The title sounds a bit harsh but I am not a fan. We all experience anxiety. It is a normal emotion and can be useful. I get anxious when I am running late or driving in traffic. Many circumstances can bring up anxiety. Most of us can practice tricks and tools to temper the feeling and continue with the task at hand. It does not stop us from propelling forward.
One of my favorite tools is to just sit and experience how it feels in my body. Notice that my heart rate increases. My skin is warmer to the touch and gets flush. I get a knot at the top of my stomach. Sometimes my mouth will get dry and even my eyes will twitch if the feeling is intense. Observing the physical responses curiously and objectively is sometimes enough for the emotion to cycle and pass. There are times when deep and focused breathing or visualization is a better tool. I can take my brain in another direction. It is like I get off the anxiety train and get on the calm, or maybe the acceptance train. It is incredible what our brains can do.
I can adapt to change fairly well. I may not like it but I can do it. My mental health has always been stable and I am extremely grateful for that. I am fortunate to have found tools to manage my anxiety and I do not suffer crippling and physically limiting anxiety. Not everyone can do this. I know this is a gift that I do not take for granted.
I have been with my husband, Todd, for thirty-five years. We have been married for almost twenty-nine. After we had Justin and Emily, he began to experience anxiety. It did not pass with a body scan and some breathing techniques. His anxiety would take over his body and he had little to zero control over it. Sometimes it would keep him from being able to work or focus on anything else. He was paralyzed by it. I did not meet these episodes with compassion and understanding. There is a bit of sadness I feel just typing that out. I just did not get it. I began to learn more about it as Todd gathered tools to manage it. It has taken hard work, counseling, and for him, medication. I have developed compassion and empathy I did not possess in the early years.
Todd’s experience living with anxiety helped us recognize it in Emily. We noticed from a young age many things triggered anxiety. The number of things that create anxiety for her is too long to list. It may be easier to tell you what doesn’t trigger anxiety: The Wiggles and eating. When the world stopped due to the pandemic, Emily’s anxiety escalated. It seemed like everything would trigger it. You can see and feel it. Her hands and feet sweat. She grabs for me like I am a life raft she needs to hold onto to keep from drowning. Her eyes will blink rapidly, or she will cover her ears. Her anxiety is easy to see and recognize. It is hard to watch her experience it. Finding ways to temper it is not easy.
For the past eight months, we have worked with her neurologist to try to get a balance of medications and a routine that gives her comfort. Mental health treatment is not a one size fits all treatment. Most health issues are not. We all respond differently to treatments and what works for some, does not work for all. This year of trial and error and throwing darts to see which ones will stick has sucked. Seeing Emily panic and freak out sucks. Anxiety SUCKS but we will figure it out. We will continue to do whatever it takes to help her manage it.