October 3, 2017
I struggle to effectively explain what living with anxiety feels like to me. And so, when asked to share, the only thing that comes to mind is to describe it by saying it feels like I’m wearing an ugly sweater that my nana knitted for me and even though I desperately want to take it off I just can’t seem to do it. The sweater is uncomfortable and it’s ugly and at times I think it’s downright hideous and I have convinced myself that other people also find the sweater hideous. And while I wish I could just take the sweater off and throw it away or even burn it I just can’t seem to ever fully remove it. Now yes, there are moments where I am getting ready to go out to dinner or to a meeting and I look in the mirror and I feel good, like REALLY good and so I think to myself, YES, I was finally able to take off that damn sweater, yippee, finally it’s gone! And then I see it, perhaps it’s hidden several layers under my pretty, fancy or confident mood but it’s there, a small piece of yarn making its appearance known from underneath the multiple layers that I have put on over the sweater. I don’t want to but I can’t help myself so I pull that piece of yarn and it starts to show itself in all its shame and while for a fleeting moment I thought I was free from the sweater, it’s still there, it might be several layers down but it’s ALWAYS THERE to remind me that I can never fully shed the damn sweater. To me anxiety is that ugly sweater that I wear all the time. Sometimes it is the only thing I wear and everyone sees it clear as day and sometimes I can layer things over it and ‘manage’ it and then it’s not as visible yet it’s always scratchy and annoying and I know I’m still wearing it. Maybe today it’s not as obvious as other days, maybe today it’s lying dormant and waiting for the opportunity for the world to see it and thus, see me for who I am, an uptight and anxious person fronting as someone who has their shit together. It would be easy for me to hate on anxiety because it can be at times very debilitating but anxiety isn’t only about scratchy, ill fitting and ugly sweaters. Anxiety does in fact come with some amazing perks. Now I’m not one to brag, ok maybe I am one to brag especially when it comes to amazing skills or quite frankly what I like to call my anxiety super powers.
I know, I know impressive skill set to have and now I just need to figure out how to take these skills and turn them into something productive, like a job, maybe an anxiety super hero of sorts!
Intense wind– I lie awake for hours convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the two trees in my front yard are going to come crashing down through my roof, killing my two children. And by lie awake for hours I mean sometimes four or more hours at a time.
Concerts– too loud, too crowded, too much stimulus and way too stressful. The only concerts I enjoy are either in outdoor venues where the exits are EVERYWHERE or in intimate theaters where the exits are within a few feet of where I’m sitting or standing.
Relationships– Well, people seem to love the adorable quirks that come along with having anxiety until they no longer love the adorable quirks that come along with having anxiety.
Going out and socializing- The intent and desire is often there. In fact, I will get ready and map out a plan but once my hand grabs onto the doorknob to the garage I start to get anxious and the thoughts of having to drive downtown, find parking, spend time in a crowded and LOUD bar or restaurant take over and before I even know what has happened I find myself in my pajamas, on the couch watching documentaries. Did I mention I love documentaries? Well I do, like I love them! I would like to think that this eases my mind but what transpires after I’m on the couch is that I check social media for hours on end convincing myself that everyone is having the absolute best time EVER and all because I am not there. Remember the rabbit hole and how fast I can travel down it? Well social media turns my typical 65 mph of descent into a bullet train 200 mph speed of descent.
Language is so very powerful and the way we use it can help or harm in equal proportions. There is a stark difference between the language we use when we talk about someone who is dealing with something that WE can see, let’s say the effects of chemotherapy. You are so BRAVE, what a FIGHTER you are! And damn it to hell if they didn’t survive cancer then we say wow they sure put up such a good FIGHT. Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t talk like this because cancer is awful and brutal and at times absolutely devastating but then again mental illness can be these things as well. What I am saying is we might want to stop and compare the language we use to describe something physical (like the effects of chemo) vs. something that is harder or maybe at times even impossible to see such as mental illness.
When people talk to me about anxiety the words SHOULD and JUST seem to find their way into the conversation and this annoys the crap out of me. Oh, and true confession, I have in the past used the words should and just when talking with friends who are living with mental illness and damn it to hell am I sorry about that!
Anxiety is joked about so much it has become the decaf coffee of mental illness.
Every romantic comedy has one character, usually a female, running around in a frenetic state and she probably is dealing with anxiety but we make a mockery of her and laugh along with her or at her until she and her behaviors become nothing more than a joke. And every awful anxiety related meme just cheapens the diagnosis until we become so desensitized by the concept of anxiety that we can’t even begin to fathom how anyone actually ‘suffers’ from anxiety. I have had mental health professionals tell me, “well you should consider yourself lucky that you don’t have something more debilitating.” Really? I should feel lucky- well thank you for your medical insight into why I am so damn lucky. See here is the thing about mental illness, stuff, challenges, whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t matter if you are stuck in your head because you have anxiety or schizophrenia, the thing that matters is that you are stuck in your head and you CAN NOT GET OUT!
This is why I choose to share my story about living with anxiety. Yes, it’s true, I do in fact joke about living with anxiety and while some people feel that joking about it is disrespectful I passionately disagree. I think that when we infuse our conversations with a bit of humor we elevate the human experience which allows us to embrace the ENTIRE experience. This in turn changes the way we view mental illness and that is what we can all agree needs to happen. We need to change the way we talk about mental illness to end the stigma that surrounds mental illness.
DEBBIE’S NEXT APPEARANCE:
Broadsided Comedy Show
Wednesday, October 11, 2017 @ the Clocktower Cabaret