By all objective standards, this past Christmas was perfect. There wasn’t too much stress preparing for the holiday—I’d purchased all of my gifts weeks before and kept the decorating as simple as possible. Somehow, even baking Christmas cookies and putting together the gingerbread house was tantrum-free.
And get this: my kids didn’t even wake up at the crack of dawn on Christmas day. Everyone’s mood was in a good, cheery place, and the kids were sweet and appreciative of their gifts.
I love everything about Christmas, and I took note of how lovely and warm and fuzzy everything felt. And yet, I have an anxiety disorder, and no matter what I do to keep my symptoms at bay, they come creeping up on me anytime they wish. In fact, I often notice that anxiety comes to rear its ugly head exactly when I am feeling most content and relaxed.
So, just as expected, there my anxiety was, sitting on my shoulder, ready to ruin my freaking awesome Christmas.
“Hey Wendy,” it said. “You see those kids over there happily playing with their toys? You know one them is about to break out in a fever. The flu is going around and flu shots aren’t 100% effective. Oh, and I bet the ER will be understaffed due to the holiday, so when your child starts having life-threatening symptoms—which they will—they will be less likely to survive on a night like tonight.”
Merry Fucking Christmas.
There was no clear trigger for these totally irrational thoughts. The kids were fine; they had zero symptoms of illness. But awful things happening to my children or loved ones is one of my top anxieties, and my anxiety had decided it was a good time to come fuck with me.
When things are good, it’s almost an invitation for my anxiety to come try to destroy it. “Oh, things are going well? That’s exactly when the shit is going to hit the fan, Wendy.”
I noticed pretty quickly that this shit was happening. But once anxiety starts, it’s hard to get it stop. When I tried to tell my “what if your kids get the flu” anxiety to STFU, more thoughts started streaming in.
“What if the sink overflows? After all, that’s what happened last Christmas,” my anxiety reminded me. Another thing my anxiety does is replay past anxiety-inducing scenarios, promising they will be repeated. It’s goddamn wonderful.
I actually have no clear idea why anxiety seems to come to me during even my most happy times. Maybe it’s because some of my childhood traumas seemed to happen all of a sudden, during what felt like relatively stable times in my life. Maybe I’m just genetically pre-disposed to anxiety – after all, everyone in my family has it too. Maybe I don’t get enough sleep or practice enough self-care. Maybe it’s a combination of everything, all at once.
Whatever the cause, this phenomenon of anxiety coming up at exactly the times I am most at ease is awful, a self-destructive mind-fuck that I despise. And it’s entirely unfair, too. Why won’t anxiety just let me enjoy the goodness in my life?
The thing is, as my therapist would remind me, I’m an adult now, and have much more control of my life than I did as I child, when bad things actually did mess up the happy times. And even if things could theoretically fall apart at any time, there is no real point in contemplating it. When bad stuff happens, you just deal with it. You suffer through; you persevere.
I’ve seen myself do that time and again. I’m stronger than I know.
And you are too. There are so many of us who suffer with anxiety. When you tell someone that your anxiety manifests itself even in good times, it’s hard for people to understand what you’re talking about. Why don’t you just go and enjoy your life? What, are you ungrateful for all you have?
Nope. It’s just anxiety. And if you’ve experienced the kind of self-sabotage that anxiety sometimes produces, I know you know what I’m talking about. The thing is, you are not alone. Neither am I.
Anxiety really sucks, but help is out there (medication, therapy, mediation, whatever works for you) and once you recognize your patterns, it becomes easier to step out of the situation, see your anxiety for what it is, and tell it to fuck right off. It doesn’t always work, but it’s a start.
My plan (besides continually checking in with my therapist, whom I adore) is to be mindful of the fact that my anxiety likes to visit me during those good times. That way, maybe I can do a little mental preparation so that when it happens, I can ramp up my anxiety coping skills (breathing, going to another room to mediate) before things spiral out of control.
Anxiety is a strong fucking force, but so am I. And I don’t have to let it rule my life.