Hello, My Name Is Anxiety.
The anxiety that was planted in me has roots that seem to weave and stretch through every fiber of my being. It's always there. Just there. Some days it's quiet and doesn't trip me up too badly. Other days, it's like cotton in my ears and mud in my eyes. I can barely function through it. It gets in the way of everything. Thanks to years of practice, I probably appear pretty normal on the outside, even to my husband who knows me better than anyone else. What he and others cannot hear, though, are the voices and compulsive urges in my mind, the ones telling me to rearrange the books on the coffee table 18 times in one day so they line up perfectly with the edge of the table, or to sweep the kitchen floor every 30 minutes, or to disinfectant the toilet every time I step foot in the bathroom. Ignoring the urges doesn't make them go away, in fact, it makes them louder and harder to ignore. They grow and grow until I can no longer maintain a normal outward appearance and I turn into a giant ball of OCD stress. I can't enjoy myself or my family, I can't relax or focus on anything but the intense, compulsive urges to clean, rearrange, and nitpick -- the urges to control everything around me.
You see, abuse does a lot of really nasty things and one of those nasty things is that it robs the victim of two traits that are essential to our health and well-being: personal autonomy and independence. When those are taken away from us, and especially when it happens at a young age, it leaves us grasping for whatever control is left available. The remaining options are less than ideal and often a victim's grasping for control results in severe anxiety disorders, OCD, eating disorders, mental illness, and most tragically, suicide.
I struggle with a decent handful of anxiety disorders across the spectrum and I can say one thing with absolute certainty: they are not to be taken lightly. Abuse damages its victims in deep and powerful ways and the last thing a victim or survivor needs to hear is that their struggle is ridiculous or irrational. If only we could tell ourselves the same thing and simply be done with the anxiety...what I wouldn't give!
One time during a weekly therapy session, I told my therapist about some of my cleaning obsessions. I was embarrassed to bring up the issue but it had begun to inhibit my ability to function normally and I knew it was becoming a real problem. The therapist laughed at me and told me he wished he felt the same way so his house would be cleaner. He told me it didn't sound like a big deal and not to worry so much about it. His inability to actually listen to me and understand my struggle made me feel marginalized and I instantly regretted ever mentioning it. Later, after switching therapists (and once the problem became far more consuming) I'd be diagnosed with clinical Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, something I still have trouble wrapping my mind around and have sought relatively little help for, even though it presents itself on a daily basis.
I've written about some of my other struggles with anxiety as a result of childhood sexual abuse. In this post I talk about panic attacks, and here I share what it's like to have Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Part of me feels like I'm painting myself into The Crazy Corner, where people tilt their heads and look at me funny because Geez, she's so messed up. But the wise, strong-hearted part of me knows this is just real life. I didn't ask for these struggles, I didn't ask to be broken by abuse, but it happened and now I am bound and determined to be whole and happy and healed, and for me that means sharing. It means connecting with the millions of other people who are dealing with the same shit I am, day in and day out, because someone took their innocence and filled their lives with pain and suffering when all they wanted to do was be normal.
Anxiety is with me when I wake up in the morning and it's with me when I lie down at night. It's with me when I make my children lunch, when I walk down the street, and when I make love to my husband. Some days it rules me and some days I get a swift upper cut in first thing in the morning and it hits the ground for a few hours (though if I'm blogging about it you can bet today I'm most likely on the receiving end of that punch).
This isn't me offering you solutions for your own anxiety or telling you what self-help tactics work well for me when I'm blinded by mine. This is just me saying you're not alone. I'm a survivor, a mom, a wife, a musician, an abuse advocate, a customer service rep, an outdoors lover, and a woman who struggles with crippling anxiety. It's a part of my story just as your pain is a part of yours.
My story is worthy of being told. So is yours.