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Anxiety Is...

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Anxiety is physical. It is a tightness, a weight, across my chest. It makes it hard to take a deep breath — the piece of advice people always seem to give to someone who is “worrying too much.”  It is an actual weight on my back, so that opening my lungs is impossible. How can I open my lungs when my shoulders are up to my ears?  Breaths won’t go deep. It is butterflies in my stomach, but not the cute “stage fright” kind. The kind that hurt. Anxiety is knots that can’t be undone through mindfulness. Anxiety is a humming in my ears. It is a feeling of being unbalanced, like the world is tipping (ever so slightly) to the left. It is a sudden dizziness on the way home from buying a picture frame (Will it fit? Will I be able to hang it in the right spot, or will I just add more holes to the wall?) so intense that I have to pull over until it passes.

Anxiety is knowing if I did that with my daughter in the car, the grocery store delivery truck would have slammed into us and I would have been the one driving when my daughter died.

Anxiety is an un-ignorable compulsion to replay every conversation, reread every Tweet, every Facebook comment, any and all interactions and to identify all the things I did “wrong.” People I inadvertently hurt. Jokes that fell flat. Comments that offended. Anxiety is knowing I should “just stop” doing that, but not being able to stop.

Anxiety is never being able to stop.

Anxiety is being unable to begin. It is looking at next week’s empty meal planning menu and worrying about the price of pork tenderloin (Is it still on sale?). It is knowing ahead of time that no one will like the stir-fry Thursday
night, but knowing that I will like it and I should try to encourage the kids to try new things.  It is worrying that I have catered to the kids too often and now they’ll never eat anything but Annie’s mac and cheese. It is worrying I was too harsh last night and that I should have let them eat buttered noodles and berries for dinner instead of forcing them to “just try it.”

Anxiety is being exhausted. I am so tired. Tired from not sleeping, because sleeping time is prime “worry time.” This is the time when my brain forces me to imagine all the ways that my children could fall ill or be harmed. It is waking up with a pounding heart because, did I just hear my daughter cry? Or was it my son coughing? Is it the flu? Or, OMG it’s measles. I went to Disneyland, what was I thinking?

I am tired from being in my own head. Tired from replaying what already happened, and worrying about what hasn’t happened yet. (But it totally could. It could.)

Anxiety is spending hours, hours, planning and prepping for meetings and classes, but drawing a blank when eyes are turned to me and I am expected to open my mouth and say something. Anything. It is looking down at my notes and having the letters change places so they are impossible to read and knowing I look even less competent than I did five minutes before. It is knowing I have to do this again.

Anxiety is knowing my life is good, but also knowing I am frittering it away by worrying. It is wanting to “be positive” and “see the good” and know that yes, it is there, it is, but it is not enough. Anxiety is the robber that sneaks in when I’m not looking, when I am looking, and takes those good moments away from me.

And the only way to fight it is to keep going, even though that’s the last thing I want to do when my anxiety is bad. Keep showing up to events. Keep reaching out to friends. Keep going outside. The harder it gets, the more important it becomes not to stop.

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Thinkstock photo via manuela bertoli.

Originally published: September 22, 2017
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