Week 6 and 7 – What I’ve learned about my anxiety

So, Week 6 – I did ALL THE THINGS, and did them well. On Monday I ran 5K with my squad. On Tuesday I rode my bike 10 miles to work in the freezing cold because it was supposed to be nice in the afternoon. It was nice in the afternoon, but nice came with a fierce headwind that forced me to call for a rescue after riding 2 of the 10 miles home in 30 minutes. I could have walked faster. Wednesday we had a staff meeting in the afternoon, so I did yoga in the morning since I knew I wouldn’t get my after school run. Thursday was Thursday, so I slept in and enjoyed it. Parent teacher conferences filled my afternoon and evening and I went home and collapsed. Friday morning I ran with my squad and we made our best time yet. Saturday I went for a short hike with my youngest. Sunday I rested, and by rested, I mean I worked all day.

Week 7, the universe woke up and chose chaos. Monday I found out my sister had been diagnosed with cancer. I spent my lunch making phone calls and figuring out my role in her response. Because I hadn’t eaten, I did not run with my squad. (No one likes me when I’m hungry. I’m like the Hulk that way.) Tuesday I stress-slept, by which I mean I ran scenarios in my sleep and came up with options and solutions for a variety of possibilities. After school I met my oldest at the eye doctor’s because we both had new glasses to pick up and get fitted. Wednesday, I took off the last block of school to meet my sister for a Dr. appointment in case she needed a note taker/moral support. Cancer is hard, in case anyone didn’t know that. It was a low-key appointment, so I went home after, but there was no running, only driving. Thursday (That’s today!) I “slept in” by which I again mean, I stayed in bed and let my brain problem solve. It was cold and frozen-rainy this afternoon, so I did not even pretend to run. I just came home and hung out with my family for a bit.

On Wednesday my sister and I were talking before her appointment and she mentioned some anxiety she’s been having, and it made me think about other things I’ve been hearing people who are new to anxiety talk about this Covid year. And I realized that I’ve had anxiety for so long that so much of what people are experiencing is just… background noise to me. It’s literally just “day that ends in y” stuff. So… I started thinking about that, and what it means. I’ve never been diagnosed with anxiety. I’ve also never sought a diagnosis. It’s just that when people start describing their anxiety I’m like, yeah, uh-huh, yup, that too, go on, yes, also that, definitely, oh yeah, absolutely, I recognize that, right!?!?! And, it’s been like this for as long as I can remember.

My sister asked if I thought it was chemical or childhood, and I don’t have an answer. I can’t think of anything in my childhood that would have created this, so… probably chemical? But people on the outside of my life are like, “What about x, y, z, w, let’s start over at a…” so, maybe childhood? Like I said, I can’t remember a time I didn’t feel this way.

But… Here’s the thing (And this is personal commentary. This is not meant to say anything at all about anyone else or how they experience anxiety or what they might need to support them in surviving and living with their anxiety, because everyone is different.) for me, and perhaps only me, I’ve somehow turned my anxiety into a super power (probably because it’s been undiagnosed and I didn’t really have a choice, but I also had good enough accidental support systems at just the right times?). What I mean by that is – because of the way my anxiety brain works, I am REALLY good in a crisis. My brain kicks right into problem solver mode and it starts running scenarios. It runs them fast and hot. It can absolutely be overwhelming not just for me, but also for the people who have to live with me while my brain is in crisis overdrive. Depending on the scale of the crisis, I will often stop sleeping and sometimes forget to eat while my brain hyper-focuses on finding solutions. I often also become even more introverted and irritable during this phase because interruptions and distractions pull my focus and I AM WORKING ON THINGS. In this sense, my anxiety is also, like most super powers, my kryptonite, my fatal flaw. Yes, I’m REALLY good at problem solving and working stuff out. BUT – It takes a lot of energy and I’m not super pleasant while I do it. AND THEN – it gets worse, because after I’ve run the scenarios and come up with solutions, I want to implement them, RIGHT AWAY. I get SUPER frustrated with people who don’t have the same urgency that I have, or who want me to walk them through every single scenario before they will accept that I have DONE THE WORK and the solution I am proposing really is the best one given ALL of the factors and desired outcomes. It’s EXHAUSTING and it makes me feel resentful.

I have also realized that my anxiety is the WORST when there isn’t a problem for it to solve. I actually do better under stress because that is what I am used to. But, only if the stress is something I have some power over. If there’s nothing to stress about, I start spinning out, my brain will literally create things to be anxious about – but since they aren’t real things, they aren’t actually solvable, so I just spin out. Similarly, if I’m in a stressful situation that I have no power over, my brain will start to spin out and my anxiety will ramp up trying to FIND a solution. It’s a whole mess.

Things that help – this is where exercise comes in for me – it allows me to release that anxious energy build up without exploding all over the people I love. This is also when I tend to rearrange the furniture and or get deep into organizing and cleaning projects. I’m not the type to whip out a toothbrush and deep clean, but I will “deep organize” the pantry, or my books, or the garage… This often involves throwing a lot of stuff away (or donating it if it’s useful). My family knows I’m spinning out when I go into “purge mode.” I also start speed dating Zillow.com – again, because I do better with tangible stress, and moving creates tangible stress, I start daydreaming about moving. I also daydream about more pets. New jobs. I get “anywhere but here” and “anything but this” syndrome.

For the last year, in addition to living through the global pandemic of Covid-19, my family has been crisis hopping. We’ve literally been bouncing (falling?) from one crisis to another – seemingly non-stop. It’s been great for my anxiety, and that is not sarcasm. I’ve been super productive and gotten a ton of stuff done because I HAD TO. We had a break recently and it was nice. We could all breathe in ways we had forgotten were available. Even my anxiety brain relaxed a little and enjoyed it. I got into running, I started this blog back up, I attempted to build some new routines. I tried to give myself things to do to keep the anxiety at bay. Now, I have a new problem to solve, only it isn’t my problem. And there isn’t really anything I can do to solve it. All I can do is wait on the sidelines in case I get a call that my sister needs me – to be at an appointment, to be emotional support, to drive her somewhere or watch her kid or pick something up or… And this is hard for me, because there’s a problem, but it’s out of my hands. My brain still ran scenarios all week long – Dr. Strange style. Only, unlike Infinity War and Endgame, we won most of them. But, we can’t implement any of them, because again, it’s not actually our problem. So, we wait…

Tomorrow I pick my parents up at the airport, get them to their first Covid-19 vaccine appointment and deliver them to my sister’s house. But none of that starts until 9:30, so, weather willing, perhaps I’ll go for a run first. Or, if the weather gods are jerks, I’ll do some yoga and go a few rounds with my punching bag. Either way, the brain work has run its course, and the body work resumes to keep the anxiety monster at bay. And this is how I try to find balance. This is how I try to keep my feet under me and my fists and teeth from clenching. When breathing gets hard, I push my body so that I have to breathe hard, because hard is what I’m used to – hard feels easier…

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