One of the first posts I wrote for my blog was about anxiety. It was written as a way for me to practice both free writing and vulnerability. It’s a fairly popular post people visit when perusing my blog, so I thought I’d write a sequel with a few of my anxiety confessions.
Ready? It should be fun.
Even more fun? Right now as I’m writing this I’m experiencing indigestion or heartburn or something that very well could be a heart attack. But I’m powering through it so you’ll have a finished post, even if it’s my last.
That’s just one example of how anxiety (and sometimes mild, okay medium, hypochondria) can affect my life.
I once read an article about a man who woke up with a blue toe because at some point during the night he lost proper circulation to his foot. Now I look at my toes every morning to make sure they’re not blue.
This summer I went to Niagara Falls with a few friends. We spent the day doing all the touristy options on the American side of the falls and decided to end our visit with a ride on Maid of the Mist. If you don’t remember this tourist attraction from The Office, it’s a big boat that floats out onto the Niagara River and gets you so close to the falls you’re temporarily blinded by “mist” that feels less like mist and more like gigantic drops of water being pelted directly at your face.
I was having a great time until my friend looked at me and said, “He’s getting awfully close.” She was clearly anxious about our increasing proximity to the huge, raging waterfall and decided to share her anxiety with me. (Great. Friends don’t have to share everything, okay?) This is the same friend who earlier in the day said, “Don’t think about the massive security threat!” while we were in line.
She’s a giver.
From that point on all I could think was, Oh my gosh, what if this guy is having a bad day? What if he decides he’s done, this is it, he’s checking out, and drives us under the falls? At what point do I jump off the boat and can I survive? Anxiety completely changed my Maid of the Mist experience. Of course he eventually turned the boat around and I lived to tell the story.
I can joke about my anxiety because it’s part of the way I manage it. Overall I’m a fairly rational person. I know when anxiety sets in it’s not rational. It’s usually an exaggerated response to something I don’t have any control over, like whether the boat driver with a possible death wish fulfills it or not.
Looking back, I’ve always been an anxious person, even as a child. I remember an incident that occurred around third grade. I was playing at a friend’s house and found an old baby bottle in her playroom. For reasons I don’t remember, I put the bottle in my mouth. My friend shrieked, “Don’t do that! You’ll get a fungus!”
For days, weeks, maybe even a month, I checked my mouth for a fungus regularly, not that I would necessarily recognize a fungus if I found one. It was constantly on my mind and I’m pretty sure my mouth felt fuzzy for awhile. I didn’t know what to do with what I was feeling, other than to keep checking my face for a fungus. I never talked to anyone about it. I might have brought it up as a hypothetical in conversation but I doubt it.
“So, let’s say you find an old bottle somewhere and it ends up in your mouth. Will you get a fungus on your face? Just curious.”
Yeah, that probably would have brought on some questions and aroused suspicion so I suffered in silence.
Those are a few of my anxiety confessions and I have to say, I think anxiety is like my face fungus. It grows and grows but you can never quite get your hands on it. You’re never 100% sure what is real and life feels fuzzy for awhile.
Revisiting incidents like the baby bottle helped me realize that anxiety has been with me for a long time, only I didn’t have the word to define it. From changing in gym class to making a presentation, I thought I was just nervous. Really nervous. Think-about-it-every-second-for-a-week-with-a-pit-in-my-stomach-nervous. What I didn’t realize was that most kids weren’t as cripplingly nervous as I was.
For me, anxiety is not debilitating but it is something that makes its presence known most days. (Did I send that email? Was that a noise at the door? What is this lump in my neck?) For some people, it completely rules their lives. It’s powerful, it’s contagious, and it feeds on itself.
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile you know there is no happy ending to this post. I can’t wrap up my posts with life changing advice, unless I have it, which is not often. I’m just here to tell you that you’re not alone if you check your feet for blue toes every morning.