Far more regularly than I would like to admit, I roll over in the middle of the night, glance at the clock and then like an unwanted house guest darkness enters my thoughts. My initial reaction is to slam the door, for this guest is no mere stranger. Not a stranger at all, not even a guest at all, more appropriately a roommate. A roommate that nestles into the very forefront of my mind, pulls up a seat on my couch and turns on the music so loud I can’t hear my own thoughts anymore.
The sleep thief, the self doubt, the paranoia, the panic, the embezzler of optimism and hope – I have anxiety.
We go way back. At thirteen I watched someone I love struggle with this invisible culprit, only to succumb to its lies. The lies that convince us that the devastation is just around the hallway, even though no evidence of its existence is present. They believed it, they acted on it, miracles happened, that wasn’t their end. They lived. I watched the build up to the climax, I saw the battle, I witnessed the fall, but most importantly I watched the reconstruction, and the beautiful revival.
Then, right when I heard anxiety start to knock on my door, I forgot the lessons, the experience, and the truths.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness affecting nearly 18% of adults residing in the United States. Yet despite these astonishing numbers, nearly two-thirds of those that suffer never seek treatment. Mostly everyone will experience some variant of anxiety. Nervousness and stress are familiar foes when presented with a situation that is unexpected, or out of the realm for daily life activities.
These feelings are not entirely bad, in fact, anxiety is the driving force to helping us see potential danger, prepare for life events, and other positive constructs. There are others, however, who experience excessive worry that is so forceful that it begins to control daily life and even alter it.
My husband is in the military and his last deployment was to a combat zone for 10 months. Prior to his departure, I actually confronted my worst fears out loud, which is routine for spouses to do prior to deployment. I felt justified in my worrying while he was gone. Every news story that mentioned a casualty in his area brought me to my knees. When he arrived home safely I expected the worry to stop, and it did but only briefly. After his arrival home, instead of worrying about my husband being a casualty of war I worried about other things. As one worry was resolved another took its place.
There was no rest.
These are the most common occupants of my worries:
- I’m scared of getting sick
- I’m scared of the people love getting sick,
- I’m scared of death
- I’m scared of the people I love dying.
The triggers are everywhere.
For a whole week, I couldn’t open up my Facebook feed for fear of seeing a goFundme page with a tragic story affecting someone’s someone. I sometimes avoid driving the fastest and easiest route to the grocery store because there is car with a decal remembering a child lost to cancer on the corner. When I let my mind wander, I sometimes envision my kids funerals or my own. Once I walked into Target to buy the start of 6,570 blank note cards so that I could begin writing notes to my family to last them for eighteen years because I convinced myself that I was probably going to die.
I’m scared to type this.
Everything in my beating heart tells me that at least a million readers will think I’m crazy and comment that I should be in padded room somewhere. Sometimes I believe that too, but then somewhere in the darkness that is all the worry and fears, is a candle begging for fuel to become a fire to light up the whole place. I really like the thought of the potential warmth and light of that fire.
I sat down with my loved one not too long ago. The walls crumbled. I told them everything, all the worry, all the darkness and even the fact that I knew the “why” but felt paralyzed in combating it. They recounted their battle, the one I watched. They told me about how trouble at work caused them to believe that they would lose their job, that their family would end up begging for food and that they even worried that they would be unable to buy basketball shoes for their little girl who found solace in the sport.I had no idea these were their thoughts. I felt less alone. I understood while in the middle of a panic attack they thought they could escape. I understood. I wish I could have understood them sooner. I wish I could have given them the same peace they were now giving me for validating my heartache.
How can we combat anxiety?
After two years, an out of state move, and the prodding from my loved one, I made the appointment. I talked to my physician who despite my fears was more than understanding and supportive. She referred me to a wonderful psychologist and we both determined that it would be a good choice to pursue the medication route. I had a few negative experiences with two different drugs but was patient with the process and ultimately found one that really enabled me to be myself again.
Therapy was my saving grace. In my sessions, I was able to vocally express myself. Just saying those scary things out loud gave me power over them. I also needed someone who was not invested in my life on a daily basis to be “pro me.” I needed someone who could look at my situation from an outside perspective and give me relevant tools to fix the crippling nature of my anxiety. Choosing a therapist with a relevant specialty (anxiety and military families) proved to be an invaluable asset. I still use tools I learned from my sessions, like keeping a list of things I am grateful for. After my therapy sessions concluded, my therapist suggested that I keep my weekly appointment time and rather than attending sessions with him just do something for myself. This required getting a babysitter and effort, but it is something I still practice today.
Sometimes I go to the target dollar section and just drive while listening to my favorite music. Sometimes I go back home and read. Sometimes I even just take a nap. Realizing that self-care is essential and not just a “treat” is key in managing our mental health. Anxiety has forever changed me and I’m still traveling this road, but the most important point I hope to penetrate your minds is this: I can feel the warmth of that fire even on days when the flame is flickering.
Confronting my anxiety has reaped rewards, comfort and peace.
I no longer feel alone. I still have hard days, but hope above pessimism thrives even on those days. Anxiety is the metaphorical Voldemort no more. I’m coming out, I’m yelling its name for all of you to hear. We can no longer let mental health hide in the alleyways…forget the stigma.
Fight the stigma by being open and unashamed even if it scares you and make your heart pound out of your chest. We have to change the way we approach mental health. We can no longer nonchalantly hashtag our way to solutions. We need to be the solution. You are not alone on your path, even if your mind has convinced you that you are. We walk hand in hand fighting the same foe together and if we can find a few moments of courage, we can create a whole chain of linked arms until the darkness is overpowered by light. Our light. Our fire.
For more information on how to recognize symptoms and treat anxiety, visit ADAA.
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