There. I said it. Can I go hide now?
First of all, I want to advise that if you’re someone who views mental wellness as a waste of time and energy, you should click the X on the tab for this window and walk away from my blog. If you think that depression, anxiety, and/or posttraumatic stress are made up disorders, you should click the X on the tab for this window and walk away from my blog. If you’re looking at your computer or mobile phone screen with the idea that this is a cry for attention, again, get the hell off my blog page because what I’m writing about here isn’t for you.
Now that I’ve hopefully filtered out trolls, skeptics, and jerks, here’s the unedited truth:
I’ve never sat in a therapist’s office and been told that this is my diagnosis. However, I’ve kept my former therapist’s number on speed dial for the last decade since connecting with her just as I was finishing college at CSUSM. No other professional in the field of mental health has ever been able to reach me quite like she has, and given that we’ve been in touch for so many years (through my marriage, entry into motherhood, and moving), she knows a lot about me. I asked her if symptoms like mine sounded like anxiety, and she told me it wouldn’t be right for her to give me a diagnosis over the phone after not seeing each other for a couple of years. She then went on to state that based on the pattern of behaviors I’ve exhibited during periods when I was under her care, anxiety symptoms like self-consciousness, excessive worry, and sleep issues are common with anxiety disorder and that if those symptoms are becoming worse for me, I should seek care with someone local to my area to address it.
This has likely been a building issue; it definitely didn’t spring up overnight. The first time I felt something noticeable was on June 20, 2008. Some of the beautiful friends and coworkers my mom and I had gained while working for the same hospital decided to throw a grand send off party for my parents, as they would be departing for Florida six days later.
I can remember very clearly being told what time the party began and where it was located (not far from where I was living at the time) and one of my close friends at the time offered to come with me. Keep in mind that I was planning my wedding at this point, so this friend was also serving as a bridesmaid and knew the magnitude of what was about to happen for me the minute my parents flew away on a one-way flight leaving me behind in sunny San Diego. As I got ready for the party, I had to force myself through the motions of getting up, getting showered, drying my hair, picking out clothes, getting into the car, driving to pick up said friend, and then showing up at the party. It was torture. We arrived almost an hour and a half late. I had no excuse other than that I wanted my body to move, but I couldn’t do it. It was like being trapped in a tornado. I smiled and faked my way through that party, but all I kept thinking about was how my life would probably end six days later and if it didn’t, I would have no clue where to begin picking up and moving on.
The next time I can recall feeling different was two and a half years later, at the end of my masters program at National University. I struggled to get my thesis written, and I struggled to find work doing what I wanted after graduating. I hadn’t had much luck finding fulfilling work when I got my BA, so I had set myself up in my mind to have difficulty doing it again with my MA. I can remember staying up late at night scouring the internet in search of a job to get me to the next phase of my life, and my husband walking into the living room of our apartment in boxer shorts begging me to please just come back to bed. Even in bed I couldn’t relax or sleep or get comfortable.
Then, the most damning evidence that there might be a more recurrent issue worth addressing happened in 2014 leading up to my own departure for Florida. I think I’ve droned on ad nauseam about the pain I felt in that transition and fear of the unknown, but I don’t think I’ve disclosed to many the series of panic attacks I felt in those last few weeks. Scary, unchangeable (so I thought) phenomena of tension, shaking, inability to speak, inability to control tears, inability to be any of the things expected of me at the time which included a good wife and mother. I was secretly hoping someone would just have me committed because in my eyes, the future was scary and these attacks would sneak up on me unsuspectingly so I was all around sucking at life during this time.
Obviously, my life has taken a positive turn since that period, but that nuisance still lingers with me. I try to fight it off, and most days I succeed. Some days, I don’t.
Despite this, I still engage in very outwardly, uncharacteristic activities for people who routinely feel anxious or nervous. As a professor, I can’t shrink and hide behind the lectern or computer screen and expect my students to excel. If I’m asking them to step out of a comfort zone, I have to do that as well. I do so willingly, too, because teaching is a passion of mine. I also meet students in the health and fitness classroom through the Cize classes I teach. Most folks hate to dance when they’re by themselves, let alone when they’re in a group of people who can see them missing steps – me included. But I’m grateful to get the chance to teach people how to dance. As a fitness coach through Beachbody, 90% of my sales happen when I present what I have to other people. People don’t come to me – I have to put myself out there and go to them, and 90% of the time, I hear rejections from people. That’s okay. I will still always search for people to help with the products and support I offer.
Most people would call me an extrovert, but I will valiantly fight that description until the day I die. I am absolutely NOT an extrovert. I would rather sit at home with one or two friends than have to socialize with a bunch of people at a party.
On days when anxiety is weighing me down, I’ll often get asked the question, “What’s wrong?” It’s hard for me to even begin to answer because I have trouble describing it, it isn’t just one “thing,” and most people don’t have the patience to accept that someone else may be shouldering the runoff of an invisible disease that’s turned their world upside down. And when you’ve become good at being there for people, picking up the slack for others when they fall, and consistently showing up come rain or shine, people don’t often let you off the hook so you can go deal with your disease they can’t see. Having anxiety doesn’t stop Kennedy from reciting her ABC’s over and over and over and over and over and over while I load her into the car, figure out my grocery budget for that trip, fight through traffic to get to the grocery store (because Newberry Rd. is no joke), try to remember what we need at home because I forgot to make a list, shop, load the car, and drive home, all with a splitting headache. My anxiety doesn’t stop my boss from emailing me her critique – however harsh or glowing – of my classroom management for that term. It doesn’t stop my students from calling my phone 842 times a day wondering when their assignments are going to be graded despite the fact that what they submitted is technically late and I’m not obligated to grade or assign credit for it two weeks after the fact. There is no cane to carry or brace to wear. It’s just there. And no, people with anxiety, depression, schizoaffective disorder, or any of those other mental afflictions that take them out of normal don’t go around announcing their disorders to others. At least most of them don’t. Why should they? Why should WE? Our culture indicates that if you can’t stand on your own, you’re a failure, and I’m not running to get in line and be called a failure.
It’s part of the human experience to categorize others based on traits and characteristics we can see – short, tall, skinny, overweight, young, mature, male, female, stylish, plain, etc. But I challenge you to not let the absence of physical characteristics influence the judgments you make of others. People like me can smile, shout, get people moving, get people learning, and hold it together okay outwardly, but you have no idea what storm may be brewing internally. And, if someone’s kind enough to let you know that they’re dealing with a lot, back off for a bit. Offer your help, but don’t do so in expectation of return. The nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me during my bout with anxiety was:
“You do what you need to do, and I will support you because I love you.”