I sit alone in my car a lot. In the parking lot at my office, in the visitor spaces at various schools throughout the district, in my driveway and garage, outside the gym both before and after a workout. If I get to work on time, sometimes I still don’t get to work on time, because I just sit in my car by myself for a few extra minutes before forcing myself to start the day. Not finishing a song on the radio. Not trolling social media. Not ending a phone call with a friend or family member. Just basking in silence.
I read about living with anxiety, and one line screamed off the computer screen at me: “I’m not faking being sick. I’ve been faking being well.” Damn. Blow my face off with truth. I can relate to that. Because I often feel sick even though I don’t look it. And more often than that, I’m perfecting my acting skills to function in everyday life.
Let me tell you a secret. One that might shock you unless you know me really, really well, and even then, you might try to argue to the contrary. Here it is: I’m an introvert.
Yes, I possess strong opinions. Yes, I can be overly talkative. Yes, I spent eight years standing in front of classrooms teaching students. Yes, I conduct meetings with parents and professionals regularly. And yes, I am introverted. Completely and truly. And this fact, combined with diagnosed generalized anxiety disorder and major depressive disorder, cause me to either pretend, or retreat. There’s not much in between.
I never played a sport. That’s actually an understatement. I quit every extracurricular activity that required group participation. Ballet and tap dancing, gymnastics, basketball, volleyball… I’m not a “joiner.” I don’t want pressure or attention. I’m a 30-year-old woman having an anxiety attack because her online graduate course requires one group assignment. But seriously, why? Group work is the worst. I digress…
I hate parties. Hate planning them. Hate hosting them. Hate attending them. Love buying gifts. Love seeing my family and friends. But hate the parties. Hate the lead-up to the parties. The drive there. Did I forget something? How long will this be? Will I see anyone I don’t know/don’t like/who doesn’t like me? Loud music and multiple conversations happening at once. Brightly colored decorations and agendas and fireworks and seating arrangements and don’t even get me started on games.
I don’t go to concerts or festivals. To be honest, I plan every visit to Disneyland down to the minute, so I have fast passes for rides and reservations for dining and I don’t have to stand around. Because crowds of strangers. So many strangers.
When I’m anxious, I often don’t know where to start. I make to-do lists, but can’t prioritize. I wander the bakery of the grocery store and can’t make a choice on what to get. Sometimes, I leave with nothing. I clean my house vigorously in an attempt to get my life under control. My chest hurts. I cry. I feel out of breath. I think about the ugliest worst case scenarios for myself and for those I love. I think about refugees I’ll never meet and mothers who lived through the Holocaust and that student I had a few years ago who didn’t have running water in his house.
When I’m depressed, all I want to do is sleep. Or eat. Or both. I can’t bring myself to tackle my to-do list because what does it matter? It seems there’s no point to anything in life. I spiral quickly. Remind myself there’s so much negativity and hurt and pain in the world and I can never fix it.
It is beyond challenging to wake up every day and go to war against your own mind. But that’s my mental illness. It’s irrationality and exhaustion and side effects of medication and isolation. It’s seeing the good days as warning signs that very bad days are ahead because you never have too many good days in a row.
Here’s another secret. If you think I’m outspoken, you might be surprised by the amount of thoughts I keep to myself. Really. I bite my tongue multiple times daily. I filter myself to spare the feelings of others and to maintain professionalism. But again, it goes deeper. Some of the things that flash through my mind when I’m at my most anxious or depressed are so horrid that I don’t dare utter them for fear I’ll bring them to life. For fear that others will want to put me in an institution. So I hold them in. All these detrimental, ugly thoughts. They swirl inside. Among the rational, wife, mother and work-related, “normal” thoughts. They interrupt. They confuse. They feed off each other. This is life. Introverted. Battling anxiety and depression.
This is sickness I can’t take a sick day for. This is real even though so many people shake their heads and cry “drama.”
Validate me. Validate us.
Because it would feel really good to spend a day as the real me, instead of living as an unpaid actress.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.
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Unsplash photo via Emma Francis Logan Baker.