Wednesday, January 18, 2017
Real Talk About Anxiety
This post has been swirling around in my brain for a couple weeks now. Does it mean you have anxiety if the thought of writing a post about anxiety gives you anxiety? Haha. Actually, I don't mind discussing this or other difficult topics; I just worry that my words will fail me and that I will struggle to adequately convey my thoughts and feelings. If you have any interest in reading about or discussing mental health issues, please bear with me.
First of all, I would like to start off by saying that I have never visited a therapist or any other mental health professional, nor have I been officially diagnosed with anxiety or any other condition. Medical decisions should always be made in conjunction with a professional and nothing in this post should be taken as medical advice.
I consider myself fairly well grounded in reality; I'm certainly not a hypochondriac incessantly on Google and Web MD believing I have every disease and disorder I read about. But from the bit of research I have done, I do believe I have feelings and symptoms associated with mild to moderate anxiety and possibly depression. I have spoken with my medical doctor about this during the course of regular checkups and he did prescribe me a low dose of an anti anxiety medication that as he explained it is supposed to increase serotonin levels in the brain. I have taken this for nearly a year now and honestly cannot tell whether it makes any difference or not. I don't cry or feel a sense of panic very often anymore, but I think that has a lot to do with my main coping strategy being avoiding most stressful situations and many responsibilities all together.
To backtrack a bit; before I had any idea what the term anxiety meant, I've always considered myself a worrier since I was a young child. At night my mind would race with thoughts of problems and monsters, both real and imagined, and I used a series of repetitive behaviors to try and calm and soothe myself. I would tell myself that if I lay on my stomach with the covers over my head and hug a stuffed animal, nothing could hurt me. If I couldn't quiet the negative thoughts I would listen to music, sing in my head or count until I finally fell asleep. I went through some interesting phases, one in particular where I was terrified to be alone, even for a second and would often end up going to sleep at the foot of my parents' bed. I was always very sensitive and a people pleaser and always wanted to get the best grades and have both children and adults like me. If I thought someone didn't like me, I would cry and cry about it. I couldn't stand yelling and avoided conflict at all costs. I had a couple close friends both in elementary and high school, but I wouldn't describe myself as a social butterfly or particularly popular; more under the radar. I lived way out in the country and my parents often didn't have the time or money to take me to social events. I didn't have any siblings near my age either, so I spent the majority of my growing up years using my extensive imagination and either playing games outside with my pets, reading, watching the same handful of beloved movies over and over, writing, making jewelry and crocheting, or looking through magazines and catalogs and imagining myself having those fabulous toys and clothes.
I always wondered if anyone else constantly worried about everything and I considered myself a bit odd, perhaps a something of an old soul. I had trouble relating to people my own age. I didn't understand why my peers did some of the things they did. Did people only ever think about themselves and having fun? Didn't they ever feel sad or think about complex issues? But I didn't want to be ostracized so I mostly kept my feelings to myself.
I can't tell you what a sense of kinship and relief I felt in high school when I met the man who would become my husband. He's literally like the male version of me and even though we were young we wanted the same things out of life and connected on the deepest levels emotionally. He is still my very best friend to this day and the only person in the world I feel 100% comfortable sharing anything with.
After we were married many aspects of our life felt quite rosy, but the reality of adulthood and responsibilities were settling in. We both worked and I hated my job; which was the first and only paying job I've ever had. As a very young adult I was searching for work in an extremely depressed economy with no skills and no experience and after several dozen applications I took the only position that was offered to me. It allowed my hubby and I to scrape by in a modest one bedroom appartment, but as the years went by there was no room for growth, no room for dreams, no room for children or self improvement. Both of our jobs were such dead ends and we were so miserable. I was still such a people pleaser and I worked my hardest for minimum wage, often feeling under appreciated and even harassed by my some of my coworkers and bosses. It was a very negative work environment and I felt trapped there because it was paying the rent and despite extensive searching I could never find anything else. I didn't mind the work itself but it certainly wasn't anything I was passionate about and it was very unfulfilling. I can't count the number of times I thought there had to be more to life than this.
tell this story because I feel this was the period where full fledged anxiety began to manifest itself. I would go home and cry, almost every day. Several times a week at least. Even if nothing bad had actually happened, I lived with a constant sense of dread; a tightness in my chest and a lump in my throat, like an invisible fist was always pressing against my heart.
Hubby finally decided to make a career move into truck driving and it was decided that I would leave my job and travel with him. I was so excited to be making a change and relieved to be leaving behind a part of my life that I hated, but the relief was short lived.
I ended up quitting my job a few weeks sooner than expected because I was in a car accident and though I wasn't hurt my car needed extensive repairs and I didn't have another way to get to work at that time. Leaving my job was very abrupt and anticlimactic and did not feel nearly as good as I thought it would considering I had to deal with many new added stresses at that time. I was extremely lonely without my husband for two months and I had to deal with handling the insurance, car repairs, my exacerbated anxiety over driving, financial worries because I had left my job early, and on top of it all my grandfather passed away suddenly during that time. I isolated myself a lot and felt sad, occupying my new free time with books and boring TV shows and packing to leave my life behind. Grief and worry were near constant companions. I've never wanted my family or friends to worry about me, or worse, judge me, so I usually tend to present a good front and hold things in, even when I'm not ok.
