We look like we have it all together, but the truth is just the opposite
Anxiety has been a life-long struggle for me, one that has brought me to tears and to attacks for as long as I can remember. I believe that its true presence made itself known to me when I became pregnant with my first child. Maybe it was the fact that it was no longer simply about me. There could be no more weekend sabbaticals where I stationed myself in my home, my “safe place,” until I could face the world again. There would be no more “quiet time” where I could let the panic wash away in a glass of wine or a thirty-minute hot bath. I was now a protector; a guardian of a precious human being that needed round the clock care and attention regardless of my mental state.
So I did what most with anxiety and borderline obsessive-compulsive people do; I prepared. I planned. What if the baby couldn’t sleep? I bought lavender bath wash, soothing Mozart melodies, plush toys that mimicked the sound of a mother’s womb. What if baby had an accident? I had an emergency kit in my trunk that would put survivalists to shame: Formula cans, baby food, medicine, toys that fascinate, lotions that soothe. You name it; it was there “just in case.”
This “just in case” phenomena is at the heart of the anxiety dilemma. Terrified by the thoughts of “what-ifs,” our whole life is focused on planning ahead so the worries we face minute by minute will never spring to reality. This lifestyle is exhausting — so many possibilities for things to go wrong. Even if plan A is a success, then new “what ifs” pop-up that require more planning and preparation.
Anxiety is deeply connected with an intense desire to control uncontrollable circumstances — but that word “uncontrollable” doesn’t stop us. It just requires more planning. Have you ever heard the quote that “even if you shoot for the moon and miss, you’ll land upon the stars”? This is our motto. Maybe our preparations will not work out in the successful way we have imagined, but we will be steps ahead of the “enemy camp,” those free-spirited fools who say “C’est la vie” to every tragic turn of the universe.
However. there is a certain genius in our disorder. We crave the knowledge and support that will make this perpetual fight or flight syndrome in our psyches go away, but at the same time, we relish some of the effects that this disorder has upon our daily lives. For example, two common traits of anxiety disorder are worry and restlessness, and sometimes this makes us heroes and role models to friends and family.
For example, who gets up at four a.m. just to get in their daily dose of exercise? We do, terrified that the exhaustion of the day will take away our motivation to keep the pounds off. Who finished the work project two weeks ahead of schedule? We did, because you never know what emergencies will pop up without warning. Who has an emergency back- up plan when you run out of gas, when you need a Tide stick for an unwelcome stain, when you forget toiletries on an out of town trip? We do.
We few, we prepared, we anxiety-ridden. There is a certain badge of honor we wear in our crippling, unwavering diligence to never once exchange our worries for serenity, acceptance and the great “what-if.” Others who do not know the ravaging effects of our disorder call us responsible, mature, and perfectionistic. These qualities seem like the trio to achieving success, and frequently, this is their result. But the price we pay often gets hidden in the glory of our accomplishments.
For example, I sit here at 5 am writing this article. I have been up since 4, even though I do not need to awake until six. My usual goal in the morning is to (a) check and recheck my lesson plans for the classes I teach that day, (b) work on my daily dose of freelance writing attempts and (c) run four miles before I get my two children up and running and dress myself for the day. I have to double-check all possible blocks so the day can run smoothly, and I can function without undue worry. And this is a requirement, not an option.
As a result of this planning, I am utterly exhausted before the day even starts. Keep in mind, these activities only relieve the immediate worries of the day. Working at any profession brings its share of upheavals and dilemmas, and it is not long into the workday before new situations or “crises” arise which require me to get on the hamster wheel and take it for another spin. The cycle seems unbreakable and never-ending. Add this to the daily predicaments of parenting, and, well, hopefully, you get the picture by this point.
In addition to exhaustion, family and personal time suffer when you are burdened with anxiety. Sitting and relaxing can seem to the anxious the worst kind of sin; somehow it signals to the universe that we are complacent, that we have it all figured out, that she can do us no harm. So, we sit still, but our mind starts to run on that hamster wheel even when our body is at rest.
Eventually, we give in and head back to the to-do list; after all, thinking about the terrible possibilities that may arise is worse than actually delving into the work that we somehow believe will stop them. I cannot tell you how many times my children have begged me to stop working and just sit down and relax-watch a movie with them or talk with them about their day. I do this-now also worrying about the horrible mother I am for not giving my children the attention they both crave and deserve — but my attention is always only at fifty-percent. The other fifty again goes to a brain swirling with worry.
The bittersweet gifts anxiety brings continue to bless and burden my existence. Except to those that know me and my true nature intimately, they seem wonderful and worthwhile. I leave them shaking their heads in wonder at my workmanship, achievement, and relentless energy; however, to those that own this gift, it is a demon. It sucks the tranquility and beauty of life away little by little. The result-a husk of a human and an inner quest for peace. Maybe one day I will find it, and my soul will be set free.