Picture this: You’re sailing your perfect ship when all of a sudden you hit a wave. You’re able to steady the ship, but then a storm hits. You come across land and decide to take shelter till it passes, which it eventually does. You head back out to your beloved ship, only to notice it sails a little less steady. You figure you’re probably just a little rusty until the next wave hits and it’s rockier than the last. Then another storm hits and you look for shelter until it passes. This cycle continues on and on until one day in the midst of a storm, you spot a pirate ship. You adjust your course to avoid it, but it seems to be tailing you. Just as a huge wave hits, the pirate ship closes on you and launches a cannon. The captain emerges and demands you hand over your ship to her. You refuse and she tells you that if you don’t she will continue to dismantle your ship, just as she has done with every previous storm until you surrender.
That’s been my life the past 28 years and that devious pirate is Anxiety. Only, she’s just recently revealed herself to me.
Earlier this year – after ongoing physical ailments and mental and emotional distress – I decided to go to therapy. After months of intensive standardized, mental and emotional testing, I was diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder. Simply put, this means that I’m always anxious. Anyone that knows me can attest to this. I worry about everything; I’m anal about a lot of things; I like to be in control; and I don’t do well with stress.
People that don’t know me usually just assume I’m either incredibly shy or a stuck-up, controlling, conceited bitch. They either write me off or we eventually become friends. Enough of those that become friends at some point have shared their first impressions that I know I am often misunderstood. This creates even more anxiety for me and I usually just end up feeling socially awkward and uncomfortable around people that I don’t just “click” with. I then spend hours to days analyzing my interactions with them, wondering if they took something I said the wrong way or if I did everything I could to not offend them. This doesn’t mean I’m never intentionally mean or a bitch, just that I’m hyper aware that I’m likely to come off this way when I’m really not trying to. And that awareness causes me much anxiety.
I’ve been able to navigate these everyday waves with a few bumpy trips here and there, but lately I’ve run into some really nasty storms. And, it was during these storms that I came face to face with my own personal pirate. It took awhile before I realized that I should talk to someone because my first few encounters were rare: when my aunt died in my kitchen; when my godbrother killed himself; when I was laid off from my job; when I was several months pregnant with a child that I was originally told was nothing more than a pseudo sac and wasn’t viable. All events that would reasonably cause anyone anxiety.
But then something happened. I’d experience these moments of high stress and couldn’t deal with everyday life. I’d have moments where my head would be in the clouds, but overall, my ship was getting hit by cannon after cannon and I was sinking fast.
I hated my life. I was worried and stressed about EVERYTHING. My relationship was suffering. My children were suffering. I realized that I couldn’t do it all on my own. So I decided to see a therapist. And she recommended testing. I can honestly say that was one of the best decisions I made.
Through testing, we found that I’m super smart, super anxious and super aware of myself. All things that I already knew (and apparently so did T-Daddy, my Teet and a few other people that I’ve told). But as they went over what anxiety looks like, I began to recognize certain patterns within myself and as such, I’ve also started recognizing some of my triggers. I’ve also figured out a few things that help calm me down (like puzzles, go figure). This is crucial in coming up with a long-term management plan for my anxiety.
As I go to battle with my own personal pirate, I’ve had to decide what my own cannon will look like and what kind of ammo it will consist of. Since I’m just starting to rebuild my ship, I honestly have no idea. It will probably change several times over the course of my life. What I do know is that I will continue with my therapy. It has really helped me on an individual level, but also with so many of my relationships that have suffered because I didn’t know how to handle the anxiety they caused me.
I am also going to try medication. This is HUGE for me. Since my great-aunt passed from an accidental overdose, I have been anti-medicine. I don’t even take Tylenol. Also, there’s a shame (whether real or perceived) with letting people know that you are taking medicine for a mental ailment. Honestly, I’m still struggling with that. However, my anxiety has manifested physically in a number of ways that includes migraines, nausea, lack of sex drive, chest pain, fatigue, insomnia, general achiness and probably a host of other things that I’ve overlooked because they have become a norm for me. If this can provide me relief and let me enjoy my life again, I’m willing to try it. Besides, constantly turning my cannon on my co-captain and mini-sailors is the quickest way to sink my ship. I’d much rather enjoy sailing to calm seas with them.
Lastly, I am going to share my story and give back to the mental health community. Through my journey, especially in the past five years, I’ve learned that I care a lot about suicide and providing support to people that are down and out. Giving back is also therapeutic for me. It feels good to give back and I learn more about myself in the process. As I learn how to handle my anxiety and emotions, I’m better equipped to teach my children how to handle their emotions and become functioning adults.
Anxiety may be the pirate that is launching an attack against me, but I’M the captain of my ship!