Anxiety

Imagine a constant noise in your head. Not necessarily a siren though it can be similar. It’s just constant. Sometimes it jumps up in volume. Sometimes it’s a low hum. But no matter how hard you try, you can never forget it’s there except for brief periods when you make a lot of noise yourself. It doesn’t drone away like white noise. It is there and it is infuriating. That’s life with anxiety.

This is a rare entry where I’m going to discuss my present life. The fact is I suffered a series of violent anxiety attacks over the week before I wrote this entry and I need to talk about this topic. It’s a very difficult subject to even broach in public. Like with everything I discuss, it seems there’s a stigma to it. It’s gauche to keep your meds easily at hand. It’s extremely ill advised to have a panic episode. When you do, you’re accused of seeking attention. When you discuss what you’re anxious about, it often seems ridiculous to outsiders. The sad part is that even you know it. But you’re controlled by the force.

Over the last few months, I’ve faced some trials. I had to look for a new house, the cause of which gave me no end of anxiety. I’ve had some bills hit I’d wish I didn’t have. I had a car accident in October that gave me a dose of PTSD. I had a car accident in June that really did. There was also an incredibly brutal winter that made just getting home a challenge. Just got my credit card stolen. Admittedly there have been great things–wedding–but this isn’t about those. Those are future entries.

You’d think I’d be inoculated by now. The funny thing about anxiety is it works just the opposite. I’ve found that what doesn’t kill you makes you acutely aware next time it could kill you. Rather than growing from my trials, I find myself uneasy almost all the time. During lulls, I’m on edge. There’s a good reason for this. An anxious individual is one who’s aware that at any moment something might go awry. So we look for the next crisis. Little things set us off thinking about the larger issues behind them.

The issue with that, of course, is that life doesn’t work like that. Crises surprise us by their very nature. But for the anxious, there’s the false belief in a pattern. OK, this one got me last time so I’m going to be prepared, we think. The victim of credit card fraud checks his statements zealously. The car owner whose last car broke down repeatedly panics at every ding. The kidney stone victim gets tense at every single ache in his torso. There’s nothing wrong in principle with any of that. In fact all of those things describe me.

But imagine a symphony orchestra. One instrument starts playing. Then another. Then another. What starts simple soon becomes loud and booming. So it is with anxiety. You’re constantly hearing it all at once. Sure one section might dominate but you’re always hearing it. This week I even had an anxiety induced dream!

It all fundamentally stems from a desire for control. I suspect HFAs know this about as well as anybody. After all, we frequently get OCD as another disorder we’re diagnosed with. (1) We want control but we live in a world without it. Anxiety is our way of pretending we have any. The anxious lie to themselves believing that if they’re just vigilant enough. It’s creating control in the universe without.  Our siblings, the paranoid, create the belief that they’re the target of a conspiracy as to make them feel like they matter which is their real issue. So too do we look out for every possible situation that might hurt us to deal with the fact that we know it’s impossible.

This connects to money as well. I’ve been called cheap, a lot. I called my father that too growing up until I understood him. (2) Yes, I am paranoid about money and in this culture that looks bad. But I’m also unapologetic. I’m not carrying any debt beyond a car payment, which is normal. I look at the spend spend world and I see the destruction the financial crisis caused. Here’s the problem: that doesn’t look good for me and worrying about money isn’t very endearing. Ultimately, I wish people understood that my fixation on my finances–and I check my bank statements daily so fixation is right–ties to my anxiety, not to any Scrooge-like tendencies. In fact, I rarely spend any money on myself! I’m just trying to achieve control.

What happens when control is lost? I’ve described the daily hum of anxiety above. Actual loss of control is comparable to an earthquake for the anxious. I’m honest enough to admit I’ve never handled my accidents well. There is usually some degree of meltdown for me. For minor events, expect severe hyperventilation and increased pulse rate. The world is spinning. All of your senses are triggered. It’s fight or flight mode and you want to choose flight but fight is preselected by the world. It’s utterly terrifying. Even in your daily life, expect a measure of intense reactions. I’m acquainted with the sound of my heartbeat. Rapid eye movement and sweating are pretty common too. I’m also pretty aware of my own breathing.

Ultimately it’s exhausting. I have to believe a key cause of depression is anxiety. Worrying that the world will go wrong is painful. It wears us out. I definitely have fought a measure of depression in my life. My health almost certainly is below what it should be. As I get older, I ponder the effect that it will have. I doubt it’ll be good.

Is there a respite for us? Yes. There are medications to take. Therapy is advised. Personally, I love music as a way of blocking it out. To a great degree, you have to lean into what you love. A great or even a bad movie can take my mind off things. (3) There’s also a lot to be said for cognition. The awareness that you’re not thinking straight is weirdly effective. The key is getting there. I also highly recommend pets. My cat is asleep on the table beside me now, snoring.

Ultimately, I’m not concluding this entry with any firm answers because I don’t have any. I’m in midstream on this issue. I don’t know how to conquer anxiety. I just know that I’m not allowed to quit trying to fight it. Life is a struggle. Some fights aren’t as easy as others.

(1) Quick note: stop saying “I’m so OCD” unless you are. Actual OCD is painful.

(2) My father is actually the most generous human being I’ve ever met. Maturity really changes your perspective on the world.

(3) I Am Number Four served as a balm for me one night. Proof of what I’m saying.

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