Lingering questions written in memo books
I was sitting at a conference this weekend, making a list of questions to ask my therapist when we met the following Thursday: Will I always feel this exhausted as I muddle through my anxieties? Everything I’ve read about GAD says the worries get worse under stressful circumstances, but the condition itself never goes away entirely. How do I manage knowing that lingering radio static may just be part of my day-to-day existence? Why am I so drawn to the narratives of autistic women? I remember you mentioning that these anxieties were probably making it more difficult for me to engage socially, but what if this is just part of me. What if this is me?
“The symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder tend to be chronic and wax and wane across the lifespan, fluctuating between syndromal and subsyndromal forms of the disorder. Rates of full remission are very low.” (1)
The previous Thursday, I met with the chaplain fellow I’ve seen since the semester started. I hadn’t slept well the night before and felt terribly scattered. I just started talking and couldn’t seem to stop. I was already having difficulty managing my anxieties and on top of that, felt I was moving so much slower that usual. I wasn’t processing things well and couldn’t seem to quell the waves of anxieties that hit once I stop moving.
If I don’t stop, I can engage in autopilot. If I completely avoid my feelings by throwing myself into a task, I can see the worries, but not experience them entirely. In the in between spaces, when I’m talking with a safe person, everything seems to hit all at once. I realize how terrified I am of the uncompleted assignments and open-ended projects. My compartmentalization — the only thinking a week-and-a-half in advance — seems to fail me.
There are a few friends I can text when my worries overwhelm me — when the static seems to be growing louder and the volume knob is stuck. I’m trying to be honest with myself when I feel this badly: I acknowledge the worry rather than try to fight against it. I can’t will it away. I attempt to talk myself through it, using the cognitive-behavioral strategies I’ve learned in therapy, and feel my breathing as I wrap my arms around my diaphragm (looks like I’m hugging myself). But sometimes the worries linger anyway; my friend texts back, reminding me that I’ve managed before and will this time too.
Sometimes when I feel utterly terrible, I feel like I’m lying to myself when I insist that I’ll eventually be okay. In that moment, “all I could see was myself” (reminded of the conversation Paul has with Sophie). But I also remember, “This is coming from me. Because this is coming from me, I can make it stop.” Maybe not all at once, but by caring for myself in the meantime and acknowledging I need help, I can slow the worries down. I manage the best I can most days and remember that will be enough. I’m enough.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.