Thank You, Anxiety

January 14, 2018 at 5:39 pm

Last night I woke up my husband, sleeping peacefully next to me, and said words I haven’t said in a long time:

“I need help. I’m feeling anxious.”

The anxiety was mild. But once you have known the horror of debilitating anxiety, even mild anxiety is terror-inducing and can quickly escalate, like a PTSD trigger, feeding itself.

To be clear, I’m not talking about feeling worried. Everyone feels worried sometimes. That’s to be expected and totally normal. I didn’t just feel worried last night. I felt anxiety. For me, they’re very much not the same thing. For me, a worry is generally limited and has a clear root cause. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s not all-encompassing. A particular thought might make me feel worried which might create what we generally call “nervousness.” Worries are totally manageable. I can be worried and still feel “in control” of myself. Anxiety, on the other hand, can appear suddenly, bafflingly, without apparent reason. Anxiety is something I feel in my whole body. It claims all of my attention. When I am anxious, I feel out of control of my own body and mind, at the mercy of a terrifying force that takes over. For me, feeling anxious leads to fearful thoughts rather than the other way around. It’s probably hard to recognize the distinction unless you have felt it yourself.

I’ve been riding these waves long enough to have collected my go-to strategies for handling the anxiety when it surfaces. My first is always the same: Exhale deeply. My husband has learned well how to help me too: physical touchlistening, reassurance. 

So, lying there in the middle of the night, I voiced all the somewhat irrational thoughts rolling through my mind while my husband listened. Having been anxiety-free for so long, it is much easier now to recognize when my thoughts are anxiety-driven and foreign, that I don’t have to let them stick around or root themselves in my soul, that they will probably be gone within a day. All of that awareness and recognition is so much harder when you’ve been mired in debilitating anxiety for months or years. When you’re battling anxiety long-term, rational thoughts can actually begin to seem wrong or silly.

After crying to my husband for an hour or so, the anxiety dissipated. Crying is a really good release. But it still took me a long time to fall asleep, and even then it was a fitful, nightmare-filled sleep. Times like last night remind me vividly just how far I have come. They remind me to never take my peace for granted, to be grateful for the relative calm I usually enjoy.

Earlier today, a friend spoke about when her husband had a brain tumor, how frightened she was, how she got through it. She said that later, when another friend’s husbands was also diagnosed with a brain tumor, she was equipped to reach out and help. She knew what to do, what to say.

As horrific as it was to live with debilitating anxiety and depression, I do feel equipped in ways I never was before. I have empathy and compassion with a depth I never had before. When a friend or family member says to me, “I don’t even know why I feel anxious, I just do,” I can say, “I know. There doesn’t have to be a reason.” When a friend or family member says, “It feels like it will never go away,” I can say, “I know. It totally feels that way, but it won’t always be like this.” When I hear that someone is suicidal, I don’t get scared, speechless, or judgmental. I can say, “When I was suicidal…” I can say, “I felt that way too…” I can say, “Just get through this moment.” When I see the painfully familiar face of depression across a room, I can gently reach out, ask questions, check in, share my story, create a safe place for her to share.

Before I had lived it myself, I wasn’t equipped in any of these ways. I am a much kinder, more loving, more compassionate person than I ever was before. It’s like my friend once said, “It’s all grace. Everything is grace.” Thank you for my anxiety. Thank you for my depression.

Thank you for all the crappy stuff that has happened to me. All of it.