I was excitedly optimistic when the hubby and I were reunited and we were getting ready to start our new adventure together, but honestly it was short lived. We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. What we once considered to be a means for my husband to gain more job skills and a chance at a more lucrative career and therefore a better future actually turned into something of a nightmare. The ins and outs of over the road trucking are very complex to explain, but suffice it to say that we had a steep learning curve with many mechanical problems and financial mishaps along the way. There were times when we barely had enough to eat, and couldn't find a safe place to rest or even use the restroom, not for lack of planning on our part because because there is a surprising shortage of basic amenities and accommodations available for truckers in some areas. The most horrific thing was the grueling schedule and the constant pressure to perform. It may not have been my job but I was certainly along for the ride every minute of it and it was my life for two years so I did everything I could to ease the burden and make it easier for him. It became my worry as much as his. A truck driver has a certain number of hours he can legally drive and be on duty during a day which in most our cases nowadays is monitored electronically. That's a good thing in theory, except when you are nearing the end of your legal hours but have no safe place to park and take a break. Despite a driver's best efforts, any number of unforseen circumstances can delay and cause him or her a world of problems. Plus you are only legally required to take a break for 10 hours every 24 hour period, and considering all a driver has to do in that time such as log their daily activities, respond to messages from their bosses, plan their trips, shower, eat, sleep and take care of any other personal needs, that is very little time. You work from load to load, basically point A of pickup to point B of delivery and then start all over again on another load. You may be required to drive at any time of day or night, in any location, in any weather condition; etc. It is a truly disorienting, grueling, and sometimes downright dangerous way of life that wrecks havoc on one's body and mind. I think the hubs and I only got through those two years by relying on each other. There were definitely times he would have driven off in a ditch and crashed from sheer exhaustion if I hadn't been there to keep him awake. There were times each of us might have lost our minds if we weren't there to comfort the other. And though we really enjoy spending time together there were even some times we got really angry with each other and were literally trapped with it for a while. Stress will do crazy things to a person. I had the only full blown panic attack I ever recall having during this time, and let me tell you, it did not feel good. I cried a lot, I yelled some, but mostly I learned more about how to be ok with being alone and how to distract myself from the endless ennui of daily reality. When I wasn't staring out the window at the scenery or taking photos I read a lot, watched Netflix even though it was really expensive on cellular data, wrote a little, did a bit of crocheting and began to retreat into social media and online communities. I talked to family probably weekly, a few select friends every few months, but other than my husband and random strangers, I was alone with my mind. I didn't have a regular routine to rely on and bring me comfort, so I had to find ways to distract myself from worry filled thoughts. I began using Facebook as my primary means of communication and source of news, discovered Instagram, and participated in some forums about interests that I still enjoy today. It got me by I suppose, but I still feel that I've never really faced or dealt with my anxious thoughts and feelings; rather I try to ignore and distract myself from them. But to this day that tightness in my chest and impending sense of dread has never really gone away.
After we had enough of that nomadic lifestyle my husband and I moved back home essentially, and are borrowing a trailer from his family and living on his parent's property. It was a blow to my pride as the type of person who's always wanted to make it on my own and has done so since age 19, but it was only supposed to be temporary. Our family is great; very supportive and helpful, not to mention they had missed us and were relieved to have us back and safe from the perils of constant travel. But nearly three years later and we are still here. I think it's beginning to wear a bit thin on everyone. My husband and I enjoyed the freedom and lack of stress from leaving that period behind us, but despite his new skill set it took him four months to find a job and the significant savings we had managed to build were depleted. I have tried to look for a job on and off in the last few years but to no avail. There are limited employment opportunities for someone with my skill level and many logistical hurdles as well, such as us living far away from any jobs and only having one vehicle. Plus I honestly don't relish the thought of working again at this time in my life. My first job experience was so unpleasant that I struggle to imagine myself being happy in a typical workplace. I spent many of my days alone now, which I'm comfortable with. I actually prefer the solitude at this point. I have family near by if I ever need anything and those couple good friends I do fun things with occasionally. For the most part every day I do some cooking and a bit of household chores. I blog and surf the internet and social media, watch TV, read and whatever else I may be inclined towards. The calmness of my routine and the abundance of "me time" certainly helps keep my anxiety in check, but I can never fully escape the thoughts that I'm now somehow a failure at life and the fears that I'm letting my whole life pass me by, by not engaging in it and doing something purposful and fulfilling with it.
Avoiding responsibility feels like giving up and I can't escape the feeling deep down that I was made for something more than merely existing and I haven't a clue what it is or how to get there.
If you are unemployed it would seem one of the only acceptable devotions of time is motherhood, and while I'm open to the idea of having children, it's always seemed a "someday" sort of aspiration. I've been married nearly nine years and those strong maternal desires have not kicked in yet. We have mainly refrained from being parents for financial reasons, but I do fear putting it off for too long and it becoming impossible due to age or other circumstances. Family is very important to me, but my anxiety messes with my confidence and I fear I would be inadequate as a parent. In all honesty I'm sure I would step up to the challenge and do the best I could if I had to, but if I'm going to be responsible for another human life I'd like to get my own self together a bit more first. So yes, while it may look like I currently lead a pretty stress free life with few obligations, it's surely not enviable. The human mind can be a beautiful landscape of ideas and dreams as surely as it can be a dark quagmire of worry and self doubt. Where do I go from here? I don't really know. But if my brief experience on this earth has taught me anything it's that nothing ever works out exactly as you think it will and nothing stays the same forever. I'm sure something will dislodge me from my current orbit sooner or later; I just hope it isn't some sort of catastrophe that sends me off in a new direction.
I hope I didn't ramble too nonsensically in this post and that you as a reader found something you could connect to. Have you ever struggled with anxiety, another mental or physical issue, or even just a lack of direction and a general sense of dissatisfaction? I am always here if anyone wishes to discuss any issues that are important to them, whether it be privately or publicly in the comments below.
Once again, I am blown away by the thoughtful responses to my "real talk" series of posts and while I can hardly find the words to respond adequate to the things you all have had to say, I have read them all over and over again and heald them in my heart. I do find this writing process very cathartic so thanks for allowing me this indulgence.