt like to feel true joy without fear interlaced with it. I don’t remember what it felt like to make it through my day without the weight of it all pressing me flat and thin. I don’t remember what it felt like to feel buoyant, content or at ease. None of those feelings can exist in the presence of anxiety. I have gotten better at faking it and putting on a smile of feigned confidence for onlookers but, on the inside, I am melting into a puddle of despair and desperation.
“So, how are you doing?”
I hear this question constantly.
I think, “How in the hell do you think I’m doing? How would YOU be doing if you were me?”
“I’m doing alright,” I say in response.
But its not true.
The truth is that I’m not ok. I’m nowhere near ok. Fuck OK.
I am always on the verge of falling apart. I am hanging off the edge of a cliff by a single ring finger. I am teetering, unsteadily, over a deep crevice filled with sharp and jagged rocks which, at times, seems like an enticing place to land. I am anxious, fearful, untrusting, angry, guilt ridden, sad, depressed, regretful, worried, woeful, vacant, exhausted, alone, lonely, breathless, sleepless, nauseous…all of theses things at once.
What I am not is ok.
Yes, I see a therapist. Yes, they gave me anti-anxiety meds. Yes, I’m in a support group. Yes, I have friends and family who surround me. Yes, I know I’m not alone. Yes, I know it wasn’t my fault. Yes, yes, yes. Let me just answer the questions I know you are already considering asking.
But those things, or knowing those things, don’t take away the anxiety. They may help to lessen, but they don’t eliminate. Nothing takes away the pain that causes the anxiety therefore it is always present on some level. Nothing can bring my husband back to me or change the mental image of him, lifeless on the floor, that I carry around with me. Nothing can relieve me of the “what if” and “why” questions. Nothing eases the guilt of not having seen it coming or the grief I live with on a daily basis. Nothing can rebuild the future we had been working towards together and nothing can erase this loss from being a part of my DNA. Its so hard. So incredibly hard.
However, I am working on each of these things and on myself. I am learning to live with anxiety and to function normally inside of its grip. I am learning to accept that it is a part of my life and accept myself for who I am now. I am learning to love all parts of who I am and my anxiety is a part of that. I may not be at the finish line yet, but I know if I keep running I will get there.
Hope comes in many different forms, after all.
I ask that you consider anxiety. I ask that you understand when someone tells you they suffer from anxiety. I ask that you do not judge or make assumptions. I ask that you extend compassion and empathy. I ask that you end the stigma about mental illness and remember that anxiety is just that. I ask that you make it a part of the conversation. I ask that you be better than I was.
If you suffer from anxiety, like I do, I ask that you be kind and gentle to yourself.
You deserve it.
We all do.