Stories from a life in progress.

An anxiety day

Today is an anxiety day.  It is for reasons related to work, but those reasons are not what I want to talk about and I'm not going to get into them.  The thing I need to say is how hard everything is, and how little grace there is for that -- how I don't even give myself grace for it.

In the first week of January I had a wicked stomach bug.  I wasn't watching the ball drop, I was napping on the couch and hoping I would stop being absolutely miserable soon.  I wrote the people I work for and said I was down for the count, and they wrote back and said, we understand, no problem.

In the middle of January somewhere, I had a day with a massive sinus headache, the kind of day where all I can do is sit in a chair and hope my head will stop torturing me soon.  I wrote the people I work for and said, I'm in pain and I can't think today.  They wrote back and said, we understand, we'll handle it.

Today I am being bitten hard by anxiety.  It is affecting me both physically and mentally.  But I'm not writing to the people I work for about it.  I'm not even sure how I would describe what today is like, because "I'm having an anxious day" doesn't really cut it.  I know they would manage to rearrange responsibilities if I can't deal with them, but I don't think there would be the same kind of understanding and non-issue made of it as there was when I had a stomach illness, or when I had a migraine-equivalent headache.

The fact is, I am both physically and mentally handicapped today.  My body feels tense, I'm not breathing deeply, I have that sore spot I get in the middle of my chest when I unconsciously hunch my shoulders in for hours or days, I haven't eaten enough or drunk enough water, my eyes are tired and want to swim out of focus.  I'm not thinking right; I'm not remembering to do the simple things which might help, like go have a good lunch, sip on a glass of water, go outside and walk around, do some easy exercises.

If I can't even remember to do simple things to take care of myself, doing actual work is a whole other level of impossible.  So far today I've written one assignment, a 400-word blog post for a familiar client in a nice, easy conversational tone, with all of the information I needed to include handed to me at the start.  On a normal day it would have been a 15 minute job, maybe.  Today it took more than an hour, and it's terrible.  I finally gave up and just sent it in to the editors, because maybe it's good enough and anyway I'm not making it any better.

That's what today is like.  I don't usually have trouble writing posts for my own blog.  Writing this one is hard, because today is an anxiety day.  I'm trying to think of how to describe what today feels like to me, because not everyone knows.

Imagine the most scary thing you've ever done; imagine facing something so frightening you can hardly move physically and your brain is frozen.  Imagine a situation that might kill you or someone you love even more than yourself, because that's the kind of thing that scares the most viscerally.

Now reduce that level of fear by about half.  And then apply it to EVERYTHING you do over the course of a normal day.  Eating lunch?  Scary.  Sitting down at your desk to do work?  Tense.  Driving somewhere you go every day?  Frightening.  Having a conversation with a friend or colleague?  Dear me.  Every single ordinary thing you do induces some significant chunk of that heart-stopping level of fear and physical reaction.  Everything takes more energy and focus.  Everything makes you tired.  Everything pushes you away from wanting to engage, even the things which are usually pleasurable or at least neutral.  That's what an anxiety day feels like for me.  

And that's just the ordinary tasks and activities.  If even one really stressful thing is thrown in the mix?  THAT thing will jump the fear level back up to critical.  In fact, there's no use talking about "if" there's one stressful thing in the mix.  There almost always is, because the presence of one really seriously stressful thing is almost always what causes an anxiety day like this.

It doesn't do any good to say "eating lunch shouldn't be scary, so you're overreacting and you should stop it."  I KNOW I'm overreacting to everything.  I am not actually stupid, I know that drinking a glass of water is not truly a dangerous proposition.  But if I could "just stop it," believe me, I would.  Do you think I love feeling scared and drained all day, and sometimes for multiple days in a row?  Do you think that I appreciate not being able to do my normal level of work, especially because I'm a freelancer and I only get paid for turning in actual work?  If you think this, then you don't know me in the least.  If you think I am deliberately malingering, or lying about what I'm experiencing and how difficult it is, then I'm afraid my thoughts toward you are going to be unkind.

This is what today is like for me, and I have no idea how to represent it to the people who matter, especially the people I have responsibilities toward.  I don't know how to call in a sick day for anxiety, because everyone thinks they know what anxiety is like.  In point of fact, everyone DOES know what some degree of anxiety is like -- but for a person who has never experienced it to a debilitating level, they are really not going to get what an "anxiety day" feels like for me.  They are going to wonder what the big deal is.  They may spout unhelpful platitudes, things that might help someone who is a tiny bit anxious, but not someone who is completely buried by it.  They may be judgmental.  After all, THEY feel worried sometimes, and THEY don't fall apart.

This is an untidy blog post written on an untidy, anxious day, and it's going to have an untidy end because I can't think of the right way to end it.  Brain is not working right, you see.  No polished article from me today; just a raw and ragged one, because this is an anxiety day.