Life has a funny way of reminding us that we are, in fact, only human. Fallible, emotional, unpredictable. For a perfectionist, this is a hard thing to come to terms with. Life is a rollercoaster; full of ups and downs, twists, turns, and even: loop-de-loops.
When I was “young”, I loved roller coasters. In my teens, my BFF and I purchased season’s passes every year for Wonderland and rode roller coasters all day long (okay, one or two trips on the log ride!). As I got older, perhaps I understood the inherent danger in roller coasters and loved them less and less each year. Now, the ups and downs, the fear and the relief….I’m just not a fan.
I have anxiety. Bad anxiety. Always have as far as I remember. I’ve had a recurring dream of being chased and eventually crushed, all alone, by a curling stone in an empty arena since I was about 4. When I was 12 years old, I was hospitalized for a week so doctors could test me for every disorder they could think of to explain the stabbing and gripping stomach pain that would double me over and immobilize me. In the end, they were forced to explain to my mother that there was nothing physically wrong with me. My “symptoms” must be psychosomatic of a deep rooted anxiety. Their suggested course of treatment: counselling
….which I never received…until I left my abusive, first husband.
As a teen, I alienated most of my “friends” with what they saw as moodiness. I would be “fine” one minute and not the next. They couldn’t keep up. Well, high school friends, if you’re reading this: NEITHER COULD I! My mother tried to have me committed and was told that I was a “normal” teenager. Perhaps if I had gone to counselling at 12, I wouldn’t have spent the next 32 years in and out of “depression”, abusive relationships and on meds to control my “moods”.
Anxiety. It’s a blanket prognosis for anyone who simply doesn’t “cope”; those who have “inappropriate” reactions to their own stresses. Inappropriate reactions are often verbal outbursts, but can go as far as inappropriate or violent physical responses. I’m not sad, nor am I angry: I’m SCARED and WORRIED.
For me, anxiety is all consuming. My family used to tease that if there was nothing to worry about, I’d find something. That’s an unfair statement though, because I definitely don’t go looking for things to worry about; they just pop up.
When I am in the midst of an acute attack, I can’t breathe properly, I sweat but I’m cold, I tremble and shake, my heart races, my insides buzz/hum, I produce an excessive amount of saliva, I get a severe headache in my temples and into my eyes and I just can’t think straight. Sadly, it’s that final one: “can’t think straight” that has always caused people to call me “moody”. My perception of the situation is so messed up that I don’t know how to respond. I miss the social cues and usually respond inappropriately. When I realize I’ve done that, I get embarrassed and internalize that in the form of anger…but angry with myself, and as I try to deal with that, I am unable to properly interact with the person in front of me. My reactions come out as anger at that person. Not cool.
What I have learned about myself in the past 10 years, though, is that I don’t just have any old anxiety. I am able to cope with stresses around my job, my finances, my children, my family. When I consider the scope of those big parts of my life and that I can cope, it astounds me that I cannot cope with the “small stuff”.
My anxiety is social. That is to say, it rears its ugly head when I am in any “new” social situations. I used to think that I was simply anti-social, like my dad. I know I’m an introvert; I much prefer my own company or that of my close family and friends. I prefer to do activities that only involve me or a small group. But somehow, introduce one new person my insides go berserk.
But, I’m not anti-social. I actually do enjoy getting together with friends for intimate gatherings occasionally…not parties….with people I know well….and not too often…. okay, and not really anymore, if I’m being honest. And this is why I’m writing about it today.
My mother is worried about me. She has actually used those words. Since becoming unemployed a little over a year ago, she has watched a steady decline in my condition. She worries I’ll become agoraphobic, or something. I guess it’s a valid concern, considering that I would truly love for the world to just disappear sometimes….okay, most of the time.
My last year has been a brutal one. Brutal. This is the scariest roller coaster I’ve ever ridden and I’m desperate for the ride to be over. My anxiety has grown. In fact, I would say it’s at its worst ever. I have found myself cancelling plans with close friends and family where I used to only do that to acquaintances. It’s bigger than ever and I feel like I “just can’t”. I’m plagued by headaches and the trembling has become a full-on shaking. And my attacks are no longer acute (occasional), but chronic (pretty much always).
I’ve been on three different anti-depressants (on or off) in the last 12 years. Unfortunately, they don’t help in the long term. They stop being effective after about 4 months when the immediate balance of chemicals is achieved. But then they just seem to stop ‘working’. I’ve been doing this for a long time. I know it’s because I’m not depressed…I’m anxious!
I’ve been in counselling many times over the years. Some long term, some short term, some group, some individual. I understand myself better, my motivations, my reactions and so on, but I’m no better equipped to stave off anxiety because of it.
And anti-anxiety meds are often addictive narcotics. While I’ve never been addicted to anything [yet], I know my capacity for it. My family is full of addictions: alcohol, gambling, food, marijuana, work, cocaine, and so on. I’ve spent my whole life working at NOT being an alcoholic. For me, it’s not because of the dangers to my body, but the danger to my psyche. I’m an ass when I drink. Funny, but an ass. And here is a case in point:
This weekend, we had dinner with an old friend and I came away from it horrified at myself. I’ve seen her only once in the past 6 years or so. She used to be a best friend, but we grew apart and are only recently trying to reconnect. She’s had some amazing, wonderful changes in her life since we were in touch: she got remarried and had another child!
But could I just look forward to a fun evening, a chance to meet the new people in her family? No, of course not. The anxiety started on Wednesday. By Friday, I was going to cancel. Fortunately, Catherine knows me well enough that she checked in two or three times last week to make sure we were still coming. Something about her checking up made me keep the plans.
In the end, she got me a glass of wine when we arrived (she could see I was humming), introduced me to her new husband (lovely guy) and her 5 year old daughter (a cutie!), and re-introduced me to her eldest (what an awesome teen!). That’s about where I went off the rails, I guess.
In my efforts not to make an ass of myself, I proceeded directly toward the anus of the conversation. I simply couldn’t remember her husband’s name and called him “Brian” all night (his name is Brad). I tripped over my words, I was loud (actually, I guess loud is pretty normal), I backtracked, I parried, I feinted, I made inappropriate jokes, gave unpopular opinions that weren’t even necessarily mine, in short: I did everything wrong. Those poor people have no idea what just hit them! Catherine commented that she doesn’t even recognize this “small town, no self-esteem version” of me. Hell, no kidding? Honestly, I don’t even have any idea who they met, but it wasn’t me.
In the end, I spent the whole ride home (hour and a half trip) reviewing all the mistakes I made during the evening, and debasing myself for my stupidity. Allen says I did just fine, but I know he’s being kind.