Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” I’m going to do that today as I share something with all of you that I really don’t like to talk about. But, I feel like it’s important, and by the end of it, I’ll have a point. I promise.
There’s a little girl, safely tucked in her bed. Her family is loving, her belly is full, she has no fear of being hurt or how she’ll get to school. Her younger brother is funny and sweet and annoys the heck out of her, but she loves and protects him fiercely. She has plenty of everything she could want, and even of what she didn’t know she could want. Her family isn’t rich, but they are happy.
There should be no reason for this little girl to wake up in the middle of the night, several times a week, shivering, her hands clenched, her stomach heaving to the point of having to run to the bathroom.
Sometimes she makes it in time. Sometimes she doesn’t, but her mama never makes her feel bad when she doesn’t make it in time. She holds the little girl’s hair, rubs her back, and helps her, then sees to cleaning up the mess while the little girl goes back to sleep.
This happened to me every week for as long as I can remember.
My poor mother. She’s an angel.
I’m sure that back then there was no reason to think I had anxiety. I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s, and in my tiny Northwest Montana town, I wasn’t given a label. Which might actually be for the better. I didn’t have the flu. I wasn’t sick. I just got sick in the middle of the night sometimes. It got better as I got older, with fewer middle of the night “episodes.” But to this day, if I’m worried about something, it will still happen.
When I was going through my divorce, it happened every day. I knew the exact minute when it would happen. 5:31 a.m. would roll around and I’d wake up and have to run to the bathroom. Every. Single. Day.
This is my body’s reaction to stress.
This is my anxiety.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been an over thinker. I listen and soak everything around me in, and I mull it over until it’s mush. I have conversations, whole conversations, in my head that have nothing to do with writing. I have suffered from insomnia for years, and I would lie there in the dark, rethinking through all of the conversations from the previous day, or week, or ten years ago, and think about all of the ways that I could have done it better.
And let me just tell you, staying awake all night long with only your own thoughts makes for a long night.
The interesting thing is, I don’t stress out just about the bad things. I do the same with good stress. Happy things are happening, and I’m still mulling it all over. But the scary thing recently is, I’m not just getting sick in the middle of the night. I’m pushing myself into a full blown anxiety attack that feels horrifyingly like a heart attack.
So, I’ve been in the ER three times in the past three years, with heart attack symptoms. But after the standard blood work, EKG, chest x-rays and a ton of other things, I’m told that I’m healthy and normal. I’m “just” having an anxiety attack. So, we’ll hydrate you and give you a little something before you leave.
Thank God I’m healthy, but I’m also incredibly embarrassed. I feel like I’ve wasted everyone’s time, and I’m acting crazy.
But I’m over 40, and ever since that milestone birthday, I feel like a switch has been flipped. My body is not the same that it was when I was 39 and 364 days old. Things hurt, and I just don’t feel like myself.
And that gives me anxiety too. I was assured last night in my most recent visit to the ER that having health anxiety is perfectly normal in women after forty, and I feel like I’m excelling at it. If it were an Olympic sport, I’d be the gold medalist. I get a headache, and I’m convinced I have a tumor. I get low back pain, and I must have ovarian cancer. It never ends.
I have no reason to be afraid of those things. My family doesn’t have any genetic cancers. I’ve never even had an IV in my arm until last night. I’m a healthy person.
But I’m on social media all the time, and with the wonderment of having close to 5000 friends on Facebook, along with over 10,000 followers on my personal page alone, I not only see their excitement, but I see their heartache, too. The loss of loved ones, their medical tragedies. Their cancer diagnoses. It’s in my feed all day long.
So, it would make sense that it’s on my mind.
I should also mention that I absorb others emotions. Are you scared? Sad? Worried? Well, then, I am too. And I couldn’t participate in any discussion of the recent election. I. Could. Not. Because all I see is hate and meanness and bullying. I can’t deal with it. After the election was over, I cried for a week. It had a huge impact on me.
But, John put everything into an interesting perspective for me last night while we were sitting in the small ER in my little hometown.
I’ve discovered, with his help, that I’m quite empathic. I carry a lot of the stress of those around me. I also have a demanding job, and in the past year I have moved three times, built a house, got engaged, adopted two kittens, and am planning a wedding and honeymoon. All of those things are wonderful. I’m blessed and excited.
And it’s a lot to have on one plate.
Last night, John took my hand, and with a gentle smile said, “Babe, enjoy your wonderful life.”
So simple, and yet so fucking brilliant.
You see, anxiety is like the worst friend in the world that you just can’t shake. She’s walked through life with me since I was small, and she constantly whispers in my ear, reminding me of all the ways things can go wrong. She was with me in that bed when I was a child, and she became even LOUDER when I was married to an abuser. She sat next to me as I went through that divorce, and she sits next to me now, as I plan to marry the love of my life and release my 23rd (I think) book to the masses next month.
I’ve done a good job of using my sense of humor and optimism to talk myself down from the ledge most of my life. Without laughter and saying, “It’s going to be okay,” things would be so much worse.
I’m not typing this for your sympathy. My life is WONDERFUL, and I’m so happy. So, so happy. I wanted to write this and share it with you, because I know there are so many of you out there who might also struggle with anxieties, and I want to tell us both that it’s okay.
It’s okay, friend.
Life is BIG. It’s so big, and there are so many working parts, and it can be overwhelming. And when you’re someone who cares deeply, who loves fiercely, and takes on the burden of those around you, it feels even BIGGER.
And you forget to just enjoy your wonderful life.
Since I’ve met John, my insomnia is gone. I sleep like a freaking baby, and if I don’t get nine hours at night, I feel deprived. It feels so good to sleep. And I realize that it’s because I feel safe. Truly safe. In my relationship, in my home, and in my work.
These are all safe places for me.
I cherish them.
I need to nurture them.
And that means that for me, I will overthink them, and I will struggle with not worrying too much.
I don’t share many personal details of our life. You may think I do, but what I put out there in social media is pretty well thought out. My circle is small, and I keep a lot private.
But this is one of those things that I should share. Because I’m not the only person who feels the weight of the world on her shoulders. I’m not alone in thinking that I have to take care of everyone around me, all of the time.
And I’m not the only one who forgets to take care of herself first.
It’s time to do that.
I’m going to start with a gratitude journal first thing in the morning. It sounds so simple, and maybe it is, but I think it’s great to start the day counting your blessings. I’m also going to take a minimum of one hour a day to read. I’m going to take a deep breath, and I’m going to stop believing that I’m in a medical crisis when there is no reason to think that way.
No more borrowing trouble.
No more feeding that bitch named Anxiety.
It’s going to be a marathon, but I can do it.
And so can you.