I have anxiety. It is something I have to adapt for on a daily basis. Sometimes my anxiety (sort of) makes sense. If my kids are melting down, it is reasonable that I feel stressed or anxious, even if the specific manifestations of that anxiety are ridiculous. (Hello brain, what is the point of fixating on laundry as evidence of my ultimate failure as a human being?) What I find fascinating and annoying are the manifestations of anxiety in my body. My heart will race. I’ll get heart palpitations, which feel a bit like my heart misjudged and missed the last step in its 1-2-3-4 beat. My dreams will be restless and filled with anxiety themes. Sometimes I’ll snap awake because I’ve just had a stomach-plunging surge of adrenaline that may or may not be related to the content of the dream. That stomach plunge happens pretty much any time I’m confronted with an anxiety trigger. Even if I walk away from the trigger, even if I’m not thinking about it, even if logically it has no bearing on my day, there is a part of my brain that is tracking that trigger as if it is a mountain lion about to pounce. My brain is convinced that danger is out there and I have to be ready for it. The alertness only disengages when there is a specific end to the trigger. IE, a financial trigger over a late payment can be defused when the payment arrives.
Of late many of my stresses have unraveled themselves. After several years where my kids were melting down or falling apart, we’ve reached a space where they are all doing well. We just sent the latest Schlock book off to print and the schedule says we’ll have printed books before GenCon. This relieves some significant financial worries. The Planet Mercenary project shows daily progress even though we’re in the muddle which always accompanies the middle of a book. My garden has lots of flowers growing and blooming. So in theory I should be feeling more relaxed and happy. Instead I’ve been snapping awake, working out knots in my back, and reminding myself to unclench my teeth. I have to look around and ask “where is this anxiety coming from?” The answer is a bit discouraging, because the answer is that every day I carry an ambient level of anxiety that I do not entirely control. Some of it is purely chemical. I will wake up anxious even though I went to bed relaxed and nothing has changed over night. Or vice versa (waking up relaxed after anxiety is much nicer, and fortunately more common.) Some of it is environmental, like witnessing or participating in an emotional conflict. The proximity of the conflict to people I care for has a direct correlation on how much my anxiety goes up. Unfortunately to be around people is to be around conflict. So figuring out my anxiety levels is much like dealing with the weather. I can dress for it, plan for it, manage it, but if I don’t like the current conditions, I just have to wait for them to change while still doing the things I need to get done.
I do not like that I find myself in what should be a peaceful window of quiet work, and instead I’m having to manage anxiety. I love my brain’s ability to task-track, I dislike that it also trigger-tracks no matter how much I tell it that not all internet conflict will result in my ultimate doom. And truthfully, not all conflict makes me anxious, just any conflict that my brain can imagine turning on me and dragging me into it. My anxiety is quite imaginative. Instead of relaxing into work, I’m at yellow alert. Constantly. Because my brain keeps rehearsing difficult conversations that I may have to have, where I might be accused of being a terrible person and I’ll have to provide evidence that I am not, and defend my position. Only maybe that other person is right, and I am a terrible person. Maybe I need to change and become better and this should all be a learning experience for me. I don’t even know who the other person in this conversation will be, just that it will be the worry topic du-jour that is likely about politics, diversity issues, religion, economic fairness, disability, or any number of other hot topics. I just know that my brain thinks I need to have high-stakes-debate level planning on tap at all times. For all possible topics.
Or maybe that is just today. I don’t think yesterday I was running quite this hot, which suggests that today is just a bad anxiety day and hopefully a good night’s sleep will help me reset. And that is another hard thing about anxiety, it affects my judgement. When I’m anxious, things that aren’t emergencies feel like they are. Things that are minor upsets feel like complete disasters and harbingers of doom. I use my logic as a lever to try to stabilize my decision making, but the emotions throw me all over the place and make me tired. Today I am anxious. Because everything else in the day is going well, I can sit here writing a post about anxiety, spectating the experience. Other anxious days are less kind and I just have to build a blanket fort and hide for awhile.