One of the first things sufferers of anxiety need to learn is not to ask why we’re having anxiety. The truth is, people with anxiety usually ask whys of everything, and so not asking why we’re having anxiety is a nearly impossible feat. Also, people with anxiety are highly imaginative, so if we really don’t know why we’re in the grips of anxiety, if we’re given opportunity in the moment, we can be sure to summon a suitably scary reason, feeding the initial anxiety, causing a surge of new anxiety, and maybe leading ourselves into a full blown panic attack.
For me, anxiety is not an emotional feeling like happy, sad, anxious – No. For me, anxiety is something I feel physically, just like catching a cold. Initially, I can only say I feel unwell. I’ll start to feel uncomfortable, on edge, ill-at-ease…something’s not quite right, but I can’t put my finger on what…I acknowledge that feeling and focus on my task, and often enough, that’s all I need to do. But for whatever reason (I wouldn’t dare ask!) it escalates through heart palpitations, chest pain, muscle spasms, closed throat, churning stomach, hot flash, vertigo, tunnel vision, tingling extremities, cotton mouth, dissociation – all until I’m sweating, shaking, crying, and convinced I’m dying. After that, I will get a sinister migraine, (Oh my Gawd, it must be a brain tumor!) my whole body will ache like I’ve been thrown from a train, (Oh my Gawd, I’ve got Fibromyalgia!) my intestines will damn near explode, (Oh my Gawd, I’ve got colon cancer!) and I will be unable to perform the simplest of tasks without painstaking labor.
You people with appropriate reactions to stress probably can’t relate, because we anxiety people, we are completely unreasonable. *laughs*
For people with anxiety disorder, the gauge is askew.
So you know, I’m shoppin, aisle to aisle I go, and suddenly! I’m picking up a box of oatmeal! and that is the last straw!
Oatmeal is not scary.
My reptile brain has just informed my body that picking up a box of oatmeal is dangerous, as though while I am hunting oats, a larger, more lethal predator is hunting me. My reptile brain did not have the decency to ask me, “Joey, do you feel threatened by oatmeal? Are you harboring a grudge against oatmeal? What does the oatmeal represent to you?” No. It just decides that something about this is scary as fuck, sends a surge of adrenaline, and off we go to being all kindsa unwell about OATMEAL.
So yeah, don’t ask why.
It’s amazing the things my brain thinks are frightening. I’ve had panic attacks while fetching oatmeal, peeling potatoes, driving, riding in a car, braiding hair, walking my dog, getting my mail…
In turn, I’m amazed at what doesn’t take me over the edge. For instance, I never mind traffic jams. The whole time I was packing and moving, I never once took a pill. But the other night, cooking in “not my kitchen” sent me into a downward spiral? Alrighty then.
Stress isn’t what we perceive it to be. Stress isn’t one pinky or one index finger, it’s the whole hand. The truth is, since we left Georgia, I’ve experienced less reaction to stress. One would think I preferred my own home, my own schedule, and the security of continued income. In reality, knowing my husband won’t be in a combat zone again (short of a zombie apocalypse) has actually reduced my reaction to stress more than I can measure. Some of my ease has come from not being constantly hot. Who can say what the landscape here is doing for me, when I am so in love with it?
If I weighed the landscape and the fear for my husband’s life on one side, against living with my in-laws, well, it turns out, the former outweighs the latter. While I concede that living in someone else’s home is stressful, it’s actually not as stressful as constant heat and worry. For me, anyway. And I would not have guessed that.
The crux of the matter is that my reptile brain doesn’t perceive this time in my life as a powerful threat to my wellness. I can tell, because my body shows me. I sleep well, I eat well, I don’t get heartburn all the time, my skin is calmer, my intestines are not damn near exploding, and gosh durn it, I just feel better!
(Most of the time. When I’m not cooking in “not my kitchen.” When my children are minding me. When I’m not nursing a blister from new shoes. When I don’t have a weather-induced headache, or a stiff neck from too much laptop use. I maybe get a little nervous if I need to move the oatmeal, and I don’t feel good when the alarm goes off in the morning or anything crazy like that. *shakes head*)