Anxiety is a bitch.
An unforgiving, take all the prisoners, give no quarter, fuck with every aspect of my life, no good bitch.
I don’t think I’ve always battled anxiety. Certainly I don’t remember being an overly anxious child. Somewhere around puberty and losing my grandmother, I started getting these nasty black-out headaches. When my parents’ remedies all failed, they gave in and took me to the doctor.
Or rather, the day my stepfather walked in and found I had blacked out in the middle of curling my hair and was in danger of setting myself and my bed on fire, they decided it was time I see the doctor.
As I’ve said before, I’ve never done medical stuff the easy way. It’s all or nothing here, folks.
The first doctor I saw was a quack.
He gave some mumbo-jumbo about puberty and hormone levels and told me to take some Tylenol. When we tried to explain that I had been eating Tylenol, ibuprofen, asprin, and many other over-the-counter pain relievers like candy for a number of months with no relief, he said there was nothing he could do for me.
We got a second opinion, and this doctor was a bit better. He diagnosed me with stress-induced migraines and recommended reducing the amount of stress in my life. He also prescribed Vicodin to be used as a last resort on the most painful of days.
I was 15.
Since that period of time, I’ve always associated stress with anxiety. The two are inextricably tied together in my mind, forever bound.
Now if you’ve been bored enough to read the blurbs about me, you’ll know that my family doesn’t believe in discussing mental illness. Have stress? Deal with it, it’s part of life. Need coping techniques? Better figure something out. Want to talk to someone? Tough luck. We don’t believe in therapy. We are NOT the kind of people who tell their secrets to strangers. Imagine what people would THINK.
Forced to learn how to deal with anxiety and stress all on my own, I developed my own coping tools. Music has always been an easy one. When things became too much, I would turn the music on as loud as I could tolerate, plug in head phones, and sing along at the top of my lungs. That is, until one of my parents would come tell me to shut up or one of my step-sisters would come and tell me how horrible my voice sounded. Their ridicule washed over like a bucket of cold water.
I also took to journaling my feelings, often writing letters to people that I would never send. A practice I later found is highly recommended by many therapists. This lasted until one of my step-sisters found my journals and spread them around our circle of friends, including my boyfriend of the time.
As each method of coping I tried came under attack by those around me, I searched for ways to control my surroundings. My former penchant for organization took on a new form as my room, my space became the only thing I could control.
I spent hours of my high school years organizing my books, cleaning and rearranging my room until everything had its place and it was in it. When that wasn’t enough, I would deep clean our bathroom, scrubbing the grout with an old tooth brush until everything smelled of bleach and shone white again.
I developed a form of OCD as a coping mechanism.
Seriously, how fucked up is that?
Now, as an adult, I’m usually aware enough to recognize when my OCD tendencies are taking over, and I’m able to take a step back to evaluate what triggers are setting off my anxiety. Because my battle with RA often makes deep cleaning an unrealistic therapy option, I’ve started singing again. On days this isn’t enough, I have to find little things I can clean or organize.
While I’ve been fighting a flare most of April, I’ve also been battling my anxiety. It’s hard to say exactly what triggered it. Most likely, it was the combination of multiple stressors. Finances, relationships, my family, my health, they all add up to a anxiety ridden cocktail swirling around my mind.
Last week, on the brink of losing what little control I felt I had left, I broke down.
I emailed my team at Band Back Together and told them I needed to take the rest of the month off. Of course, they were awesome and urged me to take whatever time I need.
I sat down with my fiance and explained as best as I could that some shit was going down in my mind, and I needed a little understanding on his part. Of course, he’s wonderful and has stuck by my side, no matter what battle I’m fighting. No matter that sometimes the fighting pushes me past a point, and I’m difficult to get along with.
I’m taking a deep, hard look at myself and I’m making some real changes. And while I evaluate what some of those changes need to be, I’m trying to be kind to myself. When the urge to clean, to take control, becomes too much to bear, I give in slightly. I organize my craft tools or color code my embroidery thread. Most days, I sing as loud as I can.
And every single day, I remind myself that I am on a path of healing. It may be long, it may have bumps and obstacles, but it is MY path and the destination will be so very worth the journey.