I had a few different ideas for a post this week. Some were funny; some were serious; some were encouraging; but I can’t write any of them because anxiety has come to visit.
It`s hard to explain to people that don`t struggle with anxiety what it`s like for those of us that do. It’s like I’m in some kind of extreme game show where I’m challenged to an obstacle course but I’m being chased by an angry muskrat, while my children ask me trivia questions. I use the muskrat as an example because I have experience in this department. I was 8 months pregnant and my husband called me outside late at night. He had seen one sauntering down the road while taking the dog for a walk. I had never seen a muskrat before. We lived in a subdivision, not particularly close to any water and even though it didn`t really make sense for a muskrat to be in our area, there it was.
I wanted to get a closer look. I quite foolishly have the impression that animals are not only telepathic and will realize I mean them no harm, but also reasonable enough to understand that if they let me, I will take care of them and bring them food so that for a moment they can turn their back on the call of the wild and live a life of gentile luxury.
This is probably why my husband won’t even contemplate a family trip to Africa. Anyway, I got quite close before he turned his furry little head to glare at me and bare his teeth and hiss.
Obviously this muskrat needed to work on his telepathic abilities because he wasn’t getting the memo that I was a good guy quite as clearly as I was getting the memo that it was time to run.
Out running an angry muskrat while 8 months pregnant instills a kind of hysterical fear in you that just wouldn’t translate to anyone watching. It was little. I was very big. But I wasn`t going to stop running, No Siree. Pregnant or not, I was making tracks (even if my husband was just going to stand there on the sidelines, laughing until he cried). Now if I happened to have had my children with me, I might have been able to answer general questions like ‘why are we running?’, and ‘where are we going?’ relatively calmly, because I just think everything goes smoother if you avoid panicking. However, if they started to argue about who got to hold my hand, or complain that their sibling was shooting dirty looks, I would probably have given them a little shake and screamed “CAN YOU NOT SEE WE’RE BEING CHASED BY AN ANGRY MUSKRAT!!!???!!! You are going straight to your room if we make it home without having to stop at the hospital for rabies shots!!”
You do not do your best parenting when you are being chased by an angry muskrat. Or when you are suffering from anxiety.
When I was younger and insecure I was convinced that the anxiety was a direct consequence of knowing that I was screwing up. I wasn’t good enough, I wasn’t smart enough and I was pretty sure everyone knew it.
When I was on maternity leave and my husband was just starting out in his career, I felt that anxiety was normal because we always seemed to be on the brink of financial disaster and I was responsible for these completely vulnerable little people that were expensive to care for. I didn’t suffer from anxiety; there was just always something to worry about. I tried to avoid that sick, sinking feeling, by being perfect. It made sense. If you’re afraid of the water, you don’t travel to the sea; if you’re afraid of the dark, you turn on the light. I was anxious that I wasn’t good enough so I would be better. I was anxious that the bills would bounce so I would work harder and save more. The problem was, no matter how fast I ran, I couldn`t outrun it and I kept snapping at people that I felt were slowing me down (mostly the completely vulnerable little people I was responsible for).
Now that I’m older, and wiser and more comfortable in my own skin, you’d think that I would know that the muskrats under the bed aren’t real. I have security in every sense of the word. I have a beautiful house, a loving husband and wonderful children. I might not have everything I want, but I surely have everything I need.
Still, every once and a while, anxiety comes knocking, wanting to hang out. My husband tells me to refuse to let it in. So I lock the doors, pull the curtains and spend the day hiding inside the house worrying that it`s out there, waiting. Sometimes it sneaks in without my permission and I spend the day sensibly lecturing myself that the muskrat that`s breathing it`s hot fishy breath on my neck, is just a figment of my imagination.
Except that it isn`t.
It might not make sense and it might not be logical but there it is. A hissing, pissed off muskrat that I can`t out run. I could probably partake in years of therapy and become a muskrat whisperer but right now all I can do is put a box over it. That is my big coping technique. That, and allowing myself a few days to just sit around and stare at the box to make sure it doesn`t escape.
Priorities get reshuffled because all of a sudden having dirty dishes in the sink isn`t as worrisome as a potentially rabid muskrat on the loose. Certain days my family treads gently because I`ve warned them that they might knock over the box with the muskrat in it. Some times I might be a little distracted at work because I`m thinking about the box at home with a muskrat in it. If I can`t come to your get together tonight, it`s possible that I`m standing guard over a box with a muskrat in it.
I can`t tell you that though. Because that sounds crazy. But just for a moment imagine your greatest fear. Maybe it`s spiders, maybe it`s snakes or maybe it`s creepy clowns (that one would need a much bigger box) but whatever it is, it`s infested your space and you`re left to figure out how to deal with it all on your own because every time you ask someone to help all they can do is try to convince you that there is nothing in the box. It`s like some messed up version of Schrodinger`s cat.
Luckily I have learned that eventually, if you don`t feed it, the muskrat will get bored and go hang out somewhere else for a while and I can get back to catching up on all the things that I let slide while I was on guard duty.
So I can`t write a post today. I`m watching a box with a muskrat in it. If you`d like, feel free to send re-enforcements in the form of tea and cookies.
You know those days when you’ve got the mean reds…. the blues are because you’re getting fat or maybe it’s been raining too long. You’re sad, that’s all. But the mean reds are horrible. You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you don’t know what you’re afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is ~Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, spoken by the character Holly Golightly