Today I want to talk about my anxiety. I have generalized anxiety disorder, with panic attacks. I don’t hide it, but it’s been a long time since I openly made an announcement about this part of me, and shared details.
I want to though. Because anxiety looks so different for each person, and how it’s managed is different, too. I think it’s important to talk about it, show what it looks like for me, to help others not feel the stigma. I’m lucky – my family, my husband, and close friends are supportive. I have a great doctor, I’ve had several great therapists, and I am well equipped to handle my anxiety. When I fall apart (which has happened many times in my life, and will continue to happen at times), I have a plan and support system in place to help me get back to a healthy space.
So let me tell you – and show you – what my anxiety looks at. My anxiety looks like taking on a lot of work and commitments because I can’t have too much down time or my thoughts spiral. My anxiety looks like constantly researching and evaluating data – about budgets, about education for my kids, about any topic that interests me, because the more I know, the better I feel. My under control anxiety looks like medication, therapy, meditation, and intense cardio. My anxiety looks like losing myself in books when life is too much to deal with – because books are safe and wonderful, and written words can express the things inside me I can’t figure out how to say myself. My anxiety looks like me often needing quiet and space in order to calm down.
My anxiety looks like making personal decisions to not have conversations about some conflicts, to put walls up within certain relationships, to decide not to keep trying in some situations. This applies at work and in my personal life. There are many situations where I decide not to address a situation or conflict, where I choose to just say “okay” and take things as-is, because it is better for my mental health to just “go along to get along” even though most people would think it’s healthier to address the situation. Many managers, friends, and well meaning people have told me to just “have the tough conversations” but for me, and my anxiety, that is not always what’s best. I own my choices to support my mental health in the best way for me, regardless.
For the visual people… here’s what my anxiety really looks like.
- Me, hiding in the closet for 5 minutes of quiet, ALONE, to keep my anxiety under control. After I worked a full work day, did volunteer work, and took time to play with my 4 year old. After I forced a healthy meal down because it’s necessary. Those bags under my eyes are from multiple bouts of crying, and sheer exhaustion. It has not been a good day for my anxiety.
- Me, emotionally overwhelmed, even by good news. Sitting in my kids room watching them nap, because when the world is too much, they remind me that it’s also so full of love and goodness.
- Feeling strong after a Peloton ride to fight my anxiety. Feeling loved by strangers who high-fived me and pushed me to keep going. Feeling inspired by an instructor who reminds me that I’m worth it. Feeling like I can beat my anxiety.
- Having the time of my life with friends. On a day that my anxiety has stayed at bay. Anxiety isn’t at it’s worst everyday.
- Me, at peace and grounded while outside on a walk. Sunshine and quiet, alone time do so much good for me.
- This is me, happy with amazing friends. Celebrating life and motherhood and friendship and how many beautiful places there are to explore in Colorado.
All of these are the same person – just at different places in my relationship with my anxiety. I am not always sad, overwhelmed, emotional, or anxious – but I am not as often happy, carefree, and laughing as I wish to be.
In my worst moments and my best moments – my anxiety is part of me. The person just trying to breathe and make it through the end of the day in her closet is the same person having the time of her life with girlfriends she adores. The cheerful friend who regularly hosts girls nights, runs a local book club, and works to build community online for working moms, is also the lonely 30-something who wonders how many people are her friends and how many are acquaintances, and would she have people to hang out with if she didn’t organize things regularly. The happy mom who is the VP of the PTO at the school and volunteers her time to make sure the school community thrives, is also the employee people are frustrated with because they wish I would speak up more, but I don’t have the bandwidth to do it.
All of these are me. All of these parts of my life are majorly impacted by my anxiety disorder. All of these things in my life seem harder for me than they are for others, and that feels so unfair sometimes.
But yet – because I feel so much, because I feel everything at a higher volume – life is even more beautiful. I recognize that there is just as much goodness, joy, beauty, and love in the world as there is difficulty, sadness, and cruelty. You cannot have one without the other; you cannot feel all of one without experiencing the other.
And I think I enjoy my favorite hobby – reading books – more because I am so sensitive, because I feel so much. I can get lost in a book and it can feel as real to me as my day-to-day life. I can feel and practically see the magic words create as they weave stories. That is a gift I wouldn’t trade away.