98: Life With Anxiety
Updated: Jun 12
Head's Up: I write every post weeks in advance of their release date. I sound very unwell here, but by the time you're reading this, I've recovered. No worries!
Howdy! I'm not shy about the impact my anxiety has on my life. It's weird to say, "I'm struggling with..." because I've been anxious for so long, that it's my normal. A lack of anxiety feels surreal.
A year ago, I finally tried to find a therapist in my network, because I was about to learn how to drive. I was in multiple car accidents as a child, one of which landed me and my sister in the hospital. They kept her overnight. Some years later, my mom died in an accident, on her way to meet us at a party. I was maybe ten. The point of the therapy, as far as I was concerned, wasn't to rid me of my anxiety, but to get me calm enough behind the wheel, where I could think.
That's a big part of the problem. I'm unbothered by the usual concerns. I picture what can go wrong, from the mundane, to exceedingly unlikely catastrophes, and plan how best to survive them. As long as I'm prepared, I can push those concerns aside. Imminent triggers hit differently. I am terrified to drive. What if I crash? Everybody has an accident eventually, in these multi-ton metal cages, careening ever-forward at unnatural speeds. In a bad accident, it's not just my life on the line, but that of my passengers, those of any nearby vehicles, pedestrians, etc. It's a massive responsibility and despite having taken the driving coarse, and studied traffic laws, and read the drivers manual, I can't think mid-panic, and I am panicking behind the wheel. At that point, I'm running on instinct, and my instincts must have sat those lessons out.
The only treatment for driving anxiety is to drive more. Am I driving more? No. I've driven a handful of times since receiving my license, and have almost caused nearly as many accidents. Will I go back to my instructor about a defensive driving course? At this point, I don't think it's worth the money, because it's not that I don't know what to do. It's that I have to think, to do it. Maybe some people aren't cut out for driving. I do have poor night vision. My husband suspects that I struggle with depth perception, which would explain my inability to catch or throw with any precision, and the multitude of bruises I've accumulated from walking into furniture.
I went to two therapy sessions. The first, I had a break down, as if in emphasis of how much I needed help. Picture that scene in Gilmore Girls where Rory has just returned to Yale after taking a semester off. The second, I apologized for the first, and my counselor (I wasn't assigned a therapist.) got a better feel for my life. She assigned me some work sheets to help improve my self esteem and to pin-point my unhealthy behaviors. Then I received the bills, saw how expensive each session was, and cancelled. I wasn't sure if I was over-reacting. Maybe it's perfectly normal nowadays, for an hour long therapy session, to charge insurance like $400, and then another $100 for the client.
Searching Better Help on Twitter, I found a ton of users had billing issues, wherein they were overcharged, then they had to hound the company to refund them the difference. There were also issues with clients quitting the program, then being charged regardless. At that point, I felt justified dropping out, and I sent my counselor an email explaining why. Given the episode at our first session, she was probably grateful. I can be a lot. You can't trauma dump on the counselor who is being paid to hear you out, but I must've come pretty close.
At one point during our first session , she asked for physical symptoms of my anxiety and I wasn't sure what to say. While I had what I believe was an anxiety attack shortly after beginning to work as a temp in Austin, I've never experienced anything like it since. I was working, correcting digital files to reflect the handwritten notes on documents, while thinking about my life. Where I was, where I'd been, where I was going. How I wasn't using my degree. How I wasn't really painting anymore, how I'd quit tattooing, how I was stuck in a city with minimal public transport and I couldn't find a better paying job because my only transferable skill was customer service and I couldn't drive so I couldn't apply to most places either way. Worse, I was still in mourning over the loss of my college friends, and had yet to have replaced them (Nobody died. I'm just awful at making and keeping friends, and didn't realize we were all growing apart until they were gone). I was spiraling, as my husband puts it, but I'm never unaware of how far I am from who, and where, I thought I'd be. Mentally, I wasn't exactly venturing into new territory. But something snapped and my pulse was racing and I had a lump in my throat and I was working to breathe, and I couldn't know if my neighbors were aware of my episode but worrying that they saw and were reaching their own conclusions, didn't help. My chest hurt and I had cramps, but mostly, I was embarrassed of whatever was wrong with me and I kept trying to type, or at least look like I was working, until it passed.
When I think about my usual anxiety, I think about back up plans, problem solving before they arise, being ready for anything. If that causes me physical discomfort, I'm unaware of it. But I didn't stop thinking about her question. My biggest anxiety triggers are: social interactions and driving. I avoided the second for ~years.~ The first, doesn't hurt while I'm being social. The pain comes later, when I reflect on what I've said and how. When I have a quiet moment and I've made the mistake of not choosing a distraction. When it's just me and I have to face what I've done, how I've created an opportunity to be judged poorly. Then I either have to correct the memory, sorting out what I should have said, done, or I drop it down an imaginary well. But it always comes back.
When that happens, I'm so focused on the mental, I'm not wasting my energy taking the physical into account. My counseling sessions predated my driving course and earning my license. Once I forced myself behind the wheel, I knew exactly what she meant with that question. The answer is, I sweat a lot, despite being very cold, and I get cramps while being choked up like I'm about to cry, because I probably am.
Back in the day, my anxiety revolved around my family life. My safety, and that of my household, were genuinely in jeopardy until I was twelvish, so any anxiety then was completely justified. Then, my anxiety revolved around avoiding scoldings, insults, and threats to send me to foster care—where I was informed girls were m*lested and r*ped. I wasn't without friends, but they mostly only hung out with me at school. The excuse was that they, with some exceptions, were afraid to call my house and I didn't have a cell phone. In the summers, outside of working and volunteering, I was trapped among those who didn't want me. In middle & high school, I didn't know how to connect to my peers, so I was quiet unless among friends. When I spoke up, I regretted it.
I am nervous around people. New people. Friends. People I've known for years. Relatives, even. I want to be liked by everyone, but I also don't have it in me to play any part but my own, and there is a conflict there. I can either remain quiet, revealing little, objectively the safest option, or I can share. But where is the line between sharing and oversharing? I internalized that trauma-dumping is wrong, so I'm working to contain all of that. I wish I'd heard that phrase in 2019. My sister visited me, and brought her friends along. I didn't know she hadn't told them about how we grew up (Which on the surface, isn't that bad. You had to be there.). But of course she didn't. She must've instinctively known not to burden them. And when is it okay for me to share a similar experience and when am I "making everything about [me]?"
Then there is are my stories. In high school, I had a good friend not believe me when I told her the troubles I was dealing with at home. She had a wonderful relationship with her parents, and couldn't wrap her head around that I wasn't exaggerating the issues with mine. In college, another friend did likewise.
Now I have to wonder, do people even believe me when I explain where I'm coming from? Was my childhood normal? No. And do people take me at my word when I tell stories from the many jobs I've worked? I don't know. My brief foray with being counseled, as an adult (I received a lot of therapy when I was younger), touched on how it's unhealthy for me to attempt to interpret how I'm being judged. That I'm not a mind reader and should stop trying. But if I'm not analyzing how I've come off to others, I can't improve. I don't want to not have friends.
And I'm not without friends. I shouldn't minimize them nor the the beneficial impact they've had on me. They just live very far away.
I have a tendency to hold on to people, past the point where they've let go. To this day, if someone asks me how many siblings I have, it's a coin toss whether I'll list the halves, steps and "step-halves" from before I went to live with my aunt, or if I'll be including her children, who I currently talk to only slightly more frequently than the first half. I had a best friend when I was ten. She was my first close friend. Our parents dated, so we practically lived at each others' house for months. Then, when our folks broke up, we spoke a few times on the phone, but I never saw her again. For years, I missed her, and when I say years, I mean years. I missed what we had. I longed for that level of friendship. I was fifteen, when after looking her up, I learned she was pregnant. That was what finally convinced me we were on very different paths and that I had to let go.
A couple of years ago, a cousin, whom I consider a sister, made an off-hand comment about how she chose a non-sibling relative as her maid of honor, because she doesn't have any sisters. She meant nothing by it, and I'm not offended. That's just how I was informed she sees me differently, than I, her. Then, a week ago I reached out to my childhood step-sister, to send her pictures my paternal grandmother gave me. She asked how my sister is doing, meaning my biological sister. But we all were sisters. We lived together for four years, sharing parents, a room. We didn't get along. I was not a nice little girl. But I never stopped thinking of her as my sister, even after she was sent away to live with her deceased mother's ex-husband (not my father). I see the pattern.
With my social anxiety, the stakes are low. If I say the wrong thing, they wont like me, might have a very strong distaste for me, but nobody will die. I go to the dog park a few times a week, and I'm getting to know the regulars. I like most of them, though I'm still learning names. I noticed that sometimes they'll break off into groups and head out to dinner together. My husband and I haven't become friendly enough with any of them, for that. We haven't so much as exchanged numbers with them, but there is a chance of friendship there, I think. The regulars watch each other's dogs, so I did offer to babysit a dog for a weekend, as the owner was going out of town and needed a last-minute sitter. However, I think I came off too strong. The owner declined.
This week is an anxiety week. I have cramps, am freezing, have zero appetite, and can't sleep through the night. There is a lump in my throat and my eyes keep pooling and no aspect of my life is bad enough to justify how I'm feeling. My husband and I have been bickering over politics basically since SCOTUS overturned Roe v. Wade, so for over a year. And needing to be liked by everyone includes him. I have an art booth next weekend, that involves me being personable for several hours in a row, to an onslaught of strangers. My debut novel is coming out this year, and while there is nothing altogether demanding about that process, I am incapable of excitement. I can't seem to maintain motivation for any one project right now, so I recently interrupted a watercolor to begin writing my memoir. I finished the painting later in the week, but still haven't photographed it, and now I'm blogging when I should be posting it. I just can't deal with talking to people today, even kind people reaching out to say they like my work.
It's me. I'm feeling too strongly about everything, and even what should spark joy, won't right now. I'm tempted to sleep today, and much of this weekend away. If the one person I talk to every day, is irritated with me, why be awake? But. I'm an artist and a writer, which is a magnificent privilege most people can't afford to invest time in, because they have day jobs. It's squandering my good fortune to sleep or mope when I should be creating. I can so I should.
And that's my anxiety. I'm never doing enough, and what I do, I don't do well, and then, to top it off, I'm not likable. For indulging in a slew of insecurities, I am rewarded with cramps.
Thanks for stopping by. Sorry this wasn't remotely uplifting. Take care.