By Shannon Johnson of The Joy In The Works
So, I have this house guest. You know the kind. The one that asks to stay a night or two and ends up camping on your couch indefinitely. She raids your fridge, leaving a Hansel and Gretel-like trail behind her, and keeps you up at night watching late night talk shows at a volume that even the neighbors can hear.
A first, you are polite, thinking the arrangement is just temporary, but before you know it, you can’t get rid of her. My uninvited house guest has been living with me since I was a teenager, and her name’s Anxiety. (I know; what kind of name is that? Her parents must have hated her as much as I do!)
Why do I hate her so much? Well, she has pretty much wreaked havoc on my life since the moment she arrived, suitcases in hand. I mean, sometimes she just sleeps on the couch and keeps to herself, but the other nights? On those nights she sneaks in my room just to wake me up in a cold sweat and taunt me with her scary thoughts. She tells me something’s wrong. Seriously wrong. She can tell the way my heart pounds, adrenaline courses through my body and my thoughts race. “Something’s wrong with you,” she whispers. Even when I try to tell her that it’s just her, it’s just Anxiety and it can’t hurt me, she tells me that I am weak and I will never be rid of her. No matter what I try.
And believe me, I have tried. I have tried cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness, meditation and just plain anger. (I have tried just telling her to get the hell out and leave me alone). I have tried to will her into submission with medications, supplements, and deep breathing. By focusing on positivity, practicing gratitude, and — my personal favorite — prayer, but she always comes back. Sometimes stronger than ever.
She laughs at me and tells me that none of my tricks will make her leave, that I am stuck with her. She knows that scares me the most.
In fact, that’s her favorite mantra right when I open my eyes to start a new day. She gets right in my face and begins by taunting me. Anxiety says things like, “Oh, another day, here we go again. You are going to feel anxious and miserable all day long. The whole day stretches in front of you and you just can’t do it. You have kids to take care of. They are going to need you and you don’t have the strength or ability to take care of them. Something’s going to go wrong and they are going to see it. You are going to scar them for life.” She doesn’t say these things loudly to me or I would laugh at their ridiculousness (as I do as I write this). Oh no, she whispers with a barely detectable thought and a flood of feelings. Smug, having done her job, Anxiety goes off to raid my fridge while I am left frozen in fear, trying hard to get out of bed.
I want to run. I want to hide. I want to go somewhere where she can’t find me. Where I can’t hear her voice. But the thing is, she is camped out in my own mind. I can’t get away from her.
So my next thought is to run to find some anti-anxiety meds or something, anything that will quiet her voice. But whether or not I do, her voice does eventually get quieter. She stops screaming in my ear, instead following me around while I make the Herculean effort to get out of bed and put one foot in front of the other to get the baby out of the crib and make breakfast for my other kids.
She doesn’t stop, though. She just changes her tune or the decibel of her voice, depending on the what and the where. She repeatedly reminds me that “I feel bad. I feel anxious. I am always going to feel this bad. I can’t do anything while feeling this way. Someone has to come take over for me. I am not capable. I am weak for feeling this way, for not being able to get rid of anxiety no matter what I try.”
But on a challenging day, especially when someone is sick, she knows just where to get me. She comes at me and yells in my face. She taunts me until I cower in the corner. I am filled with fear and adrenaline and hopelessness all at once. She only leaves once the sick child is well, once I have gotten reassurance from someone in authority or once I just can’t maintain that level of adrenaline anymore and I crash into a puddle of tears.
Having done her job, she laughs at my weakness and hops back on the couch, turning on her favorite reality show, leaving me alone to pick up the pieces.
Which I do. I always do. And she always goes back to the couch eventually. Maybe tired of singing the same ‘ol tune. I mean, how many different ways can she tell me that I feel anxious and something terrible is going to happen? It feels like 697 different ways, but honestly, she is saying the same thing every time. Anxiety is telling me that I am weak and will never be free of her. That she will torment me and have power over me for the rest of my miserable life.
And what if she’s right? Well, half right anyway? In the last few years, I have discovered a completely new way of thinking when it comes to living with a house guest like Anxiety. I have learned that yes, perhaps she will always be my house guest. Perhaps she will always be sneaking food from my fridge and using up all the hot water, but maybe, just maybe, she won’t always be in my face. Maybe if I stop cowering and trying to run every time I hear her footsteps around the corner, maybe she will stay in the shadows. Or maybe I will just see her watching TV as I walk through the living room of my mind, but I don’t have to stop and chat. I don’t imagine she will ever stop yelling nasty things at me, but maybe if I stop being so upset by her mere presence, her yell will turn into a whisper. And maybe that whisper will merely sound like the wind blowing through the trees if I am outside of myself, playing with my kids, focusing on life outside of my mind.
And ultimately that’s the goal, right? To be able to live life outside of myself? To enjoy the breeze as it blows through the trees, the smell of the flowers, the sound of my kid’s laughter, the feel of the grass beneath my bare feet? Because despite what I have been telling myself for the last 20+ years, I can still do those things with a house guest on my couch. She only stops me from living life if I let her. If I let her intimidate me into living in the shadows of my mind, then I will miss out on life. But if I turn on her favorite soap and toss her the remote while walking by on my way out the door? If I take away her power? If I am not afraid of her presence anymore? Then maybe, just maybe, her reign of terror will become a distant memory. That and perhaps I will stop finding empty milk cartons in the refrigerator!
This post originally appeared on The Joy In The Works.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Shannon is a blogger who celebrates the joys and challenges of Motherhood with parties, gifts, humor and family fun, but also tells the truth about the days that don’t feel so fun. You can check out her blog at Joy In The Works and on social media: www.facebook.com/joyintheworks