On Anxiety & Other Monsters
I am forever looking forward. Someone with anxiety worries about what is going to happen to them. Here's an example:
This past summer, we bought a house. I mowed my father's lawn for a solid ten years as a kid. I know how to mow a lawn. Yet, the first time I mowed my lawn at the new house, I was nervous that my neighbors would get angry at me. Why? Maybe I would mow too close to the boundary lines. Maybe I would get grass clippings on their lawn (this did happen to me as a kid). Maybe I wouldn't mow my lawn how they thought I should mow my lawn. (Is it diagonal or up and down?)
I mowed my lawn and nothing happened. Nobody cared but anxiety creates illogical fears out of small situations and breathes into them until they're too much to handle.
what happens when my anxiety goes untreated?
I become irritable and not fun to be around. I shut down because everything has become too much to handle. The house is too dirty. The kids are too messy. A frustrated boss will be the first thing I see on Monday morning. (This is the Sunday night dreads that, for me, begin Saturday morning). I can only focus on the one thing that is driving me nuts and I can't snap out of it.
Some people get panic attacks. I don't. I can't give an accurate description of why that happens or what it feels like but my anxiety is constant. Anxiety controls every moment of my life. It controls every decision I make. What will happen if I....
...refuse to turn right on red (even though it's hard to see cars coming)?
...call in sick for work (even though I have paid-time-off)?
...ask a question that annoys someone?
These are questions I think about.
how do I treat my anxiety?
About two years ago, I had a conversation with my wife that led me to believe my nervousness wasn't the same as everyone else. She told me that when she comes home from a productive day at work, she feels accomplished. When I come home from a productive day at work, I worry what is going to happen the next day.
I started taking St. John's Wort. It's a plant-based, over-the-counter, mild antidepressant. It changed me. I could focus on today and not think about tomorrow. My interactions with people improved because I was able to hold a conversation without the fear of how they would respond to me. We knew the medicine was working when I turned to my wife one day in the car and said, "I'm looking forward to your parents coming into town."
A year later, my body adapted to St. John's Wort and the anxiety returned. I went to my doctor and with some trial and error, we found Wellbutrin helps treat my anxiety without making my body malfunction.
Wellbutrin numbs some of the anxiety but not all. But it does help me process through it. It helps me make logical decisions, pinpoint what is making me anxious, and what I can do to remedy it. For example:
We checked out a kids book from the library. It's ripped but I don't know if my kid ripped it or if the rip was already there when we checked it out. I'm nervous I will annoy the librarian by bringing this to their attention. But I'm also nervous that if I don't, they'll call me over the speaker and accuse me of ripping the book. Medicine does not get rid of this fear but helps me say, "You know what. Kids are kids. I'll tell them what happened and move on. If they make me replace the book, I'll pay for it. Because if the librarian is annoyed at me for bringing an issue to their attention and offering a solution, well, maybe they're not a very nice person."
Did you notice the subtle difference there? Anxiety puts the pressure on me. I am the cause of the problem. I will annoy the librarian if I bring it to their attention. A logical person understands I am not the issue. The issue is not even with the ripped book but how someone will respond to the ripped book. As I said at the beginning:
"I am forever looking forward. Someone with anxiety worries about what is going to happen to them."
I am not perfect. I still have bad days and get anxious. I understand I will deal with this the rest of my life but I am at a much better place than I was three years ago. I'm working on being the best version of myself and that includes writing, promoting my writing (how will people respond when I tell them I write!?), and putting myself in a vulnerable position.
how do you talk with somebody that has anxiety?
Sometimes a person with anxiety needs to suck it up but it's not your place to say that. (A spouse can)
1) Help them verbalize what the issue is. Out loud, say every outcome that could happen, good or bad. Sometimes this helps them understand how ridiculous the bad outcomes they made up in their head really are.
2) Look for a physical tic. I clench my hands when I get anxious. Acknowledging this and releasing my hand releases tension.
3) Think of something to look forward to whether it's an hour, a day or a week away. On Thursday, I get to have coffee with my wife (without the kids!).
4) Speak something positive over that person. In the same way I believe that if I wake up and say, "Today is going to suck" I'll have a bad day. I also believe that if I say, "If God is for me, no one can be against me" then I'll (slowly, very slowly) begin to believe it.
Anxiety sucks. It's controlling and manipulative but there are tools to combat it. I know because I'm in a much better place now.