I usually post my book reviews on Thursdays, but today I need to set that aside for a moment to talk about anxiety.
Most of you know I suffer from anxiety – at varying levels, at varying times. It’s not something I’m ashamed of: I have an anxiety disorder. I don’t hide it. I firmly believe in talking about it so that I can educate others, hold myself accountable for self-care, let my friends know so they can help me when necessary, and generally let those who hear me know that if they’re closeted, they don’t need to be. Let’s erase the stigma, yes?
There are still times when my anxiety surprises me. I was watching a movie tonight. A critically acclaimed one – Gravity, with Sandra Bullock. It cold opens with a big crisis and a bigger trigger for me. I thought I could manage – Sandra is who plays me in the movie of my life. She’s my girl. But less than five minutes in, I was opening my laptop and googling the plot. If I know what’s going to happen, I can sometimes talk myself through the anxious bits and still enjoy the movie. (It got me through Everest, and that ended up being a movie I’ll rewatch again and again.)
Knowing didn’t help this time. I tried focusing on the project I was working on, writing away, head down, only occasionally glancing up at the screen or reaching over to rub The Boyfriend’s back. (Human contact is a huge plus when I’m sorta freaking out.) But I knew the characters were trapped in space. And space? Well, that just happens to be one of my triggers. I have nightmares where I’m trapped in space. Or in a big, black, endless sea of black. With no hope of finding home. Or my siblings. (I’m frequently tasked in my nightmares with finding them and getting us all safe.) This movie was taking me to Not Good places.
So I hit the brakes.
Or, I should say, I tried to. I wasn’t in full freak-out mode. I was just Pretty Damn Anxious. So I tried to handle it a bit modestly. I didn’t start screaming or hyperventilating; I turned to The Boyfriend and told him I didn’t think I could watch the movie any more. “It’s just a movie!” he said. And then he laughed at me.
I can’t tell you how bad it feels in the first place to be weighed down by this horrible and unpredictable thing called Anxiety. Add to that the knowledge that this stupid, awful Anxiety holds you back from things you’d love to be able to do. And try as you might to do those things anyway, sometimes you win and sometimes you don’t. And when you don’t – when I don’t, at least – you really, really don’t. It’s a horrible, gutting feeling.
If you’re the person on the outside, here’s a little advice: don’t ever laugh. Don’t dismiss or belittle someone for something that is completely and utterly out of their control. I already felt like a failure for not being able to get through a movie – a movie – about something that I know I will never, ever have to do. When I was laughed at, I felt like a person I was supposed to feel safe with dismissed my feelings, belittled me, and made me feel like I was less than everything I needed to be.
Anxiety is hard enough to live with when you’re in a constructive, healthy environment. Talking about it, talking my way through it to the other side of this setback, that can only happen when I feel safe. That might not be the reality for every person who is living with anxiety, but it’s my reality. If you’re in that situation, if you’re the person who’s supposed to be a landline, ask how you can help. And however foreign or silly the answer is, please, please do not dismiss it. Be a friend. Be kind. Be supportive.
Be kind. That’s the bottom line to so many stories.