I woke up on Monday so anxious that my arms were numb.
When I relayed this information to Simon later, he thought I was pretty nonchalant about what he was convinced may have been a fatal malady.
But this is not my first rodeo.
I know precisely how my anxiety manifests. And the cold, lack of feeling in my hands… yep. That’s just anxiety, showing up for the party.
In the hell-in-a-handbasket environs of late, it’s not super surprising my anxiety reared its head. COVID-19 has made me reckon with the hard truth that I’m a bit of a hypochondriac (read: I’m always 85% sure I’m dying of something). I’ve managed my pandemic anxiety relatively well by simply being cautious. We’ve been social distancing since March 15th. Which is a fucking long time. I have a whole variety of masks to choose from, because I wear one any time I’m close to other humans. Hell, I go grocery shopping at 7am just to avoid other people.
But when we went to the LGBTQ+ March for Black Lives on Sunday, suddenly I was around a shit ton of people. And, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but some people really struggle with this mask thing. Like, for instance, wearing it over their mouths but below their nose.
Or–and this is my favorite–the folks who take off their masks to sneeze.
What the fuck, y’all? The mask says on. If we don’t all do it right, nobody is safe.
So, yeah, a large march both fed my soul & made me feel like I was actively participating in the Black Lives Matter movement—and scared the shit out of me. Cue the internal certainty I’m about to meet my ultimate demise because folks can’t wear a mask right.
And then, just for fun, my anxiety will grab on to every single thing I think I haven’t done right in, oh my entire life, and have a field day with it. And soon, I am petrified that I am in the midst of financial ruin (we’re not), that I’m going to lose the bookstore because I’m an idiot (I’m not), that my mistakes make me unredeemable and unworthy and just horrible (no, nope, nah).
The culmination? Waking up sweating, pinned to the bed in a panic, unable to feel my fingers.
Anxiety has been woven throughout my story since I was 8 years old. What does anxiety look like in an 8 year old? Begging to be able to order my own food at a restaurant (I wanted steak tips). Being met with sighs, insistence that I’d never be able to eat it all myself, that my mom and I should share food just like we had my entire life, that we’d be wasting money… and then getting my food and being seized with terror.
And not being able to eat a damn bite.
Fast forward to my second year of sobriety.
I’m 35 years old. Teaching First Year Writing at the University of South Florida–a job I adore. We’re trying to get pregnant. And every single day I’m seized with such anxiety I can barely breathe.
Not feeling my fingers was the least of my problems.
I often had to step out, mid-class (I was the teacher), just to breathe and talk myself into finishing the class. And I taught 4 or 5 classes–so this was a daily struggle. One class in particular stoked my anxiety to the point that I completely disassociated from my body. I’d feel myself receding, and suddenly it felt like someone else was talking, going through the motions, laughing with students.
I was gone.
I thought about quitting. Of course I did. It was emotionally wrenching just to make it through a day. But I also knew anxiety was a monster that wanted to take what was mine. And teaching was mine. I would not relenquish it. Period.
And so I fought through. With help from a good therapist. And Simon, who always nodded kindly when I explained my abject terror at… life. No matter how my anxiety manifested, he never got impatient. For several years, he knew where every single public restroom was in greater Tampa Bay. Because that was the only way I could manage to leave the house–if I knew I could find a public restroom in a flash.
Anxiety is weird.
But Simon never made me feel weird. To him, I was just a regular person dealing with this intense thing. I always felt like he saw my anxiety as separate from me. And, so, with his help, the therapist’s unwavering, gentle pushing at me to let go of all the bullshit I was holding on to, and little victories every day that I didn’t give in to my anxiety…
Well, it went away.
I know. That’s anticlimactic. As a storyteller, I want to give you this one big moment where I slayed the fire-breathing anxiety dragon.
But that’s not how it worked for me.
It was more like I wouldn’t play anxiety’s stupid, made-up games anymore, so it took it’s toys and went home in a huff.
Occasionally, it still rings the doorbell to see if I can come out and play. This time, though, it snuck in really quietly, so it could yell BOO! and try to frighten me out of going to the march.
But anxiety is just a bully. And the only way over is through.
So, I used my words to tell Simon I felt anxious. We went to the march anyway. I used my words to tell Simon I woke up so afraid I couldn’t feel my fingers. I got out of bed anyway. I did the things I always do: I had coffee, read, wrote. I left the house and delivered books… just life stuff.
And at some point, I took a deep breath and realized my anxiety was gone.
I know that, in part, its stay was short this time because I didn’t hold on to it, probe it, feed it, or give in to it. I just acknowledged it and let that shit go.
The only way over is through.