I have clinical anxiety. And while I have diagnosed general anxiety disorder and social anxiety disorder, it’s the GAD that’s a real bitch. “Generalized” can mean any number of things, and for me, “generalized anxiety” translates into fixations. By “fixations,” I mean that my anxiety makes me obsess over things that most people would either consider minor inconveniences or remote possibilities. A fixation can be brutal: it jolts you awake at night. It invades your dreams. It pervades your days and invades your thoughts.
For example, my current fixation happens to be a home invasion. I have three (very, very) large dogs, including a 110-pound, immaculately trained German Shepherd that would eat anyone who threatened us. My house is nigh on impossible, according to my husband, to break into. However, I can’t stop thinking about it. I cry running through horrific scenarios of… I’m not getting into them here, other than to say they involve scary men breaking into my home.
I can’t stop this fixation. I come to my husband in tears. “It won’t go away,” I tell him again.
My husband has had to buy any number of security items. A raging liberal who believes no one has any reason to own anything but a permitted shotgun for hunting, I’ve contemplated buying a pistol. These thoughts will not go away. I’ve tried all my DBT therapy: my “teflon mind” trick, where I let ideas slide off my mind as if it were made of teflon. I’ve tried acknowledging those thoughts and moving on. Most of all, I’ve tried replacing them. It doesn’t work. So I down another Klonopin and wait.
My Anxiety Usually Manifests As A Fixation
I’ve written about how my anxiety has manifested as an obsession about loved ones dying. This one at least made sense: I had a loved one die when I was nineteen. For years afterwards, significant others leaving my side terrified me. I obsessed over their deaths. If they weren’t in my line of sight, they could be dying in any manner you could imagine. I lived in horror.
When I was pregnant with my first son, my husband went to a Phish concert for three days. I spent three days weeping over his certain doom (he knew I wasn’t in a great place and I still haven’t quite forgiven him for that one). I slammed awake at night. I laid in bed imagining different ways he could meet his demise. That fixation was a brutal, horrible way to live.
It Doesn’t Have To Be Rational
A fixation isn’t strictly rational. That’s part of its nature: it doesn’t make sense. But some are more bizarre than others. After the birth of my third son, I became convinced that his head would fall off. It terrified me. I have no idea why; I also didn’t know why I had a strange fixation on the tininess of his internal organs. It scared the hell out of me. I’d lie awake at night obsessing over my son’s teensy kidneys.
That’s when I was diagnosed with postpartum anxiety and they upped my meds.
A Fixation Affects Your Whole Life
Right now, any small noise sends me jumping. I can’t answer my own door. During my fixation on my husband’s death, I ramped up his anxiety. “You’re making me feel like I actually might die when I walk out the door,” he’d say to me. When I became obsessed that I wasn’t homeschooling my kids well enough, my husband had to deal with my tears and my breakdowns. My kids had to cope with longer school days.
This is in addition to coping with my usually high levels of anxiety, which can leave me snappish and difficult to live with.
A fixation can be exhausting. People forget that depression and anxiety physically hurt. According to Healthline, because your body is in constant fight-or-flight mode, anxiety tenses your muscles, which can make your whole body hurt. It’s also exhausting. Some days I have to take a nap because I’m tired from simply existing. That’s time missed playing with my kids, cleaning my house, and hanging out with my husband.
A fixation can also affect your sleep. I have trouble going to sleep when I’m fixating — sometimes I literally can’t fall asleep without my husband in our room. When I wake, I have to cuddle against him, which disrupts his sleep. Then I wake early, early: four am, four thirty. I go to bed earlier, missing more time with my kids, more time with my husband.
All This Usually Means My Meds Need Upped
When I find myself wading through a fixation, I usually need my meds tweaked. Maybe I need more anti-anxiety drugs. Maybe I need more of another drug. Since I’m already using all my tricks from therapy, more of that usually doesn’t help much, though I keep going anyway.
If you find yourself slamming from fixation to fixation, you aren’t alone. It’s a common symptom of an anxiety disorder. And if you’re not already seeing a therapist and/or a psychiatrist, you need to, and soon. If you already are, you need to be honest about how that fixation is affecting your life and how realistic it really is. While it’s usually a sign I need my meds tweaked, it may be a sign that you need a different type of therapy, or even a different therapist. What’s not normal: living with that fixation. You can free yourself from it. Help is available. You only have to find it.