I waited an hour after I woke up this morning for the nausea to abate sufficiently to attempt the daily race to get my teeth brushed before my overactive gag reflex kicks in. Why was I so nauseated? Oh, that’s just my anxiety. See, I had a good weekend. Not great, just pleasant; there was some work, some play, little strife, a fair bit of happiness and contentment. As I lay my head down on Sunday night, my stomach was already tight with an unnamed dread. My body began to show the signs of imminent doom and my anxiety whispered, “Maybe one of you won’t make it till morning.” I told it to shut up; I’m well used to its nastiness. But my body doesn’t listen to me. It listens to the anxiety.
At who-knows-in-the-morning, as I sat on the toilet (anxiety triggers the bowels, you know), I debated taking one of my ultra-low-dose Xanax pills. (Long story short, my dad had a rare, fatal reaction to mind-altering medication that I am paranoid will turn out to be hereditary, so I am skittish about medication.) But I worry (oh, yes, I am very good at worrying) that I will build up an immunity to them, so I resist as much as I possibly can. (Plus Xanax is addictive, so, you know, don’t wanna go there.) I knew that if I just waited it out, I’d (probably) be okay.
I had a nice advantage this time; my children had the day off school, so I wouldn’t have to worry that someone would show up there and shoot them, a concern I’ve had anywhere from every day to once a week since exactly that happened at Sandy Hook Elementary when my oldest son was the same age as the children that died there.
No, today, I just had to worry about my husband driving an hour to work the morning after a snowfall. He is exceedingly experienced at driving in general and driving in the snow, specifically, so I manage to worry only a little bit. Still, I will text him to make sure he arrived safely, when the first-thing meeting he told me about should be over. With luck, he will reply immediately. He often doesn’t hear his phone or forgets to turn the ringer back on, so I’ve gone many an hour half-terrified that something had happened to him. Here’s an example, when I decided to use emojis to demonstrate the emotional effect of his delayed response:
This morning, as every morning, my last words to him were, “I love you, goodbye!”, just in case you see. I had to say it twice, because the first time I forgot to tell him to drive safely, which I always try to tell him in bad weather, just in case. Yeah, anxiety means a lot of “just in case”. And, hey, it works; I know that my last words to my father were “I love you, goodbye!” and that has given me a lot of comfort over the years since he died. There are some upsides to this condition; I also have amazing attention to detail and I’m great with structure, which comes in handy with a spouse and a child with ADHD in the house.
Now, teeth brushed, I’ll be able to go about my day. I probably won’t worry again until my husband is due to come home, well, unless the boys go out to play in the snow; then I’ll have to worry about them a bit. This is the constant undercurrent of worry in my life, over which I have no control; I do not bring it forth and I cannot make it go away, only ignore and minimize it as much as possible, without suppressing or failing to acknowledge it, which makes it worse quite rapidly.
Here are a few tips for supporting someone like me:
- Accept right now that there is no easy fix. I promise; we looked. We’d’ve found it by now. If it seems “obvious”, don’t say it. Just don’t go there.
- Be patient. My life is just like yours, but I’m swimming through a quagmire of anxiety. It sometimes slows me down. Remember, though, that all that swimming has also made me much, much stronger. In internet parlance: “I am a delicate flower, dammit.” Treat me accordingly.
- We all have things that trigger our anxiety. We can probably tell you what they are, but if you notice something we haven’t, feel free to gently and supportively point it out, if you are close enough to us to be sure you are correct. Helping us avoid or work around triggers is awesome and probably the most useful thing you can do. For example, my husband makes almost all the phone calls to strangers, because that’s very hard for me. I still do it sometimes, because exposure therapy does seem to help with anxiety, but it needs to be under my control, when I feel ready and able.
In the end, we’re all just doing the best we can to get through life with as little tragedy and as much love as possible, so, most of all, be kind to each other.