What I Wish I’d Known About Anxiety
I thought I understood anxiety, I really did. I have even talked about what I call my “open water swim anxiety” many times over the last ten years. Now I know the nervous, apprehensive feelings I have at every triathlon and open water swim competition are not true anxiety. They are nerves. I’m not saying they aren’t validly unpleasant feelings, but what I feel when I stand at the edge of the murky, choppy water, about to throw myself in for a race, is not anxiety. Now I understand that if it were truly full-blown anxiety, I would do everything in my power to avoid the situation. I would most definitely find another hobby!
It is only in the last few weeks, as our lives became a haunting episode of The Twilight Zone, that I have come to know the feeling of actual anxiety. It’s terrifying, crushing, paralyzing. It’s not a little flutter of feeling nervous or scared; it’s like someone is crushing your chest and making every breath a struggle. It’s thoughts of gloom and doom keeping you from sleeping at night.
What I Wish I’d Known
I described my feelings to my daughter and asked if this is what she has experienced all her life. When she replied that it was precisely those feelings, and she has had them for as long as she can remember, I cried. I cried for her, and I cried for all the times I pushed her too hard, discarded her worries like a used tissue. I apologized for thirty years of not comprehending her anxiety. Because she is the gracious, loving daughter she is, she said there was nothing to forgive and assured me I was a good mother.
Even young kids can have anxiety. I wish I’d understood it was more complicated than the fact she didn’t want me to go to work.
I’m grateful for her forgiveness, but I can’t help but remember the times I strongly encouraged her to go on playdates and slumber parties even when it was obvious it was stressful for her. I thought she was “shy” and could overcome it (like being shy is a problem?). I think about the time I forced her to swim in a meet: I was the coach, she loved coming to practices, she was a good swimmer but did not want to compete. Because I love competition, and she is naturally athletic, I thought she would also love it with a little encouragement. I wish I could erase the memory of my eight-year-old daughter crying as she walked to the starting blocks, dove in, swam fast, but emerged crying and vowing never to swim in another race. Fortunately, I never forced the issue again.
I could go on and on, telling you stories about the times I didn’t acknowledge and respect her boundaries, but you get the idea. My only excuse is I thought I was doing the best for her. I clearly did not understand anxiety or the fact that children can experience it to a crippling degree.
What I Can and Can’t Control
The Coronavirus has brought me face to face with anxiety. At the age of (almost) 62, I have experienced it for the first time, and it is dreadful. Most days, if I strictly follow the guidelines I have set for myself, I can cope. Other days, I have faltered and given in to the panic beginning in my brain and surging throughout my body. I am a person who loves routine, structure, and above all else, control.
The Coronavirus is telling me my perception of being in control was merely an illusion all along. I can control many things; I can stay home and therefore reduce my risk of getting or giving it to someone else. I can do my best to make myself as healthy as possible by eating right, taking my vitamins, and exercising. I can obsessively wipe down all the remote controls and doorknobs in my house. I can attempt to reduce my stress level by decreasing my time viewing the news and, most of all, restricting my social media consumption.
What I can’t control is the rest of the world. I hope and pray for the absolute best outcome for all of us. I search for happiness in small things, I am grateful for every day I am given, and I seek forgiveness for not understanding the pain of anxiety. My Sweet Caroline, I finally “get” you.
Symptoms of Anxiety
The Mayo Clinic lists the common symptoms of anxiety:
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Having an increased heart rate
- Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
- Feeling weak or tired
- Having trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
- Having trouble sleeping
- Experiencing gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Having difficulty controlling worry
- Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
Don’t be ashamed if you’re feeling symptoms of anxiety or depression. We’re in unchartered territory and these are fairly common reactions to an uncommon situation. If you, or your children, are experiencing anxiety or depression due to the Corona Virus, please get help. Contact your physician, a counselor, or COPES. Family & Children’s Services is now offering easy, 24/7 telephone help through our Community Outreach Psychiatric Emergency Services (COPES) Team for those having a hard time coping and adapting during this pandemic. Our trained mental health professionals are ready to support and help you alleviate anxiety and stress. Call 918.744.4800 any time of day or night for help.