I’m Not Anxious, But …

It’s funny; I’ve never thought of myself as an anxious person. Depressed, mentally ill, bipolar … these are all definitions I’ve come to associate with my life, but never anxiety. In general, things don’t bother me. If anything, I’m perhaps too much the opposite—things that I ought to worry about, I usually don’t.

But I’m starting to wonder if I might be a little mistaken. As I’m writing this, I am currently having an attack of some kind. I don’t think it’s quite a panic attack, but I’m feeling deeply disturbed, excessively overwhelmed, physically debilitated and generally uneasy. I’m frowning uncontrollably to the point of pain, my hands are trembling, and I’m having trouble thinking straight enough to continue writing.

And I know exactly what triggered it. I was watching a movie with my wife (Frank, to be specific, which—funny though it was—may not have helped with its themes of mental illness) and felt rather content. Then she asked me to hang a picture. It’s something I’ve been meant to do for ages, and I haven’t got around to it. And this is why. The thought of threading wire into hooks and hammering nails into walls is, quite suddenly, too much to contend with. I physically can’t do it. Instead, I did the only thing I could—I retreated to the loft with my laptop to sleep.

Is this the face of anxiety?

Instead, I posted a selfie on Instagram as I am right now. I’ve never done this before—the few selfies I’ve ever shared were curated and posed. But I just wanted to see what I looked like—and I was curious to know what others thought as well.

Is this anxiety? Is this what it’s like to live with a perpetual, invisible and undefinable threat hanging over your head? Because I feel this way pretty often—overwhelmed, incapable, and physically unable to perform even the most menial of tasks. I’ve always put it down to some undefinable aspect of bipolar, a side of the depression or even the mania that no amount of medication will ever fully control. Before I was medicated, I would find myself in a fetal ball on the floor, unable to even move.

It isn’t ever as bad as that, but it wreaks havoc on my family life and relationships, because every time I ‘freak out’, for lack of a better term, the world around me explodes. I’m not trusted, I’m labeled as lazy, I’m using mental illness as an excuse to not do work … and whatever progress I’ve made in the intervening moments of lucidity is set back to square one.

This happens infrequently enough (now) that I usually just let it slide, but I think that, somewhere deep down, it’s doing me a lot of harm. I’m lucky enough that my work doesn’t involve me having to work from home, but my passion—writing—suffers tremendously. Once I fall, it can be days or even weeks before I recover, and I get nothing done in those days between. In fact, this is largely why 22 Scars took me ten years to write—for nine and a half of them, I was too mentally disabled to type a word.

I hope my next book won’t take so long, although like 22 Scars it deals with issues that are deeply personal to me—this time a bipolar teacher and his depressed student. But until I can find a way to keep my feet under me, I don’t know how to get through anything—even life.

Living with bipolar—and who knows, maybe anxiety, too—sucks. To go from happy in a moment to utterly incapacitated in the next, triggered by the most mundane of things—is a pitiful way to live. It’s frustrating to myself and everyone around me, and leaves me feeling exhausted, worthless and like a monumental waste.

Here’s to tomorrow looking brighter.

One thought on “I’m Not Anxious, But …

  1. dude. i don’t even know where to begin. other than during a post partum year, i haven’t experienced depression but anxiety has been a constant companion. i do believe my ppd was hormonal, chemical and situational. this frigging anxiety sometimes seems genetic and dare i say almost karmic. (barf) oka, maybe not karmic, but it just feels like my personality and lot in life and when i watch my mom and sis struggle with the same and more it makes sense. that said, you and i need to talk. i think that genetics must (and i am a complete layperson on this path… meaning that i am aware of many personal experiences of myself and others but am in no way a professional nor do i spend time researching mental illness)… that said, i think our families of origin… their struggles, their traumas, their (in)abilities to provide an emotionally healthy, open and safe place for us to struggle (even subtly) influences us in immeasurable ways. on that note, i think we should talk some time soon. but for now, it is late at night and even later where you are but i wanted you to know that what you are writing about it important and i’m going to pass these postings along to my mother and sister, as what you are putting words to and pulling out of the shadows is super important… and maybe i am one of those horrid “happy” people that you write about (at least when i’m not having panic attack that is) but i think that this naming, this unveiling, this willingness to name the pain can only move us closer to an experience of wellness. love you C.

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