Anxiety is a stealthy, creeping beast.
I have lived with its low hum in the back of my skull for my whole life but only in the past decade have I actually named it and looked it in the eye. When it starts to affect your ability to leave the house, it’s time to square up.
My anxiety is not always like everyone else’s, although it does share some very similar characteristics.
I have trouble with large crowds, and although I do some of my best work under pressure, tight deadlines and too much to do can trigger an anxiety attack (sometimes days later). Loud noises and lots of activity (e.g. sporting events and live music) can also cause anxiety.
Anniversaries like the death of my husband (February 16, 2013) tend to have long anxiety attack lead times, but they are like a train that is right on schedule, every year.
I am also unfortunately very sensitive to the suffering of others, whether they are right next to me or across the globe, and too much pain and sadness can bring on anxiety for me. Since the election cycle began my brain has been on high alert, and shootings and bombings and racist violence all around the world has not helped.
The drill is always the same: it starts with not feeling quite right. Off, a little, sometimes mentally, sometimes physically. Sometimes the world looks a little sharper, but sometimes it is blurry. I start to worry in my head about whatever it is I have to get done that day.
Then I will notice tinnitus in time with my heartbeat. It’s that ringing in the ears, only in time with my heartbeat, so it’s allinmyface about how fast my heart is beating. My breath gets short, sharp, and shallow, high up in my chest, right below my collarbones.
At this point, or very shortly after, if I can identify what is causing the anxiety and move away from it to a quiet place, or some big patch of nature like a forest, I can usually breathe my way out of it. This is after years of practice (and lots of failure).
If I cannot identify why I am anxious, I can’t move away from it, or if it is something that has been building for awhile, then the shit is about to hit the proverbial fan.
From here, I will get sweaty clammy hot cold. This is my body trying desperately to regulate itself as the pressure in my brain builds.
I get nauseous. I urgently need a bathroom. In short, evacuations are occurring at both ends of the airplane (TMI). For a long time, multiple times, until nothing is left.
Add to this party the fact that I faint before I puke. I recently found out that this occurs when the vagus nerve in your stomach gets overly excited and cuts blood flow off to the brain. Excessive emotions, nausea, or sudden upset can overstimulate this nerve, causing fainting. It is usually only a brief loss of consciousness, and it has been happening to me ever since I can remember. Since I am aware of it I am usually able to get on the floor so that all 5’10” of me doesn’t come crashing down from standing (this has happened. In a public restroom. No good.). Sometimes I don’t make it and end up with my face on the floor and a bruise on my cheek.
At this point I have no choice but to chew up an anti-anxiety med (no swallowing in case I throw up) and wait. Generally in the dark, under covers, with lots of clothes on. I alternate shivering under the covers with running to the bathroom and trying desperately to get enough long, slow breaths in my body so I don’t hyperventilate. Every sense is hyper-aware so that I can smell whatever was cooking in the kitchen from hours before, and I can hear the wind blowing the metal flap of the fan from the kitchen, outside of the house and two floors down. The sheet feels like sandpaper on my exposed skin, and I can feel the layer of air between my skin and my clothes.
Each attack lasts about four hours if I manage to medicate myself (sometimes it takes two pills), and the next day I am exhausted and wrung out. I suffer from anxiety most at night, after I have held myself together all day long. I guess that’s good in that I can do what I need to do before I fall apart in the safety of my own home.
In spite of anxiety, I have done things. Not everything I have wanted to, but I have tried like hell to do what’s most important. I have started a school, built a house, raised a kid, survived the death of a spouse, moved us a thousand miles, and gone on multiple road trips when we needed. Most times I need to talk myself into things I know I will enjoy having done.
This Saturday, January 21st is the Women’s March on Washington, an historic event that is going to bring hundreds of thousands of people from all over the country to raise their voices together in support of everything that is right and good in this country. It is a direct response to the evil that is the president-elect and his suppression and ignorance.
My cousin and her friend are coming up from Miami to march with me. Khristian and his friend, two men who know where it’s at, are also coming. I have purchased Metro passes for the whole day, and we have a transportation plan of attack.
I am worried I won’t make it.
I am worried that I will not be able to control my anxiety, even with meds and supportive people who understand, enough to be crammed into a crowded Metro and then among groups of thousands of people.
I am worried that I am too vulnerable in my fear to block out the negatives that will surely arise from the day – the vitriol of Cheeto Jesus’s supporters is deadly and personal.
This worry, as you might imagine, isn’t helping.
As a food blog, this is a terrible post. But it’s real, which I always try to be.
If you can, on the 21st, show up and march. March for everyone who can’t, for whatever reason.
If I can, I will.
Si, se puede